It was Sunday, but not just an ordinary Sunday. It was Easter Sunday, but not just Easter Sunday. It was the day we brought Robert home from the hospital. Terry packed us up and strapped us into the car for the short drive. We stopped for a Sunday paper, which I had always loved to read, but it never even got a glance as baby life instantly overtook our little home. He was a wonder to behold, a happy, healthy baby with so much to look forward to. I cried all the way home acknowledging the road we'd traveled already to get where we were and releasing the ocean of emotion associated with this miracle birth. We were overwhelmed to say the very least because it had been such a long journey. In some ways a long and arduous Lenten Journey, only this was the Robert version.
We had spent years praying to be blessed with children. I'd always thought a handful of these miracles would come close to fulfilling my dreams of a noisy, active and love packed home. But years went by and failed pregnancies rolled by though the prayers still flowed freely from and around us. We'd get pregnant and then just as quickly, the pregnancy would end, most often before we even got to a point where we could share the good news. And the whole time we not only prayed for a baby, we prayed for understanding. We didn't know what we were doing wrong or if we were being punished. We didn't understand why something that seemed so easy for others was such a struggle for us. Despite lots of medical testing and intervention, there seemed to be no solid answers and certainly no resolution, no baby.
And so we came to accept this fasting of sorts. We gave up our dreams of a house full and began to re-evaluate our futures. We changed how we lived each day, adapting to conversations all around us of pregnancies and plans. We were joyful (though covetous) of baby announcements and baby showers, baby talk and baby complaints. We longed for what others had and didn't/couldn't understand what they were going through as new parents. We only knew that was what we longed for. We took on additional work to keep busy and we investigated the adoption paths that we soon found were fraught with their own set of complications, the worst of which was a dramatic decrease in babies available either domestically or internationally. We felt strapped by our midwestern location (when it came to adopting children with special needs that we had little understanding of and were frankly afraid couldn't be fairly and lovingly attended to without metro medical attention) and our finances. We had no idea just how expensive all of this was on top of all the medical expenses we'd just incurred. We were strapped both financially and emotionally - tapped out in every way. We gave up lots of things including friendships that drifted apart because they had children to attend to and we had multiple jobs, and we gave up dreams. That was the toughest part.
We tried to do things instead that would create a future we felt we could dedicate our lives and love to, so we started a new business, took on more jobs with our band "Frontpage", we volunteered at church, worked with friends musical groups, joined local business and professional groups, and I worked out (all the rest of the time). It filled the hours, gave us a sense of discipline and control, and essentially kept us moving forward.
Going through infertility was a nightmare beyond anything either of us had ever experienced. (I wasn't new to struggle/loss as my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was 12 and died when I was 19. He and I were very close as many father/daughters are. He was my hero and though I'll always cherish memories with him, losing him has shaped my life in many ways.) In this new struggle, I think Terry and I both felt so lost and abandoned. There were no satisfying answers and we were drenched in self-doubt. We had to accept the death of some dreams. Slowly we came to accept this unexpected life - a life headed in a fresh direction with alternate dreams. We had to believe that it was a life worth living.
I think we made some mistakes that are also common Lenten mistakes. In those years, it was a time of too much - too much work, too much worry, too much time spent crossing stuff off the list instead of filling our days with things that would leave us fulfilled instead of empty, and too much regret. We battled ourselves more often than not because we felt like we'd failed. We lost patience with each other and ourselves and in the face of our weaknesses, we had become angry and frustrated. It wasn't easy to keep the faith. It was easy to be angry. It wasn't easy to recognize that there were still blessings in our lives. It was easy to be busy and more difficult to slow down and be aware of where we were truly headed. It was easy to be ungrateful. It wasn't easy to accept. It was hard to trust.
Slowly for the next 2 years, we gave - to work, to friends, to family, to charity, to the church, to wherever we knew there was need. At first, it helped us. It filled a void in our lives, but quickly it felt like more - less self-fulfilling and more... normal. It became a part of what we do. It just feels right. Nonetheless, our lives were only as a couple and deep down there was always "something" missing.
Fast forward to 2017, and so much has changed. Robert was an immeasurable gift - a blessing beyond description. His part in our lives is in so many ways just normal. It's what most people expect when they get married. They'll have children and those children will have grandchildren. It's the way life works, right? It's normal in that, we often take our children's part in our lives for granted - the humdrum of a typical day, the frustration when they disappoint or rebel as they grow. We take pictures to remember and document everything they do, but the more days that go by and the more children in the family, the less pictures we take. It becomes all so "ordinary". We know we love them. It's such a big part of who we are and how we do things, but we also forget. We become accustomed to them being here. We know there will be more... tomorrow.
(I always think of Robert when I type the word "tomorrow". It was on his spelling test in, I think it was, second grade and I had always erred on the single m or double m. Robert had the answer already, maybe thanks to his school teacher. "It's tomorrow Mom, with one m: Tom or row - Three simple words." Yup, that's right Robert Tom or row, not tommorrow. That would be just wrong.)
But there isn't always a tomorrow. Some of us see it coming. A child that is ill or afflicted or incurs an injury that is life threatening. Those parents see it coming. That doesn't make it any less real or painful. Some of us never saw it coming. Tomorrow was shattered in an instant that we had no warning of and no power to affect. We were simply told that our child is "gone". He was killed instantly by a distracted driver. He's not okay. He's not injured and in the hospital. He's gone and he's not coming back - ever. The future we took for granted is gone. The tiny life, the giant light, our son Robert, who had saved our lives is now darkness - what feels like a never-ending Lent. Robert was killed on August 14, 2014, just four months after his 21st birthday. It has been nearly three years and in that time more than 9000 people have been killed by distracted driving. It shouldn't have happened, but it did. Robert's life, and 9000 others lives, are over. And it can't be changed or fixed.
So, what was it that saved our lives twenty four years ago? It was mostly a baby named Robert but it was also faith and love.
How can the birth of one child make such a difference? Well, that is a question that we can answer ... because for us, Easter 1993 was a rebirth, a personal resurrection. A new tiny life burst in, changed our course and helped us rededicate our lives to life!
And even in the midst of coping with Robert's death we recognize that giving of ourselves in the midst of our suffering and self-denial brings us closer to loving like Christ. It brings us closer to honoring Robert for all the wonderful things he brought to our lives and to others. It doesn't delete the suffering and pain of his loss, but it does beg us to refocus on this journey as we seek what is most meaningful, and we ask God's help while always being willing to give all that we can and to help others.