The other night while running a simple errand, the U2 song All I Want is You came on.
“But all the promises we make, from the cradle to the grave, when all I want is you.”
I barely made it out the door of the grocery store to the quiet alone place of my car to sob. This is what 8 years later feels like, still struck without warning by small reminders that open floodgates of raw pain.
On a similarly cold and snowy night 8 years ago, I was heading to a routine OB appointment. I was 4 days overdue, the only signs of labor were 6 days before when contractions got to 7 minutes apart and then trailed off. If only we had gone to the hospital then. So many if onlies. On this night, I was set on finishing packing my hospital bag to bring with us. My husband encouraged me to leave it for later as the falling snow might make us late, but I insisted, “I just feel like I might need it” I told him. I also told him earlier that day “I feel like he is never going to come.” What a strange things to say when you’re 9 months and 4 days pregnant and this is your 3rd rodeo. He had hiccups that morning and my 2 year old boy felt my belly with his tiny pudgy hands, smiling at the small reverberations.
We drove in the snow and traffic, the usual way was backed up so we re-routed through downtown Seattle. I remember looking up through the sunroof at the beautiful quiet black night sky flanked by the city’s skyscrapers, big white flurries falling slowly down. I was marveling at the beauty of everything, alive with hope for so much goodness. Worried we wouldn’t make it to the office in time, I called to tell them we were running late and asked if we should reschedule. The kind nurse who knew me well said they’d see me as their last patient of the day.
I wish I could have stopped time then, the anticipation of a year’s worth of body and heart building still with us and the lovely feeling of joyful anticipation. I am sure we were talking about what we still needed to do to be ready, what we would be up to the next day, Christmas preparations. I am sure we had plans and felt busy with them, no idea our world would stop, that our plans would become obsolete and our most imminent plan had died only hours, maybe minutes before. Turn around, go home, if there was ever a time to drive away from the irreversible. We carried on.
I weighed 1 lb less than the week before when I checked in. So strange. I never lose weight with my pregnancies. The doctor exam was routine, she told me everything was well, we laughed at the normalcy that my babies always come late. For good measure, though, she sent me for a non-stress test to monitor contractions and baby’s vitals. No contractions, and many attempts to find a heart beat, the nurse abruptly asked, “didn’t the doctor already do this with the doppler?”
“No?” I said as a question, and she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. So confusing. So strange. Something was off and I couldn’t make sense of it. Faulty equipment. A more experienced nurse sent in. Turn down the heartbeat monitors pumping loudly nearby. Close my curtain. Turn up the volume. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Finally the the doctor was summoned. She would clear all this up.
She guided me down the hall to the ultrasound room and nonchalantly asked, “so when did you last feel him move?” If it weren’t for her steady hand under my arm I would have buckled to the ground. I could barely breath when I uttered “this morning. He had hiccups this morning….” I knew it wasn’t enough, we both pretended it was.
I tried to be strong for her, tried not to worry, I needed her to be strong for me. I sensed his hiccups were the last of him. But hey, I was busy pregnant mom with two little ones at home, I was probably distracted. The ultrasound would make it all better, would explain away all those other faulty devices and show that careless nurse she can’t scare people like that. There would be a way out of this, there is always a save, a rescue, a happy ending. My whole life of close calls, everything would work out in the end. The ultrasound would surely find that twisting, turning, flipping, flopping baby boy growing into his Fisher name all these 9 months. The ultrasound would save us.
There he was, all 8 pounds 12 ounces of him. First his familiar profile, fully formed nose, forehead and protruding baby lips, his arms, round belly and long legs…still. His body was so still. Until the ultrasound landed on his chest cavity, my doctor held it there and we all held our breath. The terrible black hollow space where his heart used to flutter made all my hopes shatter. She put a hand on my leg whispering “oh Heather, I am so sorry.” Hot tears streamed down my face as my own heart stopped and then surged with the most visceral animal ache that nearly choked me.
Scott came into the room a few minutes later, arriving as quickly as he could from an errand run during those long boring non-stress tests. I had urgently texted him “something is wrong. please come back” when the nurse turned her back, like a high school kid fearing I’d be caught using my phone during class. I wanted him to have seen the awful image too, so he could know it the way I new it, but the doctor’s words were enough. He’d rushed past a group of whispering nurses gathered outside my door who were immediately silent as he came through and knew something wasn’t right. As the pain of the terrible truth set in, the bleak marriage statistics of couples who lose a child flashed through my mind. I grabbed his hands and looked into his pain stricken face with the same fierce intention of our wedding vows. “I will be good to you in this” I promised. He looked confused and then his own tears fell as he nodded and knew we would be facing the worst storm of our lives.
My doctor asked me if I’d like to go home to get a good night’s sleep and give birth tomorrow, or would I rather go to the hospital now. There would be no sleeping for me, that sounded like the worst possible idea. I told her I had come prepared to give birth and was ready now. Through his tears Scott apologized profusely that I had to go through with this and wished he could do this for me. I felt strong and resolute. Like a soldier heading to the front lines of an impossible battle, this was my honorable duty and last opportunity to give the full strength of my body to this baby I so dearly loved. Scott went to get my hospital bag from the car and they brought the wheelchair to take me to the hospital wing.
The birth is another story, one I have written about here, here , and here. The video of his life and our time with him is there too and it would mean so much for you to meet him and witness his life. Much as those memories are with me, 8 years later, what I am left with is the awe and wonder of God’s presence in it all, then and now. We chose a song for his funeral video by Natalie Grant called Held, because the words speak to the agony of such a situation, and because we felt so profoundly held by God and by the people He sent to love us.
In an effort to be empathic, one person told me I had permission to be mad at God. How could I possibly be mad at God when He was so evidently with us? Nowhere in the bible does He promise we will not face hard things. There were moments I was mad at the situation, and knowing what I know now about what went wrong infuriates me, but never for a moment could I be mad at the Savior who carried me. It may have been natural to say “why me?” yet the only thought that came to me was “why not me?” The words that comforted me came from the bible stories and many sermons I had heard from our pastor at Bethany Community Church, speaking to the reality that we will face hard things in life and in that He will be WITH us in those trials. In these hardest moments of my life thus far, His presence was so profoundly felt. God held us and gave us people who carried our mat, dug through the roof, and laid us at the feet of Christ where we felt His healing presence every single day. (Pastor Scott Sund, my husband, recently preached about this Jesus story, the value of relationships that bring us to God’s healing presence)
In our deepest pain and hurt God’s all encompassing power and love were evident every single day…
God’s grace is a snowstorm that made us the last appointment of the day, allowing the solace of an empty OB waiting room to be wheelchaired through to the hospital.
The Holy Spirit’s prompting is a whisper to bring my hospital bag to the appointment.
God’s provision is my mom coming to visit a few days early so that we didn’t bring our young children to the appointment with us as we usually did, and Scott was able to be with me during the birth.
Jesus’ sustenance is taking communion the Sunday before, unexpectedly crying uncontrollably at the gifts of His last supper, a cathartic foreshadowing to my grief.
God’s devotion is being alone at the hospital (Scott had quickly gone home to tell our two young children in person, to comfort them and tuck them in for the night) and my father called unexpectedly, caught off guard by the news and encouraging me with is bountiful love and devout prayers.
Jesus’ presence is dear friends with small children at home finding childcare at midnight to come cry with us and pray over us as we prepared for his birth.
God’s wisdom is an action list of another who’d recently experienced the same loss, allowing me the ability to make decisions when coherent thoughts were elusive.
The Holy Spirit’s presence is the urge to toss a journal into my bag so that I could write my lamentations as my body prepared to birth the unimaginable – writing would make me feel sane and draw me to my Savior.
God’s kindness is my own trusted doctor coming back to the spend the night at the hospital on her night off in order to be with me.
Jesus’ tenderness is my mother, mother in law and a dear friend who came to visit and lovingly held death in their arms.
The Holy Spirit’s beauty is the friend who took pictures, and the organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, who sent a volunteer professional photographer to capture these moments. Those images are a treasure – to remember his nose, his toes, his tiny fingernails, the family resemblances when my heart needs more than memory.
Jesus’ healing is dear friends who prayed for us when we could barely breath, fed us good food when all manner of housekeeping was hard, took our children to play when they needed to be happy regular kids for a few hours.
God’s hands and feet were our Bethany Community Church friends who planned a funeral by drawing out the wishes of our hearts – providing childcare, creating the program, designing flower arrangements, reading scripture, singing worship songs our children could dance to, creating gifts for all to ring bells for our angel in heaven, making delicious food, forcing me to eat some, braving the snowstorm to come be with us.
The Holy Spirit’s understanding is the small group friend who continued to visit us very sad people when it had to be so hard, admitting she did not know what to say, and yet in that humility brought the truest empathy we could ask for.
Jesus’ blessing is a friend who called each night after bed time to be a witness to the heart wrenching unexpected and joyful unexplainables of each new day.
God’s faithfulness was a spouse who honored my unique grieving, invited me into the uniqueness of his own, understood my pain as no-one else could and shared the life-saving efforts to honor and cherish one another well.
God’s sovereignty is being reminded of a Master of Divinity paper assigned to me 8 years prior in my Systematic Theology class at Fuller seminary – to write a letter explaining how God could be sovereign (all powerful and all loving) to a woman who had lost just lost her child.
Jesus’ preparation was gifting me with Jerry Sitter 12 years prior as my spiritual mentor while studying Spiritual Development at Whitworth – knowing his experience of great loss from his personal stories and nearly memorizing his book A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss
The Holy Spirit’s anticipation is a devotional prayer calendar in the weeks prior, buffering my heart with the words of comfort in suffering, I remember being struck by the oddity of the theme when life was so very good, but choosing to be faithful to read each day’s devotion.
God’s everlasting love is in the friend who sends pretty paper whites every year on his birthday, the MOPS mentor moms who tell me they are thinking of me and hanging his bell on the Christmas tree, the friend who brings beautiful flower arrangements like the one she made for his funeral, the texts and calls and messages from family and friends who tell us they remember our son and they love us. These small significant gestures speak volumes to the loving ways God made us to be in this world with each other.
I have not a shadow of a doubt that there were tenfold more and then some that I am not remembering or was not aware enough to notice, of God’s good gifts and graces.
And as I look at what has transpired since Fisher’s death, it is nothing short of miraculous to see the ways God has woven a beautiful grace story through our lives, in relation to this terrible tragedy. Does that make this loss good? No. Does it make God’s promise of redemption and everlasting love evident? Absolutely.
There is a trajectory of “if not for his death, we would not…” have blessing after blessing after blessing that speaks to God’s hand at work in our lives. Each and every single day the all loving, all powerful, Triune God shows up in a myriad of ways that makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt He was and is with us, that He will sustain us, and He will never leave us or forsake us.
On the anniversary of the night my full term baby boy went straight from the cradle to the grave, I was struck anew by the Lyrics of U2. It not only spoke to that deep longing for my baby’s life on earth, but also to my deep desire to wholeheartedly trust and pursue the God who so clearly reigns in this world…