Yesterday, a beautiful little girl named Piper died. She was nearly three; the age of my youngest. She had leukemia, and had battled it since she was 6 weeks old. I didn’t know her or her family, but several of my friends do and I’ve been following their updates on Facebook. I’ve been praying for her for weeks now, and crying for her parents these last few days. Her mother has been blogging here with stories and photos of their experience (I won’t post any photos here, having not asked her parents for permission to do so.)
The sadness of children dying is so hard to come to terms with. Even children we don’t personally know. I don’t think it’s even just in a sense of “What if that had been my child”? I don’t grieve Piper’s parent’s loss because it makes me realize what I stand to lose. I grieve with them because they are parents who have lost, and the world has lost, something precious. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
Seventeen months ago, my sister lost her first baby. She went into the hospital in full-term labor after a healthy pregnancy. A few days later she went home to make funeral plans for her stillborn daughter, Giulia (pronounced “Julia”). I well remember the grief that I felt over my sister’s and brother-in-law’s loss. The pain of knowing that their long-awaited baby was gone. The sadness that a member of our family was missing. It didn’t really matter that we had never met her, we still loved her. Her parents mourned the loss of who she was even though they’d never had the chance to get to know all the delights of her personality.
I remember being in the shower a few days after my niece’s death, and noting the stretch marks on my abdomen; the physical reminders of my having carried and borne four children. I thought about how hard pregnancy is; the toll it takes on a woman’s body. How painful and overwhelming it is to give birth and to physically recover from it (no matter the method used for delivery). Yet, even after all of that (and even several years later, still carrying the stretch marks, saggy skin, and out of shape abdominal muscles), we know that it was all worth it. We look into the eyes of those beautiful children, we watch them grow, we delight in who they are, and we never doubt that it was all worth it.
And then I thought of my sister. All that she endured: the pregnancy, the exceptionally difficult birth, the more than usual injuries and trauma to her physical body, the days ahead of trying to heal physically and emotionally. I was overwhelmed with grief at the thought that struck me:
“And it was all for nothing.”
After some tears, I began to hear the gentle voice of Jesus speak to my heart and I knew that I was wrong. It was not all for nothing. Through all that pain and sacrifice, Giulia was given life. No, she didn’t get to experience any of it on this earth outside of her mother’s womb. But she has begun her eternal life in the presence of her Heavenly Father. And although we can’t experience it yet with her, it is real and abundant life.
And so with Piper. She is living an abundant, pain-free, leukemia-free life that will last forever. She is being the kid that the chemotherapy, and the IVs, and the pain and the weakness always prevented her from being. She is free and she is whole.
Through her parent’s love, and sacrifice and pain, Piper lived a short while on this earth, and blessed many by her presence. And now she lives forever in heaven. Her life was meaningful and treasured.
And worth it.
And it is not over.
And if this sounds sappy and trite, and meant just to make us feel better about tragedy, it is not. It comes from the understanding that this life that we see and experience is not all that there is for us.
I found something I wrote shortly after my niece died:
“When we truly understand that this life is but a small part of our overall journey, we will stop putting all of our energy and resources into making it comfortable, and we will begin acquiring from our experiences and trials the characteristics that make us fit and hopeful for the next.”
How we view this life and what comes after, not only gives us comfort and hope in our grief as we confront death, but it gives us a new perspective on how we confront life as well. It helps us sift through those things that are mere fillers, and cling to those that are beneficial to the soul. It gives us hope and strength to keep running this leg of the race, because we know what awaits us at the finish line.
This life is a journey. It is full of joy and sorrow, abundance and loss, comfort and trials. And when we finish this part of it, we get to go on to the next. To the part that is just joy without the sorrow, abundance without the loss, comfort without the trial.
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)
We all know that in fairy tales, the ending is always, “And they lived happily ever after.” We are privy to all of the hardships and adventures that lead up to that wonderful close of the story, but we don’t get all the details of the second part of their journey, of the happily ever after part. It is left open-ended to imagine it how we may.
Here is how C.S. Lewis described it:
“‘The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream has ended: this is the morning.’…but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (from the ending of The Last Battle)
Piper and Giulia are living their happily ever after. But it’s not a fairy tale. It is more real than we can imagine life being. For now, we miss them on this earth, and we grieve with their parents for their unimaginable loss. But one day, when we wake from this dream, we will see them joined by their families to live out the next chapter of the Great Story.
And I am confident that they will never doubt that it was all worth it.