On our blog, I had given ten suggestions for helping people navigate the transitions of life. Number 10’s suggestion was to laugh every day. And that brought a private note from my friend Anne.
“This reminded me of something I did thirty-three years ago,” she said.
Anne had been pregnant, almost in her sixth month, when the doctors diagnosed the baby with a condition called anencephaly. The news was devastating.
Anne explains that for a fetus to be “anencephalic” means no brain or the brain grows outside the skull. Of course, it’s incompatible with life. Anne explained that it forms very early, often before the woman even knows she is pregnant.
They had named the baby girl Amy. They often prayed for her–still in the womb, of course–along with her two older brothers.
“Such babies are often extra active in the womb,” Anne told me, which only adds to the mother’s pain and the cruelty of the condition. Even so, Anne says, “I relished each time Baby Amy turned or kicked since I knew my time with her would be limited.”
As if that wasn’t enough…
The diagnosis was given three months before Baby Amy’s due date. That trimester period went through Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The family attended all the services at church throughout the season. After all, Anne was the church pianist.
We can only imagine.
“It was not uncommon for tears to flow at any time,” Anne said. She would be sitting at the piano and suddenly the tears would erupt.
That’s how it happened that Anne decided to do something.
“I made a list of funny things that had happened to us at various times. It included funny things our sons had said and done, and just humorous life events.”
Anne propped that list up on the piano, next to her hymnal. “Anytime I felt the tears starting, I would glance over at the list and let my mind wander to the funny thing that had happened. That helped a lot.”
After Amy was born, Anne and her husband put together a “box of memories” from her pregnancy. “That list is in the box,” she told me.
The pain that deep, she assured me, does not diminish with time.
People who have never experienced such loss have no idea. And sometimes they can say the most heartless things.
At a meeting where Anne and her husband were sharing their story with others who had gone through something similar, someone mentioned the most common refrain from outsiders. “They will say, ‘Well, at least you have the other children.’ Or, ‘At least, she won’t know the pain of this lifetime.’ Or, At least, you can have more children.'”
One of the parents said, “Anytime a statement begins with ‘At least,’ I know it’s going to add to my hurt.”
So much pain. So little understanding.
Some pains are so deep and the ache so long-lasting that those of us on the outside have no clue what it’s like or why they don’t “just get over it.”
God help us to love one another. You never know the pain your friends have endured. We do well to cut each other some slack and to stifle the urge to instruct or be judgmental.
Anne gave me permission to tell her story. Readers will appreciate that the names Anne and Amy are fictitious, ones she chose to use for reasons of her own.
“It’s been thirty-three years,” Anne told me, “but the pain is still fresh.”
These days, her husband is in Heaven and her sons live away with families and lives of their own. She takes comfort in knowing that her beloved husband now gets to know the daughter whom he was not allowed to know in this life. Meanwhile, Anne bears this pain and memory quietly and alone.
That is, except today, she chose to share it with me. And allowed me to tell you about it.
“Blessed be the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our tribulations that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the very same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).