Our daughter was born in the middle of a clear, cold winter night. The best-laid birth plans were soon tossed aside when her distress demanded an emergency cesarean. She was born quickly, and I can still hear her tiny cry as the doctor lifted her, pink and squirming, from the warmth under my heart.
I held her and kissed her wee fingers and Kevin’s cheek was wet against mine as the anesthesiologist snapped our first family photo, our Bear’s eyes scrunched tight against the harsh glare of the surgery lights.
Fifteen hours later, after the worry and trauma of the night had worn off and I was resting, my arm draped over the bed rail, hand curled protectively over her body as she slept in the bassinet, a nurse came to check her vitals and then took my tiny girl away. Stuck in the bed, still wearing off the effects of the surgery, I begged Kevin, “Stay with her. Don’t leave her alone.” He kissed me and promised, then hurried after the nurse.
I waited and the time ticked by so slowly and I couldn’t get out of the bed to find them, to find out what was going on. Five minutes, then ten, then twenty. Where’s my baby? Someone tell me what’s going on! Finally, a nurse came in and started talking and her words blurred but I understood…my Bear was sick. I felt impotent, trapped in the bed, the body that had grown her and nurtured her now unable to move and help her, but I knew Kevin was with her. She was not alone with the needles pricking and IVs inserting and blood drawing. Her Daddy was with her. And later, much later, when we were finally home after a week in the hospital and I downloaded photos, I found it. His eyes were rimmed with red and worry, and she was lost in the protective embrace of his arms, IV tubing trailing from her small scalp over his green sweatshirt, her head gently cradled against his heart. A picture of love. A picture of his promise. He stayed with her the whole time.
I thought about that photo as I snuggled with her in his recliner, her lanky eight-year-old legs sprawling over the footrest. She loves to hear the story of her birth day, and I tell it to her every year and she jumps in when I miss a word because it’s her story and she wants it right.
But this year is different because it’s her first birthday without her Daddy Bear who absolutely adored her. I gave her gifts when she woke up and she gleefully ripped the wrapping paper from the boxes and exclaimed over the surprises but I felt so lonely watching her without Kevin yawning behind me in the early dawn.
We stayed in that day, just the two of us, and she and I watched movies and ate leftover party cake and played board games and tried out her new toys and she declared it the “BEST birthday EVER!” and she flung her arms around my neck for a deliciously grand Bear hug. And when we untangled ourselves and snuggled under the blanket in the recliner, she wondered if Daddy saw her turning eight.
I squeezed her close and said, “Oh, yeah, Beary, he sees you. He is always with you…and me…in our hearts. He promised me one time that he would stay with you – and I know he’s still keeping that promise.”
She smiled and tucked that away to turn over in her mind when the worries and sadness press in. I know she’s tucked it away because I’ve done the same thing. It’s been hard, this last month with the holidays and celebrations piling up on top of each other, with no room to breathe, to rest, to stop for a moment. And I’ve slipped into the darkest part of me, the part that can’t feel the joy or get out of bed or welcome a new year. But there, in the darkness, tucked away for when I need it, is a shimmer of light, the glow of God’s words. Just like Kevin promised me that he would not leave our baby alone, God promised that He would stay with me through everything.
I am not alone.
God was with me that awful afternoon in the hospital, when I lay helpless and afraid for my baby. He was with me that Tuesday last April when Kevin slipped away to heaven. He was with me this year on my daughter’s birthday, as I handed her a gift and fought back tears because I wanted her Daddy to be with us. He is with my beautiful Bear, as she struggles to adjust to this life where our joy at celebrating life is tinged with sadness.
God is with us, helping us to laugh and breathe and live in His promises and in His love.
And when I picture that love, I see a daddy, heartbroken at the suffering of his baby, holding her gently to his heart and promising to never leave her alone.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)