The Machine

Losing a child is remarkably like having your life sucked away by the machine in the Pit of Despair, The Princess Bride.

“Not to FIFTY!”

And then everyone averts their eyes.

You remember what it did to Wesley.


I’ve developed a habit, like a mental tic. Every time I see a photo of Samuel, I calculate how much time he had left before he died. He was so happy in his turkey hat at the school Thanksgiving celebration, but he only had one week to live. Just 7 more mornings to wake up and get out of bed. At the beach last summer, as he dived in the water like a dolphin, he had less than 6 months. Our spring break trip to visit grandparents, 8 months. And the photos of our adoption trip are the saddest. In some of them he is happy, his round face smiling. Other pictures capture the confusion and sorrow that he was experiencing, even though he wasn’t two years old yet. He didn’t know, we didn’t know either, that we would be bringing him to the country where four short years later he would be buried in a frozen field. 

Lurking behind the countdown is a horrible thought. He would have been so scared if he had known what was coming. He would have cried, his eyes frightened, fought against it, asked me to stop it somehow. And I would have been powerless to change anything, or even to comfort him on this journey he would have to take all by himself. He couldn’t even tie his own shoes, but he had to face death all by himself. And I have to push these thoughts away because if I think about them I will break.

Second-guessing the past is torture. Should we have adopted him? If we had known, would we have chosen differently? Not for ourselves, but for his sake. His adoption didn’t give him life, it lead to his death. Would he still be alive if he had stayed, if he had never met us? 

I sit in the dark in the early morning and cry. I hold my coffee cup close to my cheek, getting a little comfort out of it’s warmth. But it soon chills on my face, as cold as the rest of the house. I can’t muster the energy to get off the couch and warm it up again. 


Jana and her friend were talking about a classmate that did something mean to her.

Her friend offered an interpretation, “Maybe he’s mean because he thinks you’re ugly from the accident, but I don’t think you are.” 

It was meant kindly.  I died inside. 

I couldn’t tell if Jana caught what was said or not.  She’s good at hiding things (a skill she unfortunately gets from me).

Do I mention it to her, bring it up and tell her about it if she didn’t hear it?  Risk letting it go unaddressed if she did notice?

Her friends were understandably shocked when they first saw her after the accident.  Her face was swollen, her eye closed, fresh surgery scars on her cheek and eyelid, and one massive yellow and purple bruise covering her face and neck.  She was unsteady on her feet and was exhausted by everything.  But she’s healed so much.  She hasn’t regained full movement in one eye, but most people can’t tell.  I only see it because the ophthalmologist showed me.  The bruising and swelling are gone.  The only obvious physical evidence left of the accident is a round pink scar on her cheek.  Surely her friends are used to her scar by now.

Jana isn’t bothered much by her scar, but mostly because she forgets, not because she’s actually OK with it.  She gets annoyed if I draw attention to it.  I hope she comes to peace with it, or maybe it will fade away.  I imagine when she’s a teenager, she won’t be happy with a constant reminder on her face of the accident and her brother’s death. 

God Has Something to Say

On Friday I had an email conversation with our pastor about what the Bible says about death and children.  I read some of the verses we talked about, and then somehow ended up reading the whole book of Ecclesiastes.  I couldn’t stop, it resonated with me in a new way.  It was pessimistic, but read from the darkness of grief, it was perfect.  We come from dust, we will return to dust.  Our days are numbered and we can’t take anything with us after we die, so constant seeking after money, success, and even wisdom are meaningless.  It’s better to go to a funeral than a feast.  The laughter of fools is meaningless (which I feel strongly, and which is why I avoid scrolling through my Facebook feed these days…too much laughter of fools).

And in the middle of the book some words jumped out at me.  Ecc 5:1-2 says “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” I’ve done a lot of ranting towards God lately, and I took this to mean that maybe I need to get quiet and listen.  

I mentioned this to Scott who told me those are the exact verses he’s preaching on this weekend.

Apparently God is telling me to go to church on Sunday.  And to listen.

I have not gone to a regular church service since the accident.  Too many memories, too many questions, too many happy praise songs that stick in my throat.  But I can’t brush this off as a coincidence.

And in a very kind gesture, Scott offered to keep the lights off in church on Sunday, so I can cry all I want and not worry about everyone staring at me.

Fighting for Control

I’m far enough into this that I know it’s real. Samuel is not coming back and we cannot change what’s happened. But I still find myself resisting it. As if fighting against it will somehow reduce the consequences or the pain.

It does for a little.

I still want control.

Apparently the control I had over my life was a delusion, but it was a comfortable one. It gave me security. Looking back I realize it was a shaky security. I must have known, deep inside, that it was pretense, otherwise why would I have been afraid? I worked diligently to keep my family safe, but still worried about something bad happening. I’d tell the kids things like, “don’t play at the top of the stairs” and “don’t jump on the top bunk, you could fall and break your neck.” Through proactive mothering I tried to increase my control and ensure the safety of my family.

I also used faith to protect our lives. I knew that God didn’t protect us from all bad things, but I still prayed that way. Keep us safe, guard us from this or that calamity, heal our illnesses, bring peace to our stressful situations. Maybe God would protect us from most bad things, even if he didn’t protect us from all of them. And when those moderate bad things came, it was simple to trust God. Food allergies, celiac disease, complete overhaul of how we cook and eat…a burden for sure, but God is sovereign, and we trust him. The stress of raising young children, including one with some attachment issues…God is in control and will give us what we need. Even when the tree fell on our house and destroyed half of it, we praised God for protecting us and were eager to see his faithfulness. The whole top half of our house was rebuilt and remodeled and paid for by insurance. See, it was really a blessing in disguise. I had faith. “All things work together for the good of those who love him…” God was in control, so I felt in control.

I’ve lost that now.

God might still be in control, but he has absolutely and completely taken the last little bit of control away from me. And yet I keep trying to get it back by not giving in. This is not something I can accept, and I don’t want to find the silver lining. It isn’t fair that Samuel died. He won’t grow up, fall in love, have kids. He won’t even graduate from kindergarten. Not even that. And it’s so wrong I can’t stand it.

My life is all wrong now too. I don’t want to be a grieving mother. I don’t want to go to a grief group. I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t want to be sad and disheveled or for anyone to see that my house is becoming a cluttered mess. I know it’s normal in my situation, and that’s the problem. I don’t want to get flustered and red-eyed when someone asks how many kids I have, and I don’t want to be the woman, 20 years from now, that blurts out to strangers something about having a kid in heaven. I am so tired of crying. I’m tired of being so tired. This is not my life. I reject it all. I want control back.

I’m like a child, refusing to get in the car. I’m going to kick and scream as I’m dragged to the car and snapped into my car seat. And even as we drive down the road, I’m glaring, arms crossed, furious, refusing to go. I’m aware that it’s futile. I can’t stop.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I didn’t expect it, but this afternoon I met “one of them.” I met another mother who lost a child. Her son died years ago, when he was 26. Today this mother was laying on her couch, recovering from knee surgery. She didn’t spill out the story of her son in an awkward way. She told me to let me know that she’s on the same road, she understands. And she seemed lovely to me, with a beautiful heart. She spoke with joy and contentment. I didn’t want to leave. It gave me a piece of hope.

Broken Feet

Samuel hated for anyone to touch his feet.

When we first got him, he wouldn’t take off his shoes. He wore them for days, even to bed, before he let us take them off. The rest of us wear socks at most in the house, but Samuel put shoes on first thing in the morning. Run barefoot on the back porch or in the grass? Never. Boots were even better than shoes. He loved weight on his feet.

Cutting his toenails was torture, no exaggeration. We tried different approaches, but it always ended the same way. Samuel screaming and fighting, Jeremy and I both holding him down while I rushed to trim off the overgrown nails. They would get so long. I know they were painful, but he didn’t care. Anything was better than having someone near his feet.  And the ordeal of trimming them was bad enough that I put it off as long as possible.

Right before his second birthday he had surgery to repair his cleft palate, and was in the hospital for 3 days. They put an IV in his foot. He hated it, but he was too little to move it to his arm or hand. I had to keep his feet covered with a blanket at all times because he grew hysterical if he saw it. It was a relief when it finally came out.

Feet are a minor thing when compared to a fatal brain injury. But the doctors were pretty sure that both of Samuel’s feet were broken in the accident. They didn’t do x-rays. I guess when you’re dying of head trauma they don’t care what happened to your feet. I didn’t see any bruising, but both of them swelled in the few days he was in a coma. (If it was a coma, no one used that word…too many things we don’t know.) They kept his body temperature low in the hospital. It was an attempt to help his brain swelling go down. But it also meant that he wasn’t covered with a blanket, and he didn’t have socks on. His cold, swollen feet were there for everyone to see. He would have hated that. I know it’s a little thing, but it is heavy on my heart. Why did he have to break his feet?