My kitchen pantry is very organized, but it’s behind a door that I prefer to keep closed. The cabinet underneath my bathroom sink is very orderly, and my well-organized toiletries cache in the linen closet is ridiculous! But no one will ever see these things, nor would anyone care to see them. As for the rest of the house… let’s just say that it’s a work in progress. For whatever reason, if I can see it, I can’t seem to clean it. I get overwhelmed by how much needs to be done, so I choose to tackle the smaller, doable jobs that require less of my focus, the orderliness of which will only be seen and appreciated by me.
And yet of all the small, only ever seen by me places that I should be able to maintain, my purses are the messiest. Grab any purse from my closet, and you’re bound to find it cluttered with a plethora of useless, unused junk, the likes of which will be found in duplicate in my other bags. It’s too easy to jam those receipts into my purse rather than throw them out. It’s too easy to grab another pen from the jar on the counter on my way out the door than to use the one or two or five that already live at the bottom of my bag. And the extra, unused napkins from a quick meal at a fast food place? Well, you can never have too many of those at your disposal, can you?
A few months ago, I went through all of the crap that had accumulated in one of my purses – receipts, bits of paper and notes that hadn’t been thrown out, old gum, napkins and straws, hand sanitizer and lip balm, pens, etc. It was a task that was long overdue, but the only reason I even cared enough to do it was because I needed to use that particular purse at that moment, not because of any overwhelming desire to declutter. It is amazing how much junk one purse can hold! It’s also amazing how lazy I can be with regard to cleaning out that junk on a regular basis. Because having to dig through all of that trash is obviously a better option than using a real trash can, said no one ever.
I emptied the whole purse onto the floor and started cleaning it out. It wasn’t just any purse, though. It was the purse I had used for the five weeks that Ella was in the hospital during her first stay in the PICU. Going through the piles of receipts and such was akin to taking a painful trip down memory lane. It wasn’t so much the papers and receipts themselves that were difficult to look at so much as the dates on them - those days last April when we felt as though the floor had fallen out from under us, when we didn’t know what was going to happen to our brand new baby girl, and when “WHY?!” screamed through our hearts and minds even as we were left speechless at the situation with which we were faced.
As I sorted through the large pile of junk, I examined each item pretty carefully - so many receipts for coffee and hospital fast food and coffee! Any time I must look through old receipts, I shred as I go because you can’t be too careful these days with your personal information. And because I wanted to know what I was throwing away and didn’t want to inadvertently get rid of anything important, I was forced to read – really look at – each bit of paper.
Two pieces of paper in particular took my breath away. The first was the note from the pediatrician after Ella’s first doctor appointment. Ella was five days old at the time, so the note had the usual newborn baby checkup information on it – weight, height, head circumference – but it also had a few comments.
“Doing Great! :) x2”
We’d been told that the doctor heard a heart murmur, but other than recommending that we go to a cardiologist and saying that it might be an “innocent” murmur, our baby was apparently doing great.
The next piece of paper I came across was a credit card receipt from the cardiologist’s office for our daughter’s first echocardiogram (echo). The cost was staggering, but what truly rocked our entire world was how quickly we went from “Doing great!” the day before to “Your daughter has multiple congenital heart defects. She is in heart failure. It would be quicker for you to drive her to the emergency room than to wait for an ambulance.”
Oh Lord, why? Why why why why why? We waited so long to bring our daughter home. We went through so much heartache and trouble just to get to that point, and we jumped through so many hoops and over so many hurdles. We loved her from the moment we heard about her, and we couldn’t wait to just love on her at home. WHY?
Five weeks in the PICU and one major, risky, complicated surgery later, and we were finally on our way home again. Praise God! The day we had waited for had finally come. There were medicines to give every day and quite a few doctor appointments each week, but we were finally home…until we weren’t. About two and a half months after we got home from the hospital, we found out via another echo at the cardiologist's office that Ella’s heart was failing. Again. She had to go back to the hospital. We weren’t sure how long this stay would be. Heck, we didn’t know if another surgery would even be possible.
It wasn’t. Our baby girl was listed for a heart transplant. And so we waited and prayed and waited and prayed and waited, but the transplant wasn’t meant to be. A healthy heart never became available, and Ella’s poor, sick heart couldn’t work that hard anymore or wait any longer.
Why did God bring us to this point? Why did our sweet girl have to endure this? Why did she have to suffer so much? Why didn’t God heal her? Why didn’t He keep her alive until a heart became available? Why didn’t He perform a miracle? Why didn’t He answer our prayers or the prayers of countless people praying for her?
Why bring her to us only to take her away? Why answer our sons’ prayers for a baby sister only to then call her Home? Why bless us beyond measure only to seemingly then say, “Oops. Never mind. I take it back. I take her back”?
Just when I think I’m healing, just when I think I can mourn gracefully and peacefully, just when I think I can get on with the business of living, the WHYs rear their ugly heads, and I have to confront the anger I thought I’d let go of or at least had under control. I get so freaking angry with God for breaking my heart, yet I know He’s the only One capable of healing it. But for healing to happen, I have to let go of the WHYs that plague me. I have to accept that NO answer on this earth from any human will ever suffice. I have to accept that, for now, NO answer even from Him would ever suffice. I have to accept that my WHYs will never be answered with any acceptable “because….”
And that is truly one of the hardest parts of grieving for me – trusting that God’s answer to all of my WHYs may never be mine to know in this lifetime. I have to trust and believe that His perfect will is mercy and love itself, even if that same mercy and love is hidden in a fog that these poor, flawed human eyes can’t see through. I have to learn to trust that His will is perfect but that my understanding of it is severely imperfect. Because in my “perfect” world, my beautiful daughter would be alive and well, toddling around, babbling at me, smiling and laughing with her brothers, hugging her daddy and dancing with him, and being the most awesome baby on the planet.
Oh, those WHYs are such a stumbling block for me! For as much as I beg for God’s help in letting them go, I also cling to them because sometimes it feels as though I’ve got very little else to cling to. If I cling to them and to the anger at the injustice and unfairness of it all, then I keep one small part of my reality at bay – that there is nothing left for me to do but accept the facts, to accept the truth of my situation, to accept that this nightmare is reality, to accept this life as a mom of two-plus-one-in-Heaven.
Up until the moment of Ella’s death, I think I’d had a fairly “easy” life. There were definitely other moments of why that I had grappled with, but I had learned to live with them. Even in our marriage, my husband and I faced WHYs that on the outset seemed insurmountable.
We were open to life and wanted lots of kids. Why could we never get pregnant?
We were open and upfront about our Catholic faith. Why were some Christian adoption agencies only willing to work with us if we lied and said we were “Catholic in name only?”
We were willing, able, and eager to share our lives with a child via adoption. Why were we previously scammed by a birth mother who never intended to place her child for adoption but just wanted the easy money?
We were more than willing to disrupt our lives for an indefinite amount of time to make sure Ella got the best care. Why wasn’t that enough for her?
My husband and I had had what we thought was our fair share of whys to struggle with, but we somehow managed to turn those problems of why into happy solutions. We had talked about the adoption option before we were even married, both of us feeling called to it and open to it. So when it turned out to be our only option, we felt so blessed that God had placed the desire to adopt on our hearts so many years ago. When we were turned away from two different adoption agencies because of our faith, we felt blessed when we found one that would work with us. When we were heartbroken and depressed to learn that a birth mother we’d been working with had given birth and then skipped out without a trace, we thought that was maybe a sign to give up on the idea of ever adopting again until we got the call that Ella had been born and was to become our sweet daughter.
But when we were brought to the point of her death after all the WHYs we had conquered and overcome along the way, we were left with even bigger WHYs and even less chance of receiving any kind of acceptable answers or of reaching any happy solutions.
If I know me like I know me, then I know that my struggle with letting go of why is one I will deal with for the rest of my life. I hope that’s not the case because it’s a helluva way to think and to feel and to live. It’s painful - really physically painful - to understand that my WHYs will go unanswered. It is so hard to give it all over to God, to let it go and let Him be in charge and to let His will stand. It is so hard to go from shaking an angry fist toward Heaven to bowing down at the foot of the Cross to unite this unimaginable suffering of mine with His. It is so hard…
I am trying to let go of why. I am trying to live with the incomplete answer of “because…” But I think in order to come close to doing that, I’ll have to say with every breath I take, with every ounce of my being, with everything I have in me, “Not my will but Thy will be done.” I’ll have to say it, and with God’s good grace and a strength that only He can give, I’ll come to believe it.