Our little rainbow baby, Nora, is now almost three and a half years old. She is in that shifty space between baby and kid where one minute she is using words like “consequence” and “incredible” in complex sentences and the next minute she is shouting for Mommy to come wipe her butt after a good poo. It’s amazing to watch her grow and transform into the person she will be. She is so different from her brothers; another species entirely. At her age they were reading independently and constantly trying to run over the edges of tall things. The boys would spend hours every day constructing train tracks and creating deadly train crashes along the way. Nora doesn’t care about reading because she can just make up the story herself if there isn’t an adult around to read it to her. She spends most of her day thinking about princesses, making up dances and songs, and caring for her baby dolls. She loves being in charge, taking care of people’s needs and feeling romantic.
Parenting a three year old is both fun and exhausting because your child can now verbalize her thoughts about the world which means there is an endless stream of words and questions flowing out of her mouth. We laugh every day at something hilarious and ridiculous that Nora has said and we die from the cuteness too. She recently started telling us that she loves us and she uses it to her advantage when she doesn’t like our decision about something. “Nora, I have to go to work now.” says her Daddy. “But Daddy, you can’t go to work because I love you.” “Nora, it’s time to take a nap.” “But, I love you so much. I can’t take a nap.”
Nora is also very aware that she has a sister named Lucy who isn’t here with us but is still a very important part of our family. For Liam and Asher it comes naturally to include Lucy in most things, which still amazes me and feels like balm to my heart. When counting how many girls vs. boys in the family, Lucy is always counted. For projects at school they include Lucy in their family description most of the time. At Christmas we always hang Lucy’s golden stocking right there where it should be between Asher and Nora’s stockings. And our family ornaments always include Lucy’s name. But this Christmas Nora asked a lot of new questions that were painful and difficult to answer. “But how is Lucy going to open her stocking on Christmas if it is here? Will she be here in our house on Christmas? I want her to have her stocking. Can we give it to her?” And none of my explanations felt adequate. Recently, Nora noticed a little drawing taped on the wall in her room. It has been there ever since she was a newborn. Soon after we brought her home from Houston, Asher drew a special family picture for Nora and insisted we tape it on her wall for her to look at.
It includes Daddy, Mommy, Liam and Asher holding his baby Nora. Up in the sky, is Lucy, looking out of the window of her mansion in heaven, smiling. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking. Lucy is included as a natural part of our family but the separation is clearly illustrated. All of us down here together. Lucy up there in heaven. So Nora asked about the picture on the wall and I pointed everyone out and explained it to her and she loved it. But of course, she had lots of hard questions.
Nora notices more and more how the big brothers play together so effortlessly without her in the scenario. I mean, it only makes sense that she would not want to be part of their conversations about Fortnite or the imaginary Civil War battle they are meticulously planning out, casualties and all. But she can’t understand why they don’t want to play Barbie princesses with her or act out the Cinderella ball scene over and over again. In those moments I ache so deeply for Nora to have her five year old sister here with her. I can see the hours of fun they would have playing together every day, an easy friendship built into the family. My whole childhood was a never ending play date with my sister Kristin, who is 22 months younger than me. We didn’t even call each other by name. We called each other “friend” because we somehow knew that being friends was extra special. A person doesn’t have a choice about who her sister is, but she does get to choose who her friends are. And Kristin and I wanted everyone to know that we had chosen to be friends. We weren’t just sisters. Nora would LOVE to have a five year old sister friend, even for just one day. How many days of joy and friendship are missed? Years of friendship gone. A lifetime with her sister gone. And it’s hard for me not to let the bitterness take over as I think about the doctors at UAB with their careless mistakes and I want to ask them, “Do you know how many years of friendship have been lost because of your pride? Nora’s only sister, dead, because you couldn’t take ten minutes out of your busy day to check Lucy for anemia when I begged you to.” I forgive the doctors at UAB multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day, and I ask God to give me compassion for them. Thank God for the power He gives me to forgive and to love the people who are hardest to love. Without Him I would be drowning in my bitterness.
This past week Nora randomly said to me, “Mommy, I really miss Lucy and I really want her to come here.” It stopped me in my tracks. “I know, I miss her too and I really wish she could be here too.” I said. “But I want her to be here in my house and play with me. And I miss Lucy and you miss Lucy but Callum doesn’t miss her and Asher doesn’t miss her and Liam doesn’t miss her and Daddy doesn’t miss her like we do.” she said. I knew what she was trying to express, that the boys don’t miss Lucy like we do because they have each other. I told her that the boys do miss Lucy as much as we do, except for maybe Callum because he doesn’t know about her yet. “Why doesn’t Callum know about her?” she asked. “Well, he’s too little to understand and it’s hard to explain it to him, but when he gets older he will know who Lucy is.” “Will she come here tomorrow? To our house? Or maybe the next day?” Nora asks hopefully, and my heart sinks. This is the worst. “No, she’s not coming here.” “But maybe she can come later? To our house? And she can stay at our house.” Nora pushes. “I’m sorry baby, but she can’t come to our house because she is in heaven. But we can see her when we go to heaven.” I say, trying to steady my voice. “Oh!” she says, “so how do we go there? Where do we go through? Where’s the door?” “Well, we can’t go there until after we die.” I say slowly. Nora instantly looks horrified. “I don’t want to die!” Oh, now we are spiraling into uncharted territory. I don’t know what to say to my sweet little three year about the horrors of this world we live in. But I have to tell the truth so I say, “Everyone is going to die one day, but if you love God, after you die you can live in heaven forever. And it is going to be so wonderful.” “But I don’t want to die.” she repeats, looking up at me with her giant worried eyes. “I know, and you don’t have to worry about that at all right now.” I say, not exactly sure how to reassure her. “Will Lucy show me her toys when I get to heaven?” she asks and I feel relieved that we are now onto toys as opposed to inescapable death. Finally she lets me change the subject but I am shaken, and the rest of the day I feel desperately sad.
A couple days later as I was getting Nora ready for preschool she nonchalantly asked me, “When am I going to die?” and here we go again. Even though Nora’s questions are heartbreaking for me and difficult to answer, they remind me of how thankful I am that I do have the answers, even if they might be too complex for Nora to understand at the moment.
People die and kids grow up and everything changes but God remains the same. He never changes. He is constant and trustworthy and His love for us never changes. He is our anchor. He even conquered death so really, for those who know God, death is only moving from this place to our real home. Lucy is home and I wonder if she asks God, “Can Nora come to our house and stay? Will she come here tomorrow? To our house? Or maybe the next day?” And He says that the wait will feel like the blink of an eye and before Lucy knows it her family will be home forever. Together. And the most beautiful, comforting thing is that God does not leave us here to flounder in grief while we wait. He is here with us, filling in the gaps where we ache, where dreams are unfulfilled and people are missing. God can be our fulfillment, our strength, our peace, our joy. So maybe Nora has to wait until heaven to have a sister, but she can have other meaningful relationships here and she can have peace, joy and fulfillment through the God who never leaves or changes.
Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.
Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.