By Jinny Henson
I have reassured myself in the six months since the death of my daughter, Maggie Lee, that although I have no idea what I will do without her, I honestly didn’t know what to do with her when she first arrived, either. This gives me room to breathe, and by the grace of God, I sense I will adapt to my new life in some measure as I did before.
Of course, birthing a child and burying a child are radically different. First, you deliver a bundle of dreams wrapped in possibility oozing potential. In the other unnatural scenario, you lower those treasured dreams into the ground — forever.
It is disorienting, and I still am shocked to wake up every morning. In a moment, despite diligent love, a freak accident calls, unaware your family is supposed to be exempt. As soon as you’re told your child will die, you ratchet down expectations. You see a child in a wheelchair and breathe, “I’ll take it,” or one with a contracted little body, still able to communicate, and think, “I would gladly spend my life taking care of her.” But the ultimate bargain isn’t yours to make.
I have learned a few things in my first six months of new-born grief. Many lessons will follow as I contend with this absence as long as I live. I have learned:
— A good friend is impossible to shake. Most people are lucky to have one true friend. I have an embarrassing wealth of friends and family who shouldered my burden with me.
— Treasure every imperfect day and those who remain. Since Maggie Lee’s death, I have tried to suck the marrow out of life even more than I did before — enjoying my family as they are, not as they should be. We often unwrap as presents the people around us with conditional dissatisfaction. We love our children but try to exact better performances. We appreciate our parents, but Dad dresses funny and Mom has a goatee. We love our spouse, but he sets the thermostat too low and never remembers how we like our coffee. Losing someone I love made me grateful for what and whom I have left.
— The appearance of control is a facade. The writer of Ecclesiastes wisely compares earthly existence with a fleeting vapor. Even if life followed my plans, I eventually would have encountered a traumatic blow or two. Time wounds all heels, and many more graphically than mine. Consider Haiti. No purpose is served by thinking no one’s loss can ever rival mine. If I wear my disaster like an orchid on Mother’s Day, it will only frighten people.
— T-shirt fronts serve as great tissues. Grief ambushes at the most inappropriate moments, such as the carpool line, Sunday school or the deli counter. Sometimes, emotions are brought on by well-intentioned small-talk such as, “How many children do you have?” or, “Is he an only child?” I have found it best to answer the question as my life is now rather than to thrust my emotional baggage on an unsuspecting stranger. Most people are unprepared for the toxic emotions a grieving person can produce.
— People want good to have the last word. During her three-week fight for life, over 250,000 visits were made to Maggie Lee’s Caring Bridge site. On Oct. 29, which would’ve been her 13th birthday, over 18,000 people signed up to do a good deed on Maggie Lee for Good Day. When you try to wrest good out of tragedy, God and many people will hustle to help.
— Although I struggle with God and miss my daughter desperately, I am not prepared to go it alone. God is the only path to true healing. Although searing pain wins over me some days, my heavenly Father is indeed close to the brokenhearted, and hope in Christ will sustain me until I see my precious child again.
— Of all I have failed to prioritize, mothering is not one of them. I wasn’t perfect, but I was dead-on in living with my family as my priority. I am devastated to have placed so much import on loving my children, only to have had one of them die, but grateful that for a brief period I did what mattered most. When Maggie Lee told me I was the best mother in the world, I would tell her I was sure she would grow up and need counseling for something I had done or failed to do, but she would know I loved her with all of my heart. And she did.