“Blessed are those who mourn.” I don’t know about you, but I have struggled with that particular verse. Mostly because I have mourned a lot in my life. My husband and I have suffered loss after loss, and, at the time, I certainly didn’t feel blessed. I felt a lot of things: cursed, alone, betrayed, angry, bitter and just plain depressed, but blessed was not one of them.
I have also struggled with people’s cliché statements of comfort during times of mourning: “God never gives us more than we can handle.” “Only special people are given these kind of circumstances, because you are strong enough to get through them.” Worst of all are any statements that begin with “at least”: “At least you have your health.” “At least you still have other parents.” “At least you know you can get pregnant.”
Please stop using that phrase to try and comfort people. I am here to tell you nothing good can follow the words “at least.” There is no empathy there. There is only the desire to fill the silence, and filling the silence isn’t always helpful.
I guess the best place to start is to tell you a bit about my journey so you know where I’m coming from. I grew up in a fairly bubblesque existence. I had two amazing parents who loved me deeply and supported me in all my ventures. We had some rocky moments as I grew into an adult, I will admit. My dad is a Baptist pastor, and I come from an incredibly conservative background.
I am not the most conservative person. I’m the girl with the piercings and tattoos and half-shaved head with the rest of her hair dyed pink and purple. My thoughts and beliefs tend to lend toward the non-conservative as well. I will tell you though I am so lucky in that while my parents may not have always understood why I do what I do and am the way that I am, they have never stopped loving me and supporting me. This is important for you to know, because I believe that it helped me to become the grounded person that I am after all I have suffered and lost.
I met my hubby, Adam, at college. He has made me laugh, feel loved and warmed my cold toes in the night for almost 17 years now. He’s my safe place, my other half, and the love of my life. There are times when I want to punch him in his stubborn face, but then I realize that I’m being just as stubborn and frustrating. We fight, forgive and then move on. It’s not easy (it’s ridiculously hard sometimes) to love that same someone through the good and the bad, but it’s worth it.
My husband and I decided to have babies after we had been married for a couple of years. It took us almost a year to get pregnant with our daughter, Alexis. When I got pregnant, we were so excited.
After our daughter was born, we found out she had Down syndrome. Bam. Loss. No, we didn’t lose her, but we lost the life we thought we were going to have. She then went through a series of severe seizures that left her severely impaired. Loss. When she was 2, we found out she was autistic as well. Loss.
When she was 6 months old, we (very unintentionally) got pregnant with our second child, Malachi. It was overwhelming, but we were excited too. When our son was born, however, there was something obviously wrong with his face. His eyes didn’t sit quite right. We went through tons of testing and ultimately found out he had a condition called craniosynostosis. When he was 18 months old, he had surgery on the entire front half of his skull. We spent weeks in the hospital for this and multiple other surgeries. Gone was the life we’d dreamt of where we could just live normally as parents. Loss.
Shortly before Malachi’s first surgery, I found out that I was pregnant again. I lost that baby. Loss. After Malachi healed and came home, I ended up getting pregnant again. I lost that baby as well. Loss. Not long after that, we lost Adam’s grandmother suddenly. (I will always love that feisty lady who at one time wanted to “sneak some peppermint schnapps” into my coffee just to “see what would happen.”) Loss.
For a bit, things seemed to get better. We began to heal and move on with our lives. Then the unthinkable happened. My mother-in-law, only 56 at the time, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that had already metastasized to her brain. She had surgery to remove a tumor, which was immediately threatening her life, but she was still quite sick and we didn’t have her with us for very long after that. I had an incredibly close relationship with my mother-in-law. She was one of those people I could call at 2 in the morning when I was scared about my kid’s fever. When I was upset with a doctor’s office when they wouldn’t listen to me about a fear I had for my child, she threatened to drive down there and throttle them into shape. She had my back like no one else. Loss.
At this point in my life, I started to harden myself. As you can imagine, I was getting platitude upon platitude thrown in my face. All of the cliché statements you can think of were being sent our way. They were meant to be helpful, but they weren’t. If anything, they hindered my healing process — though I will say that it only hindered me because I let it do so. I’m not trying to put the blame of my lack of healing on other people. Sometimes, when it comes to mourning, we are our own worst enemy.
I moved on, a bit stronger, a bit weaker, a bit more calloused, and a bit more loving all at once. We had our third baby, and, for once, things went pretty normally when it came to birth and delivery. We thought that our Zachary was going to be our Adelaide, but that’s another and much funnier story.
We got pregnant and lost the baby once more. Loss. Another failed pregnancy for the fourth time came a few months later. Loss.
In 2017, the craziness of our lifestyle started to catch up with me. I suffer from insomnia on a good day, and if you’ve been paying attention, you can deduct that we didn’t have a lot of “good days” during this period of our lives. This was the point when my body decided to completely shut down on me. I started having seizures from severe exhaustion. It was the scariest time of our lives, for sure. At first, we didn’t know what was happening or if I had a brain tumor. Thankfully my condition was treatable. I just needed to start getting more than two hours of sleep a night. During this time, however, I couldn’t drive or be in charge of much of my own life. Loss.
Less than a month later, we suddenly lost my dear grandmother. I’m still waiting to get a card from her in the mail that tells me to “be good” with a gift bag that has deodorant, body powder, socks and chocolate. It was very sudden and a heartbreaking shock to us all. Loss. A few months after that, we lost Adam’s step-mom quite suddenly as well. “Granny Red” was a little spitfire with the biggest heart you could ever hope to see. Loss.
A pattern had seemed to form in our lives where we suffered severe loss, and, before we could properly mourn, something else would happen that would just pile on and drag us down. How in the world could anyone see a blessing in this huge mess that was our lives?
That’s when it happened, though. I had to hit rock bottom before I could even think of coming back. I am a very different person than I was before all of this loss. I look back at young, cocky, unmarred me, and I kind of want to throat-punch her. I think we’re all like that on some level. You really wish you could go back to a younger version of yourself and say, “Please! For the love of all that is the early 90s, will you stop wearing multiple scrunchies and hammer pants? That look will never be fly on a little white girl!” No wait, that was a different regret. (Sorry, had to lighten the mood for a moment.) Still though, inward and outward, I am very much changed from the young girl who thought she knew everything and had it all together.
That’s the key. We change and morph into different people when we mourn. It’s terrible. It’s devastating. It stinks like none other. Mourning will always be the worst. That’s its definition actually. Maybe not according to Webster, but you know what I mean. I was at the lowest of lows when all of this came to a head in my life. I can finally — after much reflection, rest, crying, punching of walls, therapy, prayer and talking it out with friends and family — say that I am a better person for all that I have gone through. Even a year or two ago, I wouldn’t have believed that. I may have said it, just for the sake of keeping up appearances, but I wouldn’t have believed it.
“Blessed are those who mourn.” Even now, feeling the peace that I do, those words kind of feel like a punch to the stomach. It actually is true, though, and let me finally tell you why. I genuinely believe that I am a better person after all of my loss. I’m not trying to give you another cliché statement. (I really do hate those.) The truth is that I was kind of shallow before I went through everything I did. I meant well. I always had a good heart and loved to give to others, but I’m telling you right now that, intentionally or not, I always managed to bring the focus of every situation in life onto myself. I could try and blame it on youth and inexperience, but the truth is there are plenty of young people out there in the world who are not self-involved at a young age. It kills me to look back and think of how much time I spent thinking about myself at that age, but we live and learn.
Now, let me clarify, I don’t think that God necessarily put me through all of these trials just to break me down and make me a better person. I think that we live in a broken world, and terrible things happen. I do believe that God helped to mold me though, and I am so thankful that I clung to Him in my grief. It could easily have gone the other way. I could still be bitter. I could have let the grief separate me from my husband. I could have let the terrible loss I was feeling saturate my every waking move and keep me from doing good in my community, forming friendships and growing as a person. Thank goodness things went the way they did.
I want to end on one particular word that comes after mourning: strength. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10 NRSV). “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10). Do you see the pattern in these verses? I sure do.
I was weak before all of my loss — easily knocked down and led astray. I’m not claiming to be Wonder Woman or anything, but I am so much stronger now. I am softer. I am kinder. I am more generous. I am so much less self-involved. I am still very imperfect, but I am a better person after all of my mourning. I would even say blessed. And that really does bring us full circle. Poor fashion choices and all (I had to tie that in), I don’t regret any of the bad things that have happened in my life.
“Mournful me” turned into “stronger me.” “Broken me” turned into “blessed and loving me.” It’s not a fun process, for sure. It is worth it, though. I can tell you from experience, truthfully and sincerely, “Blessed are those who mourn.”
Emily Davidson is a classically trained pianist, a stay-at-home mom and a freelance writer for Autism Parenting Magazine and other publications. Her husband, Adam, is the lead pastor at the Portage (Michigan) Free Methodist Church.6