A deceptively warm February 40 years ago saw my beloved father experiencing a near-fatal heart attack. I can never forget learning, after enjoying an overnight visit with a school friend, how my mom, hands full with three minor children, no job or even driver’s license, elected to leave me an extra day in the company of relative strangers while she dealt with the crisis. I remained there, blissfully unaware that my dad lay critically ill as I dressed Barbie dolls.
Fast forward 20 years to February 1991. I shivered on a cold gurney, awaiting surgery which would remove the remains of my unborn child, who had died before ever leaving the womb. Although the calendar said I was only 14 weeks pregnant, this baby already had a name – Abigail – and a huge place in my now broken heart. In short, I was devastated. I remember desperately waiting for the calendar page to turn so I could shudder off the cold, bleak month that had claimed my daughter’s life.
In February 2003, my precious mother took her last breaths, following years of frail health. Metastasized cancer diagnosed the previous fall caught us all off guard, and swept her away from us in less than three months.
While it stings to revisit all this sorrow, I find great comfort in recalling God’s mercy during those desolate periods. In wandering through each pain-filled song of my life, I find ample evidence of amazing grace rippling through every aching chord.
After Dad’s heart attack my sister Jane, whose goodness is rivaled only by her practicality, bought Mom driving lessons, rendering her less dependent on her ailing husband. Dad mercifully remained with us another 30 years, longer than any male in his immediate family, although his health was irreparably damaged. He was blessed with good quality of life, thanks to the grace of God and the benefits of 20th century medicine. He lived to see all seven of his grandchildren grow out of diapers and into their school years. The realization that we almost lost him made him that much dearer in our eyes.
While nothing could bring back my Abby, family and friends rallied to bind up my wounds. My sister Jo Ann, herself ready to deliver her second child, realized the seeming unfairness and understood why I couldn’t bring myself to visit newborn Madelyn when she arrived March 1. Instead of insisting I celebrate my new niece, Jo and her husband Scott, whom I consider a brother, sent me a glorious begonia with coral blossoms that reminded me life could still bloom even in the starkest winter.
For her part, my sister Roz took me out for an expensive haircut, with the thought that a new look might bring a smile to my tear-streaked face. Best of all, the following February found me weeks away from cradling my own darling Aaron, who made his entrance March 16, 1992. Five years later, almost to the day, his precious brother, Ethan, came on the scene. February, indeed, gave way to marvelous March.
When Mom was in the last stages of her illness, Jane packed up her suitcases and nursing skills and boarded a flight home across the country. She made it in time to tend our mother and say goodbye. Roz’s husband Tom, also more brother than brother-in-law, came to the rescue, hauling Mom’s debilitated body up when she would slip down in her hospital bed.
In the aftermath, I cried on the phone with my counselor while emptying Mom’s closet. That dear lady wouldn’t take a cent for our phone session. A neighbor who had never before been kind cleared snow from our driveway, and others we barely knew showed up to her memorial service. We didn’t get through unscathed, but neither were we forsaken.
In every season of grief, almighty arms held my family and me high above an abyss of uncertainty and pain. Those arms aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath
are the everlasting arms.”
Thea Williams’s short story, “Phoenix,” appears in 50 Over Fifty: A Celebration of Established and Emerging Women Writers. Her work appears in Focus on the Family Magazine and Al Anon’s The Rap. Subscribe to Thea’s blog at www.reflectionsbythea.blogspot.com By day, Thea educates and prays for young minds at a local school district. You can also contact Thea on her FB page. Thea is a regular contributor to RUBY magazine.