East of Eden

AnnaI can’t let the day go by without acknowledging that this is my daughter’s birthday, though it has been 15 years since I made her a birthday cake. I almost did last night, but I made cookies instead.

I remember this day vividly. Timing contractions as we lay in bed and realizing it was time to go. Arriving at the hospital just before midnight and waiting in the car until the calendar day changed, just in case they would have charged those few minutes of May 12th as an additional day at the hospital. Waiting through the long hours of the night as labor seemed to go on and on without much progress, weary and wanting to sleep, feeling incompetent to help, vowing to study harder next time. And then memory jumps to that tiny infant on her mother’s stomach and the awe and wonder of it all.

I know we made phone calls. I know, at some point, it was time to rest – but it was a Wednesday morning and the local Lutheran pastors get together for breakfast and I stopped to share the news. I must have eaten – but who remembers? I went home and tried sleep, but was too excited, so I got up and went back to the hospital.

Deb was on the phone when the nurse came to show us how to change diapers. It was one of the great gifts of that morning. The nurse wasn’t going to wait for Deb, so she showed me how to change the diaper and a moment later I showed Deb. For those five minutes, I was the expert. Because of that, I never felt incompetent for the task of caring for Anna. But I wasn’t there for the instructions on bathing an infant – and I never really did, not till she was older.

I wish I could share all these reminiscences with Anna today. I wish I could hear her voice. I wish I could make a cake or at least send her the cookies. But I can’t because a driver had been drinking, because a friend took him to his car, because the designated driver wasn’t ready to go, because a tavern served him when they shouldn’t, because there’s money to be made selling alcohol, because we don’t want anyone to limit our freedom to drive, because he made the choice.  He made the choice.

I remember her silly, wispy blond hair that tended to float above her head as a halo. I remember calling her “sweat-head” from the exertion of nursing on warm summer days. I remember calling her ‘Buck’ because I wanted her to be strong. I remember the look in her eye the day the light bulb went off and she realized what she saw in the distance she could reach by crawling – and from then on, couldn’t be stopped. I remember her trying to put her big plastic keys into the lock on the front door, and rattling the gate that barred the stairs, wanting to climb them. At bedtime I’d let her climb up and then carry her back down a few times hoping to wear her out.

I remember her playing in her drawer in the kitchen – pulling out all the plastic containers and flinging them behind her across the kitchen floor. I remember he wanting to do the same with the pot lids. I remember her teething on the cool brass piano pedals and empty aluminum beer cans. I remember her first steps. I had pulled her out of a car seat at a friend’s home and set her on the ground while I reached back for something, and she toddled off across the lawn.

I remember the instant rage with which she awoke in the night, hungry to nurse, and her fascination with the box from her first Christmas toy. I remember Dad on the living room floor with her – the first grandchild of all the grandparents. Our joy.

And then we all stood together as the casket was lowered into the ground and watched as the vault lid was put in place and the dirt came down, my dad gulping down a cry of despair.

How stupid it all is. How senseless. How senseless all the death we wreak. How senseless the children who perish in war, who perish in hunger, who perish beneath fallen buildings, who perish from preventable disease, who perish from hate. I don’t understand any of it.

I know I’m supposed to say something about Easter, here. Something about the majesty and grace of God who will set right the world. Something about the wondrous gifts yet present in this world. Something about the way God used that senseless death to bring some goodness. But not today. Today is just Good Friday. Today is the weeping mother and the hiding disciples and the despair over the human heart. Today is sorrow for Anna’s sister and her mother and her friends. Today is regret and frustration and the ache of living East of Eden.

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About dkbonde

Pastor, Los Altos Lutheran Church
This entry was posted in Grief and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to East of Eden

  1. amross50 says:

    Thank you for sharing your grief. While I have not experienced the loss of a child, I am moved by a fellow pilgrim’s griefs and sadness, of which I have suffered many. May you find comfort in the beauty of the world and the hope that it offers us. Your daughter is Beautiful!

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