When she became sick my parents took her to a local doctor who prescribed medicine and rest at home. At a prayer meeting on Saturday night, when her breathing became loud and labored, they rushed her to the emergency room. Within minutes, she was lying on her stomach, attached to two IVs and oxygen. All night long, my mom and dad paced the waiting room floor and prayed. Two rooms removed from their baby girl, they could still hear her fighting to breathe.
Early Sunday morning, my mother realized she could no longer hear Dianne. When she walked toward her room the nurse stopped her. She explained to my parents that the pneumonia was too far gone and their baby had not survived.
My mother was 19; my dad, 23. My sister, Kay, was a year old. They held the viewing and the memorial service in my uncle’s home; a small, pink casket for the baby who smiled all the time.
In the days that followed, Kay often cried to see her sister, her “Di.” My parents would take her to see our cousin, Nancy, who was about Dianne’s age. Being with her would assuage Kay for a while.
That was more than 50 years ago. My parents do not attempt to describe the way it felt to lose her. If you ask, they shake their heads and look away. It is as though that level of grief runs so deep that they know, by instinct alone, that any attempt to describe the process would be pitifully inadequate.
The world changed for my mom and dad that Sunday morning. That smiling baby girl left behind a chasm of loss so wide that neither time nor reason could mitigate it. Those chubby fists closed around my parent’s hearts and never did let go. They were left facing a universe of “what if” scenarios and years of benchmarks, none of which escaped my parents’ notice.
King David knew the sorrow of loss. He fasted and prayed for the life of his child. He pleaded for God to spare the baby but, at one week old, the child died. David would write of the process, “(Lord) You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?” (Psalm 56:8)
Jesus understood the platform of loss. Though fully able to resurrect His friend, Lazarus, He chose to grieve with the others. One writer wrote that He “entered into mourning” with those at Bethany. I believe that Jesus stepped into the arena of their loss, allowing them to endure it because He knew that accepting the pain was a vital part of recovering from it. Isaiah would have said that He was bearing their grief and carrying their sorrow.
Jesus knew that our family was forever changed by that nine-pound baby girl. He knew how deeply and completely my parents loved her. He knew that Kay would feel a sense of loss, even though she did not yet fully grasp living and dying. He knew that, 50 years later, we would discover the gift that our grandmother bought for Dianne’s first Christmas — a glass statuette of a baby in a carriage.
Jesus walked into the room that Sunday morning. He broke open a vial of healing for those young parents. He kept close watch, counting their tossings in the night, catching their tears in His bottle. Every footfall through their valley of the shadow of death is accounted for in His book. I believe that.
My parents have enjoyed blessed, contented lives. They notice and appreciate simple pleasures. Even so, on occasion, they get a wistful look, a weighty anticipation of the world to come. They know they will see Dianne again. She will bear no scars of her battle with pneumonia or her struggle to stay here. Her hazel eyes will shine and her perfectly-shaped face will glow, just as they recall.
And she will be smiling. Always smiling.