One balloon of many.

Tonight is the longest night.  My friend will be there tonight at church, just as she was before.  I won’t be able to be near her, to cry in the pew beside her, to pass tissues, to mourn together.  I’ll be facing her while I help to lead the service.  Thankfully, if I cry with her from a distance, no one will question my unsteadiness or any extended pauses while I attempt to compose myself.  Some of our tears reflect similar life experiences and some come from experiences we have chosen to share.  Just as I willingly ran a 5k during Infant Awareness month, I willingly remember her baby that we raced for.  We wear pressed flower tokens, attached to our laces, and tonight, we grieve.  We mourn all the Christmases she never had with him and will never have.  We let ourselves feel the twisted, mixed emotions regarding her living son.  Had her first baby survived, his existence may have negated the second’s.  We allow ourselves to feel resentment and jealousy, to let it just be what it is.  I’ve been aware from very early on in our friendship that I have what she should have had.  When she sees my sons play, she sees the life she was meant to have had.  We let the tears fall about all the awkward conversations that come up.  Does she answer that she has two sons or only one when people ask?  If she answers that she has two, then she has to explain that one is dead.  She risks pulling out the stitches in her heart again, again and again.  He died at the hospital.  Emergency c-section.  He lived less than a month.  The hospital lost his blanket.  But if she says she only has one son, avoiding the painful discussion, does she still tug at stitches?  Has she shown her dead son less love by acting as if he didn’t exist?  Her heart is always full, brimming with a spectrum of emotions.  She is not alone.  When we raced in October, we raced with hundreds of other families.  We all gathered after the race to release balloons, one balloon for every baby gone.  There are hundreds of thousands of people who meet the holidays with a touch of despair, because their holidays will never be complete, no matter what they do.  How do you ever feel complete when a part of yourself has been taken?  In my friend’s case, literally cut from her abdomen.  How do you ever feel whole again when the nursery you lovingly put together becomes the room that only reminds you of the baby that never came home?  Please remember that the holidays are not joyful for all people.  Sometimes, it is the most painful time of the year, bringing back memories to cut you and wound you, memories with so much heartache that looking at a Christmas tree’s lights is like little glimpses of the flames of a crematory.  That devastation is mingled with the contentment of seeing her living children look at those glittering orbs.  My friend needs services like the one that will happen tonight.  Some trauma is too much to be alone in.  If you have friends who are hurting right now, please remember that sometimes loving a person is living their hurt with them.  Be brave and let their aches touch you.  Just as they can’t understand your life, you can’t understand theirs.  You can be with them.  You don’t even have to try to understand.  My friend would say that she wouldn’t want you to have to understand—she doesn’t want anyone to hurt like she does.  Just understand that some grief can’t be touched.  It will not cease.  It will not leave.  Some sadness touches everything and leaves a person invisibly sick.  During the holidays, there is no medicine to reduce the fevers of our hearts when they’re constantly healing from an injury.  When merely living is a reminder of who is not living, what can I do but run and run and run with my friend, watch her son’s balloon in the horizon, and cry across a church?  What can I do but love him too?

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