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I’m guessing many of you have a photo app that likes to remind you of memories from years past. This morning my wife texted me this picture:

You might be thinking “So what? It’s a van.” Yes… yes it is. The story behind this van is both painful and joyful. My wife was pregnant with twins. We knew one would live, and one would die. Two girls–Savannah and Vanessa. The pregnancy was hard, Tamara was on bed rest for the end. The day I purchased this van she was in the hospital. The story starts a few weeks before when she started having contractions. They tried to keep the babies in the womb as long as possible, and it was too early. So we hopped in our van and headed for Sioux Falls. Half way there the transmission went out. We rolled into a town, and ended up in front of a Chevy dealer. I walked in and explained what was going on. The guy took one look at my very pregnant wife and threw us the keys to a car. Fast forward two weeks when Tamara gave birth to our twin girls. Vanessa lived for about a day. She died surrounded by family, her older brother and sister, aunts and uncles, grandpas and grandmas. Savannah was healthy but very tiny. So off to the NICU she went, spending the first month of life in the hospital. As you can imagine, we needed transportation. So a few days after the twins were born I went to the car dealership, asked to see a used van, looked at two of them, and said “I’ll take that one”. “Do you want to drive it first?” the salesperson asked? “Nope.” I took this picture in the hospital parking lot so Tamara could see our big purchase.

Savannah and Vanessa turn 11 on Sunday. The van served us well, many miles and memories before we bought a different one. It’s amazing the attachments one can form to a hunk of metal and plastic. I haven’t thought about this van in a long time. Honestly, I don’t think about Vanessa as much as I should. The first few years the pain is raw; I thought about her all the time. But life happens, and memories fade. Seeing this picture this morning brought me back. The sounds, the smells, the anxiety and tears for our beautiful Vanessa. But also, the joy and happiness that is our baby Savannah.

This morning I came across the poem I wrote for Vanessa in the weeks following her death. I’m not a poet, just a grieving parent trying to make sense of death and loss. If I were to rewrite it, I’d add a line or two about a silver Honda van, car seats, and crushed fishy crackers.

A Poem for Vanessa

How do you grieve for what you never had?  How do you grieve for what might have been?

The hopes and fears never expressed

The joys and sorrows that will never come…

 

The simple things we take for granted

To watch you sleeping – dreaming – smiling

To smell your new born baby skin…so clean and unblemished

To see your big eyes – open – looking – trying to make sense of the strange world into  which you were forced to come.

To see your sister hold you, your brother hit you…and to hear you cry.

To be able to comfort you and tell you everything will be fine…

 

How does one grieve for pudding filled long johns that will never be eaten?

For monkey bars and tunnel slides never to be explored…

For swimming pools, fishing poles, and happy meals…

For all that little girls are supposed to do without a care in the world.

 

How does one grieve an empty chair?  For the extra crib and a car seat never bought…

How does one grieve for graduations and weddings that will never come?

How do you grieve for someone you barely know?

 

I wanted you to experience this world

The colors, the smells, the warmth, the cold

I wanted you to skin your knee, to catch a cold, to have your heart broken.

 

I wanted to teach you things…

To dance, to play catch, to tackle your older brother…

I wanted to hold your hand as we walked…

I wanted to read to you stories of bears and rabbits…talking lions and fairy godmothers

But these things are not to be…

 

There will come a day when we will see you again

You will have so much to tell us

We will talk together hand in hand through the tall grass, the wind at our back

I will listen as you tell of your adventures

The places you have been, the things you have done…

The woman you have become…

For the dead have a history…you are not forsaken or abandoned

The Lord still beckons…calling you to become the woman he intends for you to be

 

Please know we will never forget you

Not a day will pass without your name fluttering through our thoughts like a butterfly dancing across the blue sky.

I hope you will remember us…

Be patient – wait for us – we will see you soon.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

8 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    That’s a song!

  • Helen Phillips says:

    Beautiful!

  • Barb Ranck says:

    Beautiful blog and poem Jason. Thank you for sharing this and helping share your hope.

  • Jim S says:

    Thanks for this, Jason.

  • Craig Schoon says:

    We too lost a child, but much earlier on in the pregnancy, such that we really never knew or named him/her. I know the fade of time, because it was 19 years ago, and it rarely crosses my mind now. The pain was real, but less intense because the bond was much more distant, but still we wonder and grieve for love never given, dreams never dreamed, hurts never healed. God bless all who have lost little ones, and continue to give us hope for eternity where pain, hurt and loss will be no more! There we will see them, and even more, the great physician and healer himself, JESUS!

  • Jan Z. says:

    Thank you for reminding all of us how precious every day of life is, filled with the mundane and the profound. Filled with love and loss. And filled with memories of events and cars and what might have beens.

  • Tom Eggebeen says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Han-Yen Kao says:

    Thank you for sharing, Jason.

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