On December 14, 2019, our sixth grandchild was born. The thirty-one weeks of life she enjoyed in the safety of her mother’s womb continued for about forty-five minutes after birth. Then she was escorted into the arms of her Creator and Savior. The death of a loved one—even when it is expected—can take the wind out of your sails. Grief is exhausting.
At eleven week’s gestation, our daughter and son-in-law learned of their firstborn’s dire medical complications—complications that would make it impossible for her to survive outside the womb. Medical personnel immediately offered termination of pregnancy to her parents, but they responded that since they knew that their little girl was created in the image of God that wasn’t an option to consider.
As time went by it became clear that, apart from God performing a miracle, she wouldn’t survive outside of the womb. Her spine was at 45 degrees and her vital organs were outside of her body. She wouldn’t be able to sustain life once the umbilical cord was cut.
When the expectation of miscarriage passed and the likelihood of their little girl going full term became the new reality, her first-time parents named her Isabelle. At that point, their prayer requests became very specific, namely, that Isabelle would survive birth so that her mom and dad could meet her while she was still alive. God answered these prayers. For three-quarters of an hour, they snuggled with their little one, and then placed her into the arms of Jesus.
Even though we knew what was going to happen, it does not make the grief of her loss any easier. Walking through this valley of sorrow, the pain has been immense. We’ve experienced a different, double-layered kind of grief. As parents, we’ve tried to walk alongside our grieving daughter and son-in-law and be a comforting presence as much as we could. As grandparents, we are also feeling our own deep sense of loss.
Three Stabilizing Truths to Remember During Grief
In the valley, we have anchored our faith to three stabilizing truths drawn from three portions of Scripture. I hope these principles can be applied to your own journey through the valley of grief, whatever the circumstances, whether expected or unexpected.
1. God ordains the length of each person’s life, even before they are born.
“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16 NASB).
Every human life is of immeasurable value regardless of abilities or disabilities, or how long the person lives. Since every human’s life is created in the image of God, and their definite purpose is ordained by God, they should be protected from harm and treated with utmost dignity. Some may be tempted to think of our granddaughter’s very brief life as a failed pregnancy, but it was nothing of the sort. Isabelle’s days were ordained for her and, even in a very short time, she did more to impact people for the gospel and the glory of God than we may ever know.
2. Death is a defeated enemy.
“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54–55).
Death is one consequence of the original sin that was engineered by the Enemy of our souls. The devil is a destroyer, but neither he nor death will get the final word. The devil’s doom and death’s end have already been sealed by Jesus (Revelation 20:10; 21:4). One day, Jesus will win the day forever, and all who find their soul’s rest in him will be resurrected and glorified in triumphant victory.
3. Grief hurts, but God’s comfort is real.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” [2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
Loss hurts deeply, regardless of the age of our loved one. No matter how or when it occurs, loss is painful. Thankfully, the triune God is for us. We have the Savior who understands our pain, the heavenly Father who comforts us, and the Spirit who applies the healing power of scriptural truth to our wounds. But grief is not a burden we are strong enough to carry on our own, without the help of other people. We need one another, and shared loss eases the pain somewhat and bonds broken hearts together.
The comfort we receive from God, and through others, equips us to become more compassionate comforters ourselves. Shared grief has a way of strengthening God’s church as a gracious family. This has been, and continues to be, a difficult valley, but comfort continues to flow to us through the Word of God and the love of his people.
In this valley of sorrow the Spirit reminded me of how often the Scriptures employ “the pain of childbirth” as a description of our own suffering in this fallen world (Romans 8:22). It struck me that what sustains a woman through pregnancy and the pain of delivery is the hope of bringing her precious child home from the hospital. But in our granddaughter’s story, her parents never had this comfort. Instead, they embraced the privilege they had been given to provide a safe place for their little girl in the womb, and love her for as many days as the Lord has ordained for her. Like expectant parents, by faith we choose to embrace the God-given privileges we have now, while looking forward to the day when God will wipe away every tear and make all things new (Revelation 21:4–5).