Every once in a while, the day hits you like a freight train. The weight of grief is immense and the absence of your missing loved one(s) is more obvious than ever. Today was one of those days. Even though I expected it to be hard - it is mama’s would-be 59th Birthday - it was even more heavy and difficult than I could have imagined.

Audrey and I are visiting my sister and her brand new baby boy. We have been here for a few days, doing the usual things as far as helping brand new parents go. Laundry, dishes, errands, cooking, and even the occasional sleepy snuggles while mama and daddy catch up on sleep. I prepared my heart for this to be hard. To hold and snuggle a little boy, so dear to my heart, whom I loved so much even before he was born, I was ready. When I met my brother’s son last fall, I was ready for it to be awful. But it was actually wonderful. I was holding my nephew. A child that I would have loved no matter the outcome of my own circumstances. I readied my heart for it to hurt and instead God blessed it through the little eyes, arms, legs, and cries of this precious new baby in our family. As I packed for this trip, I did the same. I prepared my heart for the the deepest layers of grief to come rearing their ugly head. For the joy and love that I knew I would have towards this tiny little man to be coupled with, and possibly overshadowed, by the deep sorrow of missing my own little man. And again, God blessed my heart. The sadness was minimal and the joy of snuggling this scrunched up tiny human has been immeasurable. Until today. Today was harder than most of the days I’ve had since those initial weeks after saying goodbye to sweet George.

My brother and his wife drove the few hours from their home so that all the cousins could meet for the first time. It is the most incredible thing, watching your kids and those of your siblings start to bond. The love between them is instant. The friendship will come as the age gap becomes less important. But the sweet little faces of this clan of kiddos is one of the most unique and wonderful things to witness and experience. And while that was a truth for today, there were also the obvious absences; another, equal, simultaneous truth for today was sorrow.

We gathered the grand babies for one decent picture. Decent being a stretch, as the two little boys are 3 weeks and 5 months respectively. And the little girl, well she’s in that awkward photo face stage. So we placed Audrey Nole on the couch in the sunroom, carefully placed tiny Elliot in her arms and then gently sat Mason Henry next to her. And then all the grown ups in the room made silly faces and awkward noises... a failed attempt to catch eye contact from the elder two kiddos. The end result was adorable and sweet.  A sleeping newborn, an unamused 5 month old, and a very proud big girl. It will melt your heart. But the most poignant part of that picture, is not who or what is in it - but instead, who is not. There isn’t a 2 year old little boy trying to get away. There isn’t a proud and overly giddy set of grandparents holding down the fort. Instead of 4 little ones and Grammy and Papa, there were just 3 little ones. And while the image will melt your heart, it will also break it.

I haven’t felt the sorrow of my son’s absence quite so heavily as today in long time. I haven’t longed for interaction with my mama in even longer. Life moves on and survival requires your heart to grasp tightly to the highs and move quickly through the lows. But today, as 3 families sat around a living room, it was painfully obvious who we were missing. Our family has never been the same since mama went to be with Jesus. Our dad has lost himself. Our nuclear families have grown more independent. And when Adam and I said goodbye to our sweet second born, we changed forever. So today I missed them. All of them. Even Aunt Madi, who wasn’t here today - not because of death, but because of life! And as I sat down at the table with Audrey Nole and her leftover spaghetti, I lost it. All the strength I could muster for today, to get out of bed, to play with my nephews, to engage with my siblings, it had been spent. As the sun set on January 26, so did my dry eyes.

When I lay my head on the pillow tonight, I will be thankful for today. And I will be thankful for tomorrow. For each new day brings news challenges and God’s perfect mercies.

Happy Birthday Mama! We miss you so deeply and we cannot wait until the day that you greet us at the gates of heaven. I hope that you’re hugging my son a little tighter today and letting him blow out your candles.