The 27th of August will go down as one of darkest days in the history of our family. It has been a year since the fateful day, but sometimes I find the events of that day playing in my head. I can still see the doctor’s face as she said the words “I am very sorry I cannot get the heartbeat”. At 30 weeks of pregnancy, we had so much excitement and expectations of welcoming our son Andile. We had already started making plans for relocating back home to Zimbabwe with two kids and he was already included in the travel arrangements. I wish that no parent would ever go through what we went through but sadly, as we live this side of heaven, more couples will face stillbirth or the death of their loved infants. The pain of such an experience is deep but it is in such moments of deep pain that the Lord teaches us some deep truths about himself and life in his world. As we grieve the unfulfilled dreams with our son, we will forever remember the profound lessons that God, in his sovereignty, has taught us from the valley of pain. We like to think of Andile as our teacher, yet he never stepped foot in any school and most of these lessons came through reflecting on the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 139 which we read and played all over again during our dark moments in the valley of grief. So, what did Andile teach us?
He taught us the value of life
He taught us that every life is valuable. It is valuable, not because of how long one lives, how educated one is, or how much wealth one acquires, but every person is important because they are created and known by God. The Psalmist aptly points out that “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15). In the very next verse, the Psalmist goes on to say that all the days of his life were written in God’s book even before one of them came to be. While we had no answers about why our son was called home so early, we took comfort in the knowledge that his frame and his days were known by the creator of the whole universe. That is significant. His life matters and it was by no means an accident both in its conception and early termination.
He taught us the value of time
Andile taught us that time belongs to God. As we eagerly prepared for his arrival, we had made plans for our family life with him included. At 30 weeks, a few things in the house had been changed to make way for our second child. However, in all this, we learnt that we can make our plans, but God has the last word. While it is good and prudent to prepare for the future, we should always remember that the future is in God’s hands. He is the one who knows the length of our days on earth.Again, the Psalmist knew this when he said, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them”(Psalm 139:16). For our son, God had determined that his days were going to be thirty weeks, in utero. His time with us was very short, but he has impacted our lives forever. There are things we would have never learnt without going through that experience with Andile. So, from now on, we live with this awareness that anytime, we can be called home. Only God knows the time and all we can do is stay ready to meet him. Are you ready?
He taught us the power of Hope
Andile left us with broken hearts. In all this, one thing that has kept us going is our Christian hope. This hope shines even brighter in the most tragic of events in our earthly lives. It cannot be defiled or destroyed because it stands strong even in the face of death which poses as the biggest threat to our earthly existence. But the words of Jesus to Martha and Mary stands as a helpful corrective to our thinking about death. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”(John 11:25-26). Andile taught us to hold on to this resurrection hope in a way we have never known before. Because Jesus conquered death, we can face death with pain and grieve the loss it brings, but we do so with hope because we know death is not the last word for those who are in Christ.
He taught us about pastoral care
We are so thankful for many people who cared for us in many different ways during our time of grief. Grief comes in various forms and stages and what is helpful to some may not be as helpful to others. I should mention that, by no means do I claim to know how other people process grief and loss, but I learnt that whatever way people may be wired, it is important to make them know that you are there for them. We remember some people who would just come and sit with us or just send a message that they are thinking and praying for us. Some helped in practical ways like making sure we were fed while others offered to look after our toddler. In all this, the pain of grief was still real, but we felt we were not alone.
Caring for grieving people is not easy, and we will not always get it right, but that is why the best thing we can do is to pray with and for those in grief. As God promised Paul, his grace is sufficient, and his power is most evident in our moments of weakness and helplessness (2 Cor 12:9). We can attest to this. As we look back, a year later, my wife Shupi and I can confidently say that God does supply us with grace to face the thorns he allows in our life. As we come to Andile’s 1stanniversary, we terribly miss him and we can’t help but imagine what our family would be like with him today, but our hearts are also greatly comforted in the knowledge that our boy is in the best place there can ever be: he is with Jesus. He cannot come back to us, but we long for the day when we will be reunited with him. Come Lord Jesus, come!