Wiechmann: The Darkness of the Year
When the deer has bedded down
And the bear has gone to ground
And the northern goose has wandered off
To warmer bay and sound,
It’s so easy in the cold to feel
The darkness of the year
And the heart is growing lonely for the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
That the stars are swingin’ slow
And the seas are rollin’ easy
As they did so long ago.
If I had a thing to give you
I would tell you one more time
That the world is always turning toward the morning.
A decade and a half… It is not quite possible to imagine the tiny baby girl with blue eyes and a sheaf of dark hair that I held in my womb for thirty-six weeks, and held in my arms for twenty-four hours, as a fifteen year old young lady. Would she be taller than I am? Would she be willowy or sturdy? Full figured or slender? Would she be introverted or extroverted? Quiet and shy or outgoing and confident? Would she love reading? Sewing? Riding horses? Playing the piano?
Recently, as I watched the moon waning, I found myself back on the midnight journey from home to hospital, that night that she was living —and dying. The old moon was rising slowly as we drove to Bismarck, chose a name for her, and blundered our way into the hospital at four o’clock in the morning. I’m still not sure why there were signs in the Bone and Joint building that indicated how to find the NICU, but thankfully there were.
I distinctly recall praying during that dark drive that God would give her healing or Heaven. We did not know if there had been brain damage from hypoxia; she had quit breathing a couple of times before we got her to the Emergency Room, and we had no idea what else was going on.
She had been born just at sunrise on November 13, 2006. As we stood by her bed in the NICU at dawn on November 14, holding her tiny hands, watching her tiny chest heave with each breath, and knowing that this was goodbye, the light of a golden sunrise painted the clouds outside the windows. Heaven was close; the veil between the seen and the unseen was very thin for a few minutes.
I know, without a doubt, that in those moments of glory and grief, God answered my prayer. He gave Roseanna Kari both Heaven and healing. Then the light faded and the clouds were heavy and gray again.
We were not to learn right away what had happened, but as the pieces fell into place some years later, I learned that my body had decided that she was foreign and attacked her liver cells. She was bleeding internally prior to her birth, and the valiant efforts of neonatologists and nurses could not keep her here. Neonatal Hemochromatosis, or Gestational Alloimmune Liver Disease (NH/GALD) has a low survival rate and is still rarely heard of or encountered. It would be nearly two years before we knew the why behind the unthinkable.
As the days, weeks, months, and years have passed, the heaviness of the pain that tore my heart that day has diminished, as an abating tide. Most days I just move through the routines of the normal craziness that is ranching, homeschooling, raising horses, writing and doing the next thing. My arms are full with Roseanna’s three younger sisters, whose lives were positively affected by her mysterious medical issues. The ripple effects of her short life have passed far beyond our family, as our second daughter’s treatment became part of routine protocol for newborns suspected to have NH/GALD.
At the time, I didn’t want it to stop hurting. Somehow, the pain meant that I was still close to that moment when I held her little body in my arms. If it quit hurting, would it mean that I had forgotten, or worse, that I didn’t care?
But I remember. As I take time to let myself step into the memories again, in this dark time of the year, and the chest-crushing waves of grief wash over me again, I am thankful that it does still hurt. C. S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one… Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
I know, when the darkness of November surrounds me, that it will not be too much longer until the light returns. Winter will not be forever. The night may be long, but the morning will come again. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalm 30:5 As I wonder what my daughter would be like, what our relationship would be if she were still here, I am very thankful that this life, wonderful as it is, is just the shadow of the life that is to come. I will take a fresh rose to the prairie hillside where she rests, and leave it among the rocks and cactus, wild roses and sagebrush. I will be thankful again, that, for Roseanna, death was not the end but the beginning of life eternal.
The world is always turning toward the morning.
Earl cartoon by Big Dry Syndicate for the June 25, 2022, edition of Tri-State Livestock News
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