Sunday, May 31, 2015

Timeline entry: June, 1988

If you read my last post, you know that I am preparing for a Counseling Grief and Loss class, and need to create a summary of significant losses in my life. Thanks to all who suggested a timeline would be better than trying to condense it all into two pages of narrative. Just this story alone will illustrate the futility of that approach!

This week we pass an anniversary of the most pivotal loss that I've experienced. On Thursday it will be 27 years since I gave birth to twin sons at 27-weeks, in the car, on the way to a hospital in Japan that had only one English speaking nurse (who was not on duty that night). One boy lived only a couple of hours, the other one fought on through the night. Not only did the hospital not have a neonatal unit--we found out later they performed abortions to kill babies as old as the ones I held on my lap through the streets of Tokyo. 

There are few photos of me pregnant with the twins--this one was taken in March when we visited
a former English-student in Karuizawa.  Our oldest was just 2 years old.
A few months earlier, I remember the day that the ultrasound showed two little glowing bodies--how the staff surrounded the screen before the nurse told me what was going on. Stan hadn't come with me for that appointment, and I remember stopping at a pay phone (no cell phones in those days!) to call him and tell him. We were ecstatic.

I also remember that when I told the women of our mission there was little response, little joy shared with me.  I'm not sure why--and maybe I don't remember this the way they did, but I have always carried a bit of sadness with this.  My best guess is that parenting in Japan is hard, and we were all just barely functioning as parents of young kids. The thought of twins would have been overwhelming to most.

My most favorite photo of this time was taken with our oldest as we walked through the park that spring.
Our plans were to leave Japan for our home assignment in mid-to late June. We would be near my parents for the last part of this pregnancy. We had people coming to stay in our home for the time we would be gone, so we needed to begin the packing.  In retrospect, I clearly underestimated the time that would take. This was during our first term, when we didn't have an air conditioner and our house was blistering hot.  Hot, pregnant wife is not a happy wife...

A photo taken from THAT picnic...
On June 4, our mission had a summer picnic.  Hot, not happy wife that I was, I remember vividly being quite angry with Stan that we had to go to this. Our two year old may have been acting up at the time, too... In retrospect, I know I was also in labor...  we made it through the picnic, and then were hosting the young ladies who would be staying in our home over for dinner.

But I wasn't feeling very well, and went up to our bedroom to rest a bit. At some point, I realized what the pains were that I was experiencing. Stan came up to talk with me, and I shared with him what I thought was going on. We tried to get a hold of the English speaking nurse, but couldn't. Yet, we knew we needed to get to the hospital.

The rest of the evening is snippets in my memory.  We left our daughter with the two young women, and headed in the car to the hospital 40+ minutes away. [Yes, there were closer hospitals, but this was the one we had affiliated with because of the nurse.  Would we have done something different in retrospect? Yes, though the outcome would probably not have been different.]

I realized as we got into the car, that this would probably end up with the babies being born, and that it was too early for them to survive. [Technology has changed a lot since then--with the right neonatal unit they would have survived and possibly even thrived.]  Stan and I decided, right then, that whatever happened, we wanted to honor God.  That decision has made all the difference in the days, weeks, months and years since then.

I remember being stuck in traffic, remember the night and the lights, and remember the delivery of the babies. I don't need to go into detail... Stan remembers looking over when stopped at stoplights and seeing that they were boys.

I remember getting to the hospital, how they were awfully slow in caring for me at first. How they kept asking us about a "McDonald." [No, seriously, I haven't had anything to do with McDonald's!--more on that in a minute.] I lost a lot of blood. The boys were put in an incubator. Three men from the mission came to be with us that evening--the only other folks outside of us and the hospital staff that ever saw our sons.

Eventually I was moved to a private room, and Stan spent some time with the boys. I don't remember when they told me that the first one had died. I think Stan told me that the other one had.

The next day, I remember a Japanese person from our church coming and telling me (probably thought it would help) that the doctor had said that if they had lived they would have been vegetables... My dad called from America--into a hospital that had no English speakers back in the years when a phone call was so, so expensive.  But what a comfort to both my parents and  us to be able to talk briefly.

The English speaking nurse came that day or the next. She explained that they had determined that I have an incompetent cervix--my body couldn't have held the babies full term. Our oldest had come one month early--that might have been an alert. The "McDonald" they were asking about was a cerclage procedure whereby the cervix would have been stitched closed, and the doctor on call was concerned that I might have had that.

The nurse then asked if we wanted to see the babies.  I'm so glad that we did. They were perfectly developed, beautiful, identical twin boys--nothing was wrong with them, but with my ability to carry them full term. Now we wish we had taken photos [no iPhone to whip out back then]. I remember we were reminded that they looked like one of the photos of our oldest right after she was born--now I can't remember which one that was.

I remember lying alone in the hospital room and the words of Philippians 3:20 & 21 running through my mind:  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. These little guys didn't have a citizenship on earth...

We chose to have them cremated rather than disposed of as hospital waste. We chose to have them cremated in our town rather than sent out somewhere and brought back to us in a jar.  We chose to have a memorial service. Many people facilitated these things for us.

I remember asking God to make this count for His glory. We occasionally hear stories about how it moved someone in their walk of faith. I remember Isaiah was a book of comfort for me. But I also don't remember a lot during these days. Somewhere I have a journal that I wrote during these days that I haven't read since then.

Our oldest daughter was cared for by several families from our mission. I don't think she has many first-hand memories of that time, but we were very grateful for them stepping in during that week.

A few days later, Stan drove me home. I slipped into the house wearing a housecoat, and Stan carried in a Styrofoam box with our sons' bodies. Stan's Japanese host family from Osaka came down to take care of us for a few days and to mourn with us in ways that were unfamiliar. We had flowers everywhere and many Japanese visitors who came to visit. We met with a couple from another mission who had also lost preterm twins shortly before us. Their experience was similar but different--they were in the large teaching hospital nearby and despite the neonatal efforts, their children didn't survive either. They may have been the only people we told that the Styrofoam box with our sons' bodies was in our freezer until our appointment at the crematorium. Stan and I often cried together--this is not what is supposed to happen.

Inside is a small
ceramic urn used to
hold the ashes of our sons.
And then a few days later came the time for us to go to the crematorium. Accompanied by a Japanese coworker, we carried this box in, and were met by men in work-clothes. The box was put on a metal tray [which way are their heads facing?  Stan made up an answer--we hadn't looked in the box, and we knew it didn't matter in our theology.]  Large elevator-looking doors opened up and the box was sent into the chamber to be burned. While our sons' bodies were being cremated, we were waiting in a lounge, looking at the bamboo in an interior garden. We had to buy an urn for the remains from the snack shop in the crematorium.  "How big does it have to be?"  And then, after an hour or so, we went back to where the tray was pulled back out from those elevator-looking doors, and the little bit of ash and small pieces of cartilage fragments were swept into our little urn, and out we went. This is not what is supposed to happen.

A few days later, Stan and I drove to a nearby park with our two-year old. We sang hymns. I haven't yet unpacked the InterVarsity Hymnbook we used where I marked with small dots each solid hymn of the faith that we sang together in a clearing inside a grove of trees where we sat. Stan and our daughter picked clover, which was in bloom at the time, and added them to the ash in the urn that was the physical remains of our sons. Then he cast them across that clearing. As we walked away, I turned and took a photo of the place, which I can no longer locate.

The following Sunday we had a memorial service for our sons at the Japanese church we attended. Our non-Christian neighbors and friends attended and heard a gospel message. We sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness." A couple of years ago, the Japanese wife of a fellow missionary told us that her first act of Christian service was to light the candles at that memorial service.

We still had tickets to leave Japan -- now it was down to a few days, and I was still extremely weak. Friends from other mission organizations came over to help pack. I remember the horror of watching one take a drawer of things and literally dump it into a box. Not quite how I would have done it, but  yet I was so thankful for their assistance! Somehow we made it out of Japan on time. I remembering tears as we lifted off from Narita Airport because I was "leaving my sons" behind.

The next year and a half was one of walking through the pain of grieving children that few had seen, healing physically and emotionally, and then becoming pregnant again, this time under a US doctor's watchful care.

When we returned to Japan the next year (1990), we discovered that the grove of trees where we had scattered our sons' ashes were cherry trees. Every year or so we would take the walk to that part of the park, sometimes alone, sometimes together, sometimes with our children. It was like those occasional visits that people make to the graveyard to visit "grandpa's grave."

Probably about 10 years ago we discovered they had put new lights up for the park, with a bi-plane frame, and one of them was in our grove. There is something uplifting about this--turning our eyes heaven-ward so to speak.  I shared thoughts on this in a blog two years ago: A Walk in the Park: Another look at Good Friday.

I realize that even now, after 27 years, there are still some raw places in our hearts. I cannot compare this with the loss parents experience whose children walked with them, talked with them. But this was our experience. If you know us, there is a story that comes nearly eight years later when we adopted twin boys--but that is another story and it doesn't erase this loss.

One of the last things we did when we left Japan two years ago, was stop by "our spot."  We played Chris Rice's version of "It is Well With My Soul"--one of the songs we sang at the scattering of the ashes. We can truly affirm that "It is well with my soul" through this loss and the years since.We have been able to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn as a result of God's mercy and grace to us through this loss. Of course we wouldn't have chosen it, but it is well with my soul.


Wendy said...

Thanks for sharing your story Faith. I hope that this upcoming class will be another step forward in this journey of grief.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing more of this story. I remember those days too, our Andrew was just a year old and I remember where I was standing when I heard your precious babies had died, I remember praying for you and also praying that God would keep this from destroying you, your marriage and your call to Japan. I praise His Holy name for His work in your hearts and lives and therefore in the lives of so many around you. It has been very interesting to see over the years how God uses the refiner's Fire in the lives of missionaries. We all have something very hard to go through whether sickness, death, rebellion OR ... that causes us to throw ourselves upon God and cling to Him and then we find He truly is All we need. Anyway just some thoughts. I have also been thinking a lot these days about heaven. It was a beautiful spring here with those soft gentle breezes that carry the fragrance of flowers in the air. I was feeling rather sad that they would end and then a little voice in my heart reminded me that no all this beauty would continue forever in heaven. I was and still am gob-smacked to think about what we have to look forward to including meeting Michael and Andrew. Love you guys, Wendy

Anonymous said...

I wept reading your story. How hard it must have been. I am sorry you had to face that burden. Lately, I have come to realize much of life is about loss and how we face it. From lost dreams and unmet expectations to the death of cherished pets and loved ones, each of us must find a way to not lose the faith and to persevere in His calling for our lives. However, I struggle to move on (as I am sure it is for all of us). I remember each loss because those holes remain empty - nothing can replace the void. I think it was C.S. Lewis (in his book the Problem with Pain) that said something like - the loss of a loved one hurts so much because we are made for eternity where there is no more tears and no one dies. In other words, we hurt because we are not where we belong and facing things we were not designed to face...

In my life, suffering, loss, death, or the shadow of death is ever present. As a youth, I faced this by holding onto dreams of a better future and by reciting psalm 23 (about how even in the shadow of death i would fear no evil for God was with me and He would comfort me). In fact, I often felt held by God as I feel asleep. I am older now and I no longer feel held at bedtime nor do I have dreams of the future to hold onto... So I recite psalm 27 "I will remain confident of this. I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord." I just remind myself that even though it seems like everything is falling apart and death surrounds us, that God is still working in the lives of His people and to act daily to be a part of God's plan... though I still miss the hugs ;-)

Linda Wilson said...

I'm so sorry that I didn't know what you were going through at that time. I'm sitting here must have been so difficult. Bless you both....Love & prayers, Linda W.