Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hard Things

Last week I made my way north to Salt Lake, curved around the east side of city, and arrived in the foothills of the Wasatch Front.  It is a familiar drive for me.  My grandparents lived in those foothills for most of my childhood, and the neighborhood still reminds me of picking warm summer raspberries, and enjoying my grandpa's homemade apple juice.

But last week as I drove through the familiar, the warm sun seemed to melt my nostalgia leaving me with the underlying uneasiness it temporarily masked.  I arrived at Primary Children's Medical Center for an unexpected interview, and felt afraid.

Whenever I visit a place that is charged with memories of Jonah I feel nervous. I just don't know what to expect, or how I will react.  The pain I feel is so lightly buried.  I never know what breeze of memory will uncover it.  

Our last visit to Primary Children's was when Jonah had his cleft palate surgery.  He was 9 months old.  I felt prepared and relatively calm as we entered the hospital as a family.  Jonah was as curious and energetic as ever.  We laughed as he charmed the pre-op nurses with his dimpled smile.  We took pictures of him in his baby-sized hospital gown.  Then we tried to entertain him - and ourselves - as we waited and waited for his surgeon.

The doctor and our anxiety arrived together.  We looked at each other as if to say, "this is really going to happen."  Jordan and I gathered Jonah and his things: blanket, binky, and diaper bag.  Then we slowly made our way down the long sterile corridor. When we could go no further, we squeezed him and kissed his sweet cheeks as we handed our precious child to the anesthesiologist.  Jonah didn't seem to mind.  He always loved new people.  He smiled and admired this new face, while we tried to maintain our brave ones.  As the doctor walked through the operating room doors she said, "don't worry, we will take care of him."

We did worry.  What if he was scared?  Would he feel abandoned and alone?  At the time it was the hardest thing I had ever done.  We stood for awhile peering through the flapping doors, until they finally shuttered closed and came to a rest.  Jordan and I immediately fell into each other's arms and wept.

So last week as I sat in the parking garage of Primary Children's - working up the courage to walk inside - I thought about that moment, and all of the others we experienced within the walls of the hospital; the helplessness of watching our child in pain; the joy of his quick recovery; the carefully considered follow-up visits and consultations.  This place represented for me a physical manifestation of our plans for Jonah, of all the heartache of ever having to make such plans, and the pain of a future that would not be. 

I took a moment and said a prayer that God would give me strength and I stepped out of my car.

I smiled when I walked past the garden where we wandered last summer as we waited or an appointment.  I read the familiar plaque above the doors.  It reads, "the child first and always." I breathed deeply and walked through the revolving doors.

Once inside I instantly felt the pain of memory. But I also felt the peace of being in such a special place.  I felt gratitude for the kind people who helped us.  I felt proud for choosing to face my fears instead of avoiding them.  I felt brave and reassured that I can do hard things.

In the last two years I have done so many hard things; some that are very public and some that happen within the sacred space of my heart and mind.

I never thought I would have a child with a genetic disorder. I never thought I would have to learn to feed him in a special way and help him learn sign language and put him through painful surgeries.  I never thought I would watch him die in my arms.  I never thought I would sit in a mortuary discussing the details of my own child's funeral.  I never imagined I would have to dress his lifeless body.  I couldn't anticipate that I would have to try so hard to be happy.  I never thought I would have to work so hard to preserve my marriage.  I never imagined how hard it would be to answer the question "do you have any children?"  I never thought it would take so much courage to visit my friend Katie in her home (we were at her home when Jonah choked), or to go see my mom in the hospital, or to have a simple meeting at Primary Children's.

And yet, in the past two years I have found the strength to do hard things.  I have found it in the generosity of my family and my friends.  I have found it in the kindness of my husband.  I have found it in the charity of my neighbors.  And most of all I have found it in the knowledge that I am a child of God.  I am his daughter, and he loves me as much as I love Jonah.  He is my strength, and I believe I can do all things through him...even hard things.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I love that scripture, and I love so many of the others that talk about being strengthened and supported by the Savior. I have found in my life that relying on his strength is the only way to get through the hardest times.

  2. We can do hard things. Sometimes I really don't want to, but we can and I too am strengthened through Christ.

  3. I absolutely adore that scrunchy face picture! I love you Julie. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us.