I was feeling unusually down this week, more than even dreary skies and freezing drizzle could account for. Tuesday, I didn’t want to go out. But needing to do errands, I zipped my rain jacket, buckled my kids in the van, and drove to Bath anyway.
“What’s the date?” I asked my 15-year-old daughter, Lydia, pulling up to the bank.
“April 17th,” she said.
“Oh.” I sighed. Suddenly my heavy mood made sense. “Ruth’s birthday.”
“Yeah, I know,” Lydia said. “She would have been 15.”
Impossible to imagine. Even more impossible to imagine that our daughter, who we’d adopted from Uganda, has now been gone seven years. Or that our bodies have a way of remembering the wounds of grief even when our minds forget. Or perhaps they are more rightly the wounds of love. For is this not the true nature of grief?
Nothing could have prepared our family for the loss of Ruth, who died just before turning 8 of complications related to cerebral palsy. Or of the long road of heartache that has followed. Reading through a journal this week, I came across words, written in the first year after Ruth died, describing “days so desperate I didn’t even think I could survive.”
Time has proved that I could. Yet the journey of the soul – the journey of learning to trust again, of learning to hope – marks its own plodding steps toward life. Bob Goff, writing about love in his book, Love Does, remarks how God’s love never stops pursuing us. “That’s what love does,” he writes. “It pursues blindly, unflinchingly, and without end. When you go after something you love, you’ll do anything it takes to get it, even if it costs everything.”
One of my great comforts is knowing that this is the way we loved Ruth. This is the reason the loss of her drags down my soul – because we loved her so much. Another comfort is the astonishment I feel when I reflect on the miraculous way God brought us together – a family who prayed that God would bring them a child, and a child, wailing in a Ugandan orphanage for a family.
But my ultimate comfort is knowing that God’s love was enough to rescue Ruth, even when ours wasn’t. “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT). What closer belonging can we have than to entrust ourselves to Christ in death? These words fill me with wonder as I imagine the new life Ruth is now experiencing.
These words are why I was able to drive to Ruth’s grave that gray, drizzly day of her birthday and thank God for the love that brought us together, even as I my heart aches from being apart. God offers new life to everyone who receives his love. That is my reason to hope, looking forward to the day when I will see my daughter again.
Meadow Rue Merrill, the award-winning author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine.