Today is Daniel’s birthday.
My beautiful, prince-like, brown-eyed son. We named him for the prophet Daniel after these words Youths without blemish, well-favored in appearance and skillful in all wisdom, discernment, and understanding, apt in learning knowledge, competent to stand and serve in the king’s palace¦. (Daniel 1:4)
He would be 35. Today marks another milestone that I will not celebrate with him. Try as I might to focus on life today with all its fullness and blessing, grief resolutely stands at the door of my mind and requires recognition. Despite deadlines and obligations and time-pressures I cannot make my thoughts or hands obey my will or string together another sentence about Shakespeare for school. The truth is liberating and it helps to stop pretending.
Every year it seems I unconsciously try to push away the reality of Daniel’s absence with tasks and relationships occupying the space in my life he would have still claimed. Mostly I try to avoid walking too near to such devastating and sacred ground. I fill the hours with present day trivialities to divert my attention to things less knee-bending. And yet every year I am called to kneel in heart and mind before the great I AM and make memorial with Him. Twenty years later I could still cry myself into vomiting if I let myself look at this too long or feel it too openly. And over this chasm of separation and loss my hope is lain.
Long years now I have spent coming to terms with the Psalmist’s wisdom “ Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in matters too great or in things too wonderful for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me [ceased from fretting]. Oh Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and for ever. (Psalm 131, Amplified) I know better now than to ask the fruitless question “Why?” and to rest quieted in trust of God’s character.
The day Daniel was born I could not have remotely imagined the impact that he would have on me or how profoundly I would become bound to him, even beyond this world. The day he died I could not have remotely imagined how permanent the alteration would be for me as well as for him. Daniel’s death compelled me to come into the presence of God on a level that had he lived I never could have. Nothing else in this life — other than the death of either of his sisters, had that happened — could have broken me more deeply. Nothing else would ever have ushered me into that level of acknowledgement of my condition and God’s nature. No where else would I have met so thoroughly the furious, holy, immeasurable love of God Who made us both for Himself. The God Who holds us both in His great hands still and Whose plan for our lives exceeds all my imagination and comprehension.
All these tears have watered ground to bear good fruit. I have loved other women’s sons with more openheartedness and humility than I would have had Daniel lived. I have encouraged creativity in every one I’ve found it harbored in to honour all that I loved, and love still, in him. I have come to terms with and confessed on the most elemental level that I can experience, that God is God and I am not. I can say truly with Daniel and Job that the Lord is my High King of old and though He slay me yet will I trust Him. I hold in fierce, unyielding confidence to the prophet Jeremiah’s recounting of the Lord’s own heart that “ He does not willingly grieve the children of men (Jeremiah 3:33).
With unwavering hope I can still say with the Apostle Paul O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
Today I will water the garden and give my respectful nod to grief. Tonight I will make a good dinner, enjoy the company of my husband, and go to sleep in trust that Daniel is indeed standing in the Lord’s presence and serving in His palace, just as the scripture we named him for says.
And tomorrow I will write about Shakespeare.