Our year from heaven

What follows is a reflection on personal events of 2012. It also serves to explain why not much blogging has taken place in the last several months. After a little more time to rest and recuperate, I plan to resume regular posting in the new year.

My husband and I have lived through what most people would think of as a year from hell. First, I found out in late 2011 that I had early-stage breast cancer. I’m part of the roughly 2% of women every year who are diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40. I had to have surgery to remove the nascent tumor, and starting in January of this year I had to endure weeks of daily radiation treatments. When I finished the treatments in the spring, and all signs of cancer were gone, my husband and I rejoiced, thinking the worst was behind us. Even better, we found out three months later we were expecting our first child. We felt utterly blessed. 

With everything seemingly okay, my husband decided to take a summer trip to his native Finland to visit his father and do some fishing. I made the decision to stay home, since I was experiencing morning sickness and significant fatigue. About halfway through his vacation, my husband began to manifest flu symptoms. He didn’t think much of it, but when, a few days after coming home, he became incoherent and developed a life-threatening 106-degree fever I took him to the hospital.

There we discovered he had what is referred to in Finland as Kumlinge disease, a rare tick-borne virus that results in meningo-encephalitis in 20-30% of those who are exposed to the virus. For days, my husband was in and out of consciousness (mostly out) as his physicians monitored him. All they could do was mitigate the symptoms and try to prevent the fever from rising to the point of causing permanent damage or death. Once my husband emerged from the fog of encephalitis, it was not clear whether he would have partial paralysis from the nerve damage and/or permanent problems with his memory and thinking. Fortunately, and owing a great deal to his strong constitution, he made a good recovery in about two months and was able to return to work and playing hockey. Again, we thought the worst was behind us.

By November we were starting to prepare for the arrival of our baby. We discovered we were having a girl, and chose a Swedish name for her — Ellinor Kjerstin — to honor our mutual Swedish heritage. It was a perfect name: Ellinor means “shining light,” which she certainly was for us, and Kjerstin means “follower of Christ,” which we hoped she would be. During all this time, I had been reflecting on how lucky we were in conceiving a child so quickly; it was obviously ‘meant to be.’ The pregnancy had gone very well until we found out at five months, during a routine screen, that our baby was no longer growing. 

We were referred to a perinatologist, who told us that our little girl had a fatal chromosomal abnormality and was not expected to live. We were devastated. A week later she passed away. I gave birth to our precious daughter the morning following her passing, and we held her all day. We finally had the little family we wanted, brief as it was. My husband, who has seen firsthand the agony written on the faces of those who suffer terrible deaths, had found his peace in the serene countenance of our girl; she had gone to her heavenly Father without suffering. However, I found no peace at all. I had bonded with the little body I had held for those precious hours, and now she was gone. For a while, tormented by the loss, I wondered how I could go on.

What saved me was the peace I found in the idea that Ellinor was in the arms of God. We know she was sent to us for a reason, and while I will not reveal here what that reason was, those who are closest to us know it has been lovingly fulfilled.

These were horrible experiences to live through, but they have turned out to be tremendous gifts that I am thankful for. First, because they have taught me and my husband how precious life and love are. Holding our baby daughter for the few hours we had her has taught me more about unselfish love than all the previous experiences of my entire life. Second, because, as my husband has observed, each of these trials has actually strengthened our marriage. I feared that these experiences, particularly the loss of our child, would tear us apart. We had heard of people who suffered similar tragedies and lost their marriages as well. Our faith has sustained us, and I have never felt closer to my husband, and he to me. Third, it has shown us the unbelievable love of our family and friends. We are truly humbled by the outpouring of kindness and sympathy we have received in the wake of our trials. But, most of all, I am grateful because these experiences have brought us both closer to our Creator. I finally understand what it means to experience God’s protection and provision.

People often wonder why bad things happen to those who seemingly don’t deserve them. While I cannot claim to have any knowledge of who does or does not deserve such trials, I do know that those who truly understand the principal tenets of the Christian faith don’t wonder why these things happen. Ours is a fallen world, and we will all suffer because of it; but one of the blessings of our faith is to know that it is not for nothing. The great Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, observed that a loving, compassionate God would not prevent his earthly children from experiencing pain, but would allow them to suffer in order to prepare them for the perfection of spiritual life. Through our earthly suffering we are all allowed to share in the experience of Christ, who suffered to ultimately save us all from the imperfection of this world.

This year has been a time of anguish for my husband and me. But we have passed through the fire and I know we are better people for it.  For that reason, I will not think of 2012 as the year from hell, but as a year in which we drew closer to heaven.