The Second Week of February
FEBRUARY 9, 2024
The second week of February is an enigma to me.
Some years, it’s warm enough to play basketball in the driveway wearing a t-shirt. Other years, the air hurts your face as you bundle in insulated layers. This year, the high temperature is averaging in the mid-50s. In 2011, the weekday low averaged at –11°. But it’s not the spectrum of weather possibilities that mystifies me. It’s the swings from bitter to balmy when it comes to having babies.
Two side-by-side annual reminders sit atop my calendar this week: February 8 — J_____ (2012) |
February 9 — Baby Schumacher (2011).
February 9, 2011. We checked into the hospital so that my wife could labor and deliver our dead
baby. The following day, we held our little one, miscarried too early to know the gender. We
returned home on February 10, the due date of the child we’d lost in the womb the summer before.
If hearts can be frostbitten, ours were.
February 8, 2012. We returned to the hospital so that my wife could labor and deliver our fifth
living child. Tears of joy fell as we held our healthy newborn boy. The dates that marked two bitter
losses just a year before were filled with a sweetness we wondered if we’d ever taste again. Post
tenebras lux. Light after darkness.
We’d have another teenager if the baby had lived. My mind couldn’t help but do the mental math when I saw the year. Thirteen. For some reason, that number hits hard. I envision a young man grappling with the awkwardness of puberty. A young woman learning from (or fighting with) her fifteen-year-old sister. Thirteen is an almost completed childhood, preparation for high school, and growing independence.
The miscarriage terminated more than a pregnancy. First words and first steps; a first birthday and a first day of school; games of catch and playing house; graduations and grandchildren. Miscarriage aborts a whole life. The loss of a person is manifold and unfolding—we don’t understand it until we hit the milestones without them.
But then we wouldn’t have him. In a split second, my mind rushes through lost life to the present. If the baby had lived, our 12-year-old wouldn’t have been conceived or born the following February. If the baby had not died, we wouldn’t be eating donuts and birthday cake today. We wouldn’t know this son’s sweet disposition, mischievous grin, tender heart, and shaggy mop of hair. We wouldn’t have him.
Mostly, February is blah—overcast, grey, unable to decide whether it’s cold or warm—just like my heart. Familiar anguish pays me a surprise visit. I’m flummoxed by the damp fog of emotional confusion.
It was thirteen years ago. I’ve written a book and articles about this. I’ve talked about this on podcasts, radio shows, and with dozens of grieving men. Shouldn’t I be over it? Shouldn’t I have it figured out?
Tears insist on a visit, and I’m unsure if I want to let them fall. I don’t know what to do with my feelings. Can a father be glad and grieve all at once?
How should I feel about the miscarriages that opened the way for the son (and daughter) we now have? Relief? Gratitude? Ambivalence? Should I rush past it to enjoy the present?
And what about our living son? Does our delight in him diminish the value of the one in the grave? Is joy an irreverent forgetting? A contentment with death?
Maybe this is why I hate February in Iowa. It can’t decide what it wants to be. Sometimes a blizzard. Sometimes a thaw. Sometimes sub-zero. Sometimes, sunny and 61°. But usually, it’s a barren grey landscape with only rumors of spring.
What does one wear in this weather—a dark trenchcoat of grief or a party hat? Can you wear both at once?
Think warm thoughts, they say. Nonsense, I say. Pretending it’s warm doesn’t bring out the sun. That’s not how life works in a cursed and broken world. There’s no profit without cost. No laughter without tears. No hellos without goodbyes. No wins without sacrifices. No birth without death. No resurrection without a cross.
It’s all an enigma I certainly can’t unravel. I once thought I could. Now, I doubt we ever will. I don’t think we can. Job showed me as much. Or, rather, God showed Job. Creatures can’t understand because they can’t have the Creator’s perspective.
But understanding doesn’t concern me as much these days. We don’t need to understand to persevere. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to have hope in February. You only need to believe that spring is on its way. We won’t have to understand weather systems to enjoy sunny summer days. We just have to live in it when it arrives.
I know it’s February. And I know an endless summer is on its way. So, for now, I’ll dress for the weather day by day, enjoying the bright spots and grieving the gloom until the day a nail-scarred takes my mourner’s coat, hands me a party hat, and invites me to thaw in the warmth of his glory.