...almost five years later
Erich Segal was undoubtedly responsible for the most sappy, tear jerking book and movie of the 1970’s, the most often uttered phrase of the 1970’s, and the most popular girl’s name from 1970 to 1985. “Love Story”, the book and movie, gave life to the phrase “love means never having to say you’re sorry” as well as gave the name Jenny or Jennifer to countless thousands of infant girls. The lines that always stand out for me, though, are in the opening narration of the movie, as voiced by Ryan O’Neal: “What do you say about a 25 year old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach? The Beatles? And me?”
Having been married less than a year when the movie came out, I related to this story, as I had married a beautiful and brilliant girl who loved Mozart and Bach and the Beatles—and me. The story touched me in a profound way, putting me in the place of Oliver Barrett IV, wondering what it would be like if I lost her. Fortunately, even after 43 years I’ve not yet been called on to face such a reality.
The reality I did have to face occurred November 29, 2007, the day that my first granddaughter died. What do you say about an unborn girl who died in utero? That she was beautiful, as seen in the four dimensional sonograms? That she would have loved music, like her parents and grandparents? That she would have loved her grandfather?
Even though her name wasn’t chosen at the time, Sydney began to exist for me in that phone call from my son, telling me, “dad, it’s going to be a girl”. And he knew full well the impact those words would have. Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandsons as much as life itself, but here was going to be my little girl to spoil. The anticipation was overwhelming at times, the temptation to buy every pink thing in sight, to walk the baby aisle and the toy aisle at Target and think about the things I might get for her.
On reflection, it isn’t things that are important. It’s people. I wanted her to know me. To know how much I loved her. To always know that she was safe and protected and loved, just as Jenny knew that feeling with Oliver. Here’s where it gets tough. At least Oliver and Jenny knew each other and knew that depth of feeling. They had some time. Sydney and I were denied that opportunity for reasons known only to God. One thing is absolutely certain and it is that even though she never drew a breath in the outside world, Sydney is, and will be, as real to me as any human alive. She is my fourth grandchild. We've had more since then but Sydney will forever be the fourth. I cry out that I lost something on November 29 and it makes me angry.
It makes me angry that when an infant dies, there are always the clichés, the reassurances from well meaning, but sometimes thoughtless, friends and family. “She’s in a better place; she’s an angel; God needed her” and on and on. Clichés make me angry. Turns out, theologians aren’t unanimous in the thought that infants and children who die automatically gain a ticket to heaven. The nay-sayers point to original sin as descended from Adam and Eve, presuming that sin at any age (or more importantly, lack of repentance) keeps you out of God’s fold. Some haul out the well-worn phrase “age of accountability”, a concept and term that is not found anywhere in the Bible. As I researched the issue, not only in the Bible but in various writings by Christian and non-Christian authors and philosophers, I came to my own conclusion. Sydney is with God, in a cradle of angel wings.
Let’s have a look at just one small part of the Old Testament as told in Second Samuel 12. Many of us are familiar with the story of King David who committed adultery with Bathsheba. He then sent her husband off to war where he was killed, as David knew he would be. Bathsheba was pregnant by David, and after the birth of the baby, the boy fell ill and died a week later, a fact hidden from David for a while by his servants. When the king found out, he ceased his fasting and praying, bathed, put on clean clothes and began a feast. When asked for an explanation, David answered them, saying (paraphrased) “now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me”.
I will go to him, but he will not return to me.
David—the king, songwriter, philosopher, the man devoted to God—understood that the gracious God would protect and enfold the children, just as years later when Jesus always wanted the children to come to Him.
So, what do I say about an unborn girl who died? That her name is Sydney. That I love her. Present tense. I weep because I never got to tell her that. But I will, when God holds both of us.
Go listen to this song. Ian and Alyssa wrote it--she did lyrics, he wrote the music and then Ian spent months in the studio with various musician friends to complete it. Caitelen is the one who gave voice to it. Here's the inside info--at the beginning and end you'll hear little wind chimes. At Sydney's memorial service, Lyssa gave some of us windchimes with Sydney's name painted on. We hung ours in the crepe myrtle bush over our garden bench. Sometimes we sit there, the wind blows, they tinkle. and we say "Hi, Sydney". But sometimes they tinkle when there is absolutely no breeze at all. Blessings,