Last year I spent half of Good Friday alone in the emergency room. For the most part, I was too numb to realize I already expected the worst.
The lady in the waiting room who kept asking to borrow my phone smelled so strongly of cigarettes, I felt a wave of nausea every time she approached. I was sure it was a good sign that I was still feeling sick.
The ER doctor spoke in a calm, reassuring voice. How far along was I? And when was my last ultrasound?
The radiologist wheeled my entire bed to another room for the ultrasound. I wrapped the thin hospital blanket around my legs to keep from revealing anything in that flimsy hospital gown. He kept the screen turned away from me for the entire ultrasound, apologizing softly that he couldn't tell me anything until the doctor looked over the scans. Afterwards, he wheeled me back to my room and brought me my phone so I wouldn't jostle the IV in my hand trying to fish it out of my purse.
The nurse came in and took out the IV.
The doctor came in and asked me the same questions she'd already asked me at the beginning of my visit. How far along did I say I was? When was the last ultrasound?
And then she just shook her head for a long moment and said, "I'm sorry. Your baby is gone."
I will tell you that I cried like some actress in a horror movie. It just came out of me, and I remember thinking, "Is that me? That doesn't even sound real."
I was pregnant, but I wasn't. All of the symptoms and none of the pay-off. I left the ER with directions to call my doctor on Monday to talk about my options. I left with no explanation, no answers, no instructions on how to break the news to my husband or how I was supposed to pass the more than three thousand minutes until the doctor's office opened on Monday.
And so I spent last Easter feeling like a tomb myself, carrying what remained of the baby that stopped growing probably just a few days after we had seen its heartbeat flashing on a black and white screen. For almost a month I had been battling nausea and growing out of my clothes and planning the nursery, never knowing that the rhythm of that microscopic heart had gone silent inside me. My own body seemed a traitorous accomplice in this, too stubborn to let go of what was gone, too dedicated to give up the charade.
I look back and think there was nothing good about my last Good Friday. This is not the kind of anniversary I like to mark. And honestly, it wasn't until this Easter came barreling at me that I stopped to think about why it bothered me so much that it happened when it did.
See, I am a prodigal daughter. I cut my teeth on the hymnal. I was washed in the blood, dipped in the water, soaked in scripture. When I walked away from the church as a young adult, I wasn't just skipping out on a Sunday morning habit. I was walking away from everything I had ever known.
For a decade, I nursed a solitary faith I did not believe I would ever be able to share with others because I feared the bit of faith I had left was too fragile to be exposed to the harsh rigidity I had seen in churches. I was afraid that it would shatter like glass, that it could not withstand one final blow of hypocrisy or one sudden burst of hatred couched in Jesus speak. Someone asked me during that period if I had a faith practice, and I didn't know how to answer. I didn't have a practice. What I had, it seemed, was the inability to let go of a faith that I didn't really know what to make of anymore.
But somehow, slowly, one terrified step at a time, I came back. I am a prodigal daughter, see, and I guess I thought that meant that God was waiting for me with arms wide open.
I guess I thought that meant he was going to give me his robe and slaughter a fatted calf and host a celebration in my honor. I thought being a prodigal would mean that the homecoming would actually feel like coming home instead of like being a stranger tiptoeing into a place you remember from another lifetime. What I did not think it meant was that I would find myself sitting
through Easter morning alone, feeling like a tomb and carrying death, wondering where His voice was or what His plan could be. What I did not think that meant was that even years after coming back, I would feel at times like this faith would never be hardy enough to withstand the lashing it would take out in the world.
Last year on Good Friday, after the doctor broke the news to me, she told me to get dressed and wait for the nurse to bring in my discharge papers. But I took one look at my maternity clothes, loosely folded on a chair in the corner of the room, and I couldn't imagine how I could put them back on, knowing what I knew then. They were the same clothes I had worn in, and suddenly they looked completely foreign to me.
I wonder if that's how the prodigal son felt, too, putting on his father's robe after so long. Once, surely, he would have worn it without hesitation. But now that he had returned, now that everything was so different, did the very weight of it remind him how much a stranger he had become?
Last year on Good Friday, I learned of the loss of the life inside me. And I guess that symbolism cut too close to home for someone like me, someone who wandered for many years and feels she has only just come home. Someone who wondered many times if her little flame of faith had gone out. Someone who can't quite get used to the weight of this old robe and is still waiting for this coming home to be easier.