Anne and Nate Ungarean are the parents of four children. Ava, their first born, lived for only a few hours. This is Anne’s meditation on that searing loss.
As I sit here and write, I can hear the soft coos of our seven-day old son as he’s snuggled in beside me. There is an intoxicating love and a marveling that only a mother can know as I peer at this little face I’ve only just met and yet have simultaneously known my whole life. It’s breathtaking and undeniably a tangible taste of heaven. And yet in the very same breath, it’s a reminder of the deepest scar I pray my heart will ever hold. I have cried deep, raw tears this week as I’ve wrestled and sat in the broken part of my soul… struggling with the fact that yet another one of our babies will never know his oldest sister this side of heaven. There is a gaping wound that has healed in so many beautiful ways, but the scars remain.
We welcomed our firstborn, Ava, into this world almost five years ago. We held her, we kissed her, we listened to her coos, we drank in every part of her curly-haired self. And then we said goodbye as she entered the very presence of Jesus. Our hearts broke in ways I can never describe in words.
Over the past five years, Nate and I have learned the delicate dance of both grief and joy. We have sat in the darkest night of the soul, and we have also welcomed three more precious ones into this world. It has been incredibly messy, oftentimes confusing, and perhaps more than anything, the most exposing, heartbreaking, and ultimately heart reshaping journey we have been on.
I often feel that I embody paradox on every level, for being Ava’s mother has become one of the greatest privileges of my life, and yet it has also brought enormous pain, and has forever changed my view of motherhood. Her life and death have ushered in an ability to minister to aching moms who have tasted this deepest pain. I am forever grateful to have been given that experience and yet, in the same breath, it has opened my soul to stories of tragic loss and such seemingly “unfair” suffering that can take a toll on my own heart and introduce new fears.
Welcoming Gracie, Boone, and Baxter into our family has brought joy and gratitude that is deeper because of having Ava, and yet her absence is painfully seared into my heart. Each new life brings joy and delight into our home and also brings a deep longing for our family to be whole this side of heaven. I know it never will be so. Because of this painful tension, I feel tethered to the hand of the Father who has designed my story in ways I could never have fathomed and certainly wouldn’t have orchestrated myself.
Because my heart is forever marked by deep grief and a desperate longing for the Father’s comfort, Holy Week, in particular Good Friday, has become a week I cherish deeply and need desperately, for it is a week where my soul is invited to sit in the dark places and feel the weight of this broken world. I ponder the pain and the agonizing pleas of the Son to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I find deep hope that even Jesus asked for things to be different before He ultimately surrendered to the Father’s Will. He bore the weight of agonizing sorrow that surpasses even the depth of my own pain. In His loving kindness, He beckons me back, year after year, to sit in my own dark garden of sorrow. He invites me to ponder what it would feel like if death ultimately won. For in many ways, in my weakest moments, it has felt like death wins.
In His wisdom, He knows that this space in time allows deep, life-giving soul work to happen…and in a way that only He could orchestrate. After staring death in the face and tasting every drop of its agonizing wreckage, He slowly and tenderly lifts my tear-stained cheeks to see, once again, that the story does not end on Friday.
Darkness does not ultimately prevail. Life comes pouring in with the realization of Christ’s victory over our enemy Death. To recognize this, once again, feels powerful enough to triumph over my sadness, to renew my hope of restoration and Life as it was meant to be. My prayer is that as each of us brings our own particular brokenness into Holy Week, might we pause, sit in the longing that a broken world inevitably has imprinted upon our own souls, and not hurry past those griefs, for it is there the Lord continues to do His most tender and profound work. Reminding me that Sunday morning is in fact coming, and He is in fact, making all things new. Thank you, Father.