Of Broken Playgrounds and Loss after Loss

Why is loss after loss so much harder? Even when it’s just a material thing that can be replaced? A year ago it was a chicken. Today it is our playground. Why am I so broken over a broken playground? 

Maybe it’s the long playground journey that brought us here in the first place. When Eli was two, we moved back to Greenville, lived right in the middle of town, and filled what backyard we had with someone else’s cast off metal swing set. It was pink. Eli wasn’t thrilled with the color. We hoped to repaint it but instead moved to a place with FIFTY of those backyards in one and decided instead to buy a new one. Mix-up after mix-up with the store turned into no swing set at all. But before we knew it, we were on the move again, this time to a rental home in Birmingham. There was no sense in putting a swing set in a place that was only temporary. When we purchased our present home after our two-year lease, it was time to consider a new swing set. But first there was a high risk pregnancy to attend to. When Steadfast Love was safely in our arms, we could turn our attention elsewhere. At what seemed the perfect time, we learned of a video contest, and first prize was a playground! We set our creative minds to the task, and we worked hard on our entry. Alas, 3rd place didn’t come with a playground. Since everyone had worked so hard, and their carefree childhood clocks were ticking at break-neck speed, Santa decided to give a consolation prize. Unfortunately, Santa’s prize didn’t include assembly. Four and a half months later at ages 10, 7, and 8 mos., the kids finally had their first playground of their own.  Nine months later, it is gone.

Maybe it’s the walk alongside the kids in their grief that makes it so difficult. Just this past Thursday, I shared with them the big piece of Thea’s story that had been missing from their puzzle. There were just too many questions that were becoming increasingly difficult to answer without being dishonest or misleading, at the very least. I hadn’t been able to shelter them from the tragedy, but I had carefully guarded their hearts against the trauma for almost four years. But Thursday I broke those little hearts all over again. There were tears, lots of questions, apologies. But there were also knowing embraces. Just two days later, our Eden is grieving again. She sits for a long time on the storm-soaked ground in front of her upside-down dream, just taking it all in. “It’s just not fair,” she says when she finally comes inside. “My playground is broken, and so is my heart.” I squeeze her long and dig deep for words because her broken heart is an echo of my own. “I know, Eden. But God doesn’t leave anything broken!” I say it through tears, and I am reminding myself. Eli is quick to add that he’s had many things that were broken and never repaired. I shoot him the you’re-not-helping-anything glare, but in the back of my mind, I question, too. “Will there be another? Can we replace what was broken? Will this have to be a hard lesson on loss and finances and insurance deductibles?”

Or maybe it’s the conversation that I had over the phone with the life insurance representative only minutes before the storm struck that’s still ringing through my ears as I rush out the door to assess the damage. He was rolling through his list of questions, so good at his job that I almost believed he was an automated system. Then I knocked him flat on his back when he asked about any hospitalizations in the last 5 years. And surgeries or procedures? I had to spell things that were completely unfamiliar to him. I had to share our Thea over the phone with a man who sounded like a robot. Cold, lifeless words like “miscarriage”, and “a loss” were tossed about in reference our daughter. I listed dates for him as if they were just random numbers. He couldn’t know that they are days that bleed red for me. He turned off auto pilot for a few minutes and pondered, “I’m not really sure how to record that.” I thought, “Welcome to the club.” I wanted to say, “She’s not Miscarriage or Premature Birth or Loss! She is our daughter, Thea, our gift from God!” But bless him, he had no idea what he was getting into on the other line when he dialed my number.

Why are all loses after loss so much harder?  Maybe it’s that every one–whether the loss of a chicken or the loss of a playground–somehow finds its way back to the one. And, in a small way, you live the hard one over again. It’s just a playground. It’s a material thing. We are so thankful that it wasn’t our home or even worse, our family. There are already smiles again and new games to play with broken playground equipment. Broken playgrounds are a first world problem. Broken hearts, though, are universal. And they take a little more time to mend.

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