we left the funeral home just after ten. the sun was bright and the air was warm. just as we’ve done many times before, josh and i sat in the front seat of the car while ava rested quietly behind us. this time, though, she wasn’t strapped into her car seat or wearing a colorful hat that matched her onesie. no, for this final trip, she was laid peacefully within the beautiful casket her daddy and brother had made for her and she was wearing the hat, the white one that our sweet eight-year-old friend had knitted weeks ago for ava to wear when she met jesus.
as we neared our house, i told josh i couldn’t do it. i couldn’t see her all dressed up in her burial clothes for the first time in the presence of all our other children. he didn’t ask questions, he just pulled over at the park down the road and held me as i lifted the lid. we stood so closely wrapped in each other’s arms that i couldn’t tell where my tears stopped and his started.
after everyone at home had time to say goodbye, we began the drive out to the beautiful country where ava was to be buried with so many of my family, perfectly placed between my grandmother and great-grandmother. josh’s phone rang and i answered it when i saw it was my mom. oh, ummmm, hey honey…i was hoping to talk to josh. i knew something was wrong. i pieced josh’s side of the conversation together enough to realize that there was a problem with ava’s grave. my heart began to race and that part of any mommy that wants things to be perfect for her baby girl panicked. what could have struck us like a disaster, though, ended up giving birth to one of the greatest gifts of my life as a mother when we finally drove up to the cemetery and saw so many of the people who love us well themselves digging the grave that would soon hold our daughter’s body. my daddy, my sister, a precious friend, uncles, cousins…nothing can compare to the love they displayed as they worked tirelessly under the bright alabama sun to prepare her final resting place. i imagine that for decades to come i’ll carry the memory of seeing the man who married us – the one who challenged us to fall hard on the lord in good times and bad – on his hands and knees scooping dirt out of that deepening hole with his bare hands.
our dear friend, JT, performed ava’s service as we were supported by many others who also loved that tiny, incredible gift dearly.
and then came the part that made me feel as if i couldn’t find the next breath. josh, who has led this family with such wisdom and dependence on the lord and who has loved ava with the fierce love of a daddy, lowered ava’s body into the ground until i could no longer see the small casket in which it was held. i don’t know that i said a word out loud, but the desperate cry of my heart in those moments was, oh father, be near.
i gathered the strength to take sam into my arms then knelt beside his baby sister’s grave and whispered over and over, she’s with jesus. i know you don’t understand this now but we’ll tell you this story over and over until you do.
i imagine reading this, it sounds like this story has all the makings of a tragedy. loss, separation, sickness, death…there doesn’t seem to be even a hint of joy to be found. oh, but friends, if you could have just heard the lord speak through JT on that gorgeous saturday afternoon.
psalm 23. specifically verse 4. even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… i’ve tried to share openly and honestly throughout this journey; sometimes that meant coming to you to rejoice over an unexpected and unexplainable smile or to celebrate the reappearance of those gorgeous blue eyes. but for today, it means sharing with you that the days right now are full of heaviness and shadows. but as JT reminded us as we stood there beside the graves of my grandparents and our beloved baby girl…
wherever there’s a shadow, there is also a light.
and while the grief may seek to destroy me and the darkness threatens to consume me, my hope lies somewhere else than what i’ve witnessed over these past few days. a peace finds its way into my heart as i rest in the assurance that ava – that delight whom we loved on earth for 178 days – has new eyes that are open to see something far greater than my mind can even comprehend.
ava leigh lewis is beholding The Light.
and the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its Light.
*endless thankfulness to justin poland for being there with us to capture these final moments with ava. what an indescribable gift you’ve given us, my friend.