Pete Conrad – “Neil, I was sorry to hear about your daughter.”
Neil Armstrong – “I’m sorry, is there a question?”
Pete Conrad – “What I… What I mean is… Do you think it’ll have an effect?”
Neil Armstrong – “I think it would be unreasonable to assume that it wouldn’t have some effect.”
Pete Conrad, interviewing Armstrong as an Apollo mission candidate, was referring to the death of Neil’s two-year-old daughter— an incident that shaped the astronaut’s dealings with challenges for the rest of his life. This scene depicted in the movie First Man, has stuck with me since I watched it a few months back because Neil’s response is so genuine and vulnerably honest. The death of a child is something that surely changes the course of your life forever. I appreciate this depiction of a hero and icon like Neil Armstrong giving such a real, self-reflective response. He doesn’t deny that the death of his child left a permanent scar that affects him in ways he cannot even account for.
“I am forever weakened by my scar.”
I few months ago, I stood holding my sleeping baby as I talked with a house-guest in our kitchen. Suddenly, I took notice to how limp my daughter felt in my arms. I looked down and, observing no movement nor detecting any breathing, I abruptly cut off the conversation, excusing myself from the room as I dashed upstairs to find Emily. My heart pounded in fear while I lowered my ear to detect her breathing. As I shifted her around in my arms, she finally stirred. I felt slightly foolish in my introduction to just how deeply babies can sleep. But I also learned that though I feel emotionally steady in the time that has passed since losing Audrey, I am forever weakened by my scar.
I don’t like to be weak. Certainly for men, it is common to deny having any pain or weakness. I recently sat on a job interview panel and was shocked to hear two individuals give me this response when asked the standard question, “What is your greatest weakness?”: they both said, “I have none”! Seriously? If you want to ignore your hurts or pretend you’re not broken, you’re setting yourself up for a surprise encounter of discovering your weakness. Like when you have a hidden bruise that is forgotten about until you accidently bump it in to something. That kind of surprise hurts.
“But while it’s seemingly impossible to anticipate when my wound is going to affect me, I can make the decision how it will affect me.”
It is valuable to recognize that my loss will continue to have an effect on my life. But while it’s seemingly impossible to anticipate when my wound is going to affect me, I can make the decision how it will affect me. I recall another time this past year, as we flew on a plane over Seattle, I looked out the window down at the city lights and suddenly found my eyes filling with tears. My heart ached. Simply seeing the city where we lost Audrey brought a flood of emotions. I cried because the memories hurt and I missed her, but I strangely found comfort in feeling broken again. You see, the further away I get from the everyday pain of losing Audrey, the less I’m naturally inclined to seek comfort from my God. Years ago, a friend of my mom’s lost her husband in a fatal accident. Since then, she has admitted she misses the intense period of grief she went through after the accident. Two years out from our loss of Audrey, we’ve honestly come to the same point. This is because we personally realize the truth spoken by Jesus that, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In our brokenness, we are reminded of our utter dependency and need for God. We reach out to Him in our hurt, and are reminded of the hope of the glory of God. And as the apostle Paul says in Romans, “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). The realization of our hope of the glory of God, such that it affects our perspective on our current suffering, is the supreme comfort.
While I know I should still expect the random emotional effects my loss will have on me, I am also choosing to count on the constant effect of joy and hope from my loss. I choose to rejoice in the pain God has put in my life. Seriously. I am grateful that God chose me to suffer this pain. I recognize it as a privilege— again to quote Paul, that “it has been granted to [us]…to suffer for Him” (Phil 1:29). I am thankful for reminders of my weakness, for in them I am reminded of God’s strength. My suffering breaks me down to where I’m reminded to seek God in my pain; the effect of which has been to experience the power of God resting on me. “Because of this,” the apostle Paul said, “I am pleased with suffering” (2 Cor. 12:10).
“I am content with Him to never remove my scar.”
For this reason, though I am thankful that God has healed my daily hurt over these past two years, I am content with Him to never remove my scar. I’m thankful for my story of suffering, knowing that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness. This is why Emily and I continue to share Audrey’s story: to continue to recognize our need for God’s strength and declare the hope found in Him to others.
So two years later does losing Audrey still have an effect on me? Yes it does. And I can tell you exactly that that effect is a constant reminder of the hope in Jesus Christ to save me for all eternity because of the sacrifice He made for me on the cross. Praise God for that!
Happy 2nd Birthday, Audrey! Thank you for such a big effect from your little life!