October 10, 2010 (10/10/10) was a good day for me. The day my first daughter was born was not the happiest, because afterward my life kept getting better and better. Leia brought me more joy than I had believed possible. I had always dreamed of having my own family, and at the age of 48 I was older than most to experience this wonderful event.
Melonie’s labor had been long and tiring, but that night we basked in the warm glow of being parents. It had been a wonderful day indeed!
Leia and I bonded quickly. During the ensuing weeks and months, Leia fell asleep on me, went on hikes with me in her baby carrier, and even came to my physical therapy office with Melonie.
Leia was a happy baby; I could always make her laugh. The most wonderful sound I had ever heard was when she learned to say “Dada.” We asked ourselves every day how we could be so blessed.
One Sunday Leia, a little more than 15 months old, woke up and started throwing up. As the vomiting continued throughout the day, we became concerned. After consulting with a physician, we decided to watch her through the night. Melonie woke me at midnight to tell me that Leia had spiked a fever and that we should take her to the hospital.
When we arrived at the emergency room, Leia was taken to a treatment room and hooked up to a heart monitor. As the nursing staff attempted to get an IV into Leia, we watched in horror as her heart rate rapidly dropped, then completely stopped. As the ER team began CPR, I slumped into a chair, held my wife in my arms, and cried out, “This can’t be happening!”
I prayed aloud, “Please, Jesus, bring her back.” CPR continued for 20 minutes before her heart started beating again. Once she was stabilized, Leia and Melonie were flown to Children’s Hospital in Seattle.
Leia spent a week on life support in the pediatric intensive-care unit. Three days of tests, imaging, and exploratory surgery revealed Leia’s illness: Meckel’s diverticulum, characterized by a nodule on the small intestine present in approximately 2 percent of the population. Only 2 percent of those have any complications. In Leia’s case the Meckel’s had caused the blood supply to her intestine to be cut off. Surgeons successfully corrected the problem, but Leia’s condition remained critical.
An MRI revealed that she had sustained extensive brain damage from the cardiac arrest. Doctors told us that with this severe of an injury there was no possibility for full recovery, and that if she were to survive, her life would be one of a mere vegetative state. On Friday afternoon our pastor anointed Leia, and with an elder of the church prayed for a miracle. We decided to let Leia rest on Sabbath and wait for the miracle that we desperately yearned for.
But no miracle came. Leia was pronounced dead on Sunday, February 5, 2012. Melonie and I left the hospital, leaving behind our source of so much happiness. Our family, the family I had prayed for since childhood, was gone.
As much as it seemed that the world should stop and mourn the loss of my daughter with me, it did not. Life went on as normal for everyone except those of us who were close to Leia. Life would never be the same again.
The year following Leia’s death was one of the most difficult years of my life. It was weeks before I could go a day without breaking down in sobs of grief. All I wanted was for Jesus to come and reunite me with my daughter.
I delved into the Bible to find answers. One Bible text brought a lot of comfort to Melonie and me: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).
Despite this assurance, I continued to struggle. Holidays were especially difficult. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day seemed to mock our loss. Leia’s birthday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day all rekindled our grief.
Shortly before the first anniversary of Leia’s death, a friend, a Messianic Jew named Randy, took me aside. He reminded me that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son. Randy said that although my situation was different in that Leia was already gone, he thought that it would be helpful if I could do what Abraham was willing to do—give Leia to God.
I went back to the Bible. “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you’” (Gen. 22:2, 3).
When Randy reminded me of Abraham’s willingness to surrender all to God, it was as if a light came on and my perspective changed. I had grieved for nearly a year, sometimes in healthy and beneficial ways, at other times in ways filled with self-pity and anger. I always felt like a victim.
Suddenly I was no longer a passive victim; I had a choice. I could surrender my little life and my little plans to God’s plans for a glorious day of resurrection. In that conversation with Randy, I realized that I had a choice. I chose surrender, to give my daughter and my life as a sacrifice to God.
Melonie and I experienced healing. We still suffer; but we are not alone in our suffering. Everyone experiences sorrow. But the greatest comfort is knowing that God suffered and suffers too. God knows what it’s like to lose an only child: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
Jesus knew suffering. “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isa. 53:3).
I believe that God’s capacity to suffer is as great as His capacity to love. In my suffering I am consoled with the thought that God relates to me. He doesn’t pity me; He doesn’t see me as a victim; He has made ample provision for my grief. God is big enough to carry all my sorrows and burdens.
When tragedy strikes, we either draw closer to God to gain strength from Him, or we allow bitterness to take hold of our hearts. It is understandable to succumb to the latter.
But fellowship with us is what God desires. In fact, God desires fellowship with us so much that He sometimes allows seemingly unbearable events to come to us. “But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).
We have been blessed with a wonderful daughter named Lydia, who is as amazing as Leia was. When grief, disappointment, or tragedy comes, I hope we can see through the miasma of our pain and recognize how the Father longs to connect with us. A close and meaningful relationship with God can see us through any and all calamities.
Leonard M. Galloway has a physical therapy practice in Yakima, Washington.