Death of Spring

Ariana Feichko

          It had been a nice April morning. The type of morning one would spend taking a walk or going to the park with a gaggle of children. Flowers bloomed and pollen danced in the soft air. The sun trickled in through the six large windows below the high-rise ceiling of my family’s living room. Discarded dolls and puzzles littered the floor—a floor that had always been a minefield for unsuspecting toes. My sisters, all four of them, gripped worn Xbox controllers in their hands as we sat around the glaring TV. There was a certain mirth in the air: giggles, grins, and the heat of a digitized battle brightened our cheeks. To a ten-year-old girl, nothing could have been more perfect. The weekend had only begun and there was so much to do be- fore Monday. I can’t remember what game we were playing; all I remember is the sound of my father’s shoes on the wood floor. My father has always been a loving man who held high expectations for us. He often lingered over our shoulders while we cried over math problems at the kitchen table late at night. When we misbehaved in church, there was a stern reprimand waiting for us at home. Despite this, he never liked to yell at us. The dinner table was always alight with his voice. Stories,  jokes, and gospel lessons bounced from one end of the table to the other, and we simply couldn’t get enough. Many of my childhood memories include snippets of gospel teachings and real-world application from my father. Looking back, my father was the perfect mix of parent, teacher, and friend. He loved us with all his heart.
On that bright April morning, when he trudged into the living room, that man was nowhere to be found. His eyes glistened and his nose leaked snot. There was an unfamiliar redness around his eyes and his shoulders sagged. His hands trembled at his sides. Something had broken my strong, stalwart father.
No ten-year-old would have any idea what was going on— I certainly didn’t. As he gathered us in his arms, his shaking fingers dug into my shoulder, a certain heaviness buried itself into my chest. A seedling of doubt and concern that would later grow into a heavy tree of resentment and sorrow had laid itself to rest within my heart.
We wouldn’t be having another baby sister.
I don’t remember my initial reaction. I can only assume I felt some level of shock—perhaps some surprise, sorrow, and confusion. Never before had I imagined a baby could die before its first breath. In my mind and heart, only old people could die. As I’ve grown and experienced life, however, I’ve learned that Death doesn’t discriminate. He comes when he pleases, glaring scythe in hand.
When my mother came home from the doctor’s office, there was that same redness around her eyes that had blemished my father’s face. It was the same pain and heartache he had failed to hide. My mother has always been more composed than my father. It took great effort to incur her wrath, and she would typically hide her irritation with mild, calming breaths. Though at this moment, her divine strength and poise had dis- appeared with her sorrow. I could not see my strong-willed mother. That version of her had died with my baby sister.
I remember my sisters not understanding why our parents were so upset. Inara and I, as the oldest, we understood to some small degree. But we were still children after all. Children whose lives had been turned upside down in less than an hour. We had waited five months for our sister, but now we wouldn’t be meeting her at all.
“There was no heartbeat,” my mother had said. “None at all.”
April: the month of spring showers, life, and renewed oppor- tunities. Thousands of poems, novels, and songs have been writ- ten about spring. Not that I can blame the poets, the artists, and the songwriters. Every flower bud and blade of grass has en- chantment woven into its core. I had always loved spring. The breeze in the air whispered promises of sunshine and gentle rain. After months of dark, dreary winter, it was a nice change of pace. It was hopeful, and I loved it. But as I watched my mother’s shoulders curl inward, my love for spring shriveled, withered, and died. Even years later, I cannot look with joy at the little white rosebush my parents bought in remembrance of my sister. I abhor every green bud that pushes past winter’s glare. The new growth merely shoves the pain back into my mind and heart again.
I hate spring.
I know I shouldn’t hate spring. Easter is a part of spring, and with it, the renewed chance of life and the Savior’s Resurrec- tion. There is beauty and love and faith intertwined with spring, something that the Savior possesses in His very being, but there is a certain dichotomy associated with spring as well. Not every newborn bird learns to fly, not every fawn stumbles to its feet and walks, not every child breathes their first breath. Sometimes the blissfulness of April blinds us to the hidden tragedies tucked behind new growth. The Savior had to suffer and die upon the cross in order to bring about the Atonement and Resurrection—without His suffering, there would be no hope of returning to Heavenly Father. While this should have proved to me that the path through life isn’t always happy—but that we should have faith that it can eventually lead us to hap- piness, my suffering at such a young age turned my heart cold. I learned that although there is a natural order to the world, it doesn’t always follow a familiar pattern. The brutal reality of life clawing through the ashes of winter often subverts our expectations. Beautiful white blossoms on an apricot tree can freeze and whither with an early frost; a field of purple tulips could kill the unsuspecting dog or cat. Spring isn’t the perfect picture of new life. It’s messy and unplanned. Anything can happen.
The days following the loss were blurred and fast paced. I re- member hushed conversations and my mother’s endless tears. Late nights were spent lying in bed, staring off into the darkness. An unfamiliar ache in my chest kept me up. Everything hurt. Instead of going to my parents or praying for comfort as I had been taught, I suffered in the stillness of my room. I felt like I needed to suffer, that maybe it was something I did that caused my family pain. But I couldn’t let my family see my pain. They were hurting, too, and I didn’t want them worrying about me. Surely the Lord also had other things to deal with as well, so why should I pray for comfort? It was such a small thing com- pared to everyone else’s problems—why would He even bother?
My sister was not the last to die. Year after year, baby after baby, we endured losses; there were so many that I lost count. I buried the seed of doubt and sorrow, hoping to hide it from the light, but it still sprouted. The tree of resentment caged my heart with its roots and dulled the pain. People say that you become desensitized with enough exposure to tragedy and violence, and I was a veteran.
My parents would hold their breath every time my mother was pregnant. With each pregnancy, we were told to keep it secret in case we lost the baby. No one but our family was sup- posed to know. During my late teenage years, my parents would wait to tell us, especially as the losses piled up. There was one pregnancy we didn’t even know about until the baby had died; my mother stated it bluntly—no sugarcoating. It was almost as if it were as trivial as the weather. After that, I was no longer fazed by the losses; I came to expect them. Why have hope where there is none? I reasoned. Why try and feel happy for some- thing when it’s only going to end in tears?
For years after the first loss, even with all the subsequent miscarriages and lonely funerals, my parents told me this was all part of God’s plan of happiness—that sorrow and pain were a part of life and we were supposed to learn from it so that we could know joy. So that we could help others when they went through hard times. But how could this bring us happiness? How could carrying the weight of seven tiny caskets on one’s shoulders instill joy? How could God create a “plan of happiness” that included such sorrow? How could death on a nice spring day lead to eternal happiness? Doesn’t the Lord love me?
“Those were my brothers and sisters!” I howled. “Why would You take them from us? What did we do to deserve this? Tell me, please!”
I can’t imagine what Christ was thinking or feeling when He knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane and bled from every pore. I cannot imagine what He was thinking when He was placed on the cross. Some part of me wonders, did His faith ever stutter? Did He believe that everything would be okay, regardless of what happened in the moment? I can’t imagine that Christ would have doubted God, but I am imperfect, and I have doubted Heavenly Father more than once, especially in the face of these miscarriages. Sometimes I wish I could have had the unwavering faith of Christ in those dark years, but it was hard to hold on.
Nine years. Nine years since that fateful day in pearly- white April. Middle school came and went, as did high school. I buried myself in my schoolwork. I pushed aside scripture reading and prayer. The Lord wasn’t answering my pleas, so He obviously wasn’t listening. All of my energy, then, went to being the best, to bringing joy and pride to my parents; per- haps this could make them happy again, if only for a moment. If I brought success and excitement into our home, maybe we could forget our pain. My parents never stopped loving us. I al- ways knew that. Sometimes, however, it felt like they would stare at me with a far-off gaze, almost like they were reminiscing or dreaming about a future that would never come to pass.
I watched the cycle of the seasons through those dark years. I often measured the year’s passage through the trees on my street. Their lives were predictable, and in a way, so was mine. The miscarriages had almost become an annual event, and I could predict one from a mile away. The largest tree on the street was my neighbor’s aspen. In the fall, it would shake free of heavy yellow leaves, only for the snow to crush and devour them in the winter. As the days warmed, I would watch green buds come to life next door. The aspen had taken the decaying leaves from the year before and recycled their materials. Decomposition came and nourished the tree with nitrogen-rich nutrients. Life dug past the frigid months and sprouted—a miracle of nature I no longer admired. Years passed in this fashion. I would watch the miracle of life yet I had never felt so detached from it. It was an endless, arduous, and frankly deadening cycle.
I never thought I would receive an answer to why this tragedy had to befall my family. Though I would never wish this on anyone else, I didn’t want this pain. Yet that answer cried and wailed to life in the darkness of winter.
Winter: a terrible thing compared to the beauty of spring. Not as many poems have been written about it, and those authors who have written about it often fear and transfigure it into a dreary and terrible monster. Life is meant to shrivel and decay at winter’s touch. Plants and animals suffocate in its claws, hidden until spring. They have to die and decompose for the yellow buttercup to bloom; without this natural recycling of matter, nothing new can grow. Perhaps this is why the scent of decomposing flesh is as sickly sweet as the rose—it al- ludes to its life-giving properties through false pretenses.
I had never liked winter before, but now I fell to its feet in gratitude. Where life had failed in the daylight of spring nine years earlier, it flourished in the cold night of winter. For the first time in years, that heavy tree whose roots crushed my heart didn’t squeeze so hard. My chest felt lighter. My hands shook as I held a small, frail, 5 lb. 8 oz. baby boy in the beginning of February. The day had been dreary, with gray clouds obscuring any sliver of blue sky. A frigid wind that turned your skin dry and thin whispered its mutterings outside of the window, begging to be let in. Piles of snow leaned against the fence. Frozen leaves turned to mulch as the melted snow moistened their sur- face and tore them to shreds. This was not the picture-perfect image one would imagine life to come out of.
Yet never had I felt such love for another creature. My brother, my brother, had come. Holding him seemed to cut through the twisting roots of doubt around my heart. A small tuft of blond hair had never felt so soft. Nothing had felt lighter than this little gift. Nothing felt real in this moment except the pair of dark eyes that held mine. I remember learning to feed him a bottle; we had to hold him on his side to keep the milk from overwhelming him because he was so weak. I didn’t care about the extra precaution because I would have done any- thing for him. Holding this precious angel in the dead of winter forced all the anger, all the terrible thoughts, all the doubt, and all that pain from my heart. This was healing. This was a new life, and it didn’t come from April showers and spring sunshine. It clawed its way through the desolate sands of icy snow and gnarled, decayed forests.
I wanted to love him, to care for him, to protect him because this was an opportunity I had waited years to have. I would have sacrificed everything if it meant he lived. With this baby in my arms, I understood why we endured such loss. I had been molded, shaped, and prepared by celestial hands to take on the role of caregiver. I was meant to give support to my mother as exhaustion lay heavy on her shoulders. I was meant to comfort those with similar loss and provide them with love and support. I had been transformed into a better version of myself, one who loved without question.
Though as I stared into his dark eyes, tendrils of guilt and anger caressed the cage surrounding my heart. His smile stirred unwanted thoughts and feelings I wished I could suppress. Why did he live while the rest didn’t? There is no doubt in my mind that he will learn about the turmoil we endured to get him here. Some part of me wishes he wouldn’t, that his innocence could stay intact, but I know that’s a hopeless wish. In some part of my mind, I wanted to scream to the heavens in fury. How could a benevolent God let so many die, only for one to live? I know that my siblings are okay, and that they are happy and whole, but it didn’t heal that void in my chest. There are people missing from our family, and I can’t help but feel angry. Why did death have to hurt so much, even when I had never met my brothers and sisters? How could I believe in a God who uses death as a shaping tool?
Sometimes when I look at him, that old fury ignites again and I feel my faith slipping. Enduring to the end is a slippery slope and the handholds keep disappearing. I’m angry. I’m tired. I’m sad. I wish we had never lost my sister, even if it meant we wouldn’t have my brother. Luvinia, the first of many, was the farthest along, the closest to fruition—it would have only been four more months and then she would have been here with us. We could have been happy. I can’t help but wonder what her favorite color is, what she likes to do, what she wants to learn—all these things I can’t wait to know about my brother. I love him, but it still hurts. I know I will never come to terms with what happened; at least, not in this lifetime. But looking back, I know that the Savior guided me to the people I needed to meet, to talk to, to laugh with. That is what faith is—feeling that you have been abandoned but trusting that someone is still there watching over you. It’s taken me nearly a decade to discover that truth.
Spring has not been my favorite season for years. I appreciate its beauty, but its colors and sensations are dull. Flowers grin as I pass by, but I duck my head and ignore their calls. Spring’s simple beauties have lost their allure. Their existence did not come from comfort: mulch and decay opened the way for green buds and grasses. Death had to come first to pave their path. It took effort and loss for the daisy and plum to breathe. The result of that suffering and death, however, is priceless. Nothing could compare to the joy I felt on that cold day in February, which seemed to sparkle and shine brighter than any April morning. In that moment, nothing mattered save for those big, dark eyes staring deep into my own. And for the first time in years, I felt the true power of the Savior’s love for me—something I have tried to hold onto ever since.