Checkout Lines and Receiving Lines

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two months since two of the most intensely emotional days of my life: the day we met Samuel and the day we said goodbye. Sometimes I feel like this was all just a dream. It’s surreal to look at our family now and from the outside, our life looks almost exactly the same as it did a year ago. It’s just Bob + me + one cute toddler, but now no pregnant belly and no newborn baby.

As I meet new people, or bump into friends I haven’t seen since the summer, it’s strange to know that unless we tell them about Samuel or they happen to read our blog, they will never realize that our lives just changed forever.

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Almost every week of my pregnancy, I went grocery shopping at Wegmans. As I pushed the shopping cart with Daniel, I felt so much joy inside because I loved getting time with my two boys while I still could. It seems like such an ordinary thing, but it was one of the few places I went where no one knew about Samuel, and complete strangers would congratulate me and make the normal pregnancy chit-chat. Each visit to the grocery store marked one more week Samuel was still with us, and I never knew which one would be his last.

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The first time I went back to Wegmans after Samuel died, I was on my own that day. I felt a new depth inside me, and I almost wondered if I looked different. I was so aware of my recent loss and grief, but I doubted anyone looking at me would guess I was a newly-bereaved mother.

I pushed my small cart through the produce section, slowly for a change instead of rushing through my list, and I looked at the faces around me. I felt compassion for the other shoppers and workers, wondering what kind of suffering each person has walked through. I know I’m not alone in the heartache and pain we experience in this world.

I passed a young man who helped load groceries into my car a couple times when I was very pregnant just weeks earlier. Did he recognize me? Would any of the cashiers remember me and ask where my baby was? 

As I joined the checkout line, I spotted a young couple ahead of me holding a newborn baby. I veered my cart at the last minute to switch to another line. Two weeks earlier I’d held Samuel in my arms as he took his last breaths, and my emotions were still too raw. I didn’t know if I could look at another newborn too long without breaking down crying.

I didn’t recognize the cashier who greeted me, so I was able to get through that trip as just another normal shopper. I am acutely aware that we interact with people in seemingly ordinary ways each day, but we have no idea what a person might be going through. I have a feeling the way I look at people around me will never quite be the same.

When we started this journey last September, we didn’t know where it would lead. But Bob and I both felt like we should share Samuel’s story through this blog. This was a big step for me, because I’m normally a very private person who rarely posts on Facebook, and it’s vulnerable to share publicly about something so close to my heart. Bob always reminds me not to compare our situation to anyone else’s, but sometimes it’s hard to tell our story because I know many others have walked through much worse. But this is the story we’ve been given and I feel compelled to tell it, and I trust that God will touch countless hearts through Samuel’s brief life because we chose to share him with you.

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We have been truly touched by the friends, family and even strangers who have prayed and taken time to express love and compassion, for us and a little baby they never even met. So many people attended or watched Samuel’s memorial service online. I never expected to enjoy a memorial service as much as we enjoyed Samuel’s. This might seem strange, but I told Bob later that I liked Samuel’s service more than our wedding day! Partly because our incredible church family came together and did most of the work to put together an amazing service and reception!

But mostly, I think it’s because of our receiving line and all the people who came. I used to think receiving lines were a bit awkward and superficial, because I never know what to say when there’s only a few seconds. We actually skipped doing a receiving line at our wedding to save time, but I later regretted not making time to greet everyone who came to our wedding. I felt a little bad for the long wait everyone had after Samuel’s service, but it was incredibly special for us to hug and greet each person who came to honor his life with us.

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I had worried we might come home after Samuel’s service feeling sad and alone, but I returned with my heart overflowing. I still picture the faces of different people who came, and even if I don’t remember exactly what either of us said to each other, I feel so warm inside just knowing that they cared enough to come. I know many more would have loved to be there, and I was surprised so many could make it on such short notice!

I think from now on I will wait in receiving lines, and stop feeling awkward about it. I’ve discovered that with receiving lines, sympathy cards, and conversations that it doesn’t matter so much what people say or write, it’s just meaningful that they take time to show they care.

Since Samuel’s memorial service, my heart has been overflowing with gratitude for the people in our lives. I wish I had time to personally thank every single person who prayed, gave us medical care, helped with the memorial service, sent a card, gave gifts and flowers, brought a meal, took time to listen or give a hug, and showed us love during this season. Please know your expressions of care and compassion have brought so much warmth to our hearts in the midst of our grief. I can’t imagine going through any of this on our own — without Jesus, or without the love of our family and community who has surrounded us during this time.

We never stop thinking about Samuel, and it’s been very healing for us to get to share him with so many people. Thank you for taking time to care and remember Samuel with us.

3 thoughts on “Checkout Lines and Receiving Lines”

  1. Thank you Joanna for honest and real… love to you all. Truly in life’s journey, every stop to hear ‘lines’ of any form do open up more of others and increase our emo/social/family tanks and make us more warm and real. Thanks for timely reminder.

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