Loss and Little Ones

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Last night, my husband noticed a white bump on the gum above our 3-year-old’s front left tooth. It looked infected. A quick Googling indicated I needed to call the pediatrician in the morning so we could get an amoxycillin prescription. It’d be a little inconvenient, but at least it seemed easily treatable.

However, when we took her in, we were told that, without a question, the tooth had to be pulled and we would wait until she’s seven or so and the new tooth grows back. If we pulled both of her front teeth, she could get a partial denture. In other words, there were no appealing options.

So. Her tooth was pulled.

I don’t know what it is about teeth. Teeth make me freak out a little. I have had so many nightmares of all my teeth falling out. Every time a kid faceplants, my first command is “Let me see your teeth!” They’re just so…permanent. If you break your arm, it can heal. But teeth don’t do that. Sure, you can get veneers—as I have done, since I broke my front tooth in an Airsoft battle—but it’s not the same (and financially it’s not always an option.) I know my real tooth is gone forever. Broken bones aren’t the same as a gaping absence.

And that’s exactly what I saw when my daughter left the procedure.She had a miraculously good attitude through everything—and ice cream helps, of course—but when I tucked her into bed tonight, she kept fixating on the reality that her tooth was gone. “But I want my tooth back in my mouth,” she said. “I want the dentists to put it back.”

There’s that concept again: absence. In a small, first-world way, my daughter is experiencing grief. I think that’s why the tooth thing wrecks me. Loss is real, and it’s permanent.

A lost tooth isn’t all that big a deal—especially when it can be covered up or it will grow in eventually—but other kinds of loss that come to us really might be. God is my shield, but that doesn’t mean He’s put a forcefield around me. Any range of things, inconvenient to painful to tragic, can happen to me. Dear friends who love Jesus a lot have endured unthinkable tragedies. If I live long enough, I probably will too.

I struggle with a million things, but fear isn’t really one of them…yet thinking about these things really does give me fear. I’ve had to constantly remind myself to turn my “what ifs” to “even ifs” and remember Who my Rock is. Even if I lost my precious and beloved child today, and not just her front tooth, I would be heartbroken beyond imagination, but I would not lose all hope. But I am also consoled by something I noticed tonight:

Our family came together in really beautiful ways.

Her 5-year-old sister, Piper, didn’t say “You look funny” but was very intentional in saying she looked “beautiful” and “cute.” She was even careful to talk about the procedure as “fixed” instead of “pulled.” She asked relevant questions, listened enthusiastically, and gave Evey a dollar.

Stephen said he hopes that he loses a tooth soon so it can be put in Evey’s mouth. That’s the six-year-old version of offering a kidney, so it carries a lot of weight. He also gave her silly putty, which got all over her pants and ruined our rug, but it made his sister’s afternoon a little less sad.

My husband Peter, who has a special bond with Evey and made a lot of time-sacrifices to help her through this today, came into the room with a big black hole on his front tooth so they could ‘match.’ (When he first came in the room, part of me worried that he actually did it. Thankfully it was Sharpie.)

Evey herself was incredibly brave. Maybe the dentist says this to every parent, but she said Evangeline was one of the bravest kids she’s ever seen. She did not even whine or complain.

Thinking about all the ways the family loved her reminded me that hard circumstances aren’t the worst things that could happen to us. Today I saw our family come together and love well.

Learning how to suffer, grieve, and show compassion are some of the greatest things we can all learn, because reality is that the world is full of suffering. As long as we live enough, and especially if we involve ourselves in the lives of others, we are going to encounter loss much more significant than plucked teeth. Watching my kids love their sister helped me daydream about ways they might comfort hurting people in the future, or how they themselves might experience hardship but not be destroyed by it.

I’ve been reading through the first half of Job this week, and I’m so sad that the poor man had to go through all that tragedy with such terrible comforters. (His wife and his friends only added more misery to his immense pain.)

Hurting people don’t need blame-shifters or naive optimists or fairweather friends who don’t have time for compassion. I still don’t know exactly what hurting people need—I’m actually pretty terrible at helping my friends who are suffering—but I know that what I saw my kids and husband do for sweet Evangeline was a very good thing. 

“[He] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
-2 Corinthians 1:4 (ESV)