The Hope Church youth group gathered around the television in Pastor Mitchel’s living room. Audrey collapsed into a recliner and elevated her feet. The other kids occupied the couch and loveseat, and sprawled out on the floor. Although the Mitchel’s home was modest in size, it was just big enough to accommodate the group who had gathered to congratulate the graduates. Pastor Mitchel slid a DVD into the machine, and the boisterous crowd immediately hushed.
A baby picture of Jake filled the screen, sending oohs and aahs bouncing around the room. Next was a picture of Jake as a toddler, perched on Santa’s knee. Elementary and middle school pictures followed. Jake wasn’t one to embarrass easily, but his face was flushed bright red. Finally, more recent photos of Jake, taken during youth group events, flashed on the screen—wakeboarding, flaunting a walleye he’d caught in the boundary waters, and playing broom ball on the Chapman’s frozen pond.
Similar slideshows of Becca and Gavin followed, set to the tunes of their favorite songs. It wasn’t until a sappy song played that the viewers were reduced to tears. Accompanying the music were group photos of the kids throughout their years at Hope Church. Trevor’s face appeared on several images, melting Audrey’s insides to mush.
Audrey looked around the room, capturing the reactions of her friends. Becca had her head resting on Jake’s shoulder, her face stained with tears. In contrast, Gavin and Darcy had dry eyes and smiles on their faces.
But it was Pastor Mitchel’s response that struck Audrey the most. Pride emanated from his eyes, almost as if the kids were his own. And in a way, Audrey supposed, they were. He had played a big part in raising the youth group kids. This year had been especially important. Pastor Mitchel’s accident had profoundly impacted the teens and had taught them that there were more important things in life than partying.
When the DVD was finished, Pastor Mitchel said special words he had prepared about each of the graduates as he had done the previous year when Audrey had graduated. Then he presented each of them a unique gift.
Becca received a compass. Pastor Mitchel described Becca as a leader, saying that a compass symbolically would guide her in the right direction. Gavin was given a rock, symbolizing that he stood firm in his faith. And Jake was presented a football with everyone’s signature and favorite Bible verse inscribed on it.
The night brought back memories for Audrey of the gathering around the campfire to celebrate her high school graduation, when she was so eager to start a new chapter of her life. The baby rolled in her belly, reminding her of all that had happened since that night.
With the DVD and the gift presentation finished, people dispersed throughout the house, some going back to the kitchen for snacks and some retreating to the basement for a game of ping pong. Audrey heaved herself out of the recliner and headed straight for the bathroom. Her bladder seemed to be the size of a pea these days.
Making her way down the hallway, she admired the framed photographs hanging on the walls. Audrey paused to look at a picture taken on the Mitchels’ wedding day. Mrs. Mitchel was radiant in her white gown, and Pastor Mitchel looked equally handsome. There were more pictures of people Audrey didn’t recognize, probably family. At the end of the line of pictures hung an aged-looking photo of a beautiful woman in striking resemblance to Mrs. Mitchel. The woman’s eyes were gentle and kind. Audrey felt oddly comforted just looking at the woman’s photo.
“She’s my mother,” Audrey heard a voice say behind her.
Looking over her shoulder, she saw Mrs. Mitchel. “She’s beautiful. She looks just like you.”
“Thank you. This picture was taken when she was about my age.”
“I’ve never met your mother.”
“She passed away several years ago.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Audrey couldn’t imagine life without her own mother. “Do you still miss her?”
Mrs. Mitchel crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the wall. “I miss her with every fiber of my body.”
“I guess that was a stupid question.” Audrey didn’t know what to say in these situations. She’d never lost anyone close to her.
“No, it wasn’t.” Mrs. Mitchel had a pensive look in her eyes. “They say time heals all wounds, but I would disagree.”
Audrey felt bad for making Mrs. Mitchel sad, but she seemed to like talking about her mother. “Is your father still living?”
Mrs. Mitchel shrugged. “I never met him. My mom raised me all on her own.”
“Wow, she must have been amazing.” Audrey put her hand on her belly, thinking of the choice she had made to give her baby up for adoption in order for her child to have a two-parent family. Mrs. Mitchel, although raised by a single parent, turned out perfectly. Second thoughts crept into Audrey’s mind about the adoption plans, but she immediately dismissed them, knowing that she had prayerfully made the right decision.
Pastor Mitchel came from the kitchen with a handful of pretzels. He leaned against the wall next to his wife and popped a pretzel into his mouth. He read the serious expressions on their faces. “Am I interrupting something?”
Audrey pointed to the picture of Mrs. Mitchel’s mother. “I was just looking at the photographs.”
“Ah.” Pastor Mitchel nodded in understanding. He nudged his wife’s elbow. “Did you give Audrey her gift yet?”
Mrs. Mitchel shook her head. “Not yet. I’ll go get it.”
Although touched by the idea of a gift, Audrey thought about her bursting bladder. She looked at the bathroom door longingly but decided she could wait a couple more minutes.
Mrs. Mitchel opened the door to their guest room and removed a package about the size of a shoe box from a drawer. It was covered in lavender paper with a delicate floral pattern; a tag dangled from the lid by a matching satin ribbon. What caught Audrey’s eye the most was not the box, but the room from which it was retrieved.
Once simply decorated with neutral tones and housing only a bed, a dresser and a nightstand, the room was now transformed into a nursery complete with a crib and rocking chair. Pale yellow walls complemented the Winnie the Pooh theme covering the crib sheet, a baby quilt draped over the rocking chair, and the curtains framing the corner window. Audrey had always wondered if the Mitchels would ever have kids. Maybe there was something she didn’t know.
Mrs. Mitchel must have seen Audrey’s bewilderment at the room. “Do you like the nursery?”
“Yeah, it’s adorable.”
“Come on in and look around.”
Audrey stepped into the cozy room, admiring the sweet touches that had been placed around the room. A framed photo of Pastor and Mrs. Mitchel sat on the dresser next to a baby book picturing the lovable red-shirted bear on the cover. No detail had been overlooked. Baby hangers hung in the closet. A basket of diapers, wipes, and ointment sat on the changing table next to a second basket filled with shampoo, lotion, washcloths, and hooded towels.
Audrey sat in the rocking chair. Closing her eyes momentarily, she imagined rocking her own baby in such a cozy room. “It’s so cute. Are you guys expecting?”
“No, no. We decorated the room last fall. I don’t know if Pastor Mitchel ever mentioned it to you, but I had a miscarriage.”
Audrey gulped. She hadn’t even known that Mrs. Mitchel had ever been pregnant. Overcome by a strange feeling of guilt, she folded her hands across her abdomen, as if hiding her pregnancy. “I’m so sorry.”
Melancholy colored her features, yet Mrs. Mitchel smiled. “Thank you.”
“So are you guys trying again? To have a baby?”
Mrs. Mitchel ran her hand along the rail of the crib and then straightened out a wrinkle in the sheet. “We’re praying about it.” Just then she remembered the gift that she had tucked under her arm. “Oh, this is for you.”
Audrey took the box and read the tag. Dear Audrey, Fill this box with treasures of your precious little one. May you experience blessings as rich as the blessings you are providing this dear child of God. Love, Pastor Mitchel and Mrs. Mitchel
Tears sprang to Audrey’s eyes. It was the perfect gift. She could fill it with items such as hospital photos, footprints, and the baby’s first pacifier. The Mitchels knew exactly how precious these items would become. Audrey wondered if they had a similar box of their own to commemorate the baby they had lost. “Wow. Thank you so much.” Audrey sniffed, overcome with emotion. “So you guys have had a pretty tough year too, huh?”
Pastor Mitchel put his arm around his wife’s shoulders, giving her a light squeeze. “More than you know.”
The Mitchels had been through so much with a miscarriage and a horrible car accident that easily could have taken Pastor Mitchel’s life. “How do you stay so strong?”
Mrs. Mitchel’s eyes lit up. “By the grace of God. It wasn’t easy. A struggle with infertility and then a miscarriage challenged our marriage. We each dealt with the grief differently.”
Pastor Mitchel kissed Mrs. Mitchel’s cheek. “But God was the glue that held us together. In fact, our marriage is stronger now than ever before.”
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Audrey quoted the verse God had placed on her heart recently. “I think God has been teaching me about grace.” She said the word to herself, letting the meaning percolate in her mind. Grace. Through the events of the last year, she had experienced God’s grace in so many ways. “You know, if I have a girl, I’m going to name her Grace.”
Mrs. Mitchel clutched her hand to her chest. She looked as if she might fall over. Grace was a pretty name by anyone’s standards, but Mrs. Mitchel’s reaction was greatly exaggerated. By the look in Pastor Mitchel’s eyes, he seemed to be experiencing a similar reaction. Obviously, the name held some sort of significance for them.
“What? Was that your baby’s name?”
“No.” Mrs. Mitchel self-consciously dropped her hand from her chest and regained composure. “Grace is my mother’s name.”
Pastor Mitchel kissed his wife on the forehead. “It’s the perfect name.”
“If you guys want to use that name for your kid someday, I’ll find something else. Really, I don’t mind.”
The pair shook their heads dramatically, insisting that wouldn’t be necessary.
Audrey hoisted herself up from the rocking chair, knowing she needed to get to the bathroom urgently now. “Suit yourselves.” She hugged first Mrs. Mitchel and then Pastor Mitchel. “Thanks for the gift, you guys. I’ll treasure it always.”
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.