Sometimes when people learn that I have three boys, they say something like: “don’t you want a little girl to go with all those boys?” I remember when we thought we were in the worst of Caroline’s dying, after she couldn’t speak but before the pain made her scream for hours, I would stare out the window at the cars driving by. I would look at the people inside them, some smiling and talking, some yapping on their cell phones, some simply placid and alone. They drove to schools and baseball games and restaurants, and to homes without sick children.

I hated all of them. How can they go on like life is normal, I thought, when our life has been torn from us? It was a silly, selfish thought. But I don’t blame myself for having it, any more than I blame strangers for not suffering in that moment. We think silly, selfish things when it seems like the world is bent on crushing us.

I read somewhere that most people are never more than eight feet from a spider. Spiders are ubiquitous and secretive. Suffering is like that, everywhere and hidden. We have lost people we love, we have frittered away time and dreams, we have discovered betrayal where we expected love, we have been abused, we have been despised, we have been suffocated by indifference.

Suffering is often a very personal thing, and in a world of acquaintances and transactions we grow blind to the fact that all but the most unfeeling or narcissistic among us endure it. But they do. Often it passes, sometimes it lingers.

Sometimes it returns for a visit, and I’ve learned that if you don’t let it in for a while it lurks outside your door, peeking in the windows, whispering things you don’t want to hear, until you’ve medicated yourself with distractions and blocked out every good thing just to keep from hearing, from seeing.

So it’s best, I’ve found, just to let it in. Then you learn that time has dulled its sting, and you can actually bear the company. And then you discover that while you were keeping it at bay, you were keeping away the very best parts of life as well. It is the last trick in suffering’s bag, the last thing it can rob from you — the blessings you have now, your time to drive down the street and smile because life, for all it can take from you, brings gifts of grace and sweetness.

Caroline would have turned nine years old today. We would have had a party, with cake and ice cream and presents. Her little brothers would have been underfoot, singing “Happy Birthday” at the top of their lungs, hopelessly, desperately loving the beautiful girl with brown curls and eyes like chocolate, eyes like her daddy’s.

Hopelessly, desperately, the way I love her, the way I miss her.

Happy birthday, Caroline Elizabeth. You are beautiful.


  1. Deoxy

    I admire you greatly, even though, or perhaps because, you have inflicted such pain in me for someone I never even knew. I hope someday to face my own sufferings with such grace, dignity, and hope. God bless you, and happy birthday, Caroline.

  2. Michael

    I read your post, and followed all the links to find your story of Caroline.

    Bless you for being her father full of faith while she was with you. I pray that your pain continues to fade while your memories remain.

    May God bless you and your family, your strength and weakness are an inspiration to others.

  3. Chasing the Wind

    Caroline’s Birthday

    Sand in the Gears posted again today. He posts rarely, but his posts are always poignant.

    Today he shares that his daughter would have been nine today, and how he’s learned how to live with her loss. Through it all, his faith carries him and his f…

  4. Christina

    Several months ago, my then three-year-old told me that before she came to me, she lived with God.

    She was sincere and secure in her statement.

    Happy Birthday Caroline.

    God Bless you and yours.

  5. Roy Jacobsen

    This song seems apropos:

    She had one foot on the ground
    And one foot in the air
    (it seemed) the world held her cold hand
    While the angels brushed her hair

    “but that’s how it has to end
    On this side of glory,
    Some wounds will never mend,”
    Says the author of the story

    I held one hand in the fire
    And lifted one hand towards the sky
    But the busy world still turned
    And the angels passed me by

    Sometimes there seems to be
    No author of the story
    These thoughts occur to me
    On this side of glory

    And I kissed the Lamb of God
    And my fingers found the wounds
    And the angels moved the stone
    And I searched the vacant room

    That’s how it all begins
    On this side of glory
    “and you’ll see her shine again,”
    Said the author of the story

    (“The Author of the Story” from the album “Mr Buechner’s Dream.” Music by Daniel Amos, Words by T.S. Taylor ?2001 Zoom Daddy/BMI)

  6. Scarlett

    I’ve come to realize that the worst thing you can feel is nothing. It’s good of you to let in the pain. And have yourself a good cry (alone or with your family). And write everything down – the sting and the love.

    God bless you and your little girl.

  7. Vox


    …and beautiful. I have been trying all day to come up with words in reference to what Tony and his family have been through. I give up and will just…

  8. Ex Nihilo

    Around the World in 6 links

    A few important links: 1) My good friend’s father has a piece up online. Obviously I have my huffs and puffs, but the point is good: We have to remember that we are all God’s children. We all have dignity

  9. onelamb

    Matt 5:4
    4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. NASU

    2 Cor 1:3-4
    3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. NASU

    Thank you for being vulnerable, so that what you have learned, and are willing to share, will comfort others who have just started down this road, or who have lost their way. You are right, you have been given gifts, though some days I am sure it is hard to see them through the pain. We all appreciate your gift for writing and are thankful that you have not given that up, even on the toughest of days. May God bless your strength, and continue to bless your family.

  10. p

    You are so roght about private suffering. I call it a black dog that follows just out of sight and very patient. You made me cry, but its wonderful to hear that its improving for you. God bless you all.

  11. TulipGirl

    Not Far Away

    I read somewhere that most people are never more than eight feet from a spider. Spiders are ubiquitous and secretive. Suffering is like that, everywhere and hidden. We have lost people we love, we have frittered away time and dreams, we have discovere…

  12. Will

    Hello Tony,

    I’ve followed your writings for several years now, silently lurking. I read your posts out loud with our family and they make us laugh so often. My kids remember quotes from your stories and bring them up every now and again.

    And every March you write about your lovely daughter, you make me cry –not something I do often. And so it was again today. The words you express espouse the greatest fears I have as a father, to experience such a loss, but also my greatest aspirations, to be as strong and faithful and vulnerable and generous with my feelings as you are.

    I look forward to meeting young Caroline in the Everlife. It would be an equal blessing to someday meet you.

    May God richly bless you and your family.

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