soul shattering

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Losing a child has been described as a “soul shattering nightmare.”  It actually feels like a war.  I’m fighting to gather back every piece myself… all of those bits that flew in a million different directions.   I need those because I’m trying to put myself back together.

Just after he died, sweet memories of my son comforted me.  But they cut much too deeply – like jagged-edged jewels.  Over time, they’ve become easier to look at and hold close.  

There are days when I can’t find the memories, hear his voice, or see his face.  Other days, there are no words – all I can manage is to sit and stare.  It is comforting, but a bit startling to look up, see darkness and realize that 6 hours passed.

lyrics to a song by Sara Bareilles perfectly captures these feelings: 

“No words, My tears won’t make any room for more, And it don’t hurt like anything I’ve ever felt before, this is no broken heart, No familiar scars, This territory goes uncharted…

Each day, countin’ up the minutes, till I get alone, ’cause I can’t stay In the middle of it all, it’s nobody’s fault, but I’m so low, never knew how much I didn’t know,  Oh, everything is uncharted.  I know I’m getting nowhere, when I only sit and stare like…I’m going down..”    Uncharted by Sara Bareilles

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what’s next?

In many ways, things were easier this time last year.   

Stephen died on December 7th and I don’t really remember much of the 3 -4 months that followed.  I was inconsolable and totally immersed in my grief. Nothing intruded – not the need for food, personal hygiene, my job, holidays, birthdays, or other commitments; these things never even entered my mind.  My world consisted of grieving, crying, remembering and sleeping.  It was unimaginable, but I had no idea how much harder things would become.

After I decided that I wanted to live, it took all my strength to get through a day – one minute at a time.   I was consumed with figuring out how to “do” daily life: return to my job, deal with obligations, interact with people and simply act normal.  I struggled to care because it hurt so much; I just wanted it all to stop. This was the hardest thing I have ever done.  I am thankful for the support and love from friends and family which kept me going as God continued to heal my heart.

I realize as I reflect on that time, that I succeeded in handling daily life but failed to figure out how to live.  

I’m still not sure I have an answer, but I know what I don’t want:

-If I stay “in” my grief & live in the memories, I keep Stephen close to my heart, but I lose me.

-If I cram down the pain and try to get on with my life, then I am packing him away so, I lose him.  And I’m living a lie, so I lose myself too.

Neither of these is an option.  The only thing that I can do is make my life count so I can honor him and keep on living.

Now I just have to figure out what that looks like……..

 

 

 

anticipating the tidal wave

I haven’t been able to write for the last 2 months. I had to slip back into life and be able to function.

So I slammed the door shut on the painful emotions and stayed far away from it.  I kept moving, and I kept cramming down the pain (not very healthy, by the way).  I just couldn’t take the chance that I would lose myself in the pain and cease to function – because I had committments to keep.  But, the longer I did this, the harder it was to keep cramming. 

Last night, we passed the intersection where my son was killed.  I pass it often when driving to church, the store or to visit friends. Usually I distract myself by holding my breath, saying a prayer, or closing my eyes – but this time was different.  

I was startled by a compelling vision of my son.  As I saw his face, I could actually feel the intensity of his vitality and his joy.  It was momentary, powerful, and deeply painful as I thought, “All of that is gone. I can no longer hold him.” 

The pain makes me want to crawl away, find a quiet place and cry. And, I can feel a tidal wave gathering as we get closer to December 7th.  I’m shocked to realize that almost 1 year has passed since the accident. 

Not sure how I will get through the next few weeks – his anniversary & the holidays.  But with God’s grace, I’ll keep moving forward. 

This song, Nothing Stops Another Day, speaks to me. If you follow the link, you can hear how beautifully it is sung:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G19h037A728&sns=em 

“I know I have to let go of the life I’ll never know,

hard as it may be. 

I’m trying to understand instead there’s another life ahead. 

Because the tallest mountain cannot stop the smallest stream,

Winter can’t hold back the spring, no matter how dark it may seem,

Come what may, nothing stops another day

 Because the world keeps turning and I guess it always will,

I can choose to turn around, or I can choose to just stand still.  Either way, nothing stops another day

  Lyrics from “Nothing Stops Another Day”

 

what would you do for your child?

I fell into a hole last week and got stuck there.   It wasn’t the result of being caught off guard with a “how many children do you have?” question,  another “first” or even a bittersweet reminder.  I simply had a string of bad days where I was feeling empty and missing my son – his smile, his laugh, his pranks and his hugs.  And, his little girl started back to school so I was especially sad that she didn’t have him there for her first day.
The loss is so visceral and, at times, all-consuming that even my body hurts.    I’ve discovered that my body knows the date before I ever look at a calendar.  My “monthly cycle is centered around the 7th – the day my son died.  It starts late in the day on the 5th when I find myself feeling weepy, and the waves of emotion continue for the next 2 days…..  it’s as if the body that bore him aches because he is gone.
My husband would give anything to be able to help when these waves hit, but he has come to accept that there isn’t anything he (or anyone else) can do.  The only comfort I have is that which God provides.  Well, last week, my husband asked me, “Isn’t it true that a mother would do absolutely anything to protect her child?”
I started to remember my pregnancy dreams: my son in the road and the oncoming car bearing down on him; me racing at lightning speed … reaching him just in time to push him to safety.  I had so many of these type of dreams all throughout his childhood; different variations but the same ending: I took on the impact so that he would be saved.
My husband’s point? That is exactly what I am doing now.  Had I stepped in front of a car for my son, he would have been safe (and I would have suffered as I recovered from the impact).  Well,  he is now safe and happy.  And yes, I am suffering as I try to rebuild my life.
I have to remind myself that my son was given to me for a time, and now he is home.  My work is done.

perfume and pearls

Each day, the sun rises and sets. The seasons change.
In the garden, flowers bloom and then die.

Death is like the tide – it just is.

Every time I hear of a death, I immediately think, “there is another mother who lost her child.”
I’m not sure how we survive the death of a child, but we do. We find a way to live – not just to survive. But we are changed forever.

When bad days happen, I struggle to stay present but I am sucked backwards in time. With a foot in the past and one in the present, I try to carry on through the day. And, when I am tempted to – again – ask WHY? – I think about this quote by Margaret Brownley,

“perfume can only be produced by crushing flowers; something beautiful must first die…”

I know my face reflects my rawness and I really don’t care. A part of me is gone; I feel diminished, a shadow of my former self.
I am, somehow, less than I was.

And yet I am softer: I feel other’s energy and acutely sense their pain. I am infinitely stronger; I can now survive anything. My discernment is magnified, and I’m crystal clear about what really matters.
Does that mean that, in some way, I am more than I was before my son died?

Rarely is something created without pain and perseverance.  I wonder if our new self (our new normal) forms in the same way as a pearl is created? Do you think our hardship refines us?

8 months today

I can’t believe 8 months has passed since my son’s accident.  I wasn’t watching the calendar, but should have realized as the physical pain and emotions began to build yesterday.  One thing that is different though – the memories of the accident day haven’t gone away but they do have blurry edges……..  

Last week, a friend offered to help me look through the last box of my son’s belongings.  I had been saving that last box; probably the same impulse that makes me delay reading the last chapter of a really good book – because I don’t want it to end.  But it was time.    

What an odd experience – I was in the moment and I was also watching myself

……..holding his Boy Scout shirt; reading little notes that he wrote; getting teary looking at the old photos; smiling at finger-paintings from 1982; and laughing out loud at his 8-year-old Christmas list (He cut pictures from every catalog he could find, stuffed them inside a manila envelope and wrote on the front: all i want is in here)

a wonderful flood of bittersweet memories

 And I kept thinking, “Why didn’t I save more of his things?”  

Maybe we need to live each day in a way that celebrates the present.  Is that the lesson I need to understand??

Together wherever we go

After 2 weeks of company…… I was amazed to realize that I hadn’t “lost it” while family was visiting; I was too distracted.   Of course we spoke of my son and his accident, but with few tears.

After a sharp pang of guilt, I was almost relieved to feel my constant companion again. That is when I understood that the grief was always there. It is a part of who I am.

This imagery keeps running through my mind…

In the beginning, you run outside because your grief is too large to contain.  You thrash about and scream in pain from grief – as if you are under siege from the elements that are beating at you.   Finally spent, you retreat to inside the house where it feels safe.  

Once inside, you tuck your grief away, wrap yourself in a blanket and rest.  As long as you are inside and safe, you can keep the memories at bay and hold back the tears. But, each time you go to the door and try to open it, the grief storm is there waiting.  So, you slam the door shut and stay put.

You are on guard, because the memories and reminders push at that door.  A song, a book, a harsh comment (even a kind remark on a bad day) will try to drive the door open.

As time goes by – you are able to walk a few feet from the door without worrying that it will be breached.  Those are the days that don’t start and end with anguished thoughts.  In other words, you feel almost normal. 

But, eventually, you have to leave the house.  And when you do, when the door is finally open, it is there waiting for you.

 As my father says, “It doesn’t matter what you do, it never goes away.”  Kinda reminds me of that old (kitschy) song:

“Wherever we go, whatever we do, we’re gonna go through it together “

 

 

what does suffering teach us?

What do we learn from the pain of losing a child?  I know that we are irrevocably changed, but do we gain something from our grief?  Does our obsession to find answers help us to become something better? 

Perhaps it is when we finally decide to live – when we make ourselves move on – that we channel our energies into something good.  

I suspect our grief causes us to become more generous, or more altruistic than we might otherwise have been.   I see bereaved parents:

  • publishing books
  • writing blogs
  • lobbying for positive change
  • joining groups like Compassionate Friends who come together to offer comfort    

I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable. 

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

 

friends who have slipped away

In the months since my son died, I have reconnected with old friends, and made new friends within this (startlingly large) community of bereaved parents.  

Many of my dear friends have drawn closer, but I’m troubled by others who have slipped away.  I recognize that not everyone who enters our life is meant to stay forever, but I’m not yet ready to give up on a few special ones.   

I just found this ‘letter to a friend’ in Margaret Brownley’s, “Grieving God’s Way.”  Here are excerpts that capture what I would want to say:

Dear Friend,

Please be patient with me; I need to grieve in my own way and in my own time… The best thing you can do is listen to me and let me cry on your shoulder.  Don’t be afraid to cry with me.  Your tears will tell me how much you care.

Please forgive me if I seem insensitive to your problems. I feel depleted and drained like an empty vessel with nothing left to give.  Please understand why I must turn a deaf ear to criticism or tired clichés.  I can’t handle another person telling me that time heals all wounds.

Please don’t try to find the “right” words to say to me.  There’s nothing you can say to take away the hurt. I need hugs, not words. 

Please don’t push me to do things I’m not ready to do or feel hurt if I seem withdrawn.  This is a necessary part of my recovery.  Please don’t stop calling me. You might think you’re respecting my privacy, but to me if feels like abandonment.

Please don’t expect me to be the same as I was before….. I’m a different person. Please accept me for who I am today.  Pray with me and for me.  Should I falter in my faith, let me lean on yours.

small mercies

I had a long, painful conversation with my sister who understands what it feels like to lose a child; she has been my rock.  I know how much it hurts her to see me in pain.  When she asked me if I had prayed for God to take away some of my pain, I had to wonder why I was holding on so tightly to my grief.  

I realized that because people were getting back to the business of living, I was afraid that my son would be forgotten. That would be like losing him all over again. 

The next day, I awoke knowing that my son was sent here for restoration and reconciliation.  In the 6 months he lived with us before he died, he learned to love himself, and accept that he was loved. 

I’m so grateful that God sent him here to me before taking him home.

it’s complicated

How can I know what to ask you for, when each day is a surprise?

Remember the line from Forrest Gump, “….life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.” 

My days are like that. Some are filled with a visceral, knife-like pain. Other days, I may be teary-eyed and sad.  I could be in my quiet space, or pacing and hyper-vigilant – waiting for the “storm” to burst forth.

Most likely, I am feeling conflicted: impatient with myself for feeling so lost – – yet terrified that “feeling better” might mean forgetting my son.  Or, it may just be a “normal” day. 

So, no surprise that I am often at a loss when friends ask me, “What can I do for you?”  

I can only tell you what would help me at that very moment (to think about yesterday is too painful; to envision tomorrow is too scary).  But, there are some things that are always helpful:

Listen when I tell his stories; I need to say them and I need to hear them

If you knew him, tell me stories. I love hearing about him, and it’s comforting to know he is being remembered

Please don’t try to cheer me up. It doesn’t work, and it makes me wonder if you are tired of me being sad

Remind me to be patient with myself

Most importantly, I always need your prayers

 

overflowing

If you pour more liquid into an over-filled glass, it simply spills over.

My grandmother just died.  She was wise and loving, and so very giving.  She lived a long life, and I will miss her.  Yet, I am so consumed by the loss of my son, that I’m struggling to properly grieve for my Nana. There just isn’t any room.

It’s been six months since my son died and I’m not sure the pain will ever go away.  

A good friend of mine told me that the six month mark can be one of the most difficult points in the grieving process. Most other people have gone back to everyday life and are no longer constantly thinking about the person who died – and they expect that the grieving family will be experiencing the same thing.  But the family is still in the relatively early stages of grief, made worse by the expectation that they too should be functioning normally. 

I know I can’t expect the world to stop – just because mine did.  I just want people to remember him; I need to know that he still matters even though he is gone. 

 

 

out of step

Isolation is such a circular process. 

There are times when I need to be alone, so I withdraw into my head – to think, to remember, or to just be.  

After a while, I become aware of my isolation, and the loneliness creeps in.  I feel heavy – as if I am draped in sadness; and I am convinced that no one could understand how this feels.  At these times, I’m so tired of being in pain, I start projecting my self-disgust on other people.  I have to force myself to reach out and break the solitude. Even then, the support of family and friends can’t always reach that place deep inside where it hurts.

just hanging on   

Getting through the day without breaking down is now a bit easier.  When I reach the point where it gets to be too much – I can “hide” in plain sight.  I stay in the bubble and try not to think, feel, or deal with anything painful or controversial.  It feels safe there: no fatigue or tears, but also no laughter  – and no strong emotion of any kind.   I just realized today that I spent the last 3 days there.

 “The pain of grief never really goes away. Healing is not a cure (there is no cure for grief).  Healing means facing the future with acceptance, gratitude and hope.”   Grieving God’s Way by Margaret Brownley

 

 

progress

My son died in early December……. just writing that is so strange.  But, as I begin to step back into my life, I have to be able to write it and to say it without falling apart. 

It feels like I’m beginning a new phase, with an entirely new set of challenges. There are fewer “I have to get out of here now” moments (like being startled by a comment or deeply moved by an unexpected kindness); but I’m still mastering how to manage those times when I do lose it.  My confidence increases each time I am able to hold back the storm until I am alone (which is one way I know I’m making progress).

Going back to work full-time requires that I “act normal” for longer and longer periods of time.  No more waiting until I have enough energy to do something; I’m now bound by my schedule.  And, knowing that people are counting on me adds an enormous amount of stress. All of this requires energy that I don’t always have (some days, I have only enough energy to get dressed).  I honestly don’t know if I could have made it back without the support, patience and flexibility from my work team.

I am already a different person – at work and at home.  I’m very comfortable with silence, and spend more time in my head than I do with other people.  When I do interact with people, the conversations happen very differently.  For me, the spaces between the words no longer need to be filled.  When a topic is over, there is no rush to begin another.  I’ve noticed that not everyone is entirely comfortable with extended silence.   

This is one of my favorite quotes: 

We fight for the right to grieve in a society that would rather we “get over it” in three days.  Grieving God’s Way by Margaret Brownley

I used to get so angry when I felt people rushing me (advising me how to move on, or pushing me to cheer up and be grateful I had another son).  Over time, my perspective has changed; people who care about you may not know what to say or how to say it, but they just want you to be OK.  All of the wonderful people in my life – family and friends who have carried me with their love and support; I can almost feel their relief when I am having a good day.  I know in my heart that their deepest wish is for me to feel better.

 

 

control

We cling to this illusion; but what do we really control in our life?

The accident happened.  If I had been home; if I had spoken to him that day; if he hadn’t been fighting with the girlfriend; if he hadn’t been texting while driving.  All of these ifs,but none of them really matter.

I’m angry that things keep happening to me.  I feel as if have no control over anything……

My body betrays me – it yearns and aches and tightens.  At night, my mind wanders where it wants and I awake covered in grief. Memories are inconsistent: there are times I vividly recall the past; other days, what I need to remember is locked behind a wall and I can’t reach it. 

Often, my quicksilver emotions surprise me: the bittersweet sting of a happy memory pulls me into that sad place; or fear creeps in (dressed as something else), so it isn’t as easy to recognize…. 

I am learning to be more self-aware.  I think of it as a “full body scan” or like taking a complete inventory.  It doesn’t solve anything or make things better, but it does help me to understand what is happening. 

The only thing I can control is how I choose to deal with it

glorious sadness

memories

Right after my son’s accident, I could only recall memories of his last 6 months while living with us.    

It is only recently that the early memories have returned: my son as a baby, toddler, adolescent, and teen – such heartbreaking images. 

Allowing myself to remember what he was – to me and to others, takes me to a dark, lonely place.  In this space, I have no wish to speak; to listen; or to invite anyone in.  Time passes, much like you see in a movie when everything freezes; white noise and nothing-ness blocks the world from getting in.  It is a seductive, solitary place…….and I find it very healing.

“Grief can’t be shared. Everyone carries it alone. His own burden in his own way.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh

 

 

 

broken

There are days when I feel so broken that I want to plead with God – – to cry out to him  – – that I’m not ready to let my son go.  I wake in a panic, afraid that I’ve lost him forever, because I can’t remember the sound of his voice, or his laugh.  My struggle is to find peace in knowing that my son and I will be together again in a new place (he just gets to go there first). 

I wonder if it is true that when you lose a loved one, your mind forgets things so your heart doesn’t keep breaking over, and over again.

Life will never be the same – I will never be the same; I’ve simply lost too much.  And yet, I look around and see all that I’ve been given.  I’m just not sure how to reconcile this realization with the pain in my heart.  I’m constantly reminded: if you give God the pieces, he can take anything broken and make it whole again.  That is my prayer

“The LORD hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:17-18

 

 

 

 

healing music

Music has always been my greatest joy, and a source of comfort.  I find solace in a melody, and meaning in a lyric.  But in the midst of grieving for my son, I found myself unable to sing.  Whenever I opened my mouth, sadness and loss poured out and choked me.  Maybe this happens because music emanates from the soul?  I found a quote that made sense: “Music moves us as it can bypass reasoning, getting to our deepest memories and what we hold dear..” from Music Over a Lifespan by Rictor Noren(Psychology Today). 

surviving

I try not to dwell on the accident, but my mind wanders back there.  I’ve pored over the death certificate, especially details for cause of death.  Like any mothers, I need to understand what my son experienced; and if he felt any pain.   This is where I hang on to my faith.  I believe he wasn’t alone when he died.  I believe that he felt no pain, and that he saw only beauty.  And, now he is home.

I reached a point where I was so very tired of telling the story. With each telling, I opened the scab and I returned to that dark, dark place.  So, now I work hard at being “normal” and moving through my days incognito (If you didn’t know me; I’d look just like the next person shopping, doing errands and interacting with strangers).  But, the intensity required to keep such tight control is a strain: tension builds, muscles tighten and i find myself swallowing often – as if I could keep this swirling mass of emotion from rising in my throat.

 The song seems to capture the vice-like hold that grief has:

“Something always brings me back to you.  It never takes too long.  No matter what I say or do I’ll still feel you here ’til the moment I’m gone.

 Set me free, leave me be. I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity.Here I am and I stand so tall, just the way I’m supposed to be.But you’re on to me and all over me.

  You loved me ’cause I’m fragile. When I thought that I was strong. But you touch me for a little while and all my fragile strength is gone.

 Set me free, leave me be. I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity.  Here I am and I stand so tall, just the way I’m supposed to be.  But you’re on to me and all over me.”

Gravity by Sara Bareilles

lifelong journey

In the midst of despair, being reminded that tomorrow is another day provides no comfort because it’s hard to believe tomorrow will be any better.” Surviving Grief and Tragedy – The Spark Within, by Michael Josephson  

I was confused when people told me I was “getting better.”   Yes, I was less distracted; I could read a few sentences; and remember a few more things.  But, I didn’t feel better.  My heart hurt.

Prayers – so many prayers – for healing, and then waiting for whatever was next.  When I had a good day, I was convinced that I was starting into the next phase – moving on towards “better.”  That made the bad days all the more devastating.

the big a ha

Weeks went by before I it finally hit me: there are no milestones, no half-way points, and certainly no end to this process.  This is a  lifelong journey that feels like scaling vertical rock face.  I have to decide if I choose life.  And I get to choose – every single day –how I want to live that life.  

Andy Warhol said, “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”