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……..

 

 

 

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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.

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 “

 

 

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.

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

 

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