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.

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 “

 

 

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. 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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