Matter of the heart come easily…however, putting them out there for the world to read is quite a stretch for me. Thanks for listening.
A dear friend, who has recently lost a daughter, shared with me that the grief process is not one of those things that you can check off your list and say…yahoo, I am finished with the anger stage, what is next…she told me that she learned that we won’t get a gold star at the end, and that we will continue to jump back and forth from stage to stage because… well, you never really finish. This grief will continue to be a lifelong process, but she did promise it gets better.
We have heard it before, that “time” will heal you. And to “them...whoever they are” I say that on Thursday it will be a month since Cate died, and “time” is sure taking a long time to show up. Days seem to go on forever, and the tough moments take an eternity to pass. I sit and sob through this soul-shattering experience and wonder what the lessons to be learned will be. And, I am trying to be open to learning them. Charlie asked me the other day if I was praying; he wanted to make sure that I am inviting God into my heart, and to be open to His healing powers and graces. I told him that I really wasn’t praying, and that I was really pissed off at God. I had never been so faithful, I had never been so devoted to prayer, nor had I ever been willing to sacrifice so much for His greater glory…only to feel completely let down. I was quick to tell Charlie that it is so painful to pray, and that I fear that praying right now might actually require even more out of me…and that God would ask even more of us. “I can’t do it,” I told him. With all of the intense anger and grave sadness, it takes all of my physical and emotional energy that I have to just get out of bed in the morning. I told him that often my day of suffering is offered up, and that is really all the praying that I can muster.
It is difficult and trying each day to answer the same questions from Ella & Dude, about “why can’t we see Cate?” and “why do Jesus and Mary get to take care of her?” and “where is heaven…is heaven in the clouds” … AAAHHH! I can hardly understand any of this myself, imagine trying to explain it our children. It gets tough somedays to be available to two kiddos who are struggling to “figure out” their way through this grief. Ella, in her sorrow, cries often and wants to spend countless hours at the cemetery coloring with chalk on Cate’s grave, blowing bubbles for her, and bringing her flowers. She and I spent the morning there on Saturday, we walked and looked at flowers, and every so often we would happen upon a child’s grave, and she was so delighted that Cate would have a friend. Precious to come from a four year old, and devastating that she should need to know of death and grief so young. For Dude it is a bit different, he can be both raging and soft-hearted…He will throw play dough and kill lizards in the yard one minute, and the next he wants to be hugged and held. A friend of ours brought her infant son over to our house a week ago, and Dude just wanted to take care of him, and rub his head, and talk to him like he was so accustomed to doing with Cate. My heart broke, and I cried for days after. Our kids are definitely our greatest joys and our greatest distraction right now, but I feel it is such an unfair journey that they are forced to walk. I believe that no child should be robbed of their security, as ours have unfortunately been. And unless you have walked this road as a young sibling, you can’t begin to imagine how much innocence is lost.
What is also so unnerving about this process is that it isn’t “pretty, and it can’t be hidden.” I have worked a long time to try to shelter my heart from the “ugly & messiness” that life can show. I would chose to focus my energies on the positive and the “neatly packaged” lessons that life was teaching me. With friendships I would often skim the surface of issues, and seldom let others deep into my heart. My tried & true way of “guarding” my heart is, however, starting to unravel. I originally thought that getting back to routine and staying focused on the “positives” in life would keep me moving forward. But grief had a way of showing up and slowing me down to an almost standstill, and let me tell you it isn’t “pretty.” It has shaken me down to my core and even to do the everyday “usual” stuff is so unbearably painful. Changing the toilet paper roll means opening the cabinet where Cate’s diapers are, putting away dishes means seeing her empty bottles. Simply going into our bedroom, means walking through her nursery. I still sit in her nursery’s rocker and rock most days, and sing to no one but myself. I glance into her bed each morning trying so hard to remember what it looked like to see her there. There are days that I take out her clothes and refold them, not to torture myself, but to hang on to the scent of her and the memory of the days she wore them. At moments I cling to every picture I can find, and other moments I have to turn them upside down and can’t even begin to process it. I am so deeply saddened, and so visibly hurt by her loss. I find myself with little energy to answer the phone, check emails, pay bills, or fold clothes. I can’t bring myself to be with (or even talk to) friends who have babies, or who complain about trivial stuff, and I am tired of having to answer… “How are y’all…or better yet…are you having a good day?” So, I avoid the grocery store, the post office, the bank, etc… at all cost, but when duty calls, and I must go I usually wear my trusty UL baseball cap, keep my head down, and avoid eye contact at all cost. Grief is a very lonely place to be, but the energy that it takes to make small talk or to share is incredibly draining.
This grief journey is so different and so individual. Although Charlie and I both witnessed the same child suffer, and we both watched the same doctors perform the same tasks, and we both left the hospital together, we are mourning Cate so differently. I mentioned to Charlie that being back home and having to get back to the business of life is much harder than watching Cate struggle in the hospital. It was easy to feel God’s graces during her hospital stay and the funeral services. I felt that God showed up BIG for us (during her burial) and allowed us to truly celebrate Cate’s life. And even though I know of His presence now it does feel so far away and so less tangible. It is a whirlwind of emotions and we are ALL experiencing them, at different times and in different ways.
Along with this time of never knowing more misery, I, have also never know more love. In the midst of this terribly trying time I still cling to Charlie, and we cherish our kids more every day. I have finally learned to lean into the wisdom of my parents. I have shared with my mom that I have never needed her as much nor appreciated her as much as I do now. She has become one of my best of friends. I pray that my sisters, my children, or anyone else will never need to know this wisdom of hers and now mine. It is not my parents’ experiences or pains, but rather their hope and joys that continue to renew in me a peace that … time and God will heal us.
And still through all of this pain…like it or not… there is still a real life to be lived. I don’t want to look back in ten years and think that I just existed through this time. Most days it is a decision to live well and search for the beauty that life still offers. Other days it comes a little easier and I can buy milk and cheerios without a baseball cap. But to each day that has passed so far and to all that are to come… I am committed to welcoming the daily joys and will continue to attempt to graciously invite in the grief. I don’t desire to run from this time & I sure can’t make it pretty or tie it with a bow, but I choose to not to just exist. So, here’s to living life, living it well, and inviting God in!
To my friends, I ask you to be patient with me. Unlike Charlie, I often don’t hold my heart up for others to see. I shelter it carefully and I have protected it for a LONG time. It has been bumped and bruised before, but never shattered. I am still searching on the ground for any remaining pieces, please be patient. I will come up soon, and need your help mending & reassembling. I can’t thank you all enough for your supportive love, your respect, and your continued prayers. I love you dearly, Ali