I was reading through the Like Olive Shoots posts awhile back. I actually was looking at two posts…the post where we let everyone know that Reece passed away and the one preceding it. There were about 36 hours between posts and a lot happened in those 36 hours. And I recognized–not for the first time–but clearly recognized that there are many gaps between posts and lots of information left out in between. So I thought about that for a while and considered that I have very little clue what it would be like as an outsider to our situation (I mean a person who was not in the daily details of our lives for the last year) to read and understand the full picture of both that blog and this one. I also consider that it isn’t my job to post every detail. I conclude that it would be quite difficult to know how to approach someone after you know only part of what they have been through. And because I live in my head every day and know how we are doing on a moment to moment basis, I’m actually not sure what ends up getting highlighted when I post. Certainly, I know what I write. However, I have a context for it within the greater scheme of what is happening in our day-to-day lives. The subject of a picture looks entirely different when the background is painted around it. I’ve hesitated about posting what I am about to write about, because of this understanding. Realistically, I keep thinking about writing about some of the happy things that have happened, perhaps what the girls are up to or some of our plans for the year, but I fear it would be disingenuous. It’s almost like I want to will us into a different place in life, which is impossible. This is what I have been grappling with, so this is my post. Without the understanding of what the rest of our life looks like, it might be taken in the wrong way or emphasize something that I am not intending. I urge you to read with an open mind that my reasoning behind this post is more to allow myself to process it and also to ease people in their understanding that someone who is in grief is struggling, but approachable. I’m sure there are common themes with the loss of another family member or friend, but my context is Reece and I do think the loss of a child is a loss like no other. It’s completely unnatural. It’s the loss of someone whose make up is from your own, lived with you daily, depended on you daily–and it makes you realize how much you actually depended on them as well. It’s the loss of what you always perceived as your future.
Over the course of the last seven months, I’ve come to understand that we struggle as a society to know how to approach people in a state of grief. I can hardly remember what it was like for us before our situation with Reece unfolded, but I know it was hard to know what to say to someone in our situation. Grief does not go away with time. It is a haphazard, crazy, unpredictable, and exhausting emotion. I read an article recently that stated most people, after about three months, no longer mention grief or the loss of a person. Three months is the timeframe that most people gauge as an appropriate amount of time to “move on.” Well, I can tell you that it isn’t accurate and the author of the article agreed with me. I know and agree that people must move on with their own lives. The grieving person knows that others have moved on in life. In order to operate in society, the bereaved are forced to act normal when things are anything but normal. Society expects brave faces and a report that all is well. It is refreshing for the grieving person to have someone, on the flip side, acknowledge that life hasn’t just “moved on” for them.
Everyone is going through challenges in life and everyone has a different threshold for dealing with those challenges. In the past, no matter what was going on, I was able to put any struggle I had on a shelf in order to operate through daily tasks and situations. This is the first time in my life where it isn’t a matter of just bucking up and putting on a brave face. Every day is a choice to come out of a mental bomb shelter and decide whether I can handle and recover from the unpredictable things coming my way or not. I have to evaluate the risk of what I am going to be faced with and whether or not I am willing to deal with the repercussions or not. Some days yes, some days no. Case in point, I got my teeth cleaned this week. If I could have skipped it, I would have, but in my mind, dental cleanings aren’t optional appointments. My dentist knows that Reece passed away, but she was gone that day. (By the way, we love our dental office, so this isn’t a reflection on them.) The woman cleaning my teeth was new and asking me a few questions. I managed to skirt the issue by answering generically about my kids. (I recently decided that I would mention nothing about Reece’s passing to people I likely wouldn’t run into again–too much of a conversation derailer and frustration to mention it at all in that circumstance.) Two thirds of the way through the cleaning she asked if my oldest was in 1st grade or Kindergarten. So I just told her the situation. We spent the rest of the time talking about her mother-in-law’s blood disorder. After she finished cleaning my teeth, I heard her whispering and filling in the dentist (who is my husband’s dentist and knows me as well). Nothing was mentioned to my face about Reece. She came in with an awkward smile, but never mentioned it. She didn’t have to–there is nothing that requires a dentist to ask about personal questions other than that is the way they normally operate with us so it was weird to not have her say anything. It was obviously on her mind and clearly on mine. And here I am posting about it; it’s an otherwise normal situation that ends up feeling all weird and funky due to the circumstance. I have the rest of my life to adjust to this and I’m sure as time moves forward I’ll develop a way to deal with it that feels more manageable. But perhaps you can understand why doing even routine things is not so easy right now. Or at least things that require we talk to people.
There is nothing you can say to make me more sad about Reece. Bringing him up doesn’t somehow remind me that he is gone. The only thing that makes me more sad is when people who know me or especially who knew him fail to mention him. I know I’ve posted about this before. But it amazes me how many people avoid us completely or at least avoid the topic. I don’t need to constantly be discussing Reece, but it never comes up with many people and it becomes uncomfortable. I don’t expect most people to really say anything, but with those that know us well, it is hard and hurtful when they don’t. It is impossible to avoid the topic and have a meaningful friendship with me. Reece is unavoidable. Just because he isn’t physically here doesn’t mean he isn’t our child or we don’t think of him and talk about him. In order to get to a point in friendship where it isn’t all about the situation of loss, there needs to be a period of time where it is. There is no quick-fix for loss and for our society, that feels uncomfortable. And yes, loss isn’t an easy topic to discuss, but Reece, as a person, is joyful to discuss. If someone chooses to bring him up, it is my responsibility to extend grace in understanding the intentions and words of the person. Even now with people I know who have lost a child, I struggle with what to say, because I don’t want to be offensive and I know I can’t fix it. But not mentioning it with them is much more about my own insecurities versus protecting the family from more pain. Healing has to happen internally and with time. As with any type of wound, healing helps recover something, but never mends it back to its original state. There is no way to know who I am without knowing this part of me. Genuine friendship is not sustainable without walking though the joyful times and the sad times…and various other times as well. So we have learned that we have to let go and allow nature to run its course on relationships with others. We really don’t have the reserves to do much else. We’ve found that the loss of Reece has also meant the loss of friendships. Strangely, I’ve learned that it is ok. But for those that do check in and understand that my slow e-mail responses or lack of calls isn’t personal, that when I don’t ask about all the activities they are doing with their kids it isn’t because I don’t care, and when I cancel plans at the last minute it isn’t because I don’t respect their time–I am forever indebted as a friend for the grace they are extending to me. I have learned more about caring for others through this period than I ever thought I would. I hope some day I am able to care for others in a similar way; when we are in a place where we feel we can support others, I aspire to be able to respond with such genuine concern and love. I know in the past I have missed many opportunities to do so. I know the day will come when I am presented with the challenge and I hope I reciprocate accordingly.
Lately, time in the Word has been sporadic. But one passage that I have been continually turning to–not necessarily of my own choosing, but simply having been led to it–is Ecclesiastes 3, although you may know the passage better from The Byrds song, “Turn, Turn, Turn”. It is the passage that discusses how God has purposed a time for everything. What it has highlighted to me is that for as many positive things there are, so there are challenging and difficult things. As much as we desire the dancing, reaping, embracing, laughing, loving, peaceful parts, so also come the weeping, mourning, tearing down, scattering, giving up parts. Those parts are intentional, too, and require our time and energy. We are programmed to fix things quickly and avoid these hard things and to not discuss them or admit them publicly. Certainly, sitting in them, “allowing” them to happen and being okay with them happening (i.e. not fighting them) seems unnatural. Like I mentioned, I keep happening upon these verses and it has affirmed to me that as uncomfortable as the tough times are, they must happen in life. Even though they don’t feel good, the valleys have a purpose.
I firmly believe that part of going through challenges in life is the hope that one day, you’ll be able to support someone else going through a similar situation. It comforts me to think of having a way to actually put our hurt to use and actually see part of the purpose with our own eyes. As I try to make sense out of what happened with Reece and its purpose in our lives, I am convinced that one day we will be able to walk alongside others going through the loss of a child and be supportive. In order to do that effectively, we have to spend time dealing with our own fresh grief. We can’t effectively help others in a similar situation, if all we do is turn it into something about Reece. When we are able to support other grieving parents, it will be at a time when it isn’t as intensely all about our grieving our own child. We can’t get to that by skipping over the tough stuff. This time in our life is all about Reece and that is okay.