hello, 2014!

Here we are again.  January.  A new year.  I told Terry on New Year’s Day that it is funny how a new year seems fresh and full of possibilities, when in reality, it is just another day on the calendar.  It’s like we all need this big permission slip to hit the reset button and have a new beginning.  Apparently, we need this every 365 days, because we could just continue on our with daily life and not celebrate the Earth’s one revolution around the sun.  Maybe we need a reason to extend the Christmas season by another week; a good excuse to take some extended time off of work.  Either way, there is something about January that makes things feel clean.

January is here and, in our family, it marks another year since we embarked on our BMT journey with Reece.  Of course Reece passed away in July 2012, so July has become an anniversary month of sorts for that reason.  But January holds another anniversary and it would be remiss if I didn’t confess…it haunts me.  It encompasses an anniversary of commencing a complex process that brought us down a twisty, tangled road full of confusion, emotionally-charged experiences, loss of innocence, and a fair amount of mental damage.  January 2012, on the surface, had all the markings of new beginnings and a fresh start.  However, it never lived up to its promise, despite us marketing it that way to Reece, and now it merely feels like one big, empty, cold month.

My collective assessment from both my writings and my memories is that in the first year after the loss of Reece, we operated out of mostly shock.  We were very much still in that shock-place last January when we learned we were pregnant.  As we pressed forward through the year, the stark contrast between being pregnant with a new baby and grieving the loss of Reece became strange, at best.  As July came with the first anniversary of Reece’s passing, I felt a fair amount of relief in knowing that we had survived the first year and would at least be off the hook of saying, “It was only a year ago that ________ happened.”  Little did I know to expect that my relief would be short-lived when I hit a low point for the remainder of my pregnancy.  By this point, I was in my third trimester and people were asking me (just like they do any other pregnant woman) all about our new baby on the way.  In the midst of innocent questions like, “Is this your first baby?” or reactions like, “Oh, now you’ll have a boy to go with your girls!” lie complex answers from my end of the spectrum.  I found myself wary to discuss the details of my family with anyone, because it was emotionally exhausting.  Additionally, with only eight months in between giving birth to Scarlett and getting pregnant with Jude, my body felt the effects of very little recovery time.  Even though all probably looked normal to a passerby, life felt raw.

Jude was born in September.  He is such a little love.  Nevertheless, any time we add a baby to this house (and I am sure many people can relate), our world is turned upside down.  With our youngest two only 16 months apart and Britta being only three, it has required a pragmatic approach to everyday life.  My day is typically spent wiping tears, wiping noses, wiping butts, and wiping up the floor.  While I certainly think of Reece every day, the demands of our kids here and our overall exhaustion have been somewhat distracting from what I know is still freshly needing to be dealt with in regard to grief over him.  Granted, Jude is only four months old, but as the dust has settled, I am able to see things a little differently than I did a year ago.

First, I can say that the overall shock of Reece’s passing has somewhat disappeared.  There are still times when I say, “I can not believe Reece isn’t here with us.”  But we aren’t walking around shell-shocked like we were last year.  We aren’t just getting up and walking aimlessly around the Mall of America because we don’t know what else to do.  (Yes, we did that for quite a while after he passed.)  However, because that initial shock has somewhat dissipated, it has afforded more room to feel shock about what actually happened during our time with Reece at the U of MN and surrounding his funeral.  I can’t believe that Reece, for the last year of his life here, was a terminally ill child.  For half of that year, we didn’t even know it.  I can’t believe much of what we witnessed during his hospitalization.  I can’t believe the routine that he had to live through.  I can’t believe how we operated out of our home while Reece was ill–what it looked like and felt like.  I can’t believe the conversations we’ve had to have or the decisions we’ve had to make.  I still can’t believe we had a funeral for Reece.  We had a funeral for Reece.  And we had a memorial service for him.  I can’t believe I got up in front of several hundred people from various ages and stages of Terry and my life and told them about my son.  People wept over him.  Terry and I often look at each other and say, “How did we become that family?”  In fact, if you looked at our family make-up two years ago, you wouldn’t even recognize us today.  Reece isn’t here, but we have Scarlett and Jude with Britta sort of gluing it all together.  It all seems so strange.

Second, I’ve been able to simply let go of many hurts that transpired after Reece’s passing.  I’ve let go of expectations I had about how some of our friends would or would not embrace us.  I’ve realized that they hurt over Reece, too.  Last year, it was hard to see past my own pain to realize what others might be feeling in this regard.  I’ve decided that it’s ok that some of our friendships fall to the back burner or take a different course.  It isn’t because we don’t care and I realize now that it likely isn’t because they don’t care…it’s because it just needs to be that way.  I trust that God has a plan for those friendships, just like everything else.  I harbor no resentment towards them.  In fact, I do care deeply about each family or friend.  I’ve come to realize that sometimes, it simply is what it is.  Most importantly, I’ve realized that it is okay and that I don’t need to try to scramble to fix it.  Truthfully, I couldn’t even if I tried.  I also trust that different people will come into our lives and several have already at this point.  Most of the angst I felt in regard to our social connections being completely disrupted has been removed.  I feel at peace with this.

Third, I have come to realize that people–whether they knew us before or are just meeting us for the first time–will always identify us as “the family that lost a son”.  It is part of our identity.  I remember a handful of people I met prior to our own loss who had had a child pass away.  I never looked at them the same again.  I had so many things that would run through my mind when I would see them.  I had so many questions.  I didn’t know what to say to many of them.  But, regardless of my relationship with them, their personal loss of a child was never far from my mind.  Now, I can see it in other people’s eyes when they look at me.  Or at least I can see it in some people’s eyes.  It creates distance and questions and fears…fears for being somehow offensive to us (unlikely) and fears of what it would be like to lose a child of their own (also unlikely).  It is a little unsettling at times, because I just know there are thoughts and questions racing through their heads.  I can tell some people dread if the subject comes up…if Reece comes up.  It is part of the way society identifies me now.  Parent of a dead child.  Only he’s not dead…he’s alive in Heaven.  It’s a miracle.  But people get lost in the passing part and get shifty with the Heaven part and often it creates a barrier.  Even so, I am ok with that.  That’s part of my life’s journey now; it was planned for me to walk this road.  Just like any other child, you are proud to be your child’s parent, regardless of who they are or what they do.  I’m proud to be Reece’s mom.  Being Reece’s mom means he comes up in conversation and, often times, it’s very normal conversation like how we handled potty training or why we chose the preschool that my kids attend.  For the record, if you ask me, I would likely answer just about any question you ask about Reece or our family.

One final noticeable change that I’ll mention is something that has just occurred to me recently.  While I can say that I’ve become a bit of a recluse in my social life, I have found it therapeutic to reach out in my every day functioning, mostly to total strangers.  I have begun to see people differently or perhaps it is that I can see the neediness of the human condition differently.  Where once I assumed the worst (e.g. someone that looks crabby must actually just be a crabby person), now I am able to better give the benefit of the doubt (e.g. said crabby person is actually going through something rough or having a bad day, etc.).  I actually strike up more conversations at the gym, touch a person on the arm when I am speaking with them (if it’s appropriate, that is), and do my best (although I still need a lot of work) at trying to listen to a whole story someone is telling me without bringing it back to myself.  I think it really stems from my own thought that when I see a person who I can see is having some sort of struggle (and really, who isn’t) I think to myself, “To somebody in this world, that is their Reece.”  That homeless person on the side of the road, that overweight teenager who is self-consciously lifting weights at the gym, that elderly woman who needs help getting her coat on…to someone, somewhere, that person is the child of parent who loves them like I love my own kids.  That parent would feel pain in knowing their child is struggling in whatever capacity it may be.  It really makes me think of people in a more loving way.  And hey, I can still be a jerk like the next person, but the point is, I have begun to notice others and I realize that just by noticing the smallest thing and mentioning it to someone, it often brings a person out of their shell.  By doing so, it actually makes me feel a whole lot better.  It takes the focus off of my own struggles, if only for a moment.

I’m entering 2014 without a lot of expectations.  I’d like to not feel exhausted come December.  I’d like to feel like I spent quality time with each of my children.  I’d like to be a more gentle and loving wife.  I’d like to be better at keeping my emotions in check.  I’d like to feel like I’ve made an impact, if even only a tiny one.  I’d like a year where we can hold steady as a family…not add or definitely not take away.  Slow and steady wins the race.

what i would have told myself

What is the deal with anniversaries?  We are wired in such a time-oriented way it almost drives me crazy at this point.  In our situation–fortunately or unfortunately–it feels like anniversary season.  If I could will the whole thing away I would, but it doesn’t work like that.  There are enough days that are hard just out of the blue that the whole anticipation of anniversaries seems maddening.  The truth is, the whole month of June has felt yucky and difficult and created a fair amount of tension in the house in its underlying way.  June was terrible last year.  I’m not focused on July 5, as we are already at the one year mark in many ways.  The days that Reece was back in the hospital last June were heartbreaking.  He was in such rough shape and yet so willingly did all we asked.  June 18 was a hard day realizing that it is the day Reece coded in the hospital and his body gave out.  Only moments of difference in timing on the doctors’ part and we would have had June 18 as his official day he passed.  The two and a half weeks between those two dates last year were full of tense, desperate decisions and emotional, grief-stricken mess.  I pray in my heart that Reece’s experience during that time period was much more peaceful.  July 5 is one day where as hard as it was, there was also relief.  It marked the end of suffering for Reece and the beginning of something so miraculous I can’t express the joy I feel for him and his achievement.  I’ve come to realize that those two weeks in the PICU were for us as his parents to come to terms with reality and really probably not for him at all.  He just had to be patient with us.  By the time we get to July 5 this year, there might actually be some relief as well.  I’ve been wrong about this stuff before, so we’ll have to wait and see.

We’ve had some people ask us and other family members how we feel coming up to the one year mark.  Time doesn’t really extend to this situation.  It just is.  My life feels divided into three parts: before Reece, with Reece, after Reece passed.  The days have been short; the year has been long.  It doesn’t feel related to time, probably because we have no break from it.  For most people, Reece probably pops into their minds every so often, and for us, it is the reverse.  It’s rare if he isn’t on our minds.

As I was readying myself for the day a few weeks back, I thought, “What would I tell myself a year ago if I could talk to that woman?”  Initially, I came up dry.  I’m not any sort of expert in anything we went through or continue to go through, but grief is so unpredictable.  What could I have possibly told myself about this year when I already expected it would be unpredictable?  It seems that I was as prepared as I possibly could have been.  Additionally, we didn’t exactly go into the grief process naïve.  In many ways, it was shocking that Reece passed away (I believe it is always shocking to lose a child–whether the child is terminally ill or passes away in a sudden accident.  It must feel shocking to most people.), but we had been through enough “stuff” that–again, either fortunately or unfortunately–we had developed coping mechanisms and were prepared in some way to go through this.  Truth be told, one year of intense grief is probably not enough time to gain many learnings…it is still too fresh.  But that morning, in my stubborn refusal to examine the topic further, I told myself there is nothing I would say to myself a year earlier to better prepare me for what I was going to walk into.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve realized that this isn’t entirely accurate.  It’s true–grief is unpredictable and follows no pattern.  Most people will tell you that.  I feel grossly inadequate to tell anyone how to prepare for grief.  You can’t prepare for it; you just have to live through it.  However, I think what I would tell myself is that my love for Reece is not the same thing as my grief for Reece.  It has taken me the entire year to come to this conclusion.  I have been stuck in traps that made me feel like if I somehow wasn’t feeling sadness over him in regard to his passing, that it meant I somehow didn’t care.  It’s a lie that I bought into early on, in the doldrums of this past year.   It just isn’t true.  My sadness and mourning is in regard to not having him with me.  But loving him is totally different–I loved him here and I love him now.  The problem with not differentiating the two is that thinking they are same thing prevents oneself from living life.  I recently was reading up on the life of the poet, John Keats.  He passed away in his mid-twenties from Tuberculosis and shortly before his death he said,  “I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence.”  (See www.Wikipedia.org/wiki/john_keats, May 30, 2013 )  When I read this it spoke to me about how life feels under the oppression of constant grief.  It leaves no room for active living.  When one believes grief is actually love, grief is never allowed to leave and so you know you are here, but it doesn’t feel like life is being lived.  It’s been a long process to understand this, but I feel it is key in my understanding where grief fits into the bigger picture of life.  Grief isn’t Reece and it isn’t love.  Grief is grief.  It has its own separate place in life.  Since separating the two in my mind, I have been better able to appreciate and experience the depth and breadth of my love for Reece and how it continues to grow and evolve, even in his physical absence.

The other thing I’d tell myself is that I should expect grief to be a solitary experience in my life.  Terry is the closest person to having a shared experience in life and yet he and I often share similar feelings, but at different times and manifesting our emotions and reactions in very different ways.  There are no partners in grief.  The only solace I have found is through seeking the Truth.  God is the only place where I can take my multitude of painful memories and find relief from them.  I don’t mean to discount people I love and who love us and support us.  That support is important, too.  But no one can walk you through it and understand it other than God Himself.  I’ve had many people comment to me over the last year about Terry and my strength in faith–how strong and faith-filled we have been.  I appreciate those thoughts, but find the statements generally confusing and misguided.  The reality for me is, it took such an extreme event for me to get to some of these places of faith and such a sorrowful place without much hope otherwise, that it highlights how much I truly have lacked faith in other areas of my life and how much I have yet to grow and actually do something with it all.  I still have much to learn.  I am astounded by people who have a deep faith without such extreme trial.  My faith has grown, yes, but it has only taken such dramatic leaps after being trapped at a dead-end.  It’s certainly not my own doing, but should be rightly credited to the Lord.  Only after facing such extreme trial have I been able to begin to grasp the breadth and depth of gifts like hope, faith, and love; hope beyond the things I desire to have and beyond the constraints of my human mind and expectations, faith greater than the gratitude I feel when things go the way I want them to go, and love that infiltrates every hard place in life and every crack in between.  The entire experience has left me yearning for much more than this life has to offer.

One thing that I have been struggling with immensely this year and especially this past month is not being a perfect mom for Reece.  I never entered parenting with the expectation of perfection.  Yet I find myself often in the lie and trap that if I could go back, I would give him everything his heart desired and do nothing but dote on him constantly.  Yet I know, as it plays out every day in my home, I could not possibly be perfect for him.  Yes, that is the lie–that I could have somehow been God to him–our only perfect Parent.  Still, the memories of my own limitations, especially last year when he was in our home, have haunted me.  I wish I had had more energy after giving birth.  With Scarlett born, I was the parent up with her in the night and Terry was the parent up with Reece.  Reece wanted me to be with him and I just couldn’t do it, because I was nursing Scarlett and just trying to be rested enough to deal with the demands he had during the day with clinic and home care.  As I have stated–it was a mess.  All the painful memories of watching him endure physical therapy and the tears he shed–and it was very difficult for him to cry actual tears after chemotherapy–but the tears over us making him do things that he was so tired out from doing–procedures, pokes, medicines…even forcing him to play just to rebuild his strength.  Most of the time it is his lack of protesting and his willingness that break my heart even further.  I would never have handled it with such bravery.  He had every right to be upset with things, but was mostly willing and calm and I just want to scream out on his behalf.  Had I only known that his body was actually shutting down I would have curled up right along with him in his blankets and spent those last days just snuggling with him.  Yes, there are many rabbit trails to go down and it has been torture.  And yet I still come back to God being sovereign.  He knew and He was perfect for Reece.  If only I could understand it here in an effort to feel relief and endure these years without him.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–Reece deserved to be healed to Heaven and to be with the Lord.  I find solace in knowing that he knows now why all of that happened and that we did those things in an effort to help him, not harm him.

Last week, these very thoughts washed over me one evening as Terry and I were getting Britta ready for bed.  I got lost in them and found myself weepy and stuck in that place for a while.  The next day I attended bible study.  I’m doing Beth Moore’s Deuteronomy study on the Law of Love.  During her lecture she said something and I know it was meant for me to hear that morning.  She said (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) that the key to being a successful mother… “is not a list of 45 things, it’s one thing: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)  I love that redirect I received.  I don’t need to be a perfect mom, but in order to succeed, I need to love God, because that is the foundation for everything else.  Perhaps some moms can do it without God; try as I might, I know that I fall short.  It was soothing to hear and felt as though it was permission to begin to let go of the oppressive lie that I somehow could have done so much better.  I know I did my best.  And like I used to tell Reece, “Your best is good enough, Bud.”

I could go on, but the last thing I’m going to mention is about the blog.  So often I stumble upon blogs that cover fun topics like cooking or photography and think about how enjoyable it must be to write about such topics.  I suppose I could find something else to write about; something that I’m less passionate about, but that feels good to everyone when they read it.  Truthfully, that isn’t my calling.  I’m not sure that blogging, in general, is my calling.  When I was updating people on Reece, there were some posts in the middle where I revealed my personal feelings.  I didn’t think twice about it, because there was too much going on for me to care what others thought–I was numb to the judgment of others.  As the year has gone on and I’ve written this blog that contains my feelings and mental processing, I have felt vulnerable at times to share things.  After all, I could choose to never write another post.  No one demands that I write anything down.  Nevertheless, I have felt that even though my posts are sporadic, there is purpose for me in writing them.  If nothing else, there is purpose in keeping myself open and fresh with being honest about our life circumstances, my faith and how they both play out in my life.  I really can’t function in life without the component of faith.  Perhaps the reason I’ve needed to keep writing is to keep me ready to move on to another writing project or perhaps I’ll feel it needs to just come to an end if I wake up one day and it feels right.  I think if I could go back to a year from now, I’d tell myself to not feel apologetic over the blog–that it’s about a heavy topic.  It’s my own self consciousness creeping in–perhaps a sign of leveling off from crisis-mode.  After all, this is neither a ministry for me, nor a hobby.  It’s my life.

I’ve been privy to various people’s life circumstances this year.  Some people I know and others I do not.  People have sought me out for various reasons, usually related to health crises, as they know I can on some level relate.  The only thing I can think to share to anyone, regardless of circumstance is this–the Lord is near.  It sounds so tame when you think about it.  But upon further contemplation, it is one of the most tangibly powerful facts I have come to appreciate this year.  It is referenced all over the Bible and recently has been something I have meditated on in the following verses:

“‘Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work.  For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.  ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt.  And my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear.'”  (Haggai 2:4b-5)

sometimes, i just have to ask, “why?”

We spent another weekend at Faith’s Lodge last weekend; it’s an absolutely lovely place of retreat for bereaved parents and families grieving the passing of a child.  It can be as free or as structured as you want it to be.  It is serene and inviting and there is just such comfort in being around a group of people who understand what it’s like to lose a child on earth and who can connect with you on a different level than most people.  No matter how different the background stories, there is a shared understanding of loss and the life that is led afterward.  We went there last fall for a family weekend and decided to come this year during a parents-only weekend as the timing worked better for the year and because Britta and Scarlett are not yet at a place of grieving.  Bringing them along lends itself to more chasing of them and less connecting with the purpose of being here.

It was great to be at the Lodge and I definitely think we will return in the future.  However, another mother there said it best, “I couldn’t do this all the time.”  I could not agree more.  It’s no problem to talk about Reece, but when you are able to go that deep, it can be a challenging task to resurface from it.  It was a good assessment of the realistic picture of where I am at with everything.  I operate on a pretty normal level, but there are things that have been left untouched in my own sorting process–maybe they’ll be addressed in my lifetime and maybe they won’t.  But as we spent time in deeper discussions about life and death, these untouched topics were uncovered and I recognized for the first time in a long time how deeply painful they are.

As we left Sunday morning, I found myself tearful, inconsolably and uncontrollably at times.  I couldn’t quite place what was going on.  The weekend had been positive and not a tearful one for me.  As the day passed I realized there were two main reasons for the intense emotions I felt.  One is that taking on the emotional situations of everyone and understanding what led them to visit there probably built up and boiled over.  When you spend time meeting and enjoying each other’s company you inevitably end up thinking, “These people are great, yet how is our common point the loss of a child?”  I’ve yet to meet a family who has lost a child and not had it come as a surprise—even parents of terminally ill children.  You never plan for it and you can never be prepared for it.  For me, I know that God prepared me in certain ways when I look back at so many things—He prepared me mentally for me to understand that this was part of the plan.  No one, however, can feel prepared and ready for the day-to-day challenges.

This past weekend was the first time I really let myself entertain the thought of “Why us?”  As I’ve said before, those types of questions become defeating places to live in.  Getting lost in the “why” prevents life from being lived.  But you know what?  Sometimes, the question has to be asked.  Why is this the cup we are drinking?  Yes, I know it’s for a bigger purpose and, yes, there are times when people will share how their lives have changed because of knowing Reece and his story.  I absolutely cherish what people share with me in regard to Reece and his impact here.  But that still doesn’t bring him back.  It still doesn’t make it easier to be here without him.  Sometimes, I just have to ask why this happened to us.  Sometimes, when I think about how many times I will likely lay my head down on the pillow to go to sleep or how many birthdays we will celebrate without him or how many times I will have to find a silver lining, it becomes overwhelming.  Sometimes the silver lining is only a sliver of silver and sometimes, I get weary of the thought that that’s all it will be here.  I know–we aren’t made for this Earth and God has a plan and Reece is healed and this life is but a breath in the scheme of eternity.  I know.  These are amazing things, truly.  But sometimes, when I think about right now and the intensity of everything, it just doesn’t seem like enough.

The second thing that has been tripping me up are all the parenting moments I wish I had done differently.  I hate that I wasn’t perfect for Reece.  I can’t even write it without tearing up.  I HATE that I wasn’t perfect for him.  There, I said it.  By all accounts, I consider myself a loving, caring, responsible mother.  Reece and I are very close.  We still are close.  But in light of him not being here, I don’t get to have the conversation with him when he is an adult to discuss all the things I wish I would have handled better—all the things he went through as our first child where I probably lost my temper too easily or I expected him to behave when he was being appropriate for his age–maybe even better behaved–in the first place.  We don’t get to discuss all the intense and difficult things he endured and we endured as a family, with him throughout his illness.  The irony is that he understands that better now than he would have here.  He understands it better than we ever will here.  He knows my parenting faults better than I do.  He knows how his life will be used.  He wouldn’t know that if he was here; not the way he does now.  So, in reality, I need those conversations.  I need that here, as a human, trapped here without him.  I need that as Reece’s mom.  I need him to somehow need to have the conversation with me–for my sake.  In reality, I could be needing resolution on this for another 50 or 60 years here.

As we drove home and I was thinking about these things, I realized that a numbness that I felt about things since Reece passed away had either returned or perhaps never left me in the first place.  I have an indifference to try to make these things better on my own.  It isn’t that I’m a glutton for punishment, it’s that it is a waste of my energy to do so.  Both of these things that cause me so much pain are things that either God will have to release me from here or I will be dealing with for the rest of my time here.  I realize and accept that there is no person here that will say something to me to make it better or for me to view it in a different light.  I don’t want to go to some therapist to do some exercise about loving myself more as a parent or to tell me, “It’s perfectly normal to ask ‘why’ in situations like this.”  Blah.  Not interested.  It’s my burden to carry.  The only release will come from God himself–either here or in Heaven.  It’s part of our life’s deal.

On Sunday night, I re-read a passage that I can’t ever remember reading before Reece passed away.  I know I sound like a broken record, but I have turned to it numerous times since he passed.  I underlined it one of the first times I read it, as it stood out to me in how real it was.  The words were so real–like it could have happened in this day and age.  As I’ve read it more and more, I had confusion about why I continued to turn to it.  I turned to it again on Sunday and it sort of made sense in light of how I was feeling.

“The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord on me. 15 I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days—overwhelmed.”  Ezekiel 3:14-15

Some Bible versions say “deeply distressed”, but my version says “overwhelmed” which is what initially caught my eye.  The entire chapter discusses how Ezekiel was being called by God to talk to the Israelites, whether they listened to him or not.  It was not going to be an easy task for him.  My study Bible discusses how Ezekiel was angry with the Israelites and bitter with them for their defiance, not with the Lord.  I personally view it as Ezekiel being overwhelmed with what the Lord was calling him to do.  Often times, I feel overwhelmed with what God is calling us to do.  I appreciate that this passage speaks to the human capacity to feel bitter, angry, and overwhelmed, even when what makes us feel that way could be completely in line with the Lord’s will.  Maybe it’s ok to feel that, because God will still use us, despite our emotions.  It seems strange when I reflect on the passage to say this, but it encourages me to know that other people haven’t always felt like willing participants in God’s plan.  Despite our humanness, He uses it all for something bigger.

a time for everything

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.