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)