Friends have asked me to share my journey through writing. This is a bit scattered and rough- just like my brain these days:) I am willing to share my thoughts and feelings if there is good to be gained from it. If nothing else, you will know some of my personal process. Grief is quite individualized as we are all thrown into it with different personalities, experiences, relationships and beliefs. On the other-hand, grief is a universal experience. We have all experienced loss (or will in the future). I feel this process is making me more human, better able to connect with others who have also suffered similar pain. I know the frustration our family and friends feel at not being able to “do anything” for our pain, as I have felt that same frustration many times as I witnessed the suffering of those I love and live amongst. I want you to know that your presence does matter and your love does make a difference. There is a soft cover of comfort just knowing you are there and grieving with/for us.
For nine weeks death has pinned me to the ground, taunting me night and day. I know he is not the true victor. I know this is not the end of the story. Redemption is coming. But this hope feels weak and distant as I struggle to breathe against the crushing weight of his power. Acknowledging the pain, finality and powerlessness in the choke hold of death does not mean I have lost faith. I believe God is good and sovereign and is coming to renew all things, restoring all of creation to his original dream and purposes. At the same time, death has stolen our child and we have absolutely no hope of bringing him back.
My body and soul are stretched tight, slowly recovering from shock, my mind struggling to grasp the fact that he is gone. He is never coming back. I repeat it over and over, “My son is dead.” My brain is gradually comprehending these four awful words. This is our new reality, not a bad dream I’ll be relieved to wake from. Worst of all, there is nothing I can do about it. All the other difficult situations I’ve experienced in life had options and some semblance of power; I could work harder, seek help, embrace the pain in exchange for growth, adapt, change my attitude. But death- there is no changing it, and there is no “everything will be OK” blanket to throw over it. I cannot press on and tell myself I will someday contentedly look back and be glad for the lessons learned and the growth in my life. Yes- my prayer is that we will grow and experience more of God through this, but that will never make me at peace with losing my son.
I can waste precious energy thinking about all the “what ifs”, I can shake my fist at God, I can cry and lament, I can run away or make major life changes, but none of these will bring him back. Sooner or later I have to accept it. I have to live when he is not.
I never imagined life without him. He grew inside me, kicking all times of day and night. I pushed him out of my womb and into my arms. Before that joyous moment he already inhabited my heart. He always will.
Caleb, I never intended to live life without you smack in the middle of it. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t want to do this.
I find it strange that I’ve been counting time in weeks, just like pregnancy. There have been other similarities: the waves of pain that come and go with no warning, my desire for quiet as I breathe my way through them, the unnerving realization that I cannot stop this process- I can only submit to it and pray there is life in the end. As my heart begins to feel the pain of his absence, my mind runs to memories of his birth, the first weeks of holding him and breathing in his innocent baby smell and marveling that he was mine. The way he always wanted me within sight and was easily contented with a touch or a kiss. As he grew his attachment remained and he wanted to “help” me with everything- sitting on the counter to stir bread dough, opening doors with handles he could barely reach and carrying bags of groceries that weighed more than he did. His love and attention nourished and expanded my heart. I know he didn’t intend to, but he smashed my love soaked heart to smithereens.
Week seven was from a chapter of the fairytale when the evil witch casts a spell on the land and it all turns into stone. My daughter in law, husband and children each told me within a few days of each other that they were also feeling this way. It started at my head, as I began to grasp what death has done, and it’s working it’s way down. My heart is numb, my arms are heavy, my legs are unsteady. I may look and act normal on the outside, but please don’t expect me to be “myself”. That woman is gone. I don’t yet know who will be replacing her. I intend to make peace with her and carry on with life, but right now I am under the sleeping spell and I wish the bad dreams would go away.
The hellish reality is slowly leaking out from my brain into my heart. It is been a slow soak of pain, like a light rain on a dry landscape. This last week I’ve begun to feel as if I’m moving in slow motion. Everything takes so much effort. People are beginning to ask gentle leading questions, with the hope that my answer will be an affirmative “yes, I’m feeling better and getting on with life again”. But this loss is not a typical injury. When one breaks a bone or has a surgery, we call the day of trauma “day zero”. Day one is rough, day two is typically the hardest and by day three the swelling is starting to calm down. All that pain is from inflammation which is your immune system efficiently bringing in the troops to clean up and heal whatever is wrong. The body begins to heal the very second the trauma is over. As a nurse I’ve coached hundreds of people through pain and could always speak with hope and assurance that their body was created to heal and their injury was in that very moment, even in great pain, healing. But death is a bullet that keeps on tearing through the heart doing damage. The trauma goes on and on. I don’t know how this one heals. My heart will be facing fresh trauma the rest of my life. Last night as I was falling asleep I realized we already had our last Christmas with Caleb and it felt like a razor blade smashing through my sternum. Every time a diesel truck drives by my lungs automatically suck in air. Every cute little blonde boy I see brings tears to my eyes. When I hold his precious little niece, I mourn the fact he doesn’t get to love on her and encourage the development of her “naughty side” (cause we all know that’s exactly what he’d be doing). Every special event in our family will be laced with the pain of missing Caleb.
The heart must have a special healing mode, somehow capable of working even while bleeding.
No, I am not feeling better. I am not adjusting or getting used to it. I am just beginning to feel it. My pain has just started to kick in. Maybe for others the fact of his death soaked in, they cried and felt sad and then life goes on. I understand- I’ve had that experience many times myself. But this time is different. I am fading. Falling. I don’t know when or if I will hit bottom, or what that even means. I just know I’m free falling and there’s nothing to grab on my way down. Maybe God will catch me before impact? I’ve asked my precious friends who have walked this dark valley what i should expect. When does the free fall end? How does it end? Does it end? They have few answers. This is an individual journey, different for each of us for many reasons. All they can say is I am held and loved and somehow I will carry on. i know they are telling me the truth, because they are still standing and I see their beauty. A beauty that came from intense fire and pain that no one would ever choose. Except God.
I am in pain; my soul is crushed, my mind overwhelmed and my body exhausted, but I am not in hopeless despair. I pray that will not be part of my story, but if it is, I trust God to rescue me. I am leaning into his presence and love and trusting him to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death into whatever is on the other side. I look forward to getting there, someday. In the meantime, I cherish the loved ones and faithful friends who are circling around us, making space for our pain and processing, holding memories of our beloved Caleb. We don’t want to lose the past, it’s all we have of him now.
I’ve no snappy or tidy way of wrapping up these random paragraphs from the last few weeks, so I’ll leave you with this. My gratefulness for your presence, prayers and love.