Grief is Forever

It has been ages since I’ve written in this blog.  Months.

Part of me feels bad because I want to document this process of grief that started…well, the grief started long before Luna, but my documentation started with Luna.  But what I’ve discovered is that grief is forever.

The way that my grief makes itself known is different now than it used to be, but it’s still there.  It’s a little monster that sits in my chest and waits until small tiny little nothings appear (like the perfect bite of pinto beans and cornbread or a Wonder Woman sweater that’s not my size) before it attacks and causes fresh pain all over again.

It will be six years in December since Jake died of his heart attack and I still pause before cleaning out his bathroom because I remember how I felt the first time I cleaned it after he died.  We found him on that floor.  He died in that room.  And the feeling I get is not disgust or sadness, it’s fear that I’m erasing evidence of his presence in that room.  Fear that I’m removing him from the space.  I still make my family call his room HIS room.  Not the spare room.  Not the blue room.  Jake’s room.  Uncle Bubba’s room.  Because he existed. He filled that space and to call it anything else ignores that…..doesn’t it?  (Forget the fact that my son, Bo, is like a mini-Jake in his interests and habits and personality.  Case and point:  he is currently working on a book of mythical creatures, now that he has finished his instruction manual for building a dragon robot.  I totally blame Jake for that one.)

Four years ago this month, we found out about Luna’s Turners Syndrome and started the whole medical rigmarole of appointments and ultrasounds and echocardiograms two and three times a week.  There are certain smells and sounds that I associate with that time in my life – medical tape, the rubber tubing of a stethoscope, the sound of velcro like a blood pressure cuff, the ppppbbbbbt sound of squirting gel out of a bottle.  It’s silly but every time someone squirts stuff out of a plastic bottle (ketchup, mustard, hair gel), it reminds me of the ultrasound where we found out Luna’s heart was no longer beating.

That means it has been almost four years without Jen.  I see so much of Jen in her sons that I miss her almost constantly. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could call her and talk to her.  Even to this day, I still forget sometimes that I can’t call her up.  Someone gave me some sad news this morning and my first reaction was to pick up my phone and call a dead woman!  The saddest part of this for me is that I find myself holding in a lot because she isn’t around to talk to.  That woman was so easy to talk to that I could vent about her TO her!  I have a collection of stories that I’m saving for her one day.  Maybe I should write them down.

And my dad.  Oh, Daddy.  I don’t even know where to start with my daddy.  I’m still not sure how I’m functioning without having hugged that man in almost three years.  I’m not ready to get in to that.

BUT, my point is that grief doesn’t ever go away.  It doesn’t stop.  Once you’ve experienced it, grief will always be a part of you.  Those of you grieving now?  Don’t wait for it to go away.  Don’t expect to “get over it.”  Don’t think there is something wrong if it still hurts after all this time.

It changes you forever. FOR.EV.ER. (How many of you said that like the kid from the movie Sandlot?)

But don’t let it change you for the worst.

Yes, I am sad more often now than I was.  But my happy is more happy than it’s ever been.  My joy is amplified to degrees that it never could have if I wasn’t given the opportunity to see and appreciate what God has given me.

I miss Jake and Luna and Jen and Dad.  I have these great big gaping holes in my life that cannot be filled up with anything or anyone else.  But I also have these amazing people in my life that love me and need me. My family.  My friends.  My students.  My coworkers.

Thank you God, for teaching me to love with more of my heart.  Thank you, God for showing me how to minister to my family, friends and students in ways I never could before.  Thank you, God for giving me the opportunity to help those who hurt.  Thank you, God, for making me more like you.  Continue to work in me, Lord.

Thank you, my loved ones, for loving me back.

Isn’t that what makes us grieve in the first place?  Our love?  What I mean is that I wouldn’t be sad about any of them if I didn’t love them in the first place.  I wouldn’t miss them if I didn’t love them.  I wouldn’t be upset if I wasn’t blessed by having them in my life in the first place.

Grief is forever.  But so is God.  And God is love.



Broken Hearted

Everyone grieves differently. If I had a penny for every time I have heard that in the past four years, I would, well…I’d have a whole lot of pennies.

Yes, I get it. I won’t process things the same way as my husband, my mother, my sister and my brothers.

And I think I have nailed down how I have chosen to deal with losing a brother, a baby, a sister and my father in less than four years. My grief has manifested itself as irrational anxiety regarding my health and the health of my loved ones.

In other words, this is a conversation I have with myself often:
“Ouch! My arm aches!”
“Oh no…is that a sign of something bigger?”
“Like what?”
“Osteosarcoma. Myocardial infarction. Arthritis. Osteomyelitis. A million things!!”
“Are you sure it is not from the three hours I spent pulling weeds in the yard yesterday? Or the baby I carry around 24 hours a day?!”
“Psh. No way. Oh! Is that chest pressure? I am leaning toward a heart attack.”

And on and on and on it goes. I begin to convince myself that my body is trying to tell me something and I become hyperattentive to all the little aches, pains, twangs and twinges I feel. I convince myself I have chest pains or that those twinges and cramps are signs of cancer.

I start to outline all my imaginary symptoms to Patrick so that he can report them accurately to the ER doctors when I fall over unconscious.

So I spend my life in constant fear of dying. I know what it feels like lose a parent and I see what it has done to my nephews to lose their mother. I don’t want my children to feel that. To know that hurt.

I feel like there is a tiny beast curled up in the space where my heart used to be and it bites me now and then to remind me to be afraid. At least once a day.

Part of me wants to ignore it. This anxiety is a result of my grief. I need to breathe deeply, relax and everything will be fine. You are imagining it, Katie.

Then I think that I am ignoring my body. My dad spent the whole day before his heart attack feeling sick and promising that he’d see the doctor if he still felt bad in the morning. Would he still be here if he had listened to what his body was telling him?

My grief is no longer predictable or reasonable. I feel like I have slipped in something sticky and the more I struggle, the more of this junk I get on me. And it’s keeping me down on the floor because it’s too sticky to pull myself up.

The accumulation of my losses has really started to chip away at my sensibilities.

Then this morning, at 5 o’clock after I put my sweet baby Joe back to bed, I decided I was going to ignore my sleepy eyes and study my Bible. According to my notebook, the last time I had a good and thorough exegetical study was the day that Joe was born. Maybe here is part of the problem? And I clearly didn’t finish it as I stopped in the middle of a paragraph. Galatians 2 and I stopped in the middle of verse 17.

So I picked up where I left off.

Business as usual until I got to verse 20. “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.”

Forgive me for taking this verse out of the context of the passage which is talking about being justified by faith and not by the Law. My husband would (rightly) hang me by my toes. But I read that and thought about my current stage of anxiety…

This life is not my own. I was so willing to admit that when I was trying to mourn the loss of my daughter Luna – that I didn’t own her and that God had every right to take her from me. I even remember praying daily when I got pregnant for the first time that I would accept whatever happened to him because he was a gift from God and not something I was owed. So why did do I feel so differently about my own life?

When I chose to live my life for Christ, I died. I already died. The person writing this right now is a work that God will continue to improve on my whole life. In fact, in verse 19 it says “for through the law, I have died to the law so that I might live to God.” All the church and ministry and prayers and studying that I do, that is an expression of love to a God who made it so that I don’t have to do all those things to get to heaven. And if God wants me to die, it should be my joy to do so.

I have lost sight of that love. I resented the loss of my father especially. I was angry. I was so angry that I couldn’t pray as much as I used to because my favorite way to start a prayer was “Father in heaven” and now my father is in heaven…so it hurt to say that. It was like I was giving God the silent treatment. And if I am being fully transparent, I am still reluctant to fall into his arms the way I need to. It’s like I am talking to him, but I won’t hold his hand. Instead of the warm and affectionate “Father in heaven” I use a more distant “sovereign Lord.”

Then I thought of my love for my husband and children – the love that makes me afraid to die because I don’t want to leave them behind. The love that makes me anxious that I will discover some sort of mysterious terminal illness. And verse 20 tells me what kind of love Christ has for me – “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” Would I give up my life for my children? Absolutely. Would I sacrifice myself for my husband? In a heartbeat. But why am I afraid to let God choose that for me?

You know, Christ also was anxious about his death on the cross. He prayed fervently that God would choose a different way, knowing all the time that He wouldn’t. My husband mentioned something to me the other day about how God knowingly designed the human wrist, full of sensitive nerves and ligaments. He designed the wrist knowing that Christ would one day feel a nail driven straight through those intricate and painful nerves. Christ knew exactly the nature of his death and he still accepted it.

And so it is with a more human hesitance that I try to accept that God’s will for me may WILL include death.

I am not saying that I am magically no longer anxious. Because I still am. But I am working on focusing on the ultimate goal here which is not me. It is not even my husband or children. My ultimate goal is to live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.

Pray for me to be able to remember that when my anxieties creep up on me and that beast in my chest where my heart used to be bites me.