The Stages of Grief

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I like to fancy myself an amateur expert on grief. (Is that an oxymoron? I know others who have had it worse than me so I can’t possibly be an expert expert.) My brother Jacob died in December of 2010 from a heart attack. Then my daughter Luna was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome and was delivered stillborn in November of 2012. Less than four months later, my sister Jen died from leukemia in March of 2013. Then just a couple weeks ago, my daddy died unexpectedly from a heart attack.

When you lose someone you love, you go through so many different feelings that you don’t know which way is up anymore. I don’t know anything about the stages of grief (including how many there are or what they are) but I do know that there is no rhyme or reason to how you are feeling from one day to the next. One moment to the next. They don’t happen in any order. They don’t stop once you’ve worked your way through them. You will keep feeling those things in one form or another for your whole life.

I still can’t really wrap my head around the fact that my dad is dead. In fact, I confess that sometimes I think Jen is really just at the hospital and she’ll be home soon. And on Sunday nights, I wait sometimes to hear Jake come up the basement stairs, his bags rubbing against the wall. That smells like denial to me. Some days it is very real to me and other days are easier to get through if I lie to myself a little.

It is impossible not to feel sad about the loss of a loved one. I get the most sad when I think about how my kids are going to miss out on these awesome people in their lives. Just last week, I was uncontrollably weepy because it was grandparents day at school and I knew Papa wouldn’t be there next year to visit Bo in kindergarten. (Not that he would – he was the type of guy who would rather take Bo on an adventure outside of school instead.) I get sad thinking about the friendship I know Jake would have had with Bo and the girly bond Jen would have had with my “I love pink and purple” two-year-old. Some days I just cry. A lot.

I think it is equally difficult not to feel guilty. I should have visited Jen in the hospital more. I should have checked on Jacob earlier the morning he died. I should have encouraged my dad to go to the doctor sooner. I should have told them all how much I love and admire them before they were gone. I shouldn’t have copped such a nasty attitude when my dad held my hand to pray before dinner the last time I saw him. How I wish I could feel his giant paw wrap around my hand again. I honestly never stop feeling guilty for every moment I thought of myself instead of thinking of them.

But my default emotion in life is anger. I am always angry at something. Angry that I didn’t see it coming. Angry that my time with them was so short. Angry at people who say the absolute wrong things in an attempt to comfort you. (Just so you know, losing your brother/baby/sister/father is NOT like losing your cat/dog/hamster/fish – no matter how close you guys are.) Angry that all this had to happen in so short a time. Angry at myself for being angry. Angry at other people for not being angry or not being angry enough. I could go on, but I think I would just be embarrassing myself.

Of course I have accepted what has happened to me. I am reminded that they are no longer alive every time I have to call everyone in the family. Or buy everyone a present at Christmas. Or save people seats. Or when I want to talk to someone and get advice. Or when I am sitting at a family gathering. Like for Easter this year, I will be sitting there thinking that the crowd is too small. The list is too short. And I accept it because it has changed my very soul to lose these people I love so much.

Like I said, I don’t know what the stages of grief even are, but these are things I feel on a daily basis. Sadness. Guilt. Anger. Denial. I should also mention that I feel afraid. Afraid of losing someone else. Afraid that I am next.

But you might be surprised to hear I also feel thankful. Jen and I memorized 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 with our Bible study girls years ago and it is the only verse that I still have memorized all this time later. “Rejoice always. Pray continually. In all things, give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Whenever I get to feeling sorry for myself, I stop myself and think about how blessed I am. Yes, how BLESSED I am. I would have nothing to mourn if I were not blessed in the first place. I have loved and lost more family than some people will ever have. Praise God that I had the privilege of having such an incredible, loving, faithful daddy and such brilliant, funny, talented siblings like Jen and Jake. If they weren’t so amazing, I would not be so sad. My sadness is a measure of their awesomeness. Praise God that I could carry my Luna those five months even if I never got to meet her.

And reflecting on the ones I have lost also makes me reflect on those I still have. My humble, strong, gracious mother. My beautiful, smart and funny children. My gorgeous genius of a husband. My loving, creative and sensitive sister Jes. My brothers. Jimbo – the teddy bear at heart who would prefer for everyone to think he’s heartless. Joe – the honorable, hard-working leader. Rico – the soft hearted one who is fiercely proud of his family. Jack – the selfless, giving and honest one. My nephews Alex (the deep, thoughtful, big-hearted one) and William (the fearless goofball). Chris who taught me how to serve the ones I love. Eeen who showed me how to take myself less seriously. Erica who loves others so completely and openly. Em-E who is the epitome of patience and loyalty. Bean and Jeff who make Christ such a focus in their family. Gene and Mer who give so much of themselves to others. Mama and Pop Korn who are hands down the most generous people I know. I really wish I could go on and list everyone, but I would never be able to stop. The rest of my extended family. My coworkers. My friends. My students. My Bible study girls and church family. Seriously, how can I not feel blessed?! And I am thankful.

Even when I am sad, I am thankful. Angry? Thankful. Guilty and thankful. In denial, but thankful. In all things I am thankful. When Jake died, I would try to pray, but the only thing that I could say was “Thank you, God, for everything. I don’t deserve anything.” That gets me through even my hardest days.

But today is Easter. Easter is the day I celebrate the ultimate “thank you for everything – I don’t deserve anything.” Not only does Christ save me from a lifetime of sin, but He makes it possible for me to see Jake, Luna, Jen and my daddy again. As if heaven couldn’t get any better! Today I celebrate Christ’s triumph over death and I celebrate it extra because His triumph over death has already given me hope for the future.

We asked Bo what Easter means for our loved ones who are already dead and he said, “It means they get to rise from the dead. And me too.” Two minutes later, he came back distraught because he wanted us to understand that he knew he had to die first before he could rise from the dead. How I wish everyone had that perspective of death. As a stepping stone to resurrection. So today I remember that. In order to rise, we must first die.

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Celebrate Good Times

The past week has felt a little different than the weeks before. It has only been about a month since we found out that Luna is not a perfectly healthy baby but it is very hard to remember what it felt like before that. Hopeful. Excited. Normal.

The further along we get, the more inevitable it seems that something will happen soon. And I guess that makes sense because we are getting closer to it no matter what that something is. It’s a totally different kind of preparation for a baby you don’t think you’ll get to keep then for a baby you expect to bring home and raise.

If Luna was healthy, we would be looking at cars that could fit three car seats and trying to get our one-year-old to sleep in a bed instead of the crib. I would be writing up lesson plans for my maternity leave and pulling out all the baby girl newborn clothes to wash and fold. I would have bought a new breast pump from my sister who could get me a good deal on a good brand.

But she’s not. So we are trying to prepare our three-year-old for the fact that we might not get to meet her. We are scheduling a million doctor appointments and hoping that we see or hear a heartbeat at each one. My baby “bump” is measuring about three months bigger than I am, so even though I am only 24 weeks next Monday, I am measuring at about eight months. So all the fatigue and discomfort that comes in the third trimester is already here. And I am starting to feel bitter that I have to go through all this and might not get a baby to snuggle at the end. Then I feel guilty for my bitterness.

Praise the Lord for small pieces of normalcy. This morning we had a maternity photo shoot with our dear friend Kim. It was a beautiful day for some outdoor shots and even if my kids weren’t easy to control, at least we got a couple of smiles out of them. I am very excited to see these pictures, but even more I am excited that we could do something that I would have done if Luna was healthy.

The whole time my husband was convincing my son to cooperate because it was something that mommy wanted, and “we want mommy to be happy.” It wasn’t about doing it special for Luna or doing it to remember Luna. As if we could forget. We were a family celebrating and recording a new baby and the family that baby is being born into. We were enjoying the tiny life that God blessed us with even if it is only for a few months and even if I am the only one that gets to feel her movements or if my heartbeat is the only one she gets to hear. It was a celebration and not an opportunity to mourn.

Just like my parents raised us all to remember and love Joshua who died of SIDS before I was born, all of my children will know and love Luna. They will count her in the sibling count just like I still count Josh and Jake. They will talk about her without apology and without fear because they will know all about her and what happened to her. We are not ashamed and neither will they be.

Today’s photo shoot reminded me to be thankful for every moment and celebrate ALL of God’s blessings even if they are not the blessings that we expect. Or the blessings that anyone expects. And I have already been blessed far beyond what I deserve. And I have so much to be thankful for.

Thank you, Kimmy for that reminder.