Friday, December 27, 2013

Grief lesson #1 - You Are Not in Control

It only takes seconds after a loss for this lesson to solidify in the heart of the bereaved. Especially as parents, we tend to think we have so much control. We're so busy running our lives, and the lives of our children, that we are deceived by the facade of control. But then tragedy hits and you realize that any control you thought you had was just a mirage. For those who don't believe in God and His sovereignty, I would imagine there is very little comfort after the loss of a loved one. For believers, however, the knowledge that there is an omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God brings a comfort beyond understanding. Comfort because it means there is a reason for our suffering. Loss is not without purpose. Loss, in God's economy, is not wasted. Jesus carefully and tenderly gathers up the shattered pieces of our devastation and redesigns our life. Comfort doesn't diminish the pain, but allows one to bear it.

This is only our third Christmas without Matt, yet, for me, it feels like it's only the second; the second because I don't even count the first one. The first one isn't even a blur as I simply have no memory of it! The entire first year is gone, like my memory was erased. Losing a child is traumatic, to say the least. I understood so much more going into the second year why "everyone" (those who've experienced child loss) said the second year was actually harder. It's because you have no memory of the first, you're in shock. You come out of the cushion of shock the second year and the reality hits full force that your child one is never coming back. Never. (Not this side of heaven, anyway, and not until you join them on the other side.)

When grief teaches you this lesson, that you're not in control, it opens your eyes to a lot of things. Since Matt died, I think I definitely say yes more. It made me realize that when you have nothing left but memories, then you desire to create memories. It taught me to let go more. It showed me that the things, the battles with my kids, that I thought were so important were really just quite stupid. They were not the big issues I had perceived them to be. It drove home the reality that life really is short. The Bible isn't joking when it says that our lives are like a vapor and are but a handbreadth. (James 4:14, Psalm 39:5)

While there've been positive results to learning grief lesson #1, there have also been negative ones, fear being the biggest. The fear of losing another child is persistent. I mean, never in a million years would I have thought I would lose a child, but I did, and the unthinkable happened. And because it happened, fear now stalks. I've lived the reality. I have proof that it happens. It is a daily choice to trust God with the lives of my children and husband. It's choosing to resist, as well, the temptation to control as a result, because control is birthed from fear.

This lesson has also taught me to recognize what I can control and what I can't. What I can't control is when grief hits, but I can control how I choose to respond to it when it does. I can't control the punches it throws, but I can control how I fall. I've learned that leaning into grief, not avoiding it, is really the best way to deal with the sucker punch it throws.

I knew Christmas was going to be tough, but I wasn't expecting the blow from out of nowhere on Monday. I had dropped off "Army Guy," Matt's younger brother, at church for ping pong. (They have a group that plays several times a week. Matt really enjoyed being a part of this group, too.) As I watched Army Guy go into the church, grief walloped me right good, square in the face. Army Guy sauntered into the church, and that's when I got hit. His saunter was what threw me. It was just like Matt's. And then my heart split wide open with a fierce ache. I tried to hold it together, but by the time I got home, I realized I wasn't getting out of this one. I knew I needed to cry. It just sucked that I had be thrown to the ground with Christmas Eve looming. I guess some part of me had hoped I'd duck the blow and get through Christmas unscathed.

A friend on Facebook, another bereaved mom, posted this timely link, however:

Artwork by Tanya Lord
I read her post and decided then that I wouldn't feel guilty for however I was feeling. I wasn't sure if I was up to attending our church's Christmas Eve service, and after being hit unexpectedly by grief on Monday, I decided it was okay to wait and see how I felt. I ended up staying home and spent the day in bed. We spent Christmas Day alone as a family and, for once, I was glad we hadn't invited anyone over. I found myself still trying to throw off the cloak of grief from Monday. I knew I needed to get focused again. I started with listing 25 things I'm thankful for. Thankfulness doesn't come easily when the heart hurts badly, but I suppose that's why Hebrews 13:15 calls it a "sacrifice."

I spent some time giving thanks and then put on some music. Once again, music had the power to touch my hurting heart. Even better than music, however, is the Giver of music. While I don't understand God or His ways at times, especially when my heart aches so badly, I know that He intends ultimate good for His children. I may not be in control, but I know the One who is.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dear Matt,

Dear Matt,
Friday night, I finished a bowl of cereal and sat on the couch flipping through the t.v. channels. I smiled when I realized it was the same time of night you always ate your bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats© cereal and that "The Office" and the "The Red Green Show" were on at the same time. I wondered what mood you would have been in and which one you would have picked. I went with "The office." "Burn Notice" was on, too, but that's for you and Dad to watch. I'll watch "Everybody Loves Raymond" next time, maybe. I love you. Love, Mom

P.S. Dad, Sweet Stuff, Artsy Girl, and Army Guy just got back from the movies...opening night of "The Hobbit." Apparently, it's pretty good if their excitement is any indication.

Dad, Sweet Stuff, Artsy Girl, Army Guy, and Miss T.T. were playing Poker downstairs...your favorite, too....Texas Hold 'Em. We never noticed before, either, that your poker case is the Cardinal brand. Miss you so much. Love, Mom ♥♥♥

P.S. I finally got the ornament for you that I'm putting on our local Compassionate Friends' Christmas tree at the hospital. I knew you'd like it. :) Your aunt Cathy always posts when the Pack is playing, too. Makes me feel good. Love, Mom

P.P.S. We also went to the Christmas program at church tonight. Seeing Drama boy up front reminded us so much of you. At least he didn't jump on and off the stage like you did for your first program at age 6. LOL When he was playing with his shirt sleeves with his arms up by his ears, it was like déjà vu. Love you so much! Love, Mom

I opened several Christmas cards today. I exhaled with the realization that last year, I couldn't even open any at all because it was just too painful. Healing is bittersweet. I like to think, though, that you'd be proud of me. I also listened to Matt Redman's song, "You Never Let Go." I wonder that no one told us the songs we played at your funeral were going to be so excruciating to listen to afterward. It's been 28 months, and I finally listened to it without falling apart.

P.S. Your sister asked me the other day why I hate Christmas and why I always change the radio station when Christmas songs come on. I started crying and answered, "Because Matt's not here." I don't hate Christmas, but songs like "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" are lies. Christmas, in society's eyes, is all about being together with family. Well, guess what? My family's not all here, and you're not coming back. BUT...BUT GOD...He reminded me of what I already knew: Christmas is about Jesus Christ who came to redeem the lost. Without Christ, I would have no hope of a reunion with you, my son. Without Christ, I would be lost. Without Christ, I would have no reason to rejoice. Though there is sorrow, I do "rejoice in the God of my salvation." (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Friday, December 13, 2013

The club no one wants to be a part of

Sunday evening was emotional. There were tears, and there was laughter. We participated in the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle-lighting ceremony. There was great comfort in getting together with our group. We had decided to meet at 6pm for a potluck before the 7pm lighting. It was a wonderful time with no pretense.

The candle lighting service began with a reading of the Compassionate Friends creed and the song "Light a Candle" by Paul Alexander. We then lit our candles and spent the hour taking turns sharing the name of our loved one and how our holidays and traditions might be done differently now. It was powerful to look around the room and see the glow of so many candle flames. There is comfort in shared sorrow because it is in sharing that we draw strength from one another and peace in knowing that there are those who will never tire of, nor be uncomfortable with, you speaking your child's name, no matter how long they've been gone. It was also very heart-warming to realize that as we blew out our candles the lighting continued elsewhere around the globe. The club no one wants to be a part of is so much bigger than I would have ever imagined.

Monday, of course, followed Sunday. I had impatiently been waiting weeks for Monday evening as several "grief" moms and I were meeting for dinner. We finished our weekly book group meetings a few months ago and hadn't gotten together since then. We managed to pick the next book by the end of dinner, but only after several hours of much laughter and tears. The restaurant was closing as we left, and I wished I had brought my camera to snap a picture of us. Who would have guessed that the lively four women at the table in the back of the restaurant shared in common the loss of a child?

We left the restaurant, each to our own vehicle, yet united in a camaraderie none of us could have fathomed a year ago. We all know getting through Christmas isn't going to be easy, but we also know we're not alone. We still wish with our whole being that we didn't have to run this marathon of child loss. Not a single one of us signed up for this club, yet each one of us has discovered that the lifetime membership comes with a pretty incredible support system.

This week turned out to be quite draining, emotionally. However, I am blessed. Blessed by the members of this club no one wants to be a part of, but also blessed by those that are not a part of it. God reminded me that we have so many friends and family that continue to support and pray for us. They may not be a part of the club, but they are on the sidelines urging us on, watching us run.

Hebrews 12:1-3 reminds me that I am to run this race with endurance, fixing my eyes on Jesus. He is the author and perfecter of my faith. He endured the cross because of the joy set before Him and I, too, have eternal joy set before me. Because of this, I will not grow weary or lose heart for long. I remember that God himself is a member of the club no one wants to be a part of.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Muddling through

This past Sunday found me feeling very worn. I was tired and ached with longing to see my son. I was just so sad and in disbelief, once again, that it's been 28 months since I've seen Matt or talked to him. 28 months since I've heard his deep, quiet voice or seen him walk through the house. 28 months since seeing him sitting in the middle of the couch with his laptop open atop his lap. 28 months since I've heard the creak of the kitchen cupboard door at 10:30pm when he would help himself to his nightly bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal. I miss Matt. I miss him with an ache so deep it is indescribable. There is nothing that takes away the pain when these moments hit. They are the "phantom" pains an amputee experiences, pains that one simply has to endure.

I found myself despairing and wondering how on earth I was going to get through the next several weeks. Compared to Christmas, getting through Thanksgiving was easy. Thanksgiving is just one day in that it doesn't have a countdown of days like Christmas, nor does it hold the same excitement or build-up for people that Christmas does. We muddled through Thanksgiving mainly because we were able to share the day with another family who is experiencing a tremendously difficult situation. We didn't need to hide our pain from one another or pretend to be o.k. We understood that the holiday was exceptionally difficult for both of our families.

Having survived Thanksgiving, there was barely room to breathe before the onslaught of Christmas. By Sunday, the radio stations were in full swing playing Christmas music. I remembered it being excruciating to hear last year. While it's not as painful this year, I'm still not ready to be inundated by the 24 hour merriment of holiday songs. Thankfully, I am prepared with several CD's in the van, ones I burned with my favorite "grief" songs over the past two years.

As the rest of the family got ready for church on Sunday, I dragged behind. Grief had already wrapped his cold, bony fingers around my bloodshot eyes and had whispered, "Despair!" enough times to make me want to forget about going altogether. However, I knew it was better to stay out of the pit to begin with than to climb out of it later. I told the rest of my family to go ahead without me and that I would drive separately and be there shortly. I finished getting ready and wandered into the dining room. I stood looking out the window at the bird feeders. There were no birds in sight, and the trees in the back yard looked desolate. I silently prayed to God, asking Him to help me make it through the day. I told Him how I felt and asked Him to show me hope, to remind me that the veil between Heaven and earth is thin. I wanted to see a cardinal. It had been so long since I'd seen one. The first year Matt was gone, we saw a cardinal every single day. The second year, it became a little less. Recently, it's only been every once in a while, and just the kids have seen it. I didn't need to see one, but I desperately wanted to see one, and I told God that.

The bird feeder remained empty, though, and I then left the room to put on my coat. As I finished getting it on, I turned one last time to look out the dining room window. There, at the feeder, was a cardinal. It hopped and turned my direction, then cocked it's head as if to say, "Matt is near." I cried. I cried at God's goodness, at His answer to my prayer. He doesn't always give us what we want, and He doesn't have to. He is God, and I am not. Seeing the cardinal, however, was as if He tenderly reminded me that He hears. He hears my hurting heart and gives me His presence.

I realized right then that I wouldn't have to muddle through the next three weeks. Instead, I would have to appropriate the grace God gives. And the grace He gives is for the moment. I will stop running ahead with the future and trust Him with now. I will remember how He has been good to me and fix my eyes on the hope He has promised. 

The Birds in the Trees
by Angie Cherney

I saw the branches of the trees.
Brown they were, without leaves.
They appeared lifeless and cold.
So much like me, and old.
I asked God for a red bird so fair,
Then flew one swiftly in the air!
The birds in the trees so bare
I did not see them, though there.
Hidden treasures for me,
A cardinal I did see.