Friday, August 29, 2014

Who am I to say?

On Monday, our second oldest child attended her first day of post secondary classes at a local college. She is now a junior in high school. I can't even begin to describe the feelings I've had this week. Matt, our firstborn, never got to experience his junior year of high school. He "should" be starting his sophomore year of college.

It's only expected that the onset of fall would bring back-to-school (particularly, back-to-college) conversations to the forefront. Conversations I try to avoid because they seem to be as salt in a wound. However, I listen with, I hope, a sympathetic ear to a parent bemoan their legitimate pain of temporary separation from their young adult. Yet I wonder if they have forgotten that, while they take their son or daughter to the campus dorm, I am left to drive up the hill past the cemetery where we buried our son. 

I try to focus on what I have instead of what I don't have. I try to not think about the "what ifs" and the "if onlys." I try to just "suck it up" and deal with what is. But some days I just want to scream, "It's not fair! It's so not fair!" Some days I simply ache to go back, before Matt died, to the time when joy was pure, untainted and untouched by sorrow. A time when joy wasn't fused with grief.

Honestly, it's been a week of struggling against feeling sorry for myself, of biting my tongue from responding to those conversations with, "I'm happy for you. Truly I am. And I don't negate the pain you feel as your child leaves home. But I'm not the person you should be talking to." It's been a week of reminding myself of the blessings I've been given, to remain thankful for what I have, which is much. The struggle to remember that God's word says I am to "rejoice with those who rejoice." Indeed, they have also wept with me. (Rom.12:15)

The battle, ultimately, remains to be trusting God, believing what He has said in His word. When I entertain feelings of self-pity, jealousy, and bitterness, I have effectively decided that I know better than God. That my ways are higher than His. I am the clay saying to the potter, "What are you doing?" (Is.45:9) I have set myself up as God when I argue against what He has allowed and claim that He is not fair. I have taken my eyes off of the Light of the world. (John 8:12) I stopped looking to the Light this week and ended up seeing only the dark, the broken, and the lost.

But God? God sees into the dark. He sees into the broken places. He finds the lost, the doubting, the scared, the angry. And He speaks to them, to me. I prayed this morning to somehow get out of this "funk" I was in. And He heard me. I never fail to be amazed by God. That He should love a sinner, a whiner, and an ungrateful woman like me is amazing. It makes me love Him all the more. I am humbled and overwhelmed. Again, through the voice of His people, the LORD answered my prayer and spoke to my hurting heart. First, through Ann Voskamp's post and then through Jennifer Dukes Lee's post today.

I have worried this week about ever finding joy again, real joy, joy without grief attached. I have worried about how I'm ever going to make it another "x" number of years without my son. I've worried about whether I will lose any of my other children. But, honestly, I don't need to worry about it. Because Jennifer is right. When I worship God, worry is destroyed.

Friday, August 22, 2014

When you are helpless

The day after the three year anniversary of Matt's death was tough, to say the least. It felt like the fallout from a bomb detonation. I see the devastation and wreckage left behind after losing a child, and it still astounds me that we survive.

As a parent, seeing my children struggle with the loss of their brother is like watching shrapnel soar. I can't stop it, I can't dodge it, and I am powerless to save them from it. I miss my son even in my dreams. I long to hear his name spoken daily, to see his handwriting, hear his voice, and watch him walk through a room. I know what it is to ache in the very bone marrow of one's being. I know what it's like to lose a child, but I don't know what it's like to lose a brother.  I can only view their loss as a spectator, witnessing the aftermath.

However, I emphatically agree with Theologist/philosopher Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig when she says that "suffering together matters." And while her post is referring to suicide (referencing in wake of Robin Williams'), there is an astounding parallel in dealing with the grief-stricken. Stoker Bruenig says, "It made us tired, too, this constant striving, trying to get him to eat, to shower, to come sit with us. Sometimes it was easier just to let him alone, which was something we only entertained because we were so tired of trying."

One of Matt's younger sisters now struggles with deep anxiety. Before losing her brother she was a happy, highly social, and outgoing girl. She appeared to be handling the loss of her brother as well as could be expected. However, two years after the loss she suddenly "fell apart." She quit her job, refused to leave the house, and would no longer socialize with even her best friends. Panic and anxiety arose with any and all social activity.

We had been proactive, too. We went to grief camp where we threw eggs. We participated in a memorial walk. We talked about Matt. We encouraged the kids to share their feelings. I did what I could and knew to do as far as helping her deal with her grief. I took her to GriefShare, gave her Matt's blanket to sleep with, shared appropriate grief books with her, bought her a journal, and gave her a memorial necklace. But it wasn't enough. Her anxiety didn't go away.

Aside from losing a child, I think the next worst thing for a parent to experience is to watch them suffer. I wish with all my heart that I could take this away from her. When her anxiety rears it's ugly head, I hurt deeply for her. I want to fix it. I want to take it away. I want to make her better. I am angry at death. I'm angry at what the loss of her brother did to her, to us. I'm angry because I am helpless.

But helpless is not hopeless. We sought counseling as a next step. The first counselor wasn't a good fit, so we found another. Thankfully, this one is a good fit. And while there is no magical cure, there is progress. I am helpless to help my daughter, but I can, at least, give her the tools she needs to deal with her grief and anxiety. Now, I can't make her use them. But I can speak truth to her. I can continue to trust the LORD for her life. I can continue to cling to the God of hope. I can show her what it means to be real with her grief. I can encourage her friends that the best thing they can do for her is to keep inviting, even if she never says yes. That if we "suffer with" in times of sorrow, then we shall also eventually "rejoice with."

"There is no high hill but beside some deep valley.
There is no birth without a pang." - Dan Crawford

Helpless, yes. Hopeless? Not on your life. I pray that my daughter will replace the anxious thoughts in her mind with the truth of God's word. I pray that my example will point her to Jesus Christ. I pray that she will see hope.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A sigh of relief

The anniversary of Matt's death, his birthday, and his sisters' birthdays are over. I feel like the elephant foot on my chest has been removed. I just want to move forward. There have been so many "firsts" this summer. I know most people think all the "firsts" occur the first year after loss, and they do. But the "firsts" continue long after the first year. Every "first" is a hurdle to jump. It's an emotional battle, and I guess I'm just tired of fighting them.

So many times right after Matt died I heard the phrase, "This will make you stronger." I remember thinking, "I don't want to be stronger. I'm just fine the way I am, thank you." But having gone through all of these "firsts" has, indeed, resulted in making me stronger. I am stronger despite my not wanting to be. It's most certainly not the way I wanted to get stronger, but it is what it is. These experiences have made me tougher. Tougher mentally and spiritually.

This strength, really, is a reflection of the healing that has taken place. The wound has healed, but the amputated appendage will never return, be replaced, or grow back. Healing means that we adjust to life as it is. That we learn to live without our son. We bear a terrible scar for life. But through it all, God has been faithful. He has provided the hope we need to carry on.

My life isn't all about grief. The sky is no longer covered black. There is a hunger and thirst for life again. I've learned how to live daily with my son's absence. Never for a second of the day do I forget that Matt isn't here. But I have learned to replace the "He's gone" thought with a "I will see him again" truth.

All of these "firsts" lately have been a huge battle against feeling sorry for myself. Again, however, speaking the truth effectively extinguishes the flames of pity. When joy and thankfulness show up, the pity party is over. Keeping my eyes on what lies ahead instead of what lies behind is the key to not getting stuck in grief. Max Lucado said it well this week in my daily UpWords email devotion titled, "A Vision of the Reward."

Paul said in II Corinthians 4:16-18, “We do not lose heart. . .for our light and momentary 
troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our 
eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” Hear what Paul called “light and 
momentary”—not what I’d have called them, and I think you’ll agree. Imprisoned. Beaten. 
Stoned. Shipwrecked three times. In constant danger. Hungry and thirsty. Light and 
momentary troubles? How could Paul describe endless trials with that phrase? He tells 
us. He could see “an eternal glory that far out-weighs them all.”

And you–you want to go on, but some days the road seems so long. Let me encourage you 
with this: God never said the journey would be easy, but he did say that the arrival would 
be worth it!

I can breath a sigh of relief because I know that this world, with all it's sin, pain, and heartache, will some day be replaced with a new and perfect one, one without loss or grief. One in which we will be reunited with our loved ones, never to be separated again. One in which we will finally see God face to face, to spend eternity with Him who died for us. Not only will I sigh a sigh of relief when this happens, but one of contentment and awe.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

It is what it is

Monday was Matt's oldest sister's birthday. Her 16th birthday. I should have been joyful, but I wasn't. I really, really struggled. Seeing her turn 16 was so painful. Painful because it means that in less than three months, she will officially be older (lived longer) than Matt. Painful because Matt's not here. Painful because he didn't get more than 16 years and 4 days less than 3 months. I feel like the worst mother in the world for feeling like this on her special day, for not being able to be 100% joyful. It completely sucks. 

I hate that grief is soldered to any joy I now have. Before my son died, joy was untainted. Before, I could experience joy without feeling grief. But now? Now, joy is no longer singular. It doesn't show up without it's companion, Grief, lurking in the shadows. Yet I look at my daughter, and I am so thankful for her. Thankful for every day God allows with each of my children. I cherish their uniqueness. I see time fleeting and my children growing so quickly. I ache because I really do know how short this life is.

Yet I am comforted because I also know that this life is not all there is. Eternity awaits for us. But until then, I remind myself that it is what it is. I can either find the blessings and cherish the sweet moments, or I can focus on what I don't have. I can look forward (with patient hope) to seeing my son again, or I can wallow in the past and miss the present. I want to savor the moments I have now while looking ahead to the promise of eternity. It is what it is, but it is not without hope.

Friday, August 1, 2014


To say that the 3 year anniversary of Matt's death was emotional is an understatement. While the Gofundme campaign was a tremendous success, it was incredibly bittersweet. I am grateful beyond measure that we did this on the 29th for the 3 year anniversary, but I am all too happy July is over. Physically and mentally, I am shot. I feel like I could sleep for a week. Emotionally, I'm not in a good place today. I try not to think about the accident (or the funeral). But that's like trying to tell someone with an open fracture not to think about the pain, to think about something else. My mind is a tangle of emotions, a see-saw of grief and joy. The anniversary of Matt's death is sandwiched between his youngest sister's birthday (on July 25th) and his oldest sister's birthday (on August 4th).

I'm just tired. Tired of reminding myself of the truth. Tired of trying to convince myself that it won't always hurt like this. Tired of trying to be strong. Tired of seeing Matt's sisters and brothers hurt. Tired of carrying my faith. Tired of missing my son with no relief from the incessant ache. I want someone to carry me. I want to crawl up in my Father's lap and be held.

I found myself doubting greatly this week, wondering if God's promises were really true. Wondering if what He says is really out there, if heaven truly exists.

What I found was grace to make it through the day. What I found was comfort to carry on. What I found in place of my doubts was truth. Three different times I picked up various books (Jesus Calling, Beth Moore's Jesus, the One and Only, and Streams in the Desert), only to read the same precept in all three, that God cannot lie. It is impossible for Him. My Abba Father soothed my fears. He reassured me of the truth. I am held.