Friday, November 14, 2014

When you see the tide coming in

It's begun. The tide is coming in, and I can't out-run it. It began a few weeks ago already when several people innocently asked, "What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" Thanksgiving? I hadn't even thought of it. I was blissfully unaware. It hadn't even been on my radar. And I liked it that way. I was happy. But with one word, Thanksgiving, I turned and saw the tide coming in.

Oh, what a drop in my spirit there was with the reminder of the holidays. The holidays. Where I just want to crawl into bed, pull the covers up over my head and sleep until Jan. 2nd. If only I could. And I am not the only one who feels this way. It has helped me tremendously to talk to others who have "been there, done that." Others who are doing this grief thing right alongside us. They have given precious validation that is needed by all who grieve, regardless of how long they've been on the journey.

The thought of the impending holidays sucked me out into the tide. I spent several days flailing in a deep sea of grief until a dear friend candidly reminded me that my poor attitude was because I was looking ahead, going where I didn't need to go. She spoke the truth, that I needed to look only at today, not at the end of the month, and certainly not at next month. I couldn't see God's grace for the moment because I wasn't looking at or staying in the moment.

Thanks to the wisdom we've gleaned from GriefShare, we already have a plan in place for Thanksgiving. I know that we'll be o.k. for Thanksgiving Day. However, I continued to focus on the days ahead, and that is what caused me to drift in an ocean of sorrow. I had failed to cling "to the rock that is higher than I." (Psalm 61:2) I neglected to remember that God is the great I AM. He is the present-tense God. I had been trying to borrow strength for tomorrow when tomorrow wasn't here yet. My friend's hard, but truthful reminder was exactly what I needed to hear. The words she spoke became the life-preserver I desperately needed.

The raw, bone marrow-deep pain of losing my son has settled, though grief remains. Tremendous healing has taken place over the past three years, but healing does not negate the sorrow scar that remains, and will remain until we are reunited in heaven. Healing does not remove the heartache or the intense missing moments that come with or without warning. With warning, like knowing the holidays are approaching. They are inevitable. They happen every year. Or without warning, like Wednesday, when I went through the little boys' clothes, finally switching out their summer shirts for winter ones.

It was painfully bittersweet. I pulled out a colorful, striped sweater from the box and smiled a bittersweet smile. It was one that Matt had worn when he was little. When I went upstairs later I came across a picture sitting on the table in the hallway of Matt and his youngest sister. It was when we only had two kids, and one of the rare times we've ever had professional pictures taken. I glanced at the picture in passing, but stopped when I saw that Matt was wearing the very sweater I had pulled out only an hour before.

I didn't know whether to consider that a "God-nod" or a painful reminder. See, I still have an incredibly difficult time looking at pictures. Because when I see pictures of Matt, my sweet, smart little boy whom I called Mateo and insisted when he was small that his name was Matthew, not Matt, all I have are bitter thoughts. It's not something I am proud to admit, but it's true. Instead of being thankful for the years I got to have with him, I am (at times) bitter that I didn't get more, that his life was cut so short.

In meeting so many others on this grief journey, however, I've come to realize that it's never enough. The time with our loved ones, no matter their age, is always too short. We always want more. We don't want them to suffer, either, but yet the time is still not enough. Nothing has shown me this more than talking to grieving widows and other bereaved mothers. Widows who were married for decades still long for more time, and mothers of adult children do likewise.

But then I talk to my bereaved mom friends whose children's lives were much, much shorter than Matt's. And my heart aches for them because I realize I do have much for which to be thankful. I have memories, photos, and milestones. I have the sound of Matt's voice, the memories of his mannerisms, and years of his presence. They grieve the loss of that many more unrealized dreams and expectations. It shows me that the loss of a loved one isn't about how much time you got with them. It's not a competition as to whose "wound" is worse. The result was the same for us all. Our hearts were devastated. Our worlds were shattered by the death of our child/ren. Our circumstances have all been different, but the result was the same, loss.

It's been what we've done with that loss that has drawn us together. We have reached out, struggled to find others who innately understood what it was like. We have all dared to dive in and ask the tough questions and been honest with our anger, disappointment, and yes, even bitterness. Yet, we have also chosen to take it all, the pain, the anger, the hurt and bitterness to the Only One who can transform it for our good. We don't deny the pain, but we choose to see blessings in the midst of it. We recognize that when it comes to grief, we have a choice in how to respond.

The holidays are coming, whether I like it or not. I can choose to bury myself under the covers, or I can choose to acknowledge my grief and do something with it. I can trust God for the grace to get through it, keeping my eyes on Him, or I can keep my eyes on my circumstances and fail to grasp the strength, God's strength, that He provides moment by moment. I can do something different, create new traditions. I can choose to honor the memory of my child in so many ways. I can honor God by being thankful for the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.

This holiday season, I will take one day at a time. I will honor Matt's memory by putting a Green Bay Packer ornament on the tree. I will attend a "Surviving the Holidays" GriefShare session, not necessarily for me, but to support others who are newer to the journey of grief. In doing so, I can reflect the hope, love, and peace of Christ, without which none of us would make it through. The tide is coming in, but Christ is the One who calms the troubled sea of our grief-stricken hearts. 

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