Friday, February 20, 2015

What pain does

At the beginning of this grief journey, I think I had the idea that my sorrow would eventually be completely gone, that the pain would someday end and be done with. I thought I'd only have to deal with grief in the beginning, and then it would eventually go away. I didn't expect to be ambushed by it years later. I've been ignorant and hopeful.

However, as the years (I still can't even believe I'm using the word "years.") add up, I'm realizing it's a life-long learning process. The pain and grief now doesn't look anything like it did in the beginning. (Though it remains as profound.) And I suspect that it will be much different in twenty years than it is now, too. Perhaps what's thrown me the most is the unexpected ways in which it still shows up. Additionally, I had no idea, either, how much pain revealed one's character.

If pain has taught me anything in this grief journey, it's that I can't survive by my own sheer will power. It has caused me to rely on God. It has shown me my weakness, my powerlessness. It has taught me perseverance. It has humbled me. It has loosened my grip on this temporary world and has made me long for heaven in a way I never thought possible.

The pain of losing a child (and then continuing to live without them year after year) is indescribable. It goes to the very marrow of one's bones. Pain refuses to be ignored, drowned out, or dismissed. Pain is persistent and screams for attention until it gets it. It is unavoidable. It requires a response.

Pain, however, has a purpose. Pain tells us that things aren't right, that something is beyond our control. It begs our attention and forces us to take action, to seek relief. I've said from the beginning that there are two choices in this whole grief journey thing. We either choose to be bitter or better. I want, of course, to choose better. But that doesn't mean I'm not tempted, at times, to choose bitterness.

Though the pain of losing my son has subsided significantly from the early days, and the frequency of the "bad" days is few and far between, there are still occasional times when the "missing moments" hit hard. Really hard. Hard enough to be overwhelming and temporarily blind my mind to God's truth. In those moments, I don't always choose well. Whew. Those days are rough. I take comfort in knowing, however, that they are short-lived. Hind-sight proves that I have, indeed, gotten through days I never thought I would. I remind myself frequently that tomorrow is a new day.

The remedy for pain? I believe it lies, not in ignoring pain, but in acknowledging it. Acknowledgement means we seek not the why for our pain, but the what. What do I do with it? How do I manage it? Who do I turn to for help? I can definitely tell you what the remedy isn't. It isn't focusing on the accident, thinking about every detail of that day. It isn't reciting "could'a, should'a, would'a" or "if only" to myself. It isn't counting the losses.

The remedy involves honesty, both with oneself, with others, and with God. It requires the deliberate choice (moment by moment, day by day) to trust God even when the understanding isn't there. It calls for thankfulness. Thankfulness is the pain pump that delivers relief. And trust me, I know it doesn't come easily. I remember I couldn't find anything in the beginning to be thankful for. It was tough. But I persisted, even if it was just giving thanks for meals provided. (I could have cared less about eating, much less cooking, but having food provided for the rest of my family was, indeed, something to be thankful for.)

Shamefacedly, I admit that thankfulness does not come naturally to me. After the devastating loss of my 16yo., it was even more challenging. It has been hard-fought, but well worth it, however. Moreover, I certainly couldn't have done this without my grief mom's group. (We've done a couple book studies: Kay Warren's "Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough" and Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts.") Together, we have stepped slowly into joy and softly into thankfulness. And for every step we've taken, the joy and thankfulness have multiplied, our steps becoming more firm. The painful days are still painful, but counting the blessings, the things I'm thankful for, allows me to see God's goodness in the midst of it. Pain is the megaphone of this world, but thanking God for the simple, as well as the profound, brings me to Him. Him, whose voice is above the pain.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The sucky days

Photo from the Confessions of a Grieving Mother FB page
You know what really sucks after 3 1/2yrs. of grief? It sucks that the more time goes by, the less and less I hear Matt's name. It sucks that I can't join in conversations with other moms about their oldest or what their firstborn is up to. It sucks that I overhear other mothers complaining about their teenagers when I'd give anything to have mine back. (And I'm not, by any means, discounting that the teen years aren't beyond difficult.) It sucks to hear other parents of sixteen year old's talk about how their life is so much easier because their teenager is now driving, while all I can do is swallow the lump in my throat and try to ignore the pit in my stomach, praying that they don't ask me why my current 16yo. doesn't have her license. It sucks to listen to the conversations of moms lamenting how difficult it is to send their child off to college (and it IS), but realizing that I will never be able to say that of Matt. Oh, how grief sucks!

It sucks that grief is expected the first year after a loss, but after that people don't get why you would have a bad day. It sucks that my son would now be 19, but he can only ever be remembered as 16. It sucks that grief never completely goes away. It sucks that I wonder if I will ever have to bury another child before me. It sucks that there are days like this.

The sucky days are rough, and all I can do is pray for God's grace to get through them. Sometimes I do o.k. and other times, well, not so much. Sometimes I hide the hurt in anger, lashing out at those closest, and other times I deal with it bravely. Sometimes the worship and praise music is enough to keep me afloat, and other times it just doesn't quite reach the surface.

I tried valiantly to ignore the pain, but I sucked at it. I thought I could fake my way through it, but I wasn't kidding anyone. I failed miserably. But God? He saw. He saw it all. He heard it all. He never fails, and He is always waiting. He waits patiently for me to come to Him with my hurts, my disappointments, my cries of "It's not fair!" and "It's too much!" He bids me to come to Him, and He will be my strength. He will take this mess of a world with all it's pain and sadness and redeem it. He will not allow the death of His Son to be in vain. He is working in us and for us. He understands. He knows the pain of child loss.

I am thankful God's shoulders are broader than the sucky days. I am thankful He whispers truth, precious truth, at just the right time. I am thankful for His forgiveness and mercy. I am thankful that He is with me.

"Shoulders" - For King and Country

When confusion's my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near

When I'm caught deep in the valley
With chaos for my company
I'll find my comfort here
‘Cause I know that You are near

My help comes from You
You're right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders
Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don't have to see to believe that You're lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders

You mend what once was shattered
And You turn my tears to laughter
Your forgiveness is my fortress
Oh Your mercy is relentless


My help is from You
Don't have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don't have to see it, ‘cause I know, ‘cause I know it's true


My help is from You
Don't have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don't have to see it, ‘cause I know, ‘cause I know it's true

Friday, February 6, 2015

It's just a shoe

It started out innocently enough. Matt's younger brother needed some bigger clothes to wear. (How is it that my 12 year old is wearing the same size clothing his older brother wore at age 16?!?) So I went to the bedroom to look through the tub of Matt's clothes. I lifted the lid and saw a plastic bag. I didn't recall why a bag would be in there, or what it could even have in it, as I knew the tub held only Matt's shirts and pants. I unrolled the bag and saw Matt's shoe. In one glance, I was ambushed by grief, and it threw me down. My heart crumpled.

It was Matt's tennis shoe. The one from the accident. The shoe he was wearing the day he died. I don't have the other one. We think it was left on the Life Flight helicopter. Oh, how the sight of a simple shoe can throw one's world out of whack. I saw red spots and dried mud on the shoe, and my mind immediately went to the accident, to where it shouldn't go. No, I wasn't going to go there. I've fought too hard to survive to get sucked into the futility of that thinking, of imagining the accident. It is not productive, and I refuse to go there.

I quickly wrapped the bag back up and allowed myself a few minutes to cry. That shoe, hated as it is for the reminder it brings of a horrific day, is also a bittersweet reminder of my son, one of the precious few reminders I have of him. I can't throw it out, either, as it is a beautiful keepsake of how big Matt was. He was a solid, manly sixteen year old who wore an 11 1/2 size shoe, and I need that reminder, for I think every bereaved parent fears forgetting. That shoe is a curse and a blessing.

I dried my tears and then continued digging through the clothes. Matt's brother came in and tried some on and was able to find several that fit. As he tried on a pair of pants, he stuck his hands in the pockets, and a look of utter surprise and shock came across his face. He pulled out his hand and, lo and behold, he had found money in one of the pockets. A whole $3.00. The look on his face was priceless. It was also, unfortunately, short-lived, as he quickly realized he owed me exactly $3.00. We both laughed, and he handed over the money. I silently thought, "Yeah, Mateo. That's just like you."

That $3.00 was my "God-nod" for the day. It was God telling me it's o.k., reminding me that Matt is alive and well. I think of that $3.00, and I am thankful. I am thankful for the memories and thankful for God's provision. The "missing moments" are tough, but God is greater.