Friday, June 26, 2015

To my best friend

I wrote this to my best friend the other day. It happened to be a "bad" (a.k.a. grief) day. I was missing Matt and struggling because I hadn't yet had a plan in place for next month for the 29th, the four year anniversary. It was weighing heavily on me, and with each passing day it got worse. When my friend called to tell me about her oldest child's accomplishment, I was, regrettably, a "rain on her parade." I knew I was, too, so I sent her an email later that day.

"I wanted to tell you on the phone today in a bright, cheerful voice, “Congratulations!” when you told me about Sam’s ACT score. I wanted to, but I failed. I failed because my hurt was too great. The pain of missing Matt was all I could feel. Pain, and jealousy. Jealousy because, honestly, as you told me such wonderful news, all I could think was, “I wish I had gotten that chance with Matt.” “I wish I could have experienced it with my son, my oldest.” It’s selfish, I know, and I’m sorry. I immediately felt like such a failure as a friend. I feel so bad for my friends and family who have to put up with me when grief rears it’s ugly head. And the problem is that you’re never given any warning. Instead, you just get to deal with messy me. 

As if you probably hadn’t noticed, the last couple weeks have been touchy. See, it’s June, but all I can think about is July. July, which means another year without Matt. July, when every day of June’s voice taunts, “It’s coming. It’s coming.” July, when I wish time would stop, that I could run away or fast-forward the calendar to August."

Of course, she responded, as is typical of her, with grace and forgiveness. This whole "It's June, but July's coming" thing is horrible. It's horrible because of the anticipation and horrible because I like having a plan for the 29th, and I didn't have one. Not having a plan was putting me into a tailspin.

But as much as I want to avoid July, I can't. I can't avoid it, but I can be honest. I can be honest about my struggle, and I can ask forgiveness for being jealous. I can not allow grief to be my excuse for acting unkindly. Thank you, dear friends and family. Thank you for the grace you’ve shown me every day. Thank you for listening. Thank you for understanding and allowing me to grieve. Thank you for understanding that my grief will last until I see my son again in heaven. Thank you for acknowledging my sorrow, for validating my feelings. Your support continues to matter and make a difference.

Grief is still present, but I'm able to see joy and purpose in life again. I'm able to live life while missing my son every single day. I'm able to move forward with grief and with hope. I will continue to write about our journey because I know that it has value. There is value in being vulnerable about the grief process because it is in being real that others, hopefully, will no longer be, as this writer puts it, "grief illiterate."

Friday, June 19, 2015

A soft heart

My husband, though he isn't an affectionate person by nature and didn't grow up in an overly affectionate household, isn't one to hold his feelings back. He's not a "man up," "keep a stiff upper lip" kind of guy. He doesn't subscribe to the "men don't cry" theory. And I thank God for that because I need someone who is real, who is honest, about their feelings. He's shown our kids that it's o.k. to cry, especially for our boys. He models a biblical example of grief. Grief that expresses emotion. Grief that allows tears and accommodates real expression of feelings.

Father's Day is tough for him just as Mother's Day is tough for me. It's a day when we rejoice in the children we still have, yet grieve for the one who isn't here with us. It's not easy navigating holidays because they typically incorporate celebration. But grief complicates things. It's always an unwelcome visitor to the party. My husband and I have fought for joy, fought to keep hope on these special days. We don't want the death of our son to harden our hearts.

Instead, we look for hope. We grieve with hope. I wrote more on this on the Grieving With Hope Facebook page. (You are invited to "like" the page, as well.) Hope is always there. It's what we crave. (Just as the lyrics read to For King and Country's song, "Crave.") I am thankful for a man who knows the truth, the truth that fathers do weep. Fathers do grieve. And more importantly, we have a heavenly Father who weeps with us, who grieves with us, who gives us hope, who is our hope.

And speaking of fathers, I was all too happy to run across this post today: Whether your Father's Day contains sorrow or not, may it hold gratefulness for our fathers, those here and those we wait to rejoin in eternity, and gratefulness for the privilege of being a father, to those here and to those we wait to rejoin in eternity.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A driver's license

The day we left for family camp was a hard, hard day. It had been an emotional morning, for Matt's younger sister took her behind-the-wheel driver's test. To say I was a wreck is an understatement. As soon as she disappeared out of sight with the testing driver, I fell apart. I called my best friend who "got it," who understood why I was a hot, crying mess. She understood why, though happy for my daughter, I was completely undone. She's one of the very few who knows the utter fear and sorrow this moment held for me.

Instead of showing up excitedly at the same DMV building where my son took his driver's test only four years ago, I wanted badly to just lock my daughter in a closet. I wanted to protect her and keep her from driving. My heart hurt for her, for I felt she was cheated, cheated from having a mom who was excited. It sucked. It really, really sucked. Four years ago when I did this, it was exciting. I was a proud parent experiencing a "rite of passage" with my oldest, my firstborn.

But it wasn't excitement I felt, by any means, that Friday. I couldn't figure out, either, what it was about that particular day, but there was something significant, nagging about it. I just couldn't put my finger on it. It wasn't long, however, before my daughter returned with the examiner, and I shoved my uneasiness aside. I had pulled myself together by the time they had parked and walked to the entrance. I didn't ask my daughter if she had passed the test for fear of upsetting her if she hadn't. However, as we walked directly to the counter and she was given the license form to fill out, it was clear she had passed. The examiner confirmed that she did well and congratulated her. I took a deep breath and uttered an appropriate reply. It felt like one of those "wow" moments that catches you off-guard, sort of a vertigo feeling where the floor tilts and you feel a bit disconcerted.

She finished filling out the papers and then posed for the head shot. As I stood to the side, I noticed the blue background for the photo. It was cerulean blue. Matt's color. I softly smiled. A God-nod.

We left the DMV and celebrated her accomplishment by stopping for her favorite shake on the way home. Once we were home, I pulled up my calendar and flipped back to 2011. My mind had finally connected the dots, and I was pretty sure I knew what the nagging feeling was. Sure enough, the calendar soon confirmed it. Matt had taken his driving test in May. In fact, his sister took her test exactly one day before Matt took his. I sighed in disbelief and shook my head.

This was definitely one of those times I didn't understand God's purpose. We never planned for it to fall on that day. We didn't pick the date. In fact, her original appointment wasn't until July 3rd, but the driving instructor said to call daily to see if they had cancellations as you want to take the test as soon as possible after the last lesson with them. So we called the same day as her last lesson and was told they had a cancellation for Friday. Of course, we took it per the driving school's recommendation to keep it as close to the last lesson as possible. I never considered the date as I'm not a detail person. It didn't occur to me or come to mind regarding Matt's test date. 

Now, at least, I had relief, for I finally had the answer to what was bugging me. This dance of joy and grief? I never wanted grief for a partner, and he's awfully good at tripping me up. I'm still trying to learn the steps, how to stay on my feet when he throws in an unexpected turn. I wish more than anything that I could be naively excited for my daughter, but I can't. I simply can't, for the gravity of teenage driving and mortality obscures my world. My son died in a car accident just two months after getting his license. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to respond with enthusiasm to the multiple comments of, "Oh! She has her license? How wonderful!"

Yet, as much as it causes my heart to fear, I can not and will not live in fear. I will, instead, turn to the Lord and offer up a sacrifice of praise. Praise for His mercy and grace. Praise for His faithfulness and comfort. Praise for walking with me every step of this journey.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Memorial Weekend

We went to one of our favorite places for Memorial weekend, Trout Lake Camps. Trout was one of Matt's favorite places, as well. We went for family camp, and it was great. I think, for once, the joy and the grief were equal partners. Grief no longer takes precedence, though it remains a constant. We had wonderful weather right up until the morning of our departure. However, even that wasn't so bad because, well, who doesn't love shooting off rockets in the rain?!

For the most part, it was a weekend of relaxation and fun with my family. It was a much needed time away, though it wasn't without its moments of testing. See, when grief shows up, it doesn't come alone. He brings a few friends along. Friends like Fear and Doubt, for instance. Fear, like grief, is good at the art of ambushing. It showed up strongly at one point during our weekend and then once again after we got back from vacation. I wrote the following on my Facebook wall last week after fear had attacked:

Me and Fear? We didn’t use to be friends. Not really. More like occasional acquaintances that would run into each other on rare instances. But after losing my son, fear likes to pretend to be my best friend. Fear stalks me, constantly trying the door handle of my faith to see if I’ve left a way in for him. Fear shows up at the most opportune moments. Like today. Today I saw this headline: "More than 500 people killed as heat wave bakes parts of India."

Oh, nice try, Fear. Nice try. You know that tomorrow my husband leaves for India for two weeks. You know that I trust God, but you take advantage anyway, always trying to shake my footing and make me fall. You sure did a good job at that last weekend, too, by the way, when my daughter went missing. Though she really wasn’t missing, I just hadn’t gotten an account of where her camp group had gone and then freaked out when they didn’t return at the stated time. Nicely done, Fear. I’ll give you ten points for that one.

I won’t lie. You scare me, Fear. You do, because I know the reality of actually having a parent’s worst nightmare come true. It happened, and I lost a child. And there are no guarantees that I won’t lose another child or my spouse. And now I’m left, like Eve in the garden, to choose. Unfortunately, Eve made the wrong choice. I don’t want to make the same mistake. I want to trust God. I want to live in faith.

You terrify me, Fear. But God? God laughs at you. He knows that you are finite. He knows that you hold nothing on Him. He knows that the ropes you throw around me and others are dissolvable. He knows we speak, Fear. He is aware of our conversations, and He knows that I am weak. He is patient and stands waiting for me, waiting for me to take my eyes off of you and turn to Him, to look at Him. Him, whose motives are pure, who does everything out of love. You wouldn’t know about that, though, would you, Fear? Because you are not from Him. He is love and you are not. He is love, and perfect love casts out all fear. I will choose to ignore your scare tactics and lean on God, the Only One who has the power to render you powerless. He is mighty to save. Goodbye, Fear. Rattle the door if you must, but I’m not answering it this time.

I struggled Memorial weekend with fear, and I felt like a failure. Instead of trusting God, I freaked out. I listened to the voice of fear whispering in my ear. When my daughter didn't return at the time and place specified, all I could think was, "I don't ever want to experience that kind of pain again. Ever. Please, God, No." The pain of losing Matt was horrific. I don't wish that kind of pain on anyone. To this day, I still have moments where I am struck by the horror of it all over again. It takes an inordinate amount of strength not to "go there" with my thoughts. But I did go there at camp, and I'm not proud of it.

However, it did reveal something to me. It revealed there's still work to do, still some growing to do. But I realized something else, too. I realized that it's ok. My Father knows the pain I've endured. He knows my fears. He knows my anxiety and doubts. And He loves me through it all. He has been my God, and He will never leave me. My "God-nod" for the week has been this song: