Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When the healing doesn't come

From the moment we got back from Caleb's funeral I started praying for healing. I wanted to be healed of this massive wound that had left a hole in my heart. I wanted my life to be healed of the brokenness it had become. But the more I prayed for healing, the less it felt like healing was actually happening. As the days turned into weeks and then into months I found myself even more broken. My life was still in pieces and it felt like God had "skipped over" the healing when it came to me. It all hurt so much and the pain kept getting worse, not better.

So in an attempt to find healing I went on a "healing" retreat this summer. The kind I am sure some of you have seen only on television. Where people pray over one another and are healed from their aliments instantly. The kind where people speak in tongues and the Holy Spirit moves in powerful ways. And I went, and I believed that God could heal my heart during that 3 day retreat. While I was there I prayed, I cried, I had other people pray over me. I left with a still broken heart. It wasn't healed, or at least not in the way I thought it should be.

But something beautiful did happen on that retreat. I finally stopped caring about being "healed." I left that retreat with the grace to embrace my brokenness and accept it. I stopped praying for healing and just started praying that God would show Himself to me through the brokenness. I finally threw away the timelines in my head and heart of how healed I should be based on the days, weeks, and months. I learned to love myself in the brokenness.

This revelation was big for me. It led me to write a whole talk on it and base our fall A Mothers Love retreat on the theme of brokenness. If you have lost someone or something dear to you and are in search of healing, know that it might not look the way you think it will, and that's ok. I truly believe that I will never be "healed" of Caleb's death this side of Heaven and that is alright. My love for him is so deep that it should leave a mark on my heart, a big scar that is a testament of the pain I endure, which comes from such an intense love.

Thanking God today for the "healing" that didn't come that way I wanted it to and the brokenness I got instead.

"You are God, you are good, forever faithful One, even if the healing doesn't come"

Must admit that I heard this song first on Angela's blog post here. An awesome post about God's love.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Holidays

Thanksgiving week is here. And I can honestly say that this year the grief is so much different than last year. I am not necessarily "looking forward" to the holidays, but I am not dreading them either.

There is a big part of me this year that wants to do the holidays twice. Go through them once as a normal mom with a 9 month old. Be there for her as she experiences all the "firsts" the season has to offer. Be able to be present for her and watch her be filled with joy.

Then go through them a second time as a grieving mom who is without her baby boy. To set aside time to mourn all the things I will miss about not having a 20 month old this holiday season. I still have a hard time parenting both children, mixing my two roles. Sometimes I think separating things would be easier, but that is not reality. This year the holidays feel more of a balancing act than anything else; learning how to balance joy with sorrow. "Give us joy to balance our affliction" Psalm 90:15

So in anticipation of the holidays, I thought I would post a few ideas of how we survived the holidays last year, what we are doing this year, and how we are including Caleb. Hope this helps others get some ideas or at least feel less alone in their grief.

Last Year
-I missed Caleb so much and thought about him constantly.

-We didn't "do" Thanksgiving at all. Stayed home in our pajamas all day, ate frozen pizza, and watched Harry Potter.  It was wonderful and felt true to where we were in grief.

-We didn't visit Caleb's grave. I just couldn't go there, so we didn't.

-I didn't listen to Christmas music, didn't look at the holiday cards we received in the mail, and didn't put up a tree.

-Stayed home. Didn't join the crazy crowds and did most of our shopping online. Crowds gave me anxiety and so I avoided them.

-Spent all of Advent and Christmas Season away from our home parish, avoided babies, and tried hard to remain anonymous.

-Had "exit" strategies for how to leave a place if one of us was struggling.

-We made a Christmas Memorial for Caleb. It included a few pictures of him along with a small tree with ornaments on it of other babies who had passed away. This gave me something to do and helped me realize I was not alone. Every time I felt sad because my child wasn't with me I could look at the ornaments and think of all the other families who had a child missing as well. There is comfort in solidarity.

This Year
--Still miss Caleb very much and will think about him constantly.

-We will go to Thanksgiving-back to the old traditions. But we are still having our frozen pizza for lunch that day and have decided we will do so every year:)

- I want to go to the cemetery, maybe...we will just have to wait and see how we are feeling. I hate the thought of not visiting him on these important days, but also hate the thought of going.

-Still going to do the memorial for the babies, but this year maybe get a tree instead of just branches.

-Might put up a tree and decorate, but not putting any pressure on myself to do so. If I feel like it I will, if not then I won't.

-Will brave the crowds for shopping but in segments so it's not too overwhelming.

-I think I will try to listen to Christmas music, maybe even bake something.

-We will hang Caleb's stocking with gifts inside of it for his puppy and sister.

-Spend Advent and Christmas back at our home parish, still afraid to see 20 month olds....

-Will be celebrating Abigail's "firsts" while mourning the ones that Caleb never had

The holidays are incredibly hard. Find support groups, find friends, find someone who will understand and let you grieve. Don't be afraid to say "no." Find ways to incorporate your loved one into the holidays. Let Jesus guide you one day at a time. Praying for all those families who are going through the holidays without one of their children.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mary is a hover mom-parenting after a loss

Anyone who has ever buried their child knows that parenting after that is hard. After losing Caleb it felt like we were thrown onto Planet Your Baby Died, while everyone else still lived on Earth.  Trying to navigate this new planet is one thing, but trying to parent on it is even more difficult.

I have read two blogs recently that have made me turn my focus to parenting after a loss. One of the blogs talked about the frustration she has at never knowing what kind of parent she would have been. Because after the loss of your child, you change, your theories change, your personality changes, and well your parenting is forever altered. I share this same frustration and feel like our society rarely talks about the effects of loss on parenting. I wonder sometimes if I would be a better parent, one with more joy and energy had Caleb not died. Instead I fear that my parenthood is made up of so much worry.

And I know babyloss parents can relate. That is why I had so much gratitude for this post on Glow in the Woods blog. I go to this blog from time to time and appreciate the literary style of the writing done there. It is not Christian, but full of baby loss things and often I find comfort in knowing I am not alone. Kenny's post did just that. After losing his daughter at 38 weeks pregnant, he writes about the anxiety and fear that is his constant struggle every day, even now 5 years later. He put words to things in my heart that I could not articulate:

My daughter’s seven plus pounds are still etched into my arms. It’s been more than five years since we got to hold Roxy Jean for the first and last time, but the weight is still there. It’s not a thought on a shelf, but it is the shelf that all other thoughts sit on. Parents that have lost children know what I mean when I say that our lost child is the background music to every conversation. It is the silent “..and” at the end of every declaration, every sentence that Terra and I say to each other.   

“I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow (and Roxy is still dead)”
“I’m going to pick up Mason after school (and Roxy is still dead)”
“I can’t WAIT to go on vacation (and Roxy is still dead)”
These words are what I live every day. I loved the shelf analogy because I feel like its so true. Caleb's death is the shelf which all things in our life sit upon now. Later on in his entry he talked about the fear for his remaining family members:
Five years later and here we are in a house: Terra and I, Mason and Lila (and Roxy, who is still dead.) Four people walk around with five shadows. I have been somewhat concerned, at least once a day since Roxy died, that every member of my family is going to die in some random, horrific fashion. I dream of car crashes and cancer. The grief has become a moving target as the years go by, but the FEAR, when it’s turned on, is always the same. Every fever Lila has. Every time Mason wants to ride his bicycle in the road. The mountain of cold, glassy terror is there, and every day I have to move it to manage. 

Concerned once a day that every family member will die! Wow- thank you Kenny for making me feel less crazy. I also experience this daily. In my mind I have killed each of my family members over  hundreds of times since Caleb died. Cancer, car crashes, choking, drowning,freak accidents. They all come and go in a split second every time I see Nathan's number come up on my phone when I am not expecting it, every time he is late, every time Abigail is sick or I hear her cough while eating. Each time I turn on her baby monitor to see her sleeping I prep myself with "And she will be dead and then you will calmly go call 911." I honestly don't even realize I am doing it anymore, its just there.
And then in the comments section was a beautiful, honest comment from another mom who also put words to why I hover over Abigail:

Now that my living son is approaching his first birthday, we hear more and more from people that we need to leave him alone with others more frequently. He needs to learn independence. He needs to learn how to be with other people. He needs to become more comfortable with others' care. And couldn't we use some time to ourselves? I don't know how to explain to them that I'm not trying to spoil him. It's just that I can't stand the thought of someone else being the last face he sees before he dies. Because I just know that at some point he's going to die. I hope that fear that I carry with me every second of every day won't be realized. But in my experience, babies die. How can I just ignore that fact? I know it with every fiber of my being. I'm just waiting for it to happen to him like it did to his brother. And when it does, I need to be there.

I understand. I dont want to spoil her, or make her less independent. I just want to be there when she dies so she isn't alone. Ugh. 

And so the point of this post is not to show how crazy (normal) babyloss people are and how parenting after it is hard (well, ok that is some of the point, but not the main point). See, I kept wrestling with this and I was up in bed last night thinking about how much losing Caleb has effected my parenting. If it has made me a better parent or worse one. I wasn't getting anywhere, so I started to ponder Mary. Our Lady, the Mother of God, who has first hand experience with her child dying. And I thought of how she was effected in her parenting after watching Jesus die. When Jesus declared "Woman, behold your son,"(Jn 19:26) while on the cross, Mary became the Mother of all. Her parenting began in a BIG way after watching her son die.

As I sat with this thought, I began to cry. Because I realized that Mary is a hover mom too. That her parenting was effected after her son died. She is constantly with us, by our side, helping us get to Heaven because she can't help it. She fears that we will go to hell the way I fear Abigail will die. And she will stop at nothing to protect us and guide us to our Heavenly home. She is the ultimate Hover mom, staying around even when her children don't want her there or ignore her. She pours out her love for all and refuses to give up on even the worst sinners. She can't-she is their mom and because she has seen death- her love is that much more intense. It propels her to love her children even more, perhaps even in a "crazy" kind of way.

I am trying to take this thought and apply it my life. It brings me such comfort to know that Mary cannot leave me because she is such a hover mom over me. It also brings me peace to know that my love for Abigail is more intense because I have seen death. I do hover over her, I am attached to her in a way I don't think I would have been before, but I love her with an intensity that is fierce.

Thank you Mary, for being a hover mom over us. Thank you for showing me how to parent after a loss.

Mary, mother of God, pray for us!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Time lines of Grief

Something Nathan and I learned early on in grief is that we both have different ways and times of grieving. My need to grieve was immediate. His was too, but in a sense he grieved early on by taking care of me. That is how he showed his love for Caleb-by stepping up and taking on the load of both of us while I fell apart. And it was hard, especially when I had to quit work, leaving him as the only one with an income. In that first year he took care of just about everything-cleaning, cooking, shopping, laundry, etc. And I don't know what I would have done without him. He allowed me the space to attend grief groups, go to counseling, and spend hours in prayer just crying. All while he just kept going on in life as usual. At times there was anger inside of me because he could function and I couldn't. I would watch him get up every morning and get ready for work and be jealous that I simply could not get it together like he could. I had to remind myself over and over again that we are very different, so it shouldn't surprise me that our grief is different. (easy to say, hard to live).

Now we are 18 months out from our loss. And I am doing better. I can function again and typically have more good days than bad. This has created the space for Nathan to start grieving. I was surprised to learn that on average most men don't start grieving their loss until 2-3 years after it occurs! I am astonished at this, but at the same time thank God for it. God made men in a way that they can push the loss to the back of their mind and not deal with it until the situation is stable. This allows them the space to take care of the woman. Nathan often said in those early days he felt like we were both in a war, both badly hurt, but he needed to get me to safety first before he could tend to his own wounds.

Well, now I am safe and he needs to start tending to his wounds. It is hard. Lately we are dealing with his grief more than mine. It is not just a "sad" feeling like I would have thought as an outsider. No, he is dealing with anger,anxiety, irritability, lack of motivation, numbness, bitterness, exhaustion from the last 18 months of holding it all together. Slowly, he is beginning to fall apart and allow himself to be broken.

Since I am in a better place, I am able to help him work through this season of his grief. But its hard, and I don't want to do it. He asked that we not plan any social things for the weekends from here until January because he needs that time home from work to really relax and de-stress. This is so hard for me because  I am finally doing better! I spent the last year as a hermit and I am ready to be out and about. But no, I will stay in. I will love my husband and tend to him the way he tended to me.

The temptation is to get frustrated with grief and the time lines it presents. Nathan and I have yet to be on the "same page" in our grief. Rarely have we both been doing well at the same time. And this new season of tending to his grief is another opportunity to serve him and love him. Both of us get annoyed and just want to be done with this. My counselor reminds me that it is called  "grief work" because it is such hard work.  I think the most bothersome part is still having to attribute things to grief. Still having to "blame" our inefficiency,moodiness, irrational fears, and tiredness on our son's death. But its real and as much as I wish our feelings and inabilities were "just because", I know they aren't. I know that we will spend a lifetime mending from the death of our son. I know it might sound extreme to some who haven't walked in our shoes. I would have thought so once too.

Please continue to pray for us. We will get through this phase of grief the same way we got through the others-one day at a time. Try to remember to pray for all fathers who are grieving the loss of their children. They often get looked over and minimized.