Sunday, April 25, 2010
"Who will be our next survivor?" The famous question asked at the begining of the reality tv show "Survivor." To win the game of Survivor contestants must often be and say and do things that would not normally describe who they are in real life. They are put onto an island with other people and are told to survive the game. Many will do whatever it takes to win the million dollars at the end of the game. Deprived of food, family, and the comforts of daily life...and placed on unfamiliar territory with a bunch of strangers, they must push through each day just to make it as far as they can.
I have many "labels" in this life. I am a wife, a mother, a cooker, a cleaner, a gardener, a daughter, a friend, a nurse, a sister...and much more. Now I am simply a survivor, along with my husband, children, and our extended family. The game of "survivor" lasts only a short while...But this game..my game..my life...will last a lifetime. We too have been placed in a foreign land. We are separated from our child, our sister. We are depraved of the joy we once knew. We have become strangers to each other and strangers to ourselves. The working family unit we once knew has been destroyed...and finding a daily routine that works seems impossible since we are all changing from one day to the next.
As a nurse, I was taught that there was a grieving process. It was a linear progression in which a person would move through the "stages of grief." There was shock, denial, anger, acceptance and so on. I always thought that these phases could be marked and that as one phase was "passed" and another phase had begun, there would be no "turning back" to the old phases of grief. As if there was a start and a finish line. As if grief was a fog that you could "get through." In reality, grief is not a linear progression at all. Each of the "stages" of grief are never accomplished and not visited again. Grief travels around. It likes to go in circles or bounce back and forth visiting one stage after another...staying at length or for only a minute...and then going on to the next one. My friend tells me it's like an upward spiral..we begin at the bottom and work our way up as we continually visit each component of grief. Someitmes we stay for a while, then we move on upward. Something might trigger a painful emotion only to cause us to fall lower on the spiral. Like the game of chutes and ladders (the unending childhood board game) you advance a few spaces...then you climb a ladder moving far ahead. But on any given turn you hit a chute...sliding you down to the begining again. I've always hated that game. I secretely sent ours to goodwill the other year. Now I am a permanent player in that game. Heaven is the end and only God knows when we will get there.
This real life game of Survivor or chutes and ladders gets real messy when you add more than one player and then expect them to live together and figure out how to survive together. Because everyone "plays" this game of grief differently, and everyone responds to each stage of grief differently...you soon realize that you don't know the people you love anymore, and you don't know how to "read" their survival tactics. Every once in a while you might find that you might be visiting the same stage at the same time...and if your lucky, you might even be responding to it in the same way. Those are times when it is a relief to connect after being so lost from each other most of the time. Even though we all live in the same place, often times we feel like strangers to each other.
I've heard people say to me "it seems like your having a hard time making it through"...or "it will be a while before you will get through this"...or "how are you getting through this pain?" I don't like the word "through." That word fits into most of life's challenges, but it doesn't fit with grief. I am not getting through it, I AM LIVING IT! and I will continue to live it until I die. It will get better, I know that. But getting through something is living to see the end of it. I/We are SURVIVING it. I am doing whatever it takes to make it. Sometimes I don't recognize myself, or my husband, or my kids....but that is because we are all different people just trying to do what we can to survive.
All of this sounds depressing, messy, and chaotic. Frankly, that is how I feel about it most of the time. It is exhausting trying to read each other, trying how to help each other, trying to find some sort of energy somewhere to be there for each other. And this is just the grief side of life now...not to mention all of the events and demands of daily life in general. I won't say that there is no joy in our life now. We still have laughter, the kids still play, we still have fun times along this journey. I know that as we "advance" in the game, there will be more good times, and less tough times. I also know that 11 years of beautiful life with our sweet little girl, is not going to be "gotten through" in a few years...we are talking a lifetime of healing.
Yes, I still claim all of the labels describing who I am. But the heading in bold print is SURVIVOR by the GRACE OF GOD!
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Today sorrow is heavy upon my heart. The weight of loss is a fog that surrounds me and presses in from all angles. Once I became a "member" of this club....I gained a few very precious friends. Most of them I have never met, but I feel like I've known them forever. The pain we share is at the deepest level of our souls. In much pain today, I realized that some of my new friends were suffering greatly right now. It is "anniversary" time for them. Not a good kind of anniversary though...the worst nightmare of every parent kind of anniversary. The kind that you desperately want to erase from the face of this earth, but can't because they are branded in our lives forever. The kind that only brings earthly pain and saddness. I haven't reached my one year yet, but it is coming...I can feel it.
It makes me deeply sad and quite angry that rather than celebrating the anniversaries of my friends children's birthdays, accomplishments, marriages, graduations...I am agonizing in pain with them over the death anniversaries of our children. This makes me sick.
The truth that we all share is that each anniversary takes us one more year farther away from the memories of our children. In the very begining the memories are so clear, it's like they aren't even gone. We could still hear their voices, smell their hair, feel their hugs in our minds. We could see their sweet little faces and almost hear them run through the house. Then the moment comes when we realize those memories are fading. We have to look at pictures to get the detail of their faces. We have to watch a movie to remember their voices and experience their character and personality. We try to smell their pillows to remember through our senses. They continue to slip away from us. We continue to burry them every day.
It has become so scary to me that I can't remember what life was like with Ashley here...daily life. As much as I didn't want to allow life to go on...it does...and eventually a new normal sets in...a normal without Ashley. Suddenly it is strange to imagine what life would be like if she were here. (Well, we all KNOW it would be filled with joy!)
One thing that has helped me through the past 8 months has been the ability to look back at last year this time with Ashley. Everything I do, I remember doing it with her. I always will remember. The thing that I am not looking forward to is July 24. That day I will not only have to add the pain and suffering to my memories of Ashley, but I will then have to go back 2 years to remember August, September, October...with Ashley. This will continue every year. The memories are the same, they just become more and more distant.
Spring has been sweet and utterly bitter at the same time. Spring is when we celebrate new life. We venture outside and soak in the beauty of creation. We take a deep, cleansing breath relieved to come out of the winter hibernation in our homes. Life feels new and refreshed. It has been wonderful to be outside, to plant my garden, and to watch my kids run and play and climb the trees. But right next to each refreshing comfort is the hole that grows bigger as the memories grow farther away. Spring is a reminder that summer is coming and I am running out of last year's sweet memories.
I have learned to know that although the memories grow distant, our lives will slowly be restored. They will never be the same. The memories will always be there...and they will become sweeter. However, the memory of THAT dreadful day will always be painful. We can't live in that day forever...we have no choice but to press on. I am forever thankful that I can live with hope for the future...in this world and for eternity. There is joy to come on earth and in Heaven...even if right now the dark shadows of agony and pain cover my sight of what is to come. In my pain, I will press on.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
As I walked in the greenhouse today I watched my two little girls run ahead of me...weaving between the rows of flowers. I see them, but my vision is blurred as I realize that my Ashley used to be there among the flowers. The greenhouse was her playground too. What is happening here? Is this for real? How can my entire life with Ashley be wrapped up into a box of memories? Why do I have to talk about my little girl in past tense? Who she was...what she used to do...what she looked like? It is so unnatural to hear my children say "after Ashley died.." in a sentence....is this really my life now?? Do I have to take my young family to the cemetary to feel even the least bit whole as a family? Does my little girl's name really have two dates below it? Could it really be true that I am slowly packing my daughter's life away into boxes to be set on a shelf? The land I am in is so foreign and unreal it's as if It's NOT for real! But, I know it is real...I just don't get it. I can't understand it...it's far too big to wrap my mind around it.
In the first few days and weeks after Ashley died, I can remember shuttering at the thought of 2,3,8 months down the road...I could barely imagine making it to the next day. I remember dreading the change of seasons, holidays, birthdays, school, church....everything without Ashley. None of it has been easy...to be honest, I think that spring has been the worst of all. Here I am 8 months later still not being able to imagine the next year. All my life I have spent looking forward to the next season of life....for me and for my children. I loved to imagine what they would be like, where they would go, what they would do or become. Now, I pray with my children that God would come quickly...because we are longing to be home, to be whole. There are days when I plead with God for this life to be over.
It seems in the past few weeks glimpses of reality have hit me and take me back for a moment. I have to sit back in disbelief that this is my life. I just can't believe it. It's as if I am going about life each day being "immune" or maybe "numbed" to reality. Sometimes when we are the ones in the "box", it's hard to see the big picture. Every once in a while I have a second where I slip outside my box and peek in through a window. I see a small glimpse of this life I am living and it's more than I can bear. This happens to me often. There are times when I will be talking about Ashley or looking at a picture of her...she seems so close to me...so familiar...I know her so well...like it is so normal to have her be a part of my life..AND THEN IT HITS...she's gone. She's not here. She's been gone for 8 months. She's not coming back. All of the sudden I don't understand death. How can it be that someone I know so well, who was just here...can be gone forever?
One thing I hear often is "I don't know how you are doing this." Well...I don't know how I am doing this either. Humanly speaking, I don't think it's possible for a parent to survive the loss of a child on their own. In my time of despair and deep sorrow, when I feel the bitterness of this pain...I sometimes hear others urging me toward the Lord. I agree, but often feel too paralyzed to move. I hear people remark about my faith being strong. How is this possible when I feel so far away from God. I feel so weak. I know that I am "doing" very little of prayer time and devotions. This is not of me! How am I walking? I'm NOT! I am convinced that although I feel so far from God, and although some may think I am dwelling in sorrow and bitterness...I am actually closer to God than I've ever been. God has actually picked me up and is carrying me. God is near to the brokenhearted. So the faith and strength that others see in me...is not mine. God has revealed his strength through me. I am just a broken body.
As I write this I feel so frustrated. I feel comforted to know that God has his hands on me...that He is molding me into a work of art that He wants to use for His glory. It sounds good to me, but at the same time I hate it. I don't want to be used in this way. I want my Ashley back. I understand the depths of despair and the bitterness in the hearts of the psalmists. I also feel too weak to go "kicking and screaming" my way through this. I feel like I have no other way than to let Jesus pick up my broken body and spirit and carry me. I don't have anything to give.