Vacay Day 4
Vacay Day 5
Just a few days after Independence Day, my friend and neighbor, Anne Farmer, contacted me and asked if we could pick up her mail as her family was taking a vacation. As the Farmer’s left town, Anne and I struck up a conversation via text message. This is how it went (please kindly ignore all typos!):
Click the arrow above to hear audio!
Looking back over the last twenty-one months I realize I have passed through many stages (written August 2015).
Detachment: This bizarre experience of living in the moment, fully aware of every single detail—the losses, the precariousness of Gracen’s future—the people around me, their words, my responses and this awareness that my emotions had been somehow blunted from all of it. It was good—it was horribly bad—it allowed me to function but left me fearful on an entirely new level. What kind of person—what kind of mother responds this way?
Exhaustion: Mental, physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Catching myself thinking, “I’m just so very tired.” repeatedly throughout the day. Even following a good night’s sleep, “I’m so very tired” echoed through my mind. “So tired.” And there are still days like this; days where physical fatigue has little to do with this blanket of exhaustion that near suffocates me at times.
Brokenness: Not just broken but utterly, completely shattered. So broken that healing is beyond comprehension. And yes, that thought, “I’m just so broken” flitting through my mind repeatedly, day after day.
Anger: At a lack of justice—at missing out on Bethany & Katie’s lives, their futures—at Gracen’s failing health—at ruined credit—at the flashbacks that plague me—the pervasive apathy that steals my motivation and overcomes my will power—and on it goes.
Fear: Okay, terror—for the future—of my Savior—of His plans. Steeped in anxiety. Fighting off panic. Waiting for the next blow. Anticipating the next loss.
Resistance: To moving forward. I can’t go back but don’t make me imagine a future void of all I planned for my life. I can’t go there. I just can’t go there. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to live in bitterness and loss, yet can’t imagine a future different than I’d planned and dreamed of. Can’t even imagine an alternative that holds any appeal.
Resignation: No way to change it—certainly no way to fix it—no way to make it better—hands tied—unpalatable choices—acceptance—bitterness—deep, desperate sorrow.
Lost: So very, very lost.
Death Wish: Oh, to fall asleep and never awaken! No more churning thoughts. No more disappointment. No more fear. No more sorrow. Just blessed silence and oblivion. Sweet, sweet nothingness.
Purposelessness: A vast, yet overwhelming, sea of possibility. Life has always moved me from one thing to the next. High school moved me to college, college to the workforce, the workforce to marriage, marriage to parenthood, parenthood to what? There are no more next logical steps. Too much time—too many unexplored possibilities—no desire to explore—no motivation. “I just want . . . ” flutters through my mind and stops. I don’t know how to finish that sentence. Everything I really want I simply can’t have. And it’s a repetitious thought too. How many times will I stop short until something fills in that blank? Will anything ever fill that blank?
Unwanted Purpose: Full-time caregiver? Please, Lord, No! Not for my baby! Not for my courageous, tenacious and oh, so sassy girl! No more surrendered dreams! No more isolation! No more crushing disappointments! No more untreatable pain! No more loss! Please, Lord, no more heartbreak!
I just want my life back!
So very broken . . .
I just want my kids back!
I just want my kids back!
I just want . . .
It’s only a matter of time until the next shoe drops . . .
Lost, lost, lost. . .
I just want . . .
Adrift, adrift, adrift as the tide flows in and out – straining to hear the still small voice whispering any kind of hope for my remaining days in this world of sin.
It’s 11:40 a.m.
Gracen has not yet made her daily morning call signaling her desire for help from her bed. She’s been routinely waking up around 9:30 this summer. I try not to worry, not to be paranoid; but it’s been like this since Cole died. I refuse to be ruled by fear—fear that I will find her “sleeping”—in the biblical sense. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
A prayer, a plea, escapes my mental captivity. (2 Corinthians 10:5) I quickly turn my mind to something else – anything else that will hold off the anxious thoughts, the mental images of what I might find should I open her door. I’ll give her till noon to call. She might have stayed up late reading. Twenty minutes of distraction to avoid feeding my fears; acting on my paranoia.
I distinctly remember having a conversation with my friend and colleague, Judy, when Bethany was just a baby. I don’t remember the conversation word for word but I recall the gist of it. I’d asked her what the point was in entering Bethany’s room to see if she was still breathing in her crib. What could I do at that point? Judy responded that I could administer CPR, that it might not be too late. A wise response.
I think, even then, though, that I had begun to expect the worst. That I was resigned to the things I could not change. And that mentality carries forward to this day. Experience has done nothing but reinforce it.
I can just imagine the response of the choose joy contingent. I must have hope, I must think positively. . . It’s been 2 1/2 years, why can’t you get over this? (Or maybe that’s my own conscious condemning me). I’ve been infected with the cultural message that if I just do this or that I can get beyond this. But as I discussed in my recent post, Trust, Works & Supernatural Power, my analytical mind also realizes that I need the Holy Spirit’s intervention in order to heal. Maybe I can overcome without His help, but honestly refusing to work through my pain won’t lead to healing. And in the long run it’s more hurtful than helpful.
So why would I share my personal neurosis with all of you? What is my motivation?, I ask myself. Am I just seeking pity?
Oh, heck no!
There’s a small but hurting population of loss parents out there who grapple daily with fears for their surviving children, for their spouse. Individuals for whom an unanswered text or phone call or a late arrival without explanation incites anxiety far greater than the average person would experience.
For those men and women, a post like this validates their own fears. I can’t begin to tell you the enormous relief a loss parent experiences when someone says, “I feel that way too” because it doesn’t happen very often. More often than not, their very real fears are dismissed. No one wants to believe that it could happen again. That God would be so cruel as to allow you to lose another child. But every loss parent knows it could happen and David and I are living proof. That’s not to say that God is cruel, but that line of thinking is an all too common belief, even among Christians.
So yes, I want to validate the feelings of every loss parent I encounter.
Validation leads to healing.
And for those of you who haven’t experienced such a devastating loss, maybe this post will give you a glimpse into the mentality of a loss parent. Maybe you will not be so quick to jump in and remind a brokenhearted parent that they must have hope or shouldn’t think the way they do. Maybe instead you will gift them with understanding. Maybe the words that will tumble out of your mouth will be, “I can certainly understand your fears” or even, “I think I’d feel the same way.” Maybe you will be wise enough to stop right there; to fight back the urge to tack on, “But, . . . “, because pretty much anything that follows that word, but, will invalidate and dismiss any understanding the bereaved might have derived. Tacking on that one word, but, is a bait and switch. What appears to be understanding and compassion, is revealed to be admonishment and rebuke; criticism and judgment. It’s cruel yet offered with the kindest of intentions. It reflects ignorance or an unwillingness to imagine how those words might feel if you stood in the shoes of the bereaved.
Grief is all about feelings.
Grief is not an intellectual pursuit.
C.S. Lewis said in his book, A Grief Observed, “Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead.” “Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less?” He went on to say, “Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?” And then, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
What are you most afraid of? How do you feel when someone implies your fears are unmerited or little more than paranoia?
Never forget that you have the luxury of walking away—whether you feel your words were a helpful encouragement or woefully inadequate. You. Walk. Away.
The bereaved do not.
There is no escape but there are moments of relief. Moments when the burden is lifted as a friend or even a stranger yokes up with the wounded and hurting by sharing and validating their feelings—strengthening the bereaved for the moment when the burden once again settles onto their shoulders alone.
My cell phone rings.
The display reads, Sugar Shaker Boxx, and sweet relief surges through me followed quickly by a bit of dread. I rise, bracing myself for the sight of the wheelchair that stands sentinel beside Gracen’s bed. Bracing myself for the tasks no mother ever wants to accept their grown child needs help with.
I put on a smile and adapt a sedately cheerful persona (Gracen is not a morning person) and I open her bedroom door.
Another day has begun.
I feel like I’m sinking—sadness weighing me down—regardless of the medications I’m taking. Why can’t I overcome this? Is it possible that trauma causes bipolar disorder?
I just want to escape this body of death. That phrase, “body of death”, had little impact on me before—before my world imploded. Now, well now, I have an entirely different view of—and response to—that phrase. Now it’s way too personal, way too descriptive!
Every day I am bombarded with the visual representation of that phrase. I perform acts of service that reinforce those images. I cannot escape this body of death and I desperately want to. I want to flee from the future and the daily reminder that things are just going to get worse—lots worse.
But there is nowhere to go, nowhere to hide and the only means of escape available is one which further injures those I love, who frankly, have already suffered enough—more than enough in my opinion.
Somehow I have to learn to live with the cumulative pain and losses of the past while surviving the emotional erosion of the soul caused by daily care requirements, simultaneously bracing for and absorbing the blows each new and upcoming setback includes.
I can continue to put one foot in front of the other (although I’ve noticed it getting harder and harder to do; which concerns me) but I have yet to discover an emotionally heathy way to cope with this life I’ve been left with.
Distraction, distancing, withdrawal and emotional numbing may be effective coping mechanisms to prevent a complete breakdown but they are not healthy. They are nothing short of a delaying tactic that builds barriers between an individual and the people they love and later serves to compound the pain in the long run.
Those coping mechanisms are a completely normal and common human response to emotionally deep wounds, I’m told, regardless of the cause. They are not unique to my situation. But when consistently exercised they heap guilt, shame and despair on the heart as the individual becomes aware that they’ve lost precious, unrecoverable opportunities to spend time and deepen relationships with those they love in a conscious or unconscious attempt to protect their hearts from further pain. And that awareness, when it can no longer be avoided, is nothing short of agony. Time lost cannot be redeemed in this earthly realm.
Some time ago I questioned my daughter’s physical therapist about the potential benefit of a medical procedure that had worked well for another child in the clinic Gracen receives services from. The procedure involves creating holes in the overly tight muscles of the legs so that the muscles will stretch and enable more freedom of movement.
The PTs response was that the tension–the tightness of Gracen’s leg muscles are the very thing that enable her to stand. Loosening those muscles would make her legs noodle-like; unable to support her slight weight.
I am very much aware of the painful emotions that accompany my past and current life circumstances. When I find myself confronted with “negative” emotions, I don’t allow myself the freedom to experience and work through them. No, instead I distract my mind from them primarily via fiction (emotional numbing) locking them to the far regions of my heart. I am constantly aware of the existence of this metaphorically locked box of emotions, but I refuse to open and cope with the contents. Shoot, I’m pretty sure the contents of that box are under so much pressure that the slightest move to open the box (maybe my next effort to shove new emotional turmoil into the box) will result in the contents being forcefully expelled like an erupting volcano — an apt description as rarely does a volcano erupt without prior warning and I’ve experienced years worth of prior warnings. Warnings that the pressure is escalating.
The tension required to push those emotional realities away, to pack them into my own personal Pandora’s Box, is the tension that my emotional health is standing, or maybe in my case a better word is “balanced” or “teetering” upon. Like a car precariously balanced upon a cliff, one shift in weight forward without substantial counterweight will send the vehicle plunging over the cliff.
Opening Pandora’s Box is the means to healing I’m told, but it is a terrifying prospect. It will push me over the emotional precipice and I fear what that will mean, what it will look like; what living with it, living through it, will cost and what, if anything, will be left of the woman I once was. And worst of all, my greatest fear, will I be left in a recoverable state?
On top of everything that implies, opening Pandora’s Box only allows past emotional trauma to be vented. How then, in this new weakened and vulnerable state, do I cope with the ongoing trauma progressive disease constantly thrusts upon me? Where is my shield of defense when the communication device or the stander is delivered? How will I cope with the installation and use of a tracking system in my home, let alone the day when it no longer makes daily life less physically taxing for both Gracen and I, but when it becomes a necessity I must use alone in order to properly care for her?
How will I cope in a healthy way with the complications that arise from a lack of mobility: pressure sores, stiffening and less moveable joints, decreasing core strength that results in the inability to sit up from a prone position and maintain an upright position once seated? How emotionally strong will I be when verbal communication is lost and I can no longer hear the sound of my daughter’s voice?
The boxer in round ten is less capable of withstanding a body blow that was thrown with far greater force in round one. The boxer’s split skin, bruises, and broken ribs don’t heal between rounds. He just rests, catches his breath, gets his cuts taped up and smeared with antibiotic ointment while receiving instruction and encouragement to continue the fight.
Is this not a picture, yet another metaphor, of the Christian life? God binds up our wounds between rounds, but the damage inflicted in the early rounds affects our ability to fend off and endure the blows taken in later rounds. Training, muscle memory and endurance developed prior to the fight are the believer’s primary form of defense in the midst of the fight.
When the metaphorical boxer ignores the instructions, is unable to rest as adrenaline floods their system, rejects the antibiotic balm and encouragement in the early rounds as young, brash believers are known to do, determined to “Do it My Way” as Sinatra sings, ineffective strategies are employed and more blows from the opponent successfully land escalating pain and weakening the cocky boxer.
Come the later rounds, desperate for the ministrations pridefully refused when the fight began, the beleaguered boxer attempts to tune his ear to those words of instruction. Humility has replaced pride and his brain, so distracted by pain and fatigue is far more inclined to seek and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we rest on the Cornerstone of our faith in dreaded anticipation of the sound of the bell that propels us back into the fray. And when the final bell rings we either find ourselves flat on our backs from a knockout blow or in the middle of the ring, beaten, bruised, and so fatigued that we can barely lift our arms in victory.
The bell has rung repeatedly in my life and I’ve been forcefully shoved back into the battle over and over and yet again. So weak, dreading the next blow that I know without a doubt is coming, trying to simply raise my arms to protect myself. Too tired to be effective, desperately attempting to put into action the instructions received in the corner, I huddle against the ropes frustrating my opponent and the audience who scream at me to step into the fight, defend myself, and destroy the enemy who contends for my faith.
What will be my fate when the fight ends? Will God step in and call the fight? Will I find myself stretched out on the mat breathing heavily but defeated all the same or will I be doing my best to hold my hands up in victory when the final bell rings?
Your guess is as good as mine!
I hope to be silently caught up in the air as God calls the fight or to hear the sound of the trumpet signaling the arrival of my Savior, rescuing me from this body of death and torment. But I fear I will continue to find myself stretched out on the mat breathing in the stale and bitter aroma of sweat and fear–yet another bout in my future, yet another beating to endure. Will I enter the ring the next time stronger and better equipped?