charlie's song

The Math Of Grief

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Well, we’re back. After four thousand miles through fives states and more Happy Meals than I can count…our family is back from summer travels.

I’d like to say that it was nice to get away. And in some ways, it was. But there were many tears as we traveled to a conference I had thought Charlie would be going to with us. I had always pictured Charlie traveling with us in the fourth seat of our Sequoia. And then that dream died, and another was born when I pictured a new little person traveling with us to Colorado in my tummy. Another dream lost in a single heartbeat.

But all those hours in the car, and even more importantly, the hours we spent with other parents who have suffered as we have…have led to some new thoughts on grief. I cannot tell you how valuable it was to sit across the table from other people whose dreams have been shattered, hopes deferred, and hearts made sick.

You don’t really know how normal you are, until people who have actually walked your pain, validate it. There is a preciousness in the fellowship of suffering which I cannot even put into words.

And while Reid can attest to the fact that I’m no math wizard, I want to share what I have been learning lately about the arithmetic of grief.

Grief subtracts innocence

A few days after Charlie died a friend said to me, “But you’re OK, right?”

“Um…no. And I can tell you exactly when I’m going to be OK… NEVER.”

I can understand why she said it…probably because she loves me and so badly wants me to be “OK.” She wants me to come back.

I’ve spent six months thinking about what “back” looks like. Can I go back? Can I go back to happiness? Can I go back to “OK”?

I’ve buried two babies in five months…I’m not ok.

I realized after our conversations with other parents who have lived through the horror of losing children…there is no going back. There is no OK. There is only a new, different life. A life where innocence is gone. Permanently.

I like the Mumford & Sons song that says, “Death is at your doorstep, and it will steal your innocence, but it will not steal your substance.” Innocence is gone. It does not mean that our substance is gone, but when you look into the precious face of a baby who looks like you and whose eyes you will never see…you know innocence has died. Something precious is over.

I think Nicholas Wolterstorff says it best in his book “Lament for a Son,”

“The world looks different now. The pinks have become purple, the yellows brown. Mountains now wear crosses on their slopes. Something is over. In the deepest levels of my existence something is finished, done. My life is divided into before and after. Something is over.”

The happy-go-lucky notion we once had that everything was probably going to be ok (Read: go the way we want, protect everyone we love, never break our hearts beyond belief)…that is over. That view…the one that almost everyone around me still gets to keep…that is over for me. And it’s been a good process this summer as I’ve realized what is true. That I am NOT ok…and that is ok. This is my life.

Grief adds sorrow

There is so very much sorrow that grief adds to life. I realized as we drove thousands of miles, through towns I’ve never seen, that I now look at the entire world through new eyes. As we drove through one sleepy little town after another I would actually catch myself looking intently and thoughtfully at cemeteries. Yes, cemeteries. I found myself assessing the quality of the cemetery…just like other moms assess the quality of a park or a preschool they see.

I’m realizing that this is actually not morbid…it’s just my life. It is a great sorrow to bear that I have to visit a cemetery to feel closer to my little one’s body…but that is my reality. I’ve been concerned about this, sad about this, angry about this…but I am learning that this is just my life. There is a sorrow to my life that will always be. And as much as people who have never buried babies want it to NOT be in my life…it’s my life.

I love how Nicholas Woterstorff says,

“Sometimes I think that happiness is over for me. I look at photos of the past and immediately comes the thought: that’s when we were still happy. But I can still laugh, so I guess that isn’t quite it. Perhaps what’s over is happiness as the fundamental tone of my existence. Now sorrow is that.

Sorrow is no longer the islands but the sea.”

I can’t even read those words without weeping. Sorrow is the sea…and it hurts so badly. I had wanted JOY to be the sea. I had wanted to sail smoothly and sweetly on a sea of ease right into Heaven’s pearly harbor someday.

But I am learning that acceptance is looking out at the real sea I am sailing on. The one I would do anything to change. The one God has actually lovingly and mysteriously ordained for me. And that faith is saying, “OK, God. I take Your will. Just please sail with me, because I need You desperately.”

Grief divides hearts

I want to be in two places. And I simply cannot be in both of them at the same time. I want so much to live life with Reid, Emma, Fred, and Sophie. But I also desperately long to be with my other babies. And I ache beyond belief that I cannot be with my whole family at the same time. Some day, by the grace of God, I will get to live life with baby Zeller and my sweet Charlie. But for now…they are not with me.

And so, I spend my days doing laundry, wiping runny noses, looking for Barbie’s lost shoe, and…thinking about Heaven…every single moment of the day.

I know this just isn’t usual. Most moms, deep in the throes of “The Little Years,” no matter how much they love Jesus, DO NOT think about Heaven every moment of the day. But that’s because they don’t have to. All the little people they love and carried and long to care for…are strapped in carseats in their messy mini-van as it speeds merrily down the freeway.

But that is not my life. I carried those five babies, and I long for them, and my heart will be divided in its affections, attentions, and longings, as long as my little ones are not in the same place. I am learning to be ok with a divided heart. Half my heart is in heaven. This is my life.

And that is one thing that grief has added that is a great sweetness to my life…Grief multiplies longing for eternity.

All those hours spent thinking of my little ones who live light years away…has multiplied beyond measure, my longing for Someday.

At first, I just so desperately longed to be with the baby who had just come from my body. I looked at Charlie’s tiny frame and cried out to God a thousand times, “Please God, please just let me go with him.” Then, I felt a desperation to be in Heaven just so I could be near to Jesus and finally understand all of this brokenness and pain that has suddenly become my new reality.

But now…growing deep within me, at first slowly, but with greater force as time goes by…is this longing for all of it. The whole package. Charlie. Baby Zeller. Jesus. A longing for the hours I will spend at Jesus’ feet hearing His gentle voice and searching His sorrow-seen eyes. I feel beckoned by the beauty of a place where everyone around me isn’t broken and sinful and hurting and frail…but whole and holy and strong and free.

This is my life…someday.

And for all that grief has added and subtracted and divided with its relentless, pounding waves…I’m so grateful for God’s kindness to deepen in my broken and bleeding heart…a stronger longing for eternity.

Charlie would have turned six-months-old this week. I LOVE that time in a baby’s life. They can finally eat and smile and roll and BE…and I’ve always looked forward to the six-month-turning point. This week would also have been the 13th week with Baby Zeller in my belly, which would have marked the end of the hard First trimester, and the beginning of the fun Second one.

But our home is forever missing the sweet coos and smiles of Baby Charlie. And my belly is forever missing those precious first kicks of Charlie’s little sibling.

So what this week marks in reality…is that we’ve actually made it through six months. We’ve actually walked with God through the six most excruciatingly painful months of our entire lives.

We’ve waited six months.

For Him. For Charlie. For eternal right.

And we continue to wait. We wait with tears and trust for the day when all of this will finally be right. When finally, all will be OK.

Someday, on a distant shore…these painful days will fade away…and it will finally be JOY. A land of Joy for all eternity.

And no islands of sorrow ever…as far as the eye can see.

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One thought on “The Math Of Grief

  1. Thank you for this. I look forward to your blogs. I can relate so much. No one understands the deep pain of a bereaved parent, unless they’ve gone through it. Like you mentioned meeting other parents that share same sorrow and you realize your “normal”. Thats how i feel when i read your blogs…i’m not alone or crazy in this “new normal” of trying to be present for my son here on earth but longing to be with my son in heaven.

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