Like Stars

Yesterday I was beyond discouraged. I had high, almost desperate expectations for something important, and it ended in disaster. I was angry and hurt. I felt unfairly criticized and misunderstood. My impulse was to run away in hopelessness and quit.

Later I stood in a long line to pick the kids up at school, hands stuffed in my pockets, staring at the floor. I always feel heavy in the school lobby, watching the kindergarteners trip over their shoes and backpacks as they are led down the hall. No matter how busy, Samuel’s absence echoes loudly, and the place feels empty. Two moms next to me chatted about the anxiety they felt dropping their little ones off at preschool every day. “It tears my heart out to drive away each morning, knowing I won’t see him for four hours! I want to see everything he does, hear every cute thing he says. It’s so hard!” 

Their loss is legitimate, but weighed down by failure, loneliness, and grief, I couldn’t muster any sympathy. I stared harder at the floor, willing myself to make it through. A friend walked up and touched my arm to get my attention. “Deep in thought? I think of you all the time. Can I give you a hug?”

And then I didn’t mind so much that I was crying in a room full of people. 

In the evening some friends stopped by. They sat on the rug, giving kisses to the dog. They acknowledged the approaching anniversary of Samuel’s death, and showed us a picture they had made of Samuel to hang near the children’s classrooms at church. 

Grief and trauma drain me, and I find myself unable to remember that people care. If I’m not reminded, the darkness in my head and heart take over. The picture for church is precious, but yesterday, it mostly mattered that they showed up. For a while the darkness gets lighter.

Even a small kindness is a gift. I am thankful and humbled by every one. Maybe they stand out brighter because the darkness of child loss is so dark, the way stars shine clear on the deepest nights. People say grief is a lonely road, and in many ways they are right. We have to process our own unique losses. But that shouldn’t be an excuse not to get involved. Friends can’t fix grief, but they are desperately needed. There is an enormous difference between lonely grieving and grieving while surrounded by kindness. 

Shattered

In the kitchen I reach for a glass from a high shelf. I glance at the cat who is staring at the counter. He twitches, betraying his intent to jump up onto forbidden territory. I am distracted and my fingers lose grip on the glass. It falls to the floor, shattering into a thousand pieces. The alarmed cat escapes as fast as he can.

The floor is covered with sharp, tiny fragments. It will be difficult getting out of the kitchen without cutting my unprotected feet. Tears fill my eyes at my carelessness. My self-esteem is as fragile as the glass these days, and it doesn’t take much for it to crumble into pieces too. As I stand there it occurs to me that this is what it’s like to grieve a child. 

Life shatters. My family and heart have shattered. I stare at the pieces. I don’t have the energy to clean it all up, to put it back together. I don’t think it will fit back together anyway. There are important parts missing. And it’s so, so broken.

Pieces of glass get everywhere. There are shards under the rug, behind the cat bowl, under the dishwasher. Some have flown all the way to the dining room. Little slivers slice deep into your feet if you step on them unaware. Razor edges cut your fingers even if you handle them gently, just trying to pick them up. 

This is grief.

Life, family, self, faith, relationships, peace, meaning, motivation, safely…all shattered.

I’m always cutting myself on slivers unexpectedly. They hide, blending in, until I put my fingers on them and suddenly I’m in pain and bleeding. 

Junk mail addressed to Samuel. Offering some deal he will never be old enough to need.

Reaching under the sofa and finding his sock.

A friend posting photos of her kids, smiling and happy. 

A red crayon.  

A baby.

A thunderstorm. 

Noodles.  

Bleeding again.

When you break something on the floor, you tell everyone to stay away so they don’t step on the glass.  

In the same way people stay out of my life. It’s dangerous to walk too close, they might get cut. My grief is sharp. My thoughts and words and responses can be sharp these days too.

It seems strange, but I make myself a spot in the middle of the broken pieces and settle in. It was precious to me, all that was destroyed, and I don’t want to let it go. My child, of course, is irreplaceable. I feel the loss of everything he is, of the future he will never have, and the emptiness in my own life because of his absence. I also miss the old me, and the carefree way I could move through a day. I didn’t appreciate how easy it was to talk to others until it became awkward and hard. I no longer feel purpose and significance in life through my relationship with God. I’ve lost the joy of worship. My confidence is gone. My ability to laugh whole-heartedly is gone. I can’t pick up toys in the living room or fix afternoon snacks without feeling sad. Peace, patience, energy, fun, all gone.

Life will not return to the way it used to be. Some things are broken beyond repair, yet I hold on to them like they were part of a beloved heirloom and I’m not ready to throw them away.

This is bigger than me. The only solution is divine.

But the Divine seems in no hurry to soften the edges, repair or replace some of what I’ve lost, or at the very least, whisper peace into my broken heart. 

So I wait, surrounded by the remnants of things I treasured.

Moving carefully, trying to minimize more injury. 

Exhausted because of the mental energy it takes to tiptoe through brokenness.

Crying, missing my beautiful son.

Afraid of the memories that come, unwanted, of the moment it all smashed apart.

Wondering if I will sit here forever.

Crushed

New grief.

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I drew this a few months after Samuel died, when words were hard.  Those first four endless months I was crushed with impossible weight.  I moved slowly.  My face was too heavy to smile, and I could hardly see anything happening around me.  It was like having a concussion.  I heard people’s voices through a fog, and their words didn’t make sense.  They kept asking me to give direction to this landslide that was supposed to be my life.  “Call me if you need anything.”  They were being kind.  I couldn’t.  I didn’t know.  I really didn’t know.

Please hold my hand.

I still feel this way a lot, but some days I’m stronger.  I am starting to understand what I need.  I’ve trusted a few people enough to ask, and they have been gracious.  Some days I struggle out from under the rocks and limp around, my legs mangled and bruised.  I laugh occasionally.  I talk to people without my thoughts screaming, “Samuel’s dead, can’t you see me?  He’s DEAD!” through the whole conversation.

Still, most days I just need someone to hold my hand.

 

Awkward

I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since the funeral.  I expected to catch up a few minutes, to find out how she’s been.  And I expected something like a hug or a sincere, “Oh I’ve been thinking about you, how’ve you been?”  Instead she got too loud.  “HEY!!!  How’s your SUMMER?  So much FUN, right?!!??”

I couldn’t do it.  I smiled, agreed, and escaped.  I hate the awkwardness that clogs 90% of my interactions now.  I see it in people’s eyes.  No one knows what to say.