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, and certain I had an unfortunate magic touch that could destroy any relationship. 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 told us they loved us. They 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. 

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.

Brave

My friends have become brave, and my world has become lighter.

This past week or so we haven’t felt so alone.  Multiple people have reached out to us, reaching over that frightening empty space that surrounds us.  And they thought they were just talking to me or bringing me lunch, but really they were healing my heart.  The anger that I’ve fought against for the last two months has started to melt away.  I was helpless against that anger, but my courageous friends have fought it for me. 

One friend brought over lunch.  I warned her that I wasn’t very good company, but she came over anyway.  We ate chicken salad sandwiches and talked for two hours.  She also came by on Sunday and picked up our kids and took them to church for us.  I’ve felt guilty that we hadn’t been taking the kids to church, so that was a true gift. 

Another friend sat with me for hours over coffee at Panera.  She didn’t judge me and sometimes even made me laugh, which is no easy accomplishment. 

A sweet lady from our Bible study offered to come over and show me how to paint with acrylics.  I’ve been working with watercolors, but had thought about trying something new.  She showed me how she illustrates verses and prayers in her Bible, beautiful work. 

Several people have emailed to tell us they are praying for us. 

There is still indescribable sorrow in our family, sorrow that threatens to tear us apart.  But some of the darkness has gone away. 

Dying in Plain Sight

The aftermath of Samuel’s death is harder than I thought.  Losing Samuel has been all the pain you would imagine…crushing sadness, emptiness in every corner of the house, missing him all the time.  But I’ve been caught off guard by how an ugly change has curled it’s fingers into every other area of our family.  We haven’t just lost Samuel, we’ve lost the rest of our lives as well. 

I feel as if I have died too, only I’m still here, occupying space, and people still expect things of me.  I have a hard time engaging Jeremy and the kids.  I just don’t have the mental energy to listen to them, to play, to laugh.  I am tired, so tired.  I catch myself sitting at the table and staring, while everyone else eats and talks.  The world feels so heavy it’s literally hard to smile.  And my mothering tasks suffer too.  We’ve had days where we’ve eaten cereal for all three meals.  When the kids can’t find clean clothes I tell them to pick something off the floor.  I don’t want them to be in therapy someday talking about when their little brother died and their mom disappeared into an unending pit of sadness.

I have two kinds of days.  Some are plain sad days, just sadness.  I miss Samuel and I cry half the day.  On these days I have some grace to extend to others.  I recognize that people don’t engage us because they don’t know what to do.   Or I know that people care, but understand their need to not to get overwhelmed by our sadness.  They need to move on with their lives, that’s good.  This is our fate, not anyone else’s. 

The other days are more dark.  I’m angry, hopeless, confused, guilty, but mostly angry.  And on those days it’s hard to see that we are anything but alone.  People cared when the accident happened, of course.  There was some sort of morbid allure, people were appalled, thankful that it wasn’t them, grieved for us.  But then the funeral was over and everyone quickly moved on to get away from the impossibleness of it.  And we were left alone.  And I’m furious.  I don’t know where God is, I don’t know why he did this, I’m mad that I’m supposed to trust him and turn to him for comfort when he’s the one who is breaking us.  That doesn’t make sense. 

But I’m also ashamed of my anger, because it’s unfair to ask anyone to feel this with us.  It’s so deep and overwhelming. 

I’m trapped here. Surprised that at the end of each day, I’m still somehow breathing. 

Untouchable, alone. 

The Anger Phase

I can’t depend on people or expect anything from them.  I have to do this on my own.

My life is a gaping pit that can’t possibly be filled or soothed right now.  I can’t put that burden on other people, it’s too much.  They can’t do it, they have their own lives, and my needs are immense.

And besides, they aren’t even trying. 

The accident was riveting, I get that.  We were flooded, overwhelmed with support and interest.  And it disappeared after the funeral, as if everyone was annoyed that we didn’t serve a buffet for all of their efforts.  So, silence.  Nothing.  Did they care?  Probably a lot of them did, and they certainly were horrified and shocked.  They can’t imagine.  They are thankful that it isn’t them, naturally.  But frightened that it happened so close to them. 

I see people startle when they see me, and then hastily busy themselves with something so they can pretend they didn’t notice me.  Honestly, that’s one of my preferred responses.  It stings, yes, but maybe we are both relieved to avoid speaking with each other.  The worst are the people who see me and pour out their anxiety and guilt on me.  “I’m so sorry I haven’t called…I don’t know what to say…lets get coffee…we’re busy this week with gymnastics and travel soccer, but I’ll call you next week.”  And we both walk away knowing they will never call.  It was their anxiety talking.  It becomes my job to soothe them, assure them that it’s OK, no one else knows what to say either.  I hold them up.  It’s exhausting, and feels like crap when they make promises that they don’t keep. 

And then others are genuine, but they choose the wrong time.  They wait until they see me somewhere.  I show my face in public because I have to, not because I’m looking for conversation.  I don’t want to cry in the school lobby when I’m trying to pick up the kids, and if I’m buying groceries then I’m doing my best to make it back to my car before I lose it.  If you haven’t spoken a word to me in 2 months, don’t attempt a deep conversation in the grocery store.  It’s not the place. 

So I hide, put off obligations as long as I can, and rush through any task that takes me out of the privacy of my home.  And I weep when I get back, because of the pain of dealing with so many misguided people. 

But at home, there is silence.  I can go two weeks without an email or phone call.  After so much attention, no one seems to care.  And I’m angry, angry that everyone is failing me so badly when I need it the most.  Angry if I get on Facebook and see the trivial things that they use to fill their day, instead of taking 30 seconds to send me an email.  Angry that people who said they would be there for us are nowhere to be found.  Angry that people say things like, “We want to support you but we never see you.”  Showing my face in public might make everyone else feel better, but it is in no way helping us.   

I don’t want to be angry, so I need to lower my expectations.  If I expect nothing of others, I won’t be disappointed.  I can do this on my own.  I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain.  I am a rock, I am an island.  But how to do this with strength instead of despair?