I was afraid to go to sleep last night, knowing that my dreams were going to be heavy. I knew this because dear friends are now walking this road of loss too.
I dreamed this morning that I was walking along my street, with a friend (not the same friend), barefoot. She asked me why barefoot. I told her it was a physical representation of my grief. People could see and relate to the pain of being barefooted.
Then I woke up.
There were feelings still, remnants of the dream. How my feet were sore and how my Love’s flip-flops that hurt his feet were at his work. Her presence made me happy.
I wish no one ever had to walk this road. I wish I could take their pain away.
When I don’t know what to say to my kids, or how to talk to my kids about things I start asking them questions. I started with Curly because this lovely girl, Bea, tutored him. I asked what he remembered about Bea. Did he like his time with her? Why did he like his time with her?
By that point he became suspicious and asked about the questions. His broken heart shows through his eyes. His big, beautiful eyes. And the sorrow was obvious. I could see all his pain and loss brought back to the forefront. ‘Bea has siblings, you know. What would you tell them?’
“When ever you start feeling more sad and can’t really understand your emotions, try not to take it out on anyone else, or get a hug. That helps.” Poor boy.
Grief hurts. It hurts everywhere. In my dream I was showing my grief and the pain my grief caused. Every single step hurts during grief. And I don’t just mean figuratively. It hurts to walk. It hurts to breath
Knowing that my friends are going through this pain is unbearable. I remember thinking that so many people were unaffected. That they were going on with their lives and had no idea that my world was falling apart. I feel like I shouldn’t be going on about my daily life. Not with their world is falling apart.
God has not abandoned them. And I know that they know this.
But I still wish I could make it better for them.
Before Gift was born one of our roommate gave us a little hat. White, with a smiley face embroidered on it. I can’t believe I don’t have a picture of at least one of the kids wearing it. The first four did. Usually home from the hospital. I think it got lost at the hospital when Cupcake was born. I was sad, but it wasn’t like I didn’t have memories of it, and I wasn’t going to have more children. So, maybe someone else would find it and love it. Then all their children would wear it and it would be a beautiful story they would share. About how they found this adorable hat and that all their children wore it.
Then I was so sad when I realized that Cap would never get to wear it. Wear his big brother’s hat. I kept that to myself because it was such a silly thing to cry over. We had very little for ‘the new baby’ so my Love took me out and we bought the outfit he is wearing in the picture above.
It has the same shape as the hat. But the new colour is just so wonderful. And talk about soft! I love this hat.
For me there is some kind of link. An unreasonable connection. I can’t share the other hat and Cap will never know Gift. But this hat. This inanimate object made me feel good. Safe. In control. For no reason. I loved this hat.
But it has been lost.
I tried to not think about it. It’s just a silly hat. We have more hats. Cuter hats. One that my Love bought specifically for Cap. But it isn’t the green hat.
But really, it isn’t about the hat.
It is the fear objectified.
The thought process of ‘If I just do…’ or ‘If I just get..’ then things will be better. That control one tries to gain after the unthinkable happens.
It becomes an obsession. ‘If I can just control how clean the underwear drawer is then the feelings of loss will be gone’.
No. No, they won’t.
And when you lose control over that then you have to face the reality that it really was never about the underwear drawer. But you could label your anxiety, and while you had the underwear drawer under control, your anxiety was the underwear drawer. But not really. Your anxiety is still in you.
You are not your anxiety.
My grief and anxiety are linked. I miss Gift. I can’t bring Gift back. I can’t share Gift’s hat with Cap. But I could get Cap a new hat. It was the best I could do.
Then I lost the hat.
I lost the hat!
It is gone. It’s a stupid hat! But losing it makes me feel like if I can’t keep a hat safe, how can I keep Cap safe? I couldn’t keep Gift safe.
I know they aren’t related. But there are moments that in my head they are. And I have to talk myself back from a full blown anxiety attack. About a hat.
Because a hat shows my love. It objectifies my love.
Is love an object?
No. But sometimes in my head it is. This hat shows how much I love Cap. It will show me I can keep him safe. But not like how I kept Gift safe, because I failed at that. And I feel terrible because if I can’t keep a offing hat safe how can I keep Cap safe?!
But that isn’t love. That is fear and anxiety.
We don’t live in fear.
We live in love.
I don’t need that hat to show I want to keep my children safe. Nor does it show my love. The fact that I walk around with his vomit on my shirt because I don’t want to put my sleeping baby down shows that I love him It makes him feel loved and safe. Not a hat.
Not a hat.
Not a hat.
In Sparta only two groups of people were permitted to have their names inscribed on their tomb: Spartans who died in battle and women who died in childbirth. Both are warriors.
As anyone who has ever been in labour can attest, it is quite the battle. Time has no meaning, you are not in control of your own body and you are in pain. A lot of pain. And it is hard work.
I have never been in battle. But I have been in labour. Just never birthed in the traditional sense.
Last month I had another caesarean. My first planned section, and it was done in the classical line. It has been the best experience to date! I feel AMAZING! My recovery is going great! I feel so powerful and defiant for the same reason: I have had my children cut out of my womb. MacDuff style.
Because of my previous sections, my body carries a lot of scar tissue and it becomes a startling concern for the obstetrician performing the surgery. Seeing as my first section was performed vertically, but the subsequent ones were horizontal, the intersection of the scars is horribly formed. There isn’t enough vascular support for it to heal well anymore. So, my very experienced surgeon decided to go into the first scar again. And avoid the lower area all together. Even on my uterus.
There is a difference between an emergency section, an unplanned section and a scheduled section. I can no longer have anything but a scheduled because of the new ‘special’ scar on my uterus, but I’m ok with that. While I didn’t die in child birth, I am still a warrior.
I have the scars to prove it.
And he is so worth it.
I tried doing the #mayweallheal this year. I found it really hard. Not because the prompts were difficult (they weren’t), not because talking about Gift’s death is hard (it’s not hard). But because I don’t feel like they apply to me. That somehow I am ‘broken’ and don’t fit the mold of a bereaved parent.
I don’t. No one does. Each of us are on our own path. And for me that means that I decided that I was going to navigate my own path. That I needed to follow my heart and God’s direction on this.
In the beginning people gave me things that they thought would be helpful, CDs, pamphlets, ‘guidance’. I didn’t read them. I put them aside and waited. Slowly, very slowly at times, stumbled through until I started to feel different. Like this loss, as horrible as it still is, isn’t the end of me.
I still love the same things. I still feel deeply. I still miss Gift daily.
But is healing the right word? What about adapting? Or continuing? What about living? When bad things happen we have to choose which direction we go. I want to live fully. I refuse to be held back by something I had no control over. I want to hold two places at one time: bereaved parent living life to the fullest. No regrets.
Devastation CAN cause growth, but only if you allow God to shape it. I’m not saying that you won’t feel like you can’t move forward. Sometimes staying where you are is what you are supposed to do for the time being. I’m not saying that you have to be accountable for your pain, the pain is real and needs to be explored. But don’t allow that to be what shapes you. I still live with regrets, but instead of them being the focus, they are the catalyst for change. God is the one who will guide you, please let Him.
I am not the typical bereaved parent. I don’t know if there is such a thing. I just want to be more than that.
There is so much responsibility in planning a funeral.
As my Love and I went to the funeral home to make the arrangements I realized that I am only responsible for caring about my family and what their needs are. That made my decision very obvious to me. This is about us. Our loss. Our boy. And how we wish to send him off.
The first song we chose we did so because the lyrics are truthful.
“It may not be the way I would have chosen
When You lead me through a world that’s not my home
But You never said it would be easy
You only said I’d never go alone”
The next song was also an obvious choice for us. The words of Job, who knew great loss.
This is where we parted company with many people. It is about being joyful. About it being about your day, for us that meant it was Gift’s day.
“And I’m gonna stretch so tall
In the great sky above me”
(What is less known about this video is that it was taken from a children’s show. One that I would watch with Gift, called Nana’lan. It was a puppet show, that had a puppet show in it. Maybe one of my favourite kids shows ever. I showed this to Gift and my Love not long before he died because I knew they would love it too.)
This is one of my all time favourite praise song. And we were given the precious gift of the artist singing it herself. That is love. I don’t know if I will be able to express my deep gratitude to her for doing so.
“My soul is ready, but sometimes the flesh is weak, I sing halleluia so the rocks will not cry out… Break the silence, loosen my tongue…. lift the weight now, so I can breathe…”
The next song. Well, there are just too many points to explain why. Gift brought so much colour to the world. Just because I can’t hold him or talk to him any more doesn’t mean the colour he brought is dimmed. In fact, it may be brighter.
This is the last song we sang. While it is officially called ‘From Here I Can See’, I knew it before it really had a name, and was called Josh’s Song
“From here I can see
all creation redeemed, Giving you Glory!
From this moment on
all our hearts will join the song, Giving you Glory!
All the sinners start to sing: “Christ the Lord is our King”
All the hungry people say: “Christ the Lord is risen today!”
All around the world, hearts are open, graves fall open wide
The body that was broken once again has come to life
From here I can see
that I have a part in this redeeming story!
You have brought me to life,
now it’s time for us to bring your light into the world and…”
Gift’s new, no REAL, home gives him the view in these lyrics. Gift is seeing God face to face, giving Him Glory in person!!! Gift has been brought to REAL life. This world is just a shadow of what really is coming.
In addition to what we sang, there was a trumpet solo of Jesus Loves Me. It was very moving.
I could write so much more about this. I could write about how much I loved this funeral. The joy, the praising, the dancing. I could write about how some people hated it, they were expecting something sombre. Wanting something that was not in Gift’s character. Gift was so full of life here on this earth. Why would we send him off with something lifeless? We were responsible for sending off our first born, my Love’s namesake.
And really… when it all comes down to it, when we come to the end…
In the end, we dance.
A few month after Gift died we were invited to a concert by a great friend who is apart of an amazing band. (If you have never heard of The Gertrudes, you are really missing out!!!) One of the many band members had recently had a child, their first. She stood there, at the front, talking about what being a new parent was like. They talked about how not only was this new child now apart of their life, but so was death. It was like it followed them everywhere, looming over them, following wherever they went.
Listening to her talk stung because death HAD visited us and took something away. And it sucked. But I totally understand what she was saying. Contemplating your own mortality is a subject of philosophy. Contemplating the mortality of your child is something that one can do, in the sense that of course, one day they will die. But only after they have buried you. No philosopher, no person wants to think about the chance that they may have to bury their child.
While my Love was deployed it weighed on me heavily that I was entirely responsible to ensure that our daughter, born with him away, needed to live long enough for her father to hold her. It kept me up at night. I would watch her, terrified that she would stop breathing. It was the most stressful time, because I knew that I wasn’t responsible for life any more than I was able to stop death.
But, I digress. What the band member said isn’t far from the truth. We have this life, that has been given to us to care for. We have this idea that we are in control of so much, but really it is just an illusion. And we all want to believe that children dying is that Urban Myth: it happens to other people, not me. Not to someone I love. That is not reality. I don’t control life or death. The only thing I control is my response. Even then, often, I react instead of responding.
When I found Gift, I reacted. It wasn’t pretty. It was primal and scary. In the hospital, I responded.
I am not dead. Until I am I am going to live life fully. Death doesn’t hold me back. Death freed me to be more of who I am meant to be.
I had to decide.
We were in the hospital, waiting. Waiting to hear if all the work my neighbour and I had done was enough. We were put in a private room, with a hospital social worker. While I already knew things were very bad I sat on the couch.
Time stood still.
I pleaded with God. ‘Oh please God, please, not my boy.’
Life isn’t supposed to be like this. When God designed the world He didn’t design death. Death happened because of sin… without it we cannot be in His presence.
But, there, in the hospital, knowing that Gift’s time with me was probably coming to an end, I prayed. No asked. I asked that whatever we were going to face that I face it with grace, dignity and with bring glory to God at every opportunity. I didn’t pray this because I wanted to be a bereaved parent. I prayed this because I knew that without God’s help I would fall apart completely.
I had to decide which me was going to face this tragedy. Was I going to be that mom who wore death like a weight, or was I going to allow God to clothe me in grace and beauty during the worst time of my life.
I don’t know that I did it well. But I tried to. I didn’t want people to be sad around us when God is bigger than death.
At the beginning of any path one has to decide which way to go. What attitude to have about the path (adventurous, sullen, disappointed, joyous or a combination of all of the emotions). I didn’t have a choice in the adventure as Gift was dead. But I didn’t feel lost. Instead, I felt God’s hands behind my back, encouraging me forward. “Don’t become stagnant”, and “Keep moving forward” was what I heard from God.
At the beginning I had to decide what I was going to hold onto; grief, or God.
I will continue to choose God. No matter where on the journey through life, the beginning IS God. Because in the end, I want my actions to reflect my faith. And when this life ends, I will be beginning eternity with the Creator.
I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.