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.
In November my Granny died. It wasn’t a shock or surprise, she had been unwell for a while. But it was hard, nonetheless. My family gathered around her bed. Without me. Everyone got to say their goodbyes. I, thankfully, had done something like that the last time I saw her. My aunt said that they should have called me. I didn’t want her to feel bad, our guilty for not calling me. I told my aunt that I has a lovely weekend in my ignorance. Which is very true, it was a great weekend.
But, this grandmother of mine… she was quite the woman.
While at my Granny’s house with two of my aunts they found her birth certificate. That she had changed to make her age the same as my Grandfathers. They married two weeks after meeting. He has lied to her about his age. Turns out the 40’s sucked and if you were older than your husband people may judge you. She was not going to put up with being judged by anyone, so she changed her birth certificate. What nerve!!
At the time there was no base housing in Nova Scotia. Grandpa was in the Navy. They were some of the first to move into the new apartments. A three bedroom for Grandpa, Granny and their 7 children. I asked her once how she did it. How did she parent 7 children with Grandpa gone most of the time. I was a new military wife and missing my husband greatly. She looked out the window, laughed and said it was a wonder she didn’t throw them out the window sometimes. Then she talked about how after the kids were in bed she would tidy up and look in at them and promise herself she wouldn’t yell at them tomorrow, but she always did. But that she loved them so much that having Grandpa there didn’t matter, and that it was all she had known.
Then there was the fact that she got a JOB! A married woman in the 50’s and 60’s working outside the home!!! Grandpa was not happy, it made it look like he couldn’t support them he said. But she was able bodied and she wanted to get the kids clothing at the store she worked at. He relented, as she won all the battles that were important to her.
Or the time when she went to the hospital when her leg broke. She was stuck in a room with three other women who were not mobile. One was being rather belligerent. Yell and screaming curses at people. My Granny led the other women in singing above the yells. The belligerent woman threaten to kick my Granny’s …. to which Granny replied; ‘Well dear, I would like to see you try.’
Don’t mess with Granny.
But what I have lost in her death hurts more. Losing her hurts, of course! She always gave the best advice. But what I lost was the connection to my family. There will be no more Christmas Eve’s with the extended family at her house. Some of my cousins have already left my life and probably will never be a part of it again. In fact, Gifts funeral was the first time my Love met one of my cousins. We had been together for 20 years. I invited people back to our house after Gift’s funeral, but no family came.
These people, whom I love so deeply. Unless I work harder will be lost from my life forever. I don’t want that. But I also can’t make them want to be around me. All I can do is my best. And pray for them. I can pray for them.
Thank you God, for my family. Every single last one of them, my many cousins, Aunts, Uncles and all their children. Thank you for the blessing you gave us in my Granny. Our Granny.
Dear Neighbours who were the first on the scene with me:
When your family first moved in I was so excited. You all seemed so lovely and thoughtful. Your girls so sweet and engaging. We lived as neighbours whose children played together frequently. We would have nice conversations together while watching our children being children. And you were home. Thankfully. On the day Gift died.
Against all odds, you were outside by the fence right when I needed you. And you jumped it without hesitation. One of you assessed the situation and the other took little Cupcake from my trembling arms, ushering me upstairs. One helped me with CPR while the other called 911. All the while your oldest child, same age as Gift, supervised terrified Curly, Sweetness and her own sister.
You got ahold of my Love to bring him home. One of you stayed with me while the other took Cupcake to the other children.
You opened your home to not only my children as we were escorted to the hospital, but also to my best friend. All the while keeping what you saw in complete confidence.
I have been blessed by you.
I have failed blessing you.
I am sorry that we don’t talk any more. I don’t like how it feels to look upon this anniversary and not be able to thank you. Because I am so incredibly grateful for you all.
Maybe, before either of us is posted out, we will figure out a way to end our time together with us being able to talk.
That would be my hope.
We spent the last week of my Love’s time away at a church camp. Our mornings were filled with VBS (Vacation Bible School) singing many wonderful songs that would make me choke back my tears. The afternoons were a mix of Bible study and beaches.
Except Friday. Friday my friend took us to ‘The Falls’. It is an old dam that did some kind of mill at some point but is now just a lovely flowing rapid and a bridge over the dam. It was a little scary for me because I am terrified of heights. The thought of my children falling and getting hurt from any height causes me to feel dizzy and a little sick to my stomach.
These little rapids were running a little fast because of a huge rainfall the day before. Curly got stuck and was unable to get up and was too scared to let go. I waded out and got his hand, but he just wasn’t strong enough to stand up in the current. My friend who took us there waded farther down the stream to a spot to catch Curly when I let him go. I did, he looked at me terrified but trusted that we were not going to let anything bad happen to him.
It was a scary moment for the both of us.
My friend ‘caught’ him (where she was the current was so minor he just stood up) and he said: “That was fun, I want to do it again!”
I waded down to my friend and we stood there while the kids figured out a way to float down the rapids without scraping themselves. (They didn’t, by the way, they had some scrapes to show for their adventure). But, while standing there she told me about her friend who died in the rapids. It was in June, and the current was too strong. His father watched, helpless, as his son was swept away because he couldn’t swim. I asked her if she found it hard to be at the falls because of this. No, she doesn’t.
As she tells me more about the tragedy all I can think about is the poor family. How horrible the father must feel. How deviated the mother would be. Did he have siblings? I say all the old, normal things like: ‘what a nightmare!’ And ‘how does a family recover from something like that.’ My friend smiles at me, probably thinking that I am being facetious. But I was being serious.
How DOES a family recover from this?!
I don’t know how a family recovers from this. What I do know is that recovery from a death looks very different for everyone. For me, being able to feel empathy for others is huge. For my Love, driving down my street in a certain direction is huge. But this day, listening about someone’s tragedy that wasn’t mine made me forget that I was still in the process of my very own. I didn’t forget about Gift, I will never forget him. What I did forget was the pain of losing him. I am no longer carrying around that heavy burden.
I watched as my friend (bottom left, looking all lovely) climbed the edge of the falls, walked out onto the outside of the bridge and jumped. Just jumped. No effort, no fear. No burden. Jumped. She then got out and climbed to the top of the railing and jumped. My biggest fear. Most parent’s fear is a child dying. I’ve done that. But what that fear is, really, is the anticipated feelings that come with something we can’t control. I can’t control death. I could stop my children from jumping because it scares me, but it doesn’t scare them. I would be asking them to not live a fun life just because I am too scared to let anything bad happen to them again. But I can’t stop bad things from happening either. What I can do is embrace the joy that living brings.
I can let go of the fear. I can let go of the things I can’t control and just fill my heart with joy.
As I realized that I had let go of the burdens of fear I decided it was time for me to take the plunge too. I don’t have to live in fear or ladened down with burdens too heavy for my heart to carry. So I took on my fear. I climbed out on the ledge, and I jumped.
When I jumped I released the loss and now just feel grateful for having what I have and what I have had. I let go of holding too tight and to just breathed easy again. It was cathartic, the fall and the cold water; washing over me. It felt different and fun, not being afraid. I really enjoyed my time there. I want to take my love there. And I would like to jump again.
(Note: All photos except the last are curtesy of Tanya Cooper, the last one is care of Casey Distefano)