grief

To Be Human

My dad died 6 years ago today. There are days it feels like only yesterday and days it feels like an eternity ago. These long moments and fast seconds of contemplating his life have passed with increasing regularity. It is in these moments that I find what I can only describe as profound humanity.

It’s not that I wasn’t human before. I was. It’s not that I didn’t understand death. I did. It’s simply that on September 4. 2012 my life lost its softness. To those who did not know us, it would be odd to characterize my father as a soft man. He was rough. He was tough. Most would remember him for his steely personality, full of flair but undeniably unchanging.

They say that the way you relate to your father is the way that you relate to God the Father. A rigid, correcting father leads you to believe in the sternness of God. A kind, gentle father leads you to believe in the caring nature of God. Whatever it might be, your father is your example. And I am no exception to the rule.

My father was no saint. Complicated and wounded, he fought through his life with a determinedness that forged on through every season. His life was a fight, one that would be won through the sweat of his brow and the determination of his mind. He was all steal and all metal. This was the father that I thought I knew.

And then I lost him.

I lost the incessant phone calls full of love and guilt and quiet curiosity. I lost the hugs and the gentle nudges to push forward with my next hare-brained idea. I lost the exasperated giggle when I dramatically retold my most recent hyperbolic interaction with the public in general. I lost the softness behind the steal.

In therapy I’m learning that the hardest part of grief is not grieving your memories, it’s grieving the potential of what you lost. It’s grieving the absurdity of the missed opportunity to argue over the 2016 Presidential Campaign. It’s grieving the loss of his wisdom while planning his mother’s funeral. It’s grieving all the hugs and the phone calls that would undoubtedly filled up the years. Those are the hard moments.

But, yet, even this has been a gain.

For it is in those moments of grieving my father’s softness that I see the softness of others. I’m able to cherish the text message from a friend or the late night phone calls. It’s the joy of hearing a friend’s surfing story and knowing that they will enjoy my latest email gaffe with the full kindness of knownness that only time can give. It’s the full celebration of seeing a dear friend’s face after all the years and enjoying the new wisdom in their gentle eyes.

I am grateful for my father. I am thankful that he showed me what it is to be both soft and strong. I am thankful that I can see both the softness and strength of God the Father through his example.

Mostly I am thankful for the community of people that are in my life, both Christians and non-Christians who have poured their lives into me through these long years. Their softness and kindness rekindling in me the knowledge of how deep and how wide and how high is the love of God.

It’s in these full moments of complicated grief I am able to appreciate what it means to be fully human and to hold on to those who are human with me. What a journey, what a gift to be able to walk alongside them even if our paths are short or our journey tumultuous.

What a gift it is to be human together.

So on this hard day I say:

To my dear, lovely friends, you are both salt and light to me. You are my softness and such a deep part of my strength. You help me discover the depth and heights of humanity with increasing grace and truth. I love you. I am thankful for you. You make my joy complete.  

Finding Family

Today would have been my dad’s 60th birthday.

It’s been a painful but enlightening five years since his death. The time has been full of mysterious joy and overwhelming sorrow. Walking through the grieving process of a parent’s early death is a perilous journey. It’s full of minefields of trauma and grenades of pain. Your hair falls out. Your body gives in. You can’t sleep and, when you do, you’re plagued by nightmares. It’s inescapable, unavoidable pain.

The months following my dad’s death were horrifying. I found myself without a job, without roommates, and without a purpose. My entire existence crashed down at my feet like an avalanche. Like Job, I lost everything. I couldn’t even keep the hair on my head.

But then the miraculous happened…

 

Friends slowed down enough to see my avalanche.

Looking past my facade of “I’m okay”, they saw the rubble I kicked under my shoe and the devastation I so desperately hid from the world, the rebuilding of my life that was going nowhere. They saw past my ‘Christianese’ insistence that “I can do all things through Christ” and my faulty theology that there’s no room for grief in God’s Kingdom.  

Seeing my desperate, sad state, they did what no one had done before. They sat amongst the rubble with me. Brick by brick they helped build back up my life, strengthening me through the process as I learned to have faith and life again.

For me this looked like moving closer to me. It looked like insisting I meet every week for pizza and beer (a tradition we still keep after 5 years) and handing me cookies and chores and hugs. It looked like praying over me but also being the active hands of God sowing hope into my soul when I was empty. It looked like insisting I go to therapy when I was, again, “just fine” and listening to my near constant state of confusion about life. It looked like hard truths and kind words.

It looked like family.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. - 1 Cor 14:4-7

In my early years of faith, church was relegated to a brick and mortar building. It was a place where I went on Sundays and Wednesdays to wrap my head around this ‘Big Guy in the Sky”. It was an idea.

It wasn’t until I walked this lonely road of grief that I finally knew what church was designed to be.

When Jesus says “Go and make disciples”, he’s not asking us to bring more people through the doors of a church. He’s asking us to be THE CHURCH- to sit amongst the rubble of the avalanches and to love well. To leave behind our denominations and our squabbles, our differences and our fear and… love well.

When I think of the Kingdom of God, I see Thursday nights of pizza and kindness. I see chunky baby arms reaching out to hold you and warm apple cider simmering on the stove. I see holding hands as we cry in prayer and laughter that could fill a thousand cathedrals. I see sacrifices both small and wide that show God’s vast, insurmountable love even in the midst of our deepest pain. I see unlikely friendships forged through toil, pain, and perseverance.

When I think about church, I finally understand it's not just a hobby or a building, but a family of love that looks like this:

The family of God is patient.

The family of God is kind.

It doesn't boast.

It isn't proud.

It doesn’t dishonor others.

It isn’t self-seeking.

It isn't easily angered.

It doesn’t keep record of wrong.

The family of God doesn’t delight in evil.

It rejoices with truth.

It protects, trusts, hopes…

It perseveres.

A Grief Reserved

*Written in 2014*

For weeks, I have sought to articulate what is particularly hard about grieving after a miscarriage. I began reading “A Grief Observed” by C.S Lewis today and, for the sake of those near me in the coffee shop, I only read a few pages at a time.

The hardest thing about my pain has been my reservation to share it.

My life is an open book, and I chose to write some about my grief a week or so after our loss. I shared my fears and my faith as I acknowledged my time of grieving. But now I struggle through the reality that to others, who do not know the pain personally, a miscarriage sounds like a sad event (singular).

When you lose a loved one, others who knew them grieve with you. They miss the person with you. Those closest will feel the loss more, but memories are shared with many when you find yourself in a place where the lost loved one used to reside. You get to a point, as slow as it may be, where the memories bring a smile and you can tell stories about them again without crying.

I know it has only been a few months, but I feel paralyzed in a state of pure sadness. Moving to the acceptance stage has been so hard because I can’t talk about any of the memories I have. I can’t talk about being on vacation with friends and waking Bryan up, wide-eyed from seeing “Pregnant” on a little white stick. I can’t tell about how funny it was to whisper questions like, “is this really real?!?” when we felt like screaming.  I can’t talk about the day I got back to work and started throwing up 4 times a day. I can’t talk about going to the doctor and confirming what was slowly sinking in: I was a mom! Or the joy I felt the first time we saw our baby on the screen, followed by the secret question of, “So what am I supposed to be looking at?”

Instead I have to reserve my grief.

No one wants to hear, “back when I was pregnant,” when you don’t have a child to show for it.

It’s too hard and too awkward. No one is really willing to enjoy your fond memories with you, because they don’t know what to say- to them all your pregnancy represented was a sad event. I keep passing these dates that serve as monuments of memories and I have no idea how to look at them without breaking down.

There is this cloud of “normal” that follows me around bringing to mind all of the things that would be different if I were having a baby in April. My grief isn’t isolated to a place or an activity that he used to go to, or do with me. It is in every cup of coffee I drink. It is in the clothes that still fit me, the glass of wine at dinner, the plans for our house, and my social agenda. Everything that stayed the same is a loud reminder of what could have been.

There is no certainty, and the attempt to assure me everything will be fine and I will “surely be a mom,” doesn’t sink in. My miscarriage was more than just a sad event in my life. It was a loss- a loss of someone, not something. That someone would have, and did for a short time, affect my entire day. We talked together and dreamed together. I made plans with him. I made sacrifices for him. I loved him. And he is gone.

I don’t and can’t expect anyone to miss him like I do. It makes me sad that no one else got to know him like I did. But what is worse? I can’t even tell people about him. I know that every woman deals with miscarriage different, so I don’t think there is a “right” thing to say. But having gone through this experience I will from now on respond like this:

 

“I am so sorry for your loss. I wish I could have met your child. Your child will be missed in this world, for I am sure with a mother like you, he or she would have been a joy to be around. I know you must be so sad, and I am sad with you. If you ever want to talk about your child to me I will always be willing to listen. If you need to get out of the house, you are welcome in our home for dinner tonight- we can cry together or just sit and talk. Please let me walk through this with you.”

 

***I now have two rainbow baby girls, yet the pain of this loss still hits me. I feel weird every time someone asks how many kids I have. I feel hesitation when I refer to my oldest daughter as my "firstborn". For those of you missing babies lost, I am missing with you.***