Thursday, September 27, 2007

Good Grief


I’m one of those annoying morning persons.

I bounce out of bed, and bustle about making coffee, showering, scraping the fuzz on my cheeks (under the impression that a little facial scraping makes this ol’ mug of mine bearable).

Brenda shuffles about, trying to get her blood flowing and shake the resentment of being conscious after the bliss of sleep. I sing silly little songs, and if I am being especially insufferable, do a little dance. (I have most absurd dance moves, keeps my family in groans.)

I don’t really do a lot of groaning myself. There have been times when I groan internally and once in a while, when the heaviness in my heart makes it hard to step as lightly as I am normally wont, the groan slips out between my lips.

The year after Willy died that the internal groan slipped out quite a bit.

We had wanted children for so long. It was a constant ache. Every few weeks Brenda’s mood would let me know that her disappointment was fresh once again. That hasn’t ended.

We were talking quietly in the yard last night (I have been turning the weeds and vegetables over for Winter) and it came up again.

“I started my period today.”

I gave up on my portion of that dream long ago.

“I’m sorry.”

That longing for children has been carried in human hearts since before the first couple wandered out of The Garden.

That desire has dogged for over 27 years ago.

There were false joys. Twice she became pregnant. Each time she ended in the hospital, threatened by a tubal pregnancy.

On August 30th, 1992, on Brenda’s birthday, our first child was born. Though he was a touch fussy, we were very, very, very happy.

For three months and fifteen days.

I’ve talked with kids who have wondered how grownups gain their authority. What secret did their parents learn that made the mysteries of the adult world clear? What happened that changed them from ordinary people into grownups?

I tell such kids, every time I do a study skills program, that there was indeed such a moment, that there is a secret to being an adult. That someone did give them a special grownup secret. that I will tell them because they will not understand until it happens to them.

The secret to becoming a grownnnup is... them.

I tell them that there was a moment when their parents had someone walk up to them and hand them a baby and the whole universe shifted. They looked down at that baby and something clicked inside their heads and hearts. Suddenly they were no longer brother, or sister. They were no longer friend or son or daughter or employee or employer or any of the other appellations and roles they had carried for so long. All of that was shoved aside and they became... a parent. Their central identity was now mother or father.

I tell kids that their parents looked down at them, at their newborn bodies which were both so light and so heavy and saw a future of 18 or 20 years stretching out ahead in which they would have to help this tiny person who could not even work its hands enough to place food in its mouth, to become fully independent, fully able to go out into the world and find work and love and their own families.

It was a frightening moment when the fabric of the universe slipped out from under them and in the moment of internal vertigo they grasped a new identity.

I felt that joy. I have also felt its opposite.

That was a horrible moment in my life, that instant when I saw the blue lips of my child, when I frantically blew into his mouth and thumped emphatically yet gently at his little chest; that moment of three and a half months after the joy.


I walked numbly through the next few days. I was lost in confusion without sleep, without eating, without even the most basic responses to the needs of my body or reactions to the world outside of my breaking heart.

It was during year I learned a grief.

I felt destroyed inside.

I felt my life was empty, that I would never heal. I felt there wasn’t any point in looking forward to a future that no longer held the child whose entry into my life had changed my self image from an ordinary man to a father. My grief felt like a twisting spiky thing throbbing in my chest, all sharp edges, an odd shaped thing I could no longer bear to carry.

They pain was so deep I felt I could do anything, absolutely anything, to make the pain stop.

That lasted about a year.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons that year. Some right away, some are still coming to me.

One lesson came on the three month anniversary of Willy’s death. You can read about that here.

In general the year was painfully numbing, and oddly, painfully expansive.

Out of that experience with death I began to see the suffering in the world around me. I felt surges of emotion when I read about those who starve and weaken and die. There was a visceral reaction to news of famine and war and horrible diseases which cause so much suffering.

At the same time I felt greater joy than I had before. I was lifted by sunrises and rainbows and the life flowing throughout the world. I became ever more thrilled in the act of worship and in seeing the good that flows from the Hand of God.

It’s as if the emotional horizons of my heart were expanded. I felt greater sorrow and greater joy after the death of my first child.

Grief is a normal human experience. It surprises the adult who thinks he has felt all there is to feel.

Even our Lord, member of the Triune God, experienced the shock of grief:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

"Where have you laid him?" he asked.

"Come and see, Lord," they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb.
--John 11:33-38

Beautiful mystery. Divinity constrained by flesh. What a wonder that the Lord God can feel grief just like His mortal servants.

I think in grief there is an element of the loss of dreams, of expected experience in coming to the realization that we are entering the Desert of Loss.

I felt grief over the realization my children are mentally handicapped and they are incapable of learning the things I had hoped to teach them.

I felt grief over my son burning down our church.

I feel grief over finding a satisfying place in the world for my children. Their disabilities limit them so.

I grieve over current troubles too personal to describe here.

A sad thing. A sad thing, for the vision was beautiful. But like all human visions it was a product of imagination, perhaps of hope and love and longing as well, but primarily a product of imagination.

Perhaps the state I find myself in is a healthy thing. I have no clear idea of what my future will be. I know there will be a lot of change in it from thevision I had. But everything adapts. Everything changes.

“Change is growth, and growth is painful.” --Albert Einstein

If I can protect my heart as I change, allow it to grow rather than wither, then it will be OK.

It is OK to have vision. It is OK to try and to fail. It is OK to grieve.

To love is to take a chance at being hurt.

But I can love anyway. Take the chance. Maybe the future will be better than I can imagine. Maybe I will be hurt.

Joy is its own reward.

Grief brings the blessing of growth.

I’ll keep running at that football, hoping it will be there when I kick with all my might. If it isn’t... well I guess I’ll just lay in the grass a little bit, catch my breath, and take joy in the quiet blue sky.

4 comments:

becky said...

A heart that hurts is a heart that beats. by U2

I lost two children; I have the blessing of one. Sometimes I wish I could feel that pain real pain.

very moving Will.

becky

Barbara/Layla said...

I can't really describe in a few words how this post affected me, but it was powerful and I am so very thankful that you wrote it. There are several things you said here that I needed to hear today. Wow. Thanks

Felisol said...

Dear Will,
my heart is bleeding for you,- and your family.
I can't even say that time will heal.
That pain will always remain a part of you.
Our family friend Magda lost her only child when he was six month and she fourty.
She lived to be ninety, but still wept when she talked about "Little-boy".
Even so, she became a rolemodel to both my mother and me, because she and her husband later on adopted a mentally handicapt boy, Geir. When it turned out that he was retarded, they were offered a return of the "damaged" goods.
(Laws were different back then. Geir is two years elder than I am)They did not even put the offer up for concideration.
All their life they did what they could to care for Geir, even if they had to send him to a "home", he became very violent because of his special damage.
They never stopped to visit, and they inspired me for my education and my mother for 30 years of voluntary work.

I cannot give you any comfort, dear Will.
I cannot say that I understand.
I even always reacted to the Job's book in the Bible where the ending goes about how Job got his health and wealth back as well as a new wife and new children.

But I know He sees you and loves you wherever you are.
From Felisol on the far side of the sea.

Vicki said...

Your words are powerful and moving. I wish I knew what to say. All I know is that His grace is what keeps us in times like these. Wish I could blog as honestly as you.

Praying,
V.