Why NOT me?

I’m going in a few hours to get a large cyst on my thyroid biopsied. Yeah, you read that right, I’m being tested for cancer today.

This came out of nowhere. I went to an internist last week just to establish a primary physician and she noticed a lump on my thyroid. She sent me to ultrasound and then referred me to the endocrinologist. After meeting with the endocrinologist last Friday, he ordered a biopsy of the cyst.

The cynical part of me says, “Of course I’m being tested for cancer. When it rains it pours right?”

The desperate part of me says, “SERIOUSLY GOD? What else are we going to have to endure this year?”

The optimist in me says, “I don’t have cancer. This is just a routine precaution they have to take. I have a lot of positive things going for me, like normal blood work, no family history of thyroid cancer, and the fact that the cyst is largely cystic and not a solid mass.”

The pessimist in me says, “Yeah, I have a lot of things going for me. But let’s be honest, I had great odds that my baby son wouldn’t die of SIDS but that didn’t work out in my favor did it?!”

I want to be clear that I am quite hopeful that I don’t have cancer. Like I said, I have a lot of positive things going for me. And the endocrinologist said that these cysts are “typically benign.” But it’s hard. Still reeling from the loss of Charlie three and a half months ago, I no longer live in a naive reality where I am invisible. Before losing Charlie, I lived in the reality of, “That wouldn’t happen to me!” Then I lost Charlie and struggled for awhile with “Why me?!” And now I’ve largely entered this new state of mind where I think “Why NOT me?”

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Alone

John 14:18 is a popular scripture and also a personal favorite:

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”

I remember not too long after Charlie died, I had a memorable conversation with my aunt Ann. This conversation was memorable for a couple of reasons. First, I rarely get to see my aunt Ann, let alone connect on a personal level. Secondly, my aunt Ann is intimately acquainted with grief, having lost two of her three children in separate tragedies about ten years apart. I loved how eager my aunt was to talk to me about my experience and her willingness to share her own.

One thing she said in particular really struck me. We talked about how we felt buoyed up by the Spirit and that God helped us endure those initial days, weeks, months of grief. Then my aunt Ann told me she remembered the exact day the Spirit began to withdraw during her grieving process. This was such a hard experience for her but she acknowledged that she couldn’t have stayed in that spiritual haven forever or else she wouldn’t have continued to progress.

When we talked at the time, I couldn’t relate to that part of her experience. During those initial weeks and months, while I didn’t consistently notice I was being comforted, I can clearly see now how I was being carried through that experience. I feel I didn’t fully appreciate the constant comfort I received until it left.

During those initial grief days the comfort of Heaven was so close. Heaven felt so close! It was so close at times I would call it tangible. I felt a tangible peace. I felt the presence of angels. I felt the influence of the Holy Ghost. I felt Charlie close by me at times. So while those days were hellish in their own right, they were also so spiritually powerful and comforting.

I feel much different now. I feel like what happened to my aunt Ann happened to me this last month. It began with that entry describing how I felt the Heavens were closed to me. I haven’t felt the comfort I’ve so desperately wanted in awhile now. I don’t feel those angelic beings close to me anymore. I feel very alone. And I HATE it.

While it may be too unfair to say I’m completely alone, it sure feels that way. I believe there is still Heavenly aid being sent my way, but it’s not noticeable like it used to be. And subsequently, this trial has become harder in a different way: I am being forced to walk on my own when all I want is to be carried again!

In this experience I’m finding it very difficult to not feel sorry for myself. I’m finding it very difficult to not feel jealous of others and their “perfect” lives. I’m finding it hard to not be angry at God.

I’m hoping, like my aunt Ann expressed, that the withdrawal of the Spirit is necessary for my progression. I believe that in theory. I know I can’t be carried the rest of my life! I know have to walk on my own two feet again. But it’s also hard not to feel hurt by this withdrawal. As if I haven’t experienced enough?! Can’t I continue to feel that palpable love for a little while longer? Like, just the rest of my life?

Even though I can’t feel God’s comfort the way I did before, I hope He is still close by. I hope this experience is like when I’m hiking with Hailee. Invariably, for a lot of the hike, Hailee would love to be held. I’ll hold her for awhile but then I’ll put her down to walk on her own. She whines and cries for me to pick her back up but I tell her she’s “a big girl and can do it!” Then I reach out to her and offer her my hand to hold along the way. I hope that even if He’s making me walk on my own two feet, He’s still holding my hand.

Grief’s agenda

Recently one of my friends asked me, “When you feel sad these days, is it because of memories of Charlie or because you are thinking of what he would be like now?” My response was, “neither.”

That isn’t always true of course. I get sad thinking about memories of Charlie or seeing little baby boys that are the age he would be now and imagining what he would be doing with me. That all makes me sad. But interestingly enough, those thoughts and memories usually make me fleetingly sad. Like, I’ll be sad for a few hours, tops. But the days that consume me with sadness are a different beast completely. I don’t get to decide when grief hits me. Grief seems to decide when I need to do more grieving.

It’s like I said in two entries ago, grief is a physical presence that takes up residence. I’m learning, that like labor, grief is something my body intrinsically knows how to do and I’m learning to trust the process.

(I’m finding lots of analogies work with grief: waves, rollercoasters, labor, etc. But let’s stick with labor for now).

Like labor, grief comes in contractions. Some contractions are more painful and closer together than others, but sometimes days will go by without a grief contraction. I think the longest I’ve gone without a grief contraction is a week. That was a nice week.

But grief is work my body and soul need to do. My body and soul need to process the trauma of losing my baby Charlie. It needs to mourn. And when grief imposes it’s agenda on me, I am learning to accept it (I have no choice).

“We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.” -Marcel Proust

Just like labor, when a contraction hits, the instinct is to fight it. But fighting the contraction makes it worse. “What we try to avoid will stay, demanding its due, the pain compounding like unpaid interest as we add to the burden of loss the burden of trying to hold the pain at bay.”

I’ve tried at times to distract or avoid, but as you’ve read about my experiences, grief always wins. Grief’s agenda trumps any agenda I have. So I need to let it do it’s work on me and then, like a contraction, it will suddenly end and I’ll be ok until the next one hits.  And gratefully, unlike labor where contractions get closer and closer toward the end, I am finding the time between contractions lengthens and I get days of respite and relief.

But just like labor, I believe each grief contraction progresses me further.  In labor, you can’t feel how the contractions dilate your cervix and bring you closer and closer to delivering your baby, but suddenly you are “complete” and ready to deliver. Grief contractions won’t give me a baby (although I wish they would!)…but I believe they are progressing me toward some unknown destination. I don’t know when I will reach that destination, but I do believe as I let grief transform me, the resulting product will be beautiful and worth it.

 

New respect for life

Since Charlie died I have developed an intense respect and reverence for life…all life, no matter how small. I appreciate butterflies in ways I never have before. I listen to the birds singing early in the morning as I’m still sleeping and I’m don’t get annoyed like I used to. People make fun of me for my sensitivity to life…because it is, well…really sensitive.

For example, Hailee likes to dig for worms. She gathers them into a pile and likes to sift through them, fingering each one. One week I found that she had used something to cut some of the worms in half and they had died. I was quite upset that this had happened. I wasn’t mad at Hailee, but I was sad these poor creatures had died. Those around me reacted like, “Come on, they’re just worms.” But they’re not just worms to me anymore. They are alive and they matter.

Subsequently, when Hailee digs for worms, I make sure she doesn’t hurt them. Further, when she places them on the bricks around the planter beds, I find myself covering them with dirt to keep them cool and moist. She complains about this and I know I greatly diminished her fun in digging for worms, as she rarely asks to dig for them anymore. But I just want to make sure the poor creatures stay alive!

This sensitivity extends beyond worms. I freaked out a little last week when a butterfly flew right in front of our car grill and died. At least I’m pretty sure it died. I didn’t find it on our car when we stopped. I had a hard time watching my nieces and nephew fish for the first time, even though it was catch and release, because I didn’t like seeing the poor fish get hurt. The other week I pulled out a toy from one of Hailee’s toy boxes and a spider crawled out. Normally I would have gotten a paper towel and squished it. Instead I wished it on its merry way and silently hoped I wouldn’t regret the decision by finding a bite on Hailee or me sometime later. (Haven’t found a bite yet)

While others may not understand this new sensitivity I have, I don’t mind it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for me to love and appreciate all the creatures on God’s earth and respect their lives. Charlie’s death has truly taught me that life is fragile, short, and beautiful. Even if that life is the small life of a slimy garden worm.

The guilt of my grief

I’ve begun to feel guilty about my grief. Not guilty that I still experience it, but guilty for the impact my sadness may have on others. When grief strikes (often unexpectedly) there is nothing I can do to stop it. It is a physical being that takes up residence inside of me and it hangs out until it’s done it’s work on me. If I resist it, it only gets worse. So I try to accept those grief moments when they come. But sometimes they come at the most inconvenient times.

So if I go out into public or hang out with friends during a grief day, I feel like a little black rain cloud floating around. I worry about others around me feeling helpless. I worry about bringing them down. I worry about them wondering why I seem just as sad as when Charlie died. I worry about them feeling the need to cheer me up. I worry about them growing tired of me and my company. I worry about the kind of mother I appear to be right now.

I’m already judging myself as a mother. I feel guilty that Hailee is struggling learning her colors and I just don’t seem to have the energy to teach them to her. I feel guilty that she is watching more tv now than she ever has. I feel guilty when I put her down for her afternoon nap and she is still in her pajamas from the night before and her hair still hasn’t been brushed. I feel guilty that cooking meals and running errands can still be so hard for me.

This quote, from A Grace Disguised, helps me a little with the guilt:

“Sorrow indicates that people who have suffered loss are living authentically in a world of misery, and it expresses the emotional anguish of people who feel pain for themselves or for others. Sorrow is good and gracious. It enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously…However painful, sorrow is good for the soul.”

I believe this, more in theory than in reality right now. Right now I grieve because I have to. Losing Charlie has broken my soul and it needs time and attention. Subsequently, I am compelled to grieve when those grief days hit.

But I have hope that this grief will enlarge my soul in ways I can’t anticipate. I believe it will enlarge my soul so that I can experience joy and mourning simultaneously, and I also hope it will lead me to greater depths of feeling, loving and understanding in my relationships with my family, friends, the world, and the Divine.

But sometimes (most of the time), grief just sucks. And I wish I could grieve in isolation so that I didn’t burden others or negatively impact my family. But maybe this is another task of grief? To learn to grieve and live simultaneously? To not withdraw from others when I’m sad? To not criticize myself for my failings as a wife, mother, friend, but congratulate myself for getting out of bed and showing up?

I showed up at a play date yesterday with some friends. I was anxious showing up in my grief state, knowing I completely lacked the energy to fake it. But they were wonderful and accepting. I know they wished they could help and they did help, by having no expectations for me and allowing me to be with them, even if I was sad at what was supposed to be a happy venue.

So I may not be able to mourn and experience happiness simultaneously yet, but I am trying to grieve and live simultaneously. Showing up on Saturday showed me I can do that, even if it is hard.

Angelversary # 3

Alas, we have passed another angelversary. Three months ago today Charlie got his angel wings. Per new tradition, we made the day, a day of service. After last angelversary, Chad asked to be more involved in the service project and so requested I not do something with sewing. 🙂

So this month we put a lot of effort into assembling 20 craft kits for kids to put together at the hospital. We assembled kits for the kids to make a catapult game we entitled, “Angry birds target practice”

and a firefly that zips along a zipline

Thank you Don and http://www.kiwicrate.com/ for the ideas!

I think finding all the products necessary for these projects, as well as time spent assembling the kits, certainly added up to a more intensive service project than my receiving blankets from last month! But definitely worth all the effort.

And everyone got involved.

Even if Hailee wasn’t super excited that kids in the “hopsital” got all the pretty presents.

This evening Chad and I went on a date together to the LDS temple, where we were able to feel a lot of peace. Afterwards we enjoyed dinner, and then visited Charlie before returning home to get Hailee to bed.

Overall it was a sad but meaningful day. I loved how much of the day I got to spend with Chad honoring our baby boy.

Happy 7 months Charlie!

Happy birthday my sweet 7-month old angel in heaven! 7 months old seems so big! It’s hard not to imagine what you would be doing if you were alive. Like how I know you’d be crawling right now and sticking everything you can get your hands on in your mouth. I wonder what foods you would like and what you would turn up your nose at? I imagine how your sister would make you laugh with endless games of peek-a-boo. I imagine how you’d love to crawl around at the splash pad on a hot day like today until your diaper was so soggy it dragged to your knees, but you’d still throw a fit if I pulled you away. If only these imaginings could be real.

Yesterday I went in your nursery for something. I haven’t been in there in a long time; it’s just too hard. But yesterday I lingered for a few minutes. I put my hand in your crib, on the imprint that is still there from where you used to sleep. I can still clearly define where your body and head slept, right underneath your animal mobile.

On my way out of your room, my eyes fell on your diaper genie. It crossed my mind, “I wonder if..?” I opened the diaper genie and lo and behold, there was a dirty diaper from you still in there!

That was it, I totally broke down. Seeing that dirty diaper was so unexpected and yet so welcomed! That dirty diaper is concrete evidence that you were here, in our home, in my arms, in our lives! It is evidence that you breathed, ate, slept, and yes, pooped! So special to me is that dirty diaper of yours, that I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. So I just tied up the trash bag and left it in your diaper genie. That diaper genie is doing a great job of keeping smells in because three months later and I didn’t catch a whiff! I trust it will keep your smells in until I’m ready to dispose of your last dirty diaper.

I love you and miss you so much my mister-mister!

Happy 7 months! Tell Grandma Manwaring to give you 7 big kisses on your sweet cheeks for me today!