Acceptance?

“See, as much as you want to hold on to the bitter sore memory that someone has left this world, you are still in it. And the very act of living is a tide: at first it seems to make no difference at all, and then one day you look down and see how much pain has eroded.” -Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

When someone you love dies, people often talk about the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages are not linear. I’ve recycled through the first four phases many times and expect I’ll continue to do so. My most frequent visitors are anger and depression. For the entire first year after Charlie died I didn’t even come close to acceptance. In fact, I kind of wrote that off as impossible.

I am not going to accept that my baby died! What are they thinking?! But then I learned that acceptance isn’t about being OK with Charlie’s death. It’s about accepting the reality that it’s NOT OK, and that, well, that’s just how it is. Well, even with that more tolerable reframe of acceptance, I still felt averse to it.

Then this totally unexpected, bizarre moment happened this week. I was thinking about Charlie and reflecting on the early months after losing him. I remembered the desperation I felt. Like someone had stolen the air from my lungs. There was a sense of urgency as if someone must fix it, make our lives whole again, make me whole again.

As I was remembering those times, I suddenly realized I no longer feel that sense of desperation and urgency. It’s no longer an undercurrent in my daily experience. I was totally taken aback by this realization and thought to myself, “Is this acceptance?”As soon as I thought that, I panicked and hastily retreated from the idea of it as I thought, irrationally, “If I accept his death, then he’s really not coming back.” I know he’s not coming back logically…but that information hasn’t completely integrated into my heart…and my heart isn’t quite ready to go there. But perhaps my heart is ready to be someplace else.

I feel like this quote by Martha Whitmore Hickman:

“After all our attempts to comfort ourselves and make sense out of dying, we are left with a huge hole in the fabric of our lives-‘I miss you, I miss you, I miss you. And then what? The absence begins to feel familiar, the edges of the psychic hole grow less sharp, maybe begin to grow together so we can walk along without being in perpetual danger of falling into the astonishing abyss of the person’s death. In time, the absence even mutates into another kind of presence. Someone has said that a child who dies is with you in ways a living child cannot be.”

I feel this has begun to be true for me. I’ve become familiar with Charlie’s death and absence. It’s not a comfortable existence…but it’s not the heart wrenching, soul crushing existence that I used to feel. Because it’s spring and I’m craving a good hike I’ll compare this to hiking.

You’re hiking along, loving the trail you’ve chosen, and then suddenly someone puts a dozen heavy rocks in your backpack. Initially the weight of them bowls you over and you struggle to get back on your feet. Then, when you finally manage to do so, for awhile along the trail you really notice the rocks and feel incredibly weighed down by their presence in your life. Despite your best efforts, the rocks don’t go anywhere. So you do the only thing you can do..keep walking. And as you keep walking, you slowly build stronger muscles and you get used to the rocks being there. Then you reconcile that those rocks will be in your backpack for the rest of your journey…and that’s just the reality of it…and somehow you keep journeying anyway.

I think that’s where I am…and if that’s acceptance…Well, no one is more shocked than me!

Even if I’m beginning to reconcile the existence of those rocks in my backpack and I keep walking, I’m still looking forward to the day when I am able to enjoy my journey again. I hope that’s the next milestone? (fingers crossed).

I am so grateful to everyone in my life who help me have moments of happiness. Who walk with me on my hike and remind me that even with the presence of the rocks in my backpack, I can look up and breathe in some beautiful scenery.

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Service: my grief outlet

Someone once asked me why I do the angelversary service projects and why I feel service is so helpful in my grief journey. Well, first I should say that I don’t hail myself the queen of service, by any means. Just ask Chad when was the last time he saw me clean the bathtub? Or much else for that matter? To my credit though, I do cook, empty the dishwasher, and fold laundry pretty well! Despite my lack of overall domestic service, I have found service to others to be foundational to my healing. I also feel answering this question is particularly salient after Charlie’s one year angelversary service project this last week.

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I’ve taken awhile to reflect on my answer because I’ve concluded I have multiple reasons for trying to do service projects to honor Charlie.

First, I have felt so broken by losing Charlie. This brokenness has left me feeling helpless so many times. I have felt many times that I have nothing to offer anymore. Like, I’m a breathing human mass that occupies space and not much else. But in the early months after losing Charlie, I read this quote:

“When your burden is heaviest, you can always lighten a little some other other burden. At times when you cannot see God, there is still open to you this sacred possibility, to show God; for it is the love and kindness of human hearts through which the divine reality comes home to men, whether they name it or not. Let this thought, then, stay with you: there may be times when you cannot find help, but there is no time when you cannot give help.” -George S. Merriam

This quote made me realize that even in my feelings of brokenness, I can still do something, something meaningful for others. And engaging in these service endevours helps diminish those broken feelings.

Secondly, it’s arrogant of me to think I have the corner on suffering and grief. Yes, there are times I feel so alone in my suffering and believe that no one else can get the depth of pain I feel. But more than anything, losing Charlie has awakened me to the reality that life is really hard and there are so many people out there who are also really struggling. I feel connected to this community of pain and sorrow and I want to do what I can to ease someone else’s burden, the way so many have sought to ease mine.

Thirdly, service gets me out of my head for a space of time. And that feels so wonderful. In reaching out to others, I am reaching outside myself and for those moments, I’m not locked in the dark swirling storm within my own heart. In those moments I am free and can feel that life can be, and is, meaningful.

Fourth, service in honor of Charlie is my way to keep him alive. It is my way to give him a legacy; to help him continue to leave an impact on the world. I am also allowing him to continue to impact me by striving to be the person he’d be proud to call his Mom. I want him to know how much my love continually flows for him and will never cease. But because he isn’t here, in the flesh, for me to love on, I am directing that love outwards, to others who need it. I hope in doing so, Charlie also feels that love directed at him and for him.

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Charlie’s one year angelversary

We officially passed the one year milestone last Wednesday. It has been a whole year since Charlie died. I thought I’d have more words for this experience but I am really struggling how to articulate what I feel and think. It’s kind of complicated. For this reason, I’ve waited a couple days, trying to see if the “dust will settle” so that I can better express myself. I still feel quite inarticulate but I want to talk about the anniversary and how it went.

As I advertised on this blog, I organized a big service project to honor Charlie’s memory. The grandiose idea for this service project was to complete 12 quilt tops in 8 hours that I can later complete and gift to newly grieving parents. This felt like a worthy way to spend Charlie’s angelversary. I was initially worried about not getting any space to feel anything or grieve because this service project would take all day. But it turned out this was fine because the project began at noon and my tears started to flow before I got out of bed. So I had the whole morning to cry, remember, go through photo books, and be with immediate family.

In the morning we went to Charlie’s grave where we decorated it with bronze orange and blue butterflies, flowers, and balloons.

It was a beautiful day and we had the cemetery mostly to ourselves.

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After decorating Charlie’s grave we released 12 balloons. As Hailee let go of hers she shouted, “Hi Charlie!”

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We cried, we hugged.

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I asked for a moment alone with my baby. I sat on his grave and found myself at loss for words. So I spent a couple minutes just sitting there, believing Charlie knew my heart and thoughts.

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Then, I stood up, took a deep breath and drove with my family to the church to get ready for the service project. For a little while it was hard to emotionally transition from grief mode into work mode but we had a lot of support. People brought food, flowers and we set up photos of Charlie. One of my good friends also made a photo book for people to sign and write comments.

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At noon sharp there was a huge influx of people ready to sew, cut, and iron fabric. We were overwhelmed with the show of love and support from friends, acquaintances, and women in our church. For a little bit there were so many people I didn’t have jobs for everyone to do. A few people left to bring back more sewing machines. As time went on, everyone settled in and things just clicked into a steady assembly line of help. My father-in-law demonstrated his meticulous ironing skills and my mom was the go-to person for sewing machine questions. After an hour or so of answering questions and organizing people, I got to sit down and sew myself.

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My best friends came as well as people I’ve never met before. People stayed for 30 minutes or some stayed for over six hours! One woman cut fabric for over five hours in a row! One of my friends spent six hours sewing a quilt from start to finish. It was simply amazing to witness all the diligence and effort everyone put into this project. At the end of the night we surpassed our initial goal of 12 quilt tops and ended with 14!

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After eating dinner at 9:30pm, we were all exhausted. The day started with tears but ended with smiles. We felt so loved and supported. And it felt so good to do something to serve others and honor Charlie. Already I have learned of three new angel moms to give quilts to and am eager to finish them so they can bring comfort to those newly grieving parents.

While I won’t say I felt happy at the end of the day, I did feel so much gratitude, love, satisfaction and something perhaps akin to joy. It ended up being a good day and I have so many people to thank for that!

Hints of spring

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I felt dread when I woke up, knowing today was another milestone; Charlie’s pseudo angelversary. I decided to be proactive today. So after dropping Hailee off at preschool, I went hiking up to this spot; my spot.

As I began the trail and quickly immersed into wilderness all around me, a wonderful, welcome calm settled in my soul. It was a cold, wet morning. The clouds were low and dense from a recent rainstorm. The path was soggy but not slippery. I could see my breath in the air. I could feel the moisture all around me. I loved it. Because of the weather, I had the trail completely to myself. I was alone in the mountains. And yet I didn’t feel alone. I felt connected, present, and peaceful.

Despite the chill, the birds were chirping and I spotted fresh deer tracks from a large family of deer. When I reached the reservoir, ducks swam peacefully on the water, calling to one another. I sat on a bench and watched the fog slowly begin to lift off the mountain ridges and moments of sunshine spilled onto the steep slopes, illuminating new snow and crisp evergreens.

As I breathed in the scenery I felt how much it mirrors my experience. I feel just like this chilly spring morning. I do feel like winter has passed. I am no longer in the frigid, hopeless depths of my grief. But spring has not yet fully sprung. There are buds on trees promising that spring is around the corner. The grass grows greener each day. There are sunny warm days when I feel any moment, spring will arrive. There also continue to be chilled mornings and rainstorms. But slowly, maybe even imperceptibly, the fog is lifting and moments of sunshine break through. This is not a bad place to be.

Easter

Dear Charlie,

I didn’t want today to be hard. I wanted today to be like other holidays we’ve passed since you died: easier than anticipated. I had hope today wouldn’t be so bad, after all isn’t Easter the most hopeful holiday of them all? Isn’t Easter the holiday that is supposed to remind me that our Savior broke the bands of death so that one day you and I will be reunited, never to be parted from each other again? That one day, the grave will no longer hold your little body captive?

The day didn’t start out too badly. In fact I had a good time watching your sister search for Easter eggs around the house. I smiled and laughed at her enthusiasm and pure joy each time she spotted another egg!

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But then it was time to rush off to church. As I anticipated church, I hoped to be edified. I wanted to feel peace and hope in messages about the Atonement. And the speakers did do an excellent job sharing beautiful Easter messages about Christ and the Atonement.

But instead of finding comfort in this faith, I was flooded with memories. I kept thinking about last Easter, when we were all together.

I remember how we were all in California and went with your Aunt Amy on the Felton train to let Hailee find Easter eggs in the redwood forest. I remember breast feeding you on the train and how I missed seeing Hailee hunt for eggs as a result. I also remember enjoying having the train all to ourselves for those twenty minutes. I remember how it was colder than we anticipated and we were grateful we brought your fuzzy blanket to keep you warm.

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I remember that last Easter, your Dadda taught you how to stick out your tongue.

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 I remember how excited we all were because the next day we were going to Hawaii!

These are happy memories of you, Charlie. But what makes them so hard and painful today is that they are some of my last memories of you. You died two days after Easter last year.

I feel like because Easter is earlier this year, I have to pass the anniversary of your death twice. Once coming up this Tuesday and then the following Wednesday on the 10th.

Being at this point, passing the last days of your life again in my mind and soon your angelversary, my soul was rocked to the core today.

After crying through an hour of church, I came home where I proceeded to cry for another hour. I went into your room and pulled out your clothes. I pressed them to my face. I wept into them. I looked at each outfit, remembering you in them. I remembered which ones you had blow outs in. I remembered which ones you seemed to love the most. I remembered which ones I loved the most on you. I found your yellow “peep” outfit and remembered:

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and then you after a full belly:

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But I was especially looking for my favorite outfit on you. The one you wore the night before you died. Your pale blue elephant jammies that say “Mommy loves me.” The ones you wore that morning I took you on the beach in Hawaii for our last walk together. When I finally found them I was heartbroken by how limp and lifeless they are. On impulse I went into my room and put your jammies on your bear I sleep with every night. It was a poor substitute for you but it filled out your jammies a little like you used to. I then clutched your bear to me and sobbed until, exhausted, I fell asleep.

Sleep tends to make everything better. When I woke up my eyes were still “leaky” but the torrent had ceased. I spent the rest of the day in the company of Chad, Hailee, Zee, and some very welcomed sunshine.

I’m sorry I couldn’t feel more hopeful today, Charlie. I tried to focus on the promise of Easter. But I just missed you too much today to feel anything but pain.

We visited you this afternoon. We gave you the Easter baskets we prepared for you. Hailee decorated the silver one for you.

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Inside the plastic eggs your Dadda and I put personal letters to you and your sister drew you a picture of our family.

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At your grave, I finally felt the first semblance of calm all day. I wanted to stay next to you, in the sunshine, and spend a few minutes just “being.”

I hear it gets easier. I am hopeful Easters in the future won’t hurt like this one. I am hopeful in future Easters I will feel close to you and our Savior and not so alone. But today I just missed you desperately Mister Mister.

I love you, always.