Thursday, May 28, 2009

Moving along, thanks to my fathers

I've been back at work for 6 weeks now, and with each week I've found it easier to be back to "normal." At first I was tormented at work because I had to put on a face and move forward. There was no time to cry or be angry. While I was at home, I had the luxury of feeling whatever emotions came at me. I really didn't know if I would be able to continue pretending to be fine, but the truth is that I have been able to. The truth is I'm fine. I know it sounds impossible: "I'm fine?! My baby died 12 weeks ago. It's not possible to be fine!"

Don't get me wrong, I miss Isaac. I look at his pictures and study his face. I wonder why we couldn't keep him. I allow myself to be sad when necessary, but I'm fine. I may be an atypical type of woman. I'm driven by rationale, logic, thought. I don't want my feelings to guide my decisions or my actions. It does happen, because well, I'm a woman, but when it comes to dealing with these heavy issues, I seek reason and truth. I have my father to thank for that.

My dad is an amazing teacher. He was a teacher by trade for a short time, but he was one of those rare teachers: he was a natural; he was good. He doesn't teach professionally anymore, but that doesn't mean he isn't teaching us at all times. It was actually irritating as a child:
"Look at this plant..."
"After the Civil War..."
"Europeans' doors swing in, not out like Americans'..."

During my high school years, Dad taught the high school Sunday school class at church. He continually stressed how important it was, as a Christian, not to rely on your feelings. God doesn't tell us to praise him when we feel like it. He doesn't say we can do the right thing when we feel like it. You must do it; the feelings will follow.

What an important lesson he taught me. Each time the doctor would find another problem with Isaac - his heart had a defect or his feet seemed rounded - I would be hopeful, angry, devastated. I would tell God that I could not handle losing this child. I couldn't. He was wrong. I wouldn't be content. I wouldn't praise him. I wouldn't. I felt no peace. I felt no joy. I felt no happiness. But I am human and feelings are fickle.

Three months later, I have peace about what we went through. I have peace about God's choice, and I can thank God for giving us Isaac and taking him away. Yes, I said it: I can thank God for taking away my son. I don't rely on my feelings because my feelings would have me screaming at God, bitter with his choice, angry at his audacity. My son? My son? You have nothing better to do than take away my son? That would be easier, I think, than telling God that I'm thankful for this agony. But I've done what my teacher said, and he was right. You must do it; the feelings will follow.

"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You."
Isaiah 26:3

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"How are you doing?"

Honestly, I don't think folks understand the magnitude of what they've been asking for these past two months. Sure, it's an everyday type of question that usually comes with an unconscious response... "I'm fine. How are you?" But this isn't a normal "how are you?" There's nothing normal about this simple question now.

It's so difficult to put into words, but I'll try to paint a basic picture for you. You've just been through the most tragic and painful experience you can imagine. The life you once enjoyed has stopped, and the surreality of the experience is still strong. Your mind struggles to determine where your life is now. None of this feels real.

What is real is you are alive. But you're just going through the motions of living while nothingness (all the feelings you can't describe) weighs down your heart. All you want to do is lie down somewhere alone and die, but you gotta pick up and get back to living, all the while trying desperately to look as if you're holding it together. Then someone asks, "How are you doing?" It hits you like a ton of bricks. You have to make a choice. Do you tell this poor soul how your heart is broken and aching with every beat, that your mind never stops playing this bad dream over and over, and that you wish you were dead because you just can't understand why you're still alive? Or do you say unconvincingly, "I'm doing okay"?

Before Isaac, I never realized how much meaning a "small talk" question could have. This simple phrase invokes the heaviest feelings and emotions when I least expect it. At times it's been a struggle not to pour out the contents of my aching soul. Most of the time folks know about Isaac, but occasionally a person we haven't seen or talked to in a while asks the question we know is inevitable. Lately, I've felt distressed about telling these unsuspecting folks. It's so incredibly hard for them to hear. In a way the story becomes a tragic experience for them too.

So how are we after experiencing Isaac? What is left of us? It's grief. Pure, raw grief. In some attempt to gain an understanding of this new all-consuming state of being, I picked up a book that Whitney had purchased for herself, probably for the same reasons. The first line of C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed could not be more true. Lewis says, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear." The feeling of being afraid seems to control every aspect of life. Each decision and action seems to be derived unconsciously when fear is driving the senses. That is grief.

But grief even goes beyond fear. With fear you prefer to have someone to share it with. I've noticed there are times when I want to share my grief with Whitney or a close friend, and there are times when I want to be left alone and keep it all for myself, almost like a child being selfish with his toys. I don't want folks to know or experience my grief. It's mine, not yours, so don't pretend you know. To add to that layer, I want people to acknowledge Isaac, ask me how we are doing, drop a note or just simply say something, while still leaving me alone with my grief. How does that add up?

I also mentioned nothingness - all the feelings you can't describe. I believe this is a direct element of grief. While the grief is consuming you, the nothingness is just something you have to wade through. There are just simply too many emotions I can't express with words that I've felt since we lost Isaac. Whitney and I have had many conversations trying to sort through the nothingness we felt that day. We've gotten pretty good at talking about the nothingness, but there are never any conclusions.

And so tonight, in honor of Isaac, I grieve. My son lives in my dreams.