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.



Stacy D said...

Such a great post, and so well articulated. You're so right... the question of "How are you doing" takes on a whole new form after the death of a child.

Glad you all found A Grief Observed. It has been a source of comfort to me, too, in our journey of losing our sweet little Isaac.

Still praying for you both... it is so hard. But you are both doing this so well... living your grief authentically, while still clinging to the One who can offer peace and restoration.

~ Stacy

cprcpa said...

You have done a tremendous work by putting into words emotions that are so difficult to explain. I have felt so sad this week and maybe it is because my motherly instincts is to do something to ease the pain. The only thing I can do is "Love Unconditionally". Please know that I would do anything to take this burden from you but God is in control and I can only Love You.
Connie CJay's Mom

Sara said...

What a beautiful post. This is my first visit to your blog. I am sorry for the loss of your sweet Isaac. It is a pain that no one should ever experience.

I have never read A Grief Observed and I will have to go buy it.

God bless.

JI said...

I realized how deep a question, 'How are you doing?' can be when I lost my mom, but I'm sure it is magnified 100 times for you guys. I love you guys and think and pray for you daily. Only God can give some semblance of peace to your heart. And he will, in time, but that doesn't make it hurt less now.

Just keep being there for each other and know we are all praying.


Dana said...

I love your transparency when you speak of these emotions. I, too, have been swimming in a sea of nothingness after losing my daughter to T18 seven months ago. I am so sorry for the loss of your beautiful Isaac. The question of who and when to tell your child's story to is difficult every time.

I pray that you and your family can find some kind of peace so that you can take those tiny steps forward on this path God has laid before you. Only He can guide you through this darkness into His light.


Seraphim said...

I understand the ache in your soul and the struggle between it being your grief and needing to talk as well. I found you through Stacy's blog. Please feel free to contact me or Carly at 'Whispered Support" or at "To write their names in the sand." You aren't alone in your grief or on this journey. xxx

Paola said...

I just want to drop a note...Phil and I cannot understand, but we will keep praying!


Julie said...

The how are you doing question is one of my most dreaded encounters. You are so right about the nothingness. My love to your family today.

patti baker said...

C Jay,
Not only does he live in your dreams, Isaac lives in your heart and he ALWAYS will.
You and Whit are in our thoughts and prayers often.
Tony and Patti

Henninger Family said...

What a perfect post and so well written - you could not have said it any better...