Smoky Mountain trip. Shame and social anxiety in grief. Danny’s death. Phoebe is sick. Joking about a vacation home. Making it mean something. The birth of a Dream. When dreams become reality.
Lesson #4) Learning to Live With Realistic Expectations
Hope and sorrow. Two words you never expect to tie together. They seem to be polar opposites, in fact. Some days the correlation between the two is very difficult to find. This has been the case for me in the last few weeks. Some days I am full of hope that I am making progress in this journey. Some days I believe that brighter days are ahead and we will get through this. Then the darkness seems to overwhelm. Something triggers a memory that brings the sorrow back. It’s like the knife is not just stuck there in my heart, but is twisting to make sure it hits as big an area as possible. Some days it feels I’m making progress and others it feels like I’ve taken giant steps backward.
I have these expectations of myself that are probably a bit unreal. Some examples include: If I were truly surrendered to God, I would not be hurting this much. If I really believed that God is taking care of me, I wouldn’t struggle when memories hit. Sometimes it is just telling myself I should be further along in my grief. I should be able to make small talk at family gatherings like I used to. Being in crowds shouldn’t bother me. Social settings shouldn’t bother me. Being away from home for a day shouldn’t bother me. I should not be so wrapped up in myself and my loss. The pangs of jealousy I feel at times should not be present. By now I should be past the anger. Maybe other people don’t want to hear about Lucy anymore. I should probably not talk about her because it makes other people uncomfortable or increases the pain I know they are still suffering. She was not just my little girl, she had a whole family that was excited to have her and I don’t want my grief, my sorrow, my dark moments to cause anyone else more pain. So I carry it myself. Well, at least the parts that I don’t emotionally dump on Jon (or my ride-to-work buddy).
Looking at it realistically, I think the expectations I have for myself are too high. God didn’t mean for me to carry this burden alone. There is a verse in Psalms that I have been meditating on.
Psalm 63:8 My soul follows close behind you; your right hand upholds me.
The thought always comes to me, “why the right hand?”. What is so important that the scripture specifies the right hand and not the left. I researched and found that the right hand represents strength. Usually that was the hand holding the sword in battle while the left was holding the shield. Spiritually speaking, when I am upheld by God’s right hand, the shield of faith is held in his left protecting me from the onslaught of fear and doubt. The very words of God are the sword of the spirit so that leaves his right hand free to hold me.
Since coming home from the hospital I have used exercise as a form of therapy. While on a walk the other day the sadness began to overwhelm me again. This scripture came to mind and it spoke to me. God brought me to this place. He allowed this loss to touch our lives. I know how big he is and that he does hold me in his right hand and I know that the shield of faith protects me. I need the very words of his mouth to go on the offensive and defeat these feelings that seem to overwhelm me at times. I know that ‘the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit….’ And I know that because of the faith I have in who God is, I can ‘approach the throne of grace with confidence so that I may receive mercy and find grace to help me in my time of need’. (scripture quotes from Heb. 4:12 & 16).
I still struggle sometimes. However, we are only 3 months into this journey of loss and grief. Realistically, what should I expect of myself? What does God expect of me? I’m not 100% sure. I do know that to take the first step, I just need to continue to get out of bed daily and breathe. To live each day the best that I can. And let God hold me when I can’t seem to take the next step.
Lesson #3) Everything is the same as before – but it will never be the same.
Tonight I went to a family birthday party. No, this is not the first one I have been to since Lucy’s passing but it still isn’t easy. And birthday parties are not the only thing that is the same but different.
When you are expecting a child, your whole perspective on life changes. You spend time thinking about how this little bundle is going to affect every aspect of your life. Your home life will revolve around this little one. You will have to arrange your life to make sure this blessing is taken care of when you are at work. Your sleep patterns are sure to change. In fact, you get a small taste of that while expecting. Sleeping through the night is a thing of the past and will remain an unrealized dream for quite some time! At least, that’s how it was for me.
When thinking of serving in the church, you have to consider who will care for your child while you fulfill your calling or your service. You wonder how God will use this precious gift to change you and those around you. At least, that’s how it was for me.
How you view your family – immediate and extended –changes. Gatherings become a more sentimental time for you. You sit and imagine what you will be doing with your child this time next year when the family gets together for this celebration or that holiday. At least, that’s how it was for me.
You experience a sense of belonging, a deeper love for all things family, for all things close to your heart. This is just part of the journey of expecting your child. All these aspects of your life are going to be affected by this baby. At least, that’s how it was for me.
But then, with loss, the heartache comes. The dream is shattered. And the perspective changes once again. Not only are your arms empty but your soul feels empty as well. The excitement that you had for so long (even mixed with the fear that comes with any pregnancy, let alone a high risk one) seems to be only a dream you once had. You feel lost and alone even when surrounded by the closest of loved ones. At least, that’s how is was for me.
Your life is the same as it was before the pregnancy – but it will never be the same. Sleep may still not come. In fact it probably won’t until you have exhausted yourself with crying. Your house can go back to the way it was because now there is no need for a nursery. But the absence of that crib will be as difficult to bear as if you leave it up. Because in your mind, you know it should still be there. When you go to work, child care is no longer an issue. But you wish it were. At least, that’s how it is for me.
Concerning ministry, you still wonder how God will use your little one to bless the lives of those around you. However, it will never be the way you once imagined because now it’s based on her absence rather than her presence. At least, that’s how it is for me.
Yet, even in light of these different perspectives and the affects of this loss on every area of life, there is hope that God will see you through. I am not sure there will ever be a moment of complete understanding or clarity in this journey except in heaven. However, I am sure that somehow, someway, God will see me through each day. I do have to surrender each day, sometimes moment by moment. I have to choose to say to God, “Yes, it still hurts but I know you can do something with that. I don’t know what and I don’t know how, but I know you can and you will.” At least, that’s how it is for me.
My husband recently equated our experience like a journey on a sailboat. The wind is blowing. The seas are rough at times causing us to wonder if the boat will hold up. But we are still afloat and hoping to see land on the horizon. Then suddenly the wind stops. There is no air moving. There is no way to get to where we were supposed to be going. We are stuck in the middle of the sea on a sailboat with no direction and no wind in our sails.
Physically speaking, we understand what happened. Emotionally and spiritually, we don’t understand why this happened. We feel like our lives are at a standstill. We have no direction. Where do we go from here? For us, we go to the Bible. It is the very word of God and we trust that we will find direction there. Proverbs 3:5,6 tell us to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
While we feel that our lives are at a standstill, we can believe Psalm 46:10 which says “Be still, and know that I am God”.
We can know that Psalm 34:17 and 18 are true. “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
We can pray that we will one day sing as the Israelites of long ago that “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:5,6.
We will live daily believing, even though everything is the same but different, that God will help us find our way, give us direction.
Psalm 130:5 “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.”
At least, that’s how it is for us.
In the beginning, I didn’t understand how it was possible to ever return to my previously normal daily life after I lost Lucy.
We are different after the loss of a child. The way we interact with people is different. The way people interact with us is different. Our view of what is important has been changed. Our perception of so many aspects of life is altered by our grief. Small things may set you off that you would have laughed at previously. Or little annoyances are suddenly the most upsetting and can rocket you straight into a meltdown.
But it won’t always be this way. Yes, somethings you will forever be ultra sensitive to. Others will return to the same little annoyances they were previously. It doesn’t happen all at once.
For example, it was a good year before I could hear a helicopter and not freak out or have flashback nightmares. (I was flown by helicopter from Springfield to St. Louis in heavy labor which they were attempting to slow down.) But today, I can hear a helicopter and not have nightmares. I think about the events leading up to the flight, and of course how the day eventually ended, but still sleep soundly.
For a while now, I have been able to shop without fear of a breakdown when I walk past the maternity or baby clothes. I can see the cribs at Target without playing the ‘if only’ game.
I can not give you any big psychological explanation of exactly how and when these changes took place. I only know that with time, I have come to accept that this is my life and I try to live each day to the fullest. I try to pass on love and hope to people around me. I don’t remember making a decision one day that I was going to learn to live again. I only know that it has happened.
Yes, there are some things that still feel like a knife to my chest, but those moments have become fewer and farther between. I can pick up a newborn at my job and think momentarily “Oh I need one of these!” but then I think about my husband and our life and that we have so much to be thankful for and I am content. I am happy. Because we have chosen to live to the fullest the life we have been given.
Today, I am ok. I am happy and able to enjoy life after the loss of our daughter. But that hasn’t been the case for very long. Three years ago I wasn’t sure this day would ever come.
If you are in the early stages of grief or still struggling with questions years later, this song may speak to you.
“I know someday, I know somehow, I’ll be ok, but not right now…..”
I have always loved Anne of Green Gables. Her red hair, her zest for life, her thirst for knowledge, her desire to be a great writer, and most of all, her flair for the dramatic. My favorite is probably when she was ‘in the depths of despair’ and asked the straight laced Marilla if she had ever been in the depths of despair. Until a few years ago, I thought I could empathize with someone about the depths of despair. Then we sat beside a tiny little coffin at the cemetery and I learned there was a deeper level than I had never known before.
I didn’t want to hear anything positive or encouraging. I didn’t want to hear about coming out victorious or seeing a purpose in it. I just wanted to hold our little girl but that was impossible. My arms were empty. My heart felt cold and dead except for the knife that occasionally twisted.
Today, I spent my day preparing a lesson for about 10-15 Jr. High girls for the small groups portion of youth group tonight. Three and a half years ago I would have laughed bitterly if you had told me I would be serving in this capacity anytime soon. And I probably would have told you that you were delusional. But here I am.
It began as a simple act of support for a niece who wanted to join youth group but didn’t know anyone. I agreed to volunteer for a bit until she became comfortable. Now, one year later, which has included one overnighter and a week of church camp, I’m not sure you could drag me away. I am not super close with any of the girls personally but they have all touched a special place in my heart and filled me with joy. I enjoy watching them grow. I like watching their faces light up when something clicks or they are sharing a story about their day. No one has replaced my daughter or made me forget her. Not at all. But my need to nurture, even for only an hour and a half a week in person, is being fed. I have told them they do more for me than they realize. Some of them know my story and some don’t. They don’t need to. They only need to know someone cares.
Journal entries from fall of 2013:
It’s been 3 ½ years since we lost our daughter. We have been through dark days and come out with hope. No, there is no hope that we will ever conceive again, but we have found joy in our life together even with this certainty. We did not arrive at this place overnight or even within months of the loss we experienced. But we, as a grieving mom and grieving dad, keep waking up every day, breathe in, breathe out, and look for one positive in the day.
You can do the same: look for one positive in your day. Some days this will be easy; some days it will seem impossible. Just know the day will come when you will smile or laugh and surprise yourself.
Today I’m sharing a couple journal entries from shortly after delivering and losing Lucy on 6/18/13. The loss of hope for any brightness in the future is very real and very devastating after loss. I’m here to let you know those dark days of hopelessness didn’t last forever for me. I’m praying the same for you.
Today, I’m having a difficult time trusting in God’s goodness.
I have learned of God’s attributes since I was a small girl. He is ever present, faithful, loving, kind, and full of grace and mercy. He is all powerful, all knowing, above all. He is creator. Author of life. I believed these things from an early age. I put them into practice in my life. I wrote about them and taught them at church and to my sons. However, some days the grief overwhelms me, and I feel like a hypocrite. In November 2012, I stepped out in faith and believed for something I was fearful of – being pregnant after miscarriage in 2008 and years of infertility between 2008 and 2012. In March 2013, while I was still pregnant, my husband and I were told there was no hope for our daughter to live. But I trusted God had a purpose and that life would come. He would be victorious. Again, I was robbed of my hope. How do I trust God’s identity when this past year has been a lesson in seeing hope disappointed?
I know there is a bigger picture. I know it is not all about me, my husband, Lucy’s brothers and grandparents. It is not all about our lost hopes and dreams. I do not have to live in this hopelessness. But today I am having a difficult time trusting in God’s goodness. I am afraid to be devastated – again – for his glory and plan. How do I get past that?
September 29, 2013: Sunday morning at the cemetery
How can I trust you? I sought you for her healing. You taught me to hope. Dared me to hope. And hope disappointed. Hope devastated.
I sit beside a headstone. I should be sitting beside a crib.
I know you do all things well. I know you want to give good gifts to your children. I know you have power to heal. I know who you are and that is why this is so difficult to accept. That is why it is so hard to trust. If this was for your glory, then why do I want to live to glorify you?
I will NOT turn my back on you. I will not deny your existence or sovereignty.
I do fear that you are going to tire of my questions and grief. I do fear you have a time line for my grief that I am not living up to. I fear you are tired of my hurt and tears. I fear that you are saying “Enough already. This is your life. Get on with it.” But I don’t know how to do that – spiritually or physically. I know I just get up in the mornings and go about my day. Spiritually everything seems off and I am not sure what to do with that. Where do I go from here? What do I do with my doubts? Where does the pain, hurt, and disappointment need to go?
I don’t want to be angry and bitter. But I am angry. God help me. I am so mad I don’t know what to do. When I am mad at people, I go to you. When I am mad at you, God, what should I do? How long will you put up with me? At least one day more.
I am so lost. I am so broken. I am so tired. I am so lonely for the closeness I shared with Lucy while carrying her. I feel like I let her down. I know I let me down. But I honestly did everything I could. Why didn’t you, God? Why didn’t you?
Monday, September 30, 2013
From a Bible study by Jennie Allen: “We have got to quit pretending faith is easy. We fight for faith and ask God to give it.” Sometimes we have to fight for faith and what we know to be truth – especially when situations in life take us to dark places.
Some of those journal entries are difficult to read. Believe me, it was more difficult to be in that place. If you are there, just know that God’s answer truly is that he will put up with your doubts, fears, grief, or anger at least one more day. His mercies are new every morning. He dealt gently with me in all my doubts, fears, and anger and somehow He helped me get through the hopeless days. One day at a time.
Many people kept me in their prayers when I could not find the faith, strength, or hope to pray myself. And God proved himself faithful. He always does. His faithfulness and mercies look different than our view or expectation of them. I do not have my daughter back. I do not have a “rainbow baby.” We have an empty nest. Lucy’s brothers are now young men, each living on their own.
Yet here I am, 3 ½ years later, hoping again. Hoping that we will be able to raise funds to build Hope House and be able to serve other parents of loss. Hoping that the right words will come when I sit at the computer to send out another message to others. Hoping that somehow, I can share with other parents of loss that dark days and questions are not the end of the story or the end of your life with your child. My husband and I have learned to live our new normal after the loss. We have learned to laugh again. We embrace the things we can learn through our journey with Lucy and hold on to them as a piece of her. We will never be the same – and that has become a good thing.