October 24, 2011

Wasted Grief

I sent Colin up to get ready for bed, telling him I'd be there shortly to tuck him in.  We'd had a fun night talking and playing a game and he was giggling when he went up the stairs.  I gave him a few minutes to brush his teeth and "take care of business' and then hiked it up to his room.  But when I got up there, I found him sitting on his bed with his head buried in his "blankie"  - small sniffles escaping out from underneath.

I was so confused - and concerned.  What possibly could have happened in the last 3 minutes to change my giddy little boy into one so full of sorrow. Kneeling next to his bed, I asked him what was wrong.

"I miss AJ.", he stated simply.

Caught off guard by his answer, I pressed on, "Why are you missing AJ right now?"

"I smelled the corner of my blanket. And it smelled like him. Mom, I just miss him so much."

And I was reminded that grief has no time table.

AJ was our beautiful English Springer Spaniel.  About 14 months ago he started acting oddly: running into walls, lilting to one side when he walked, growling at himself...or at nothing at all. Odd behavior for sure but nothing we were too concerned about until the night, when unprovoked, he attacked Colin.  We spent the night in the ER while Colin got 6 stitches to close up the huge hole in his hand.

We knew it could've been worse - it could have been Colin's face - or someone else's child.  We took AJ to the vet and they ran him through a bunch of tests and observed his behavior for any explanation of what may have turned our sweet puppy into a stranger we no longer trusted around our children.  Long story short, the vet determined he was having small strokes or seizures and there was nothing that we could do for him  - and his condition was only going to get worse.  We spent an agonizing week conferring with 2 different vets before we made the gut wrenching decision to have him put to sleep.  On a cool fall afternoon, Keith and Colin buried him on a friend's farm with his scruffy red collar, a tennis racquet and his favorite ball.  That was over a year ago.

But grief. has. no. time. table.

Keith and I have lost 4 children through miscarriage. A set of twins in 2002. Another child in 2004. And then last fall, the same week that AJ attacked Colin, we found out that, once again, we were going to lose a child.

Our grief was deep but private. And I cried rivers until my very spirit seemed to cry itself dry. But slowly, the sorrow lifted and I began to move past the disappointment and the anguish.  And I took those first shaky steps towards hope and healing.

I can now go days - even weeks - without thinking about what we lost. I am blessed with a full life and 3 beautiful boys that keep my life very busy.  I take great joy and deep comfort in knowing that someday I will see my babies again. And most days, that is enough.

Then there are days - no, not really days  - more like mere moments when there is that flash of pain.  That shadow of sorrow. That moment of "Why?" or "What if?" It can be triggered by a friend's announcement that she is expecting her newest bundle of joy.  Or it can be my hand touching a blanket - soft and warm - just perfect for bundling up a newborn babe. Or sometimes it's just a memory - a reminder of that unchangeable moment when I realized the life I carried within me was not to be.

It is fleeting. But it is deep.

Because grief has no time table.

Maybe your grief is triggered by a smell or a cool breeze.  Perhaps a certain color can take you back to a moment of anguish.  Or maybe it's hearing a long forgotten song from a car stereo that brings back a faded, yet sharp, memory.  For all of us it is different...but yet, so much the same. For none of us can go through this life without experiencing pain or without tasting sorrow.  That is the curse of living in an imperfect world.

But grief is not meant to be held on to like a treasure.  Grief is real.  And grief is hard. But eventually, slowly, and in our own time, we must let it go.

Because if we do not let go of our grief, we will miss our life.

There is a time for everything,    
     and a season for every activity under the heavens...

We have a choice. We can daily move towards the painful memories. We can cling to them like old friends. We can tell ourselves that "grief" is what our life is all about.  Or we can choose something better.

...a time to weep and a time to laugh,
                       a time to mourn and a time to dance...

Sometimes in clinging to the things that we have lost, we forget to treasure and value all that we do have.  We need remind ourselves that the "living" are what life is all about. I have moments that I ache for the children that I lost - and that is OK and it is normal - but my aching for what is lost does not overshadow the joy that I get from the children that are right here with me. They are my life! I have so much to live for - and the real tragedy would be if I missed out on all of it because I chose to focus on my pain instead of my life.

Then young women will dance and be glad,
   young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
   I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.  
~ Jeremiah 31:13

And I have not been alone  - I have had wonderful family and friends that have supported us in so many ways during our difficult times. Most importantly, I know that my Father has been there with me.  I have felt his comfort and his strength - even when I was angry and "wasn't speaking to him." His hand has always been on me, as he whispered his love and truth, compassion and hope into my breaking heart.

And He taught me something along the way: our grief is not to be wasted.

We live in a hurting world and we are surrounded by hurting people.  People that need to know that there is someone out there that understands, that has known their pain, that has walked a mile or two ... or three, in their shoes.  If we never experience pain, how will we ever be able to understand those that have? If we bottle up our grief and cling to it, how can we ever open ourselves up to someone that needs us?  For it is only when we allow ourselves to move away from the grief - to let it go so that we may experience healing - that we can stop focusing on our own pain long enough to recognize somebody else's - and show them the compassion they need to heal.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 
~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 
We cannot forget that there are people out there that need to know Jesus.  They need to hear how he has saved us and redeemed us.  They need to hear how he has given us hope and healed those hidden places of our hearts. They need to hear how much he loves them and that he wants nothing more than to be reconciled to them.

And you we need to tell them.

Colin and I talked for a few more minutes that night about AJ.  Then he remembered something about AJ that made us laugh and that was the end of the moment.  He released his sorrow and was ready to move on. 

Watching Colin process his grief over losing AJ has been a gift.  He has shared his tears openly and unhindered.  I have seen, so many times, how he has turned his loss into compassion - whether it was for the woman at church that just lost her husband, or for the child in the Samaritan's Purse catalog who doesn't have clean drinking water. It has motivated him not only to be compassionate but to be a cheerful giver.

He has shown me that you can remember the beautiful things about a person (or a dog) with joy and laughter, yet still have moments when you will ache over their absence.  But they are moments of grief, surrounded by a lifetime of joyful, exuberant, and fearless living.

No, grief has no time table - but we can choose to help, or to hinder, it. We cannot change our past - but we can most definitely shape our future. We can bottle up our grief and let it consume us. Or we can let it out and let our Healer heal us, one day at a time - and then watch him turn our sorrow into something beautiful.

He has come
"to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

Grief is a tricky topic and this was a hard post to write - I was so afraid someone would misconstrue what I was saying and think I was being trite or overly simplistic. Not so.  But I do believe we have a choice - not always in our circumstances but always in our reactions. We can put up walls, turn in to ourselves and insist we are "just fine." Or we can surrender to the One who knows all and wants nothing more than to wrap his loving arms around us and walk us through our valley. Today, I pray, you choose to take that walk.  Much love - Dawn

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