No One Said It Was Going to Be Easy

The walls were lavender. 

The room is hued in a smokey purple as the autumn sun set. And the back of my hand finds my mouth, as the gasps pour out of me. 

I’ve contained them all day. Slowly being worn down under their weight, until I couldn’t contain them any longer. I breathed through them like contractions when sitting at a stop light, hands clutching the steering wheel. I swallowed them when scrolling through my social media feeds. 

Now, finally standing still, undistracted by anything in particular, I had stopped, and they started. 

I’m so scared right now. 

You probably don’t have to search your minds for very long as to what may have happened this week that would leave so many reeling. 

But it’s more than that. 

It’s the reactions after. Such anger. Such pain. 

This is not a place I, or anyone else, thought we would ever find ourselves in. Not a place we want to stay. Or, perhaps it is. Because this will eventually be comfortable. This place won’t challenge us.

But this place, if we linger here too long, will change us. 

My dad died in August. And I know that something so personal can seem so unrelated to all of this mess. But that pain has colored my world for the last nearly three months. It has shaded in areas I didn’t expect; drawn the light out in others that I never before appreciated. 

And I realize that…we all have such bigger things to worry about. 

Because there is something bigger than what’s dominating the news headlines right now. 

Since my dad left me holding his hand, beside a hospital bed, alone in a room for just a few minutes before I had to leave him for the last time, I have tried to decide what I was going to do with this time that I had left. 

Somewhere in there, in this fragmented mind, I made this solemn vow to love people. Wherever I could go. And what that looks like for each person, each situation, might be different.

But if I chose this path wholeheartedly, it might never change anyone else; but it could certainly change me. 

My pain is different than those of the marginalized. Those who are worried about putting food on the table. Those who are worried about whether or not they will have the chance to love the person of their choosing. Those who find themselves in unexpected predicaments, and are faced with hard choices. 

And yet, our pain, our hurt, is the same. Because we feel alone. We feel like it separates us out; makes us different in unpleasant ways. It makes us feel like we are scarred. It makes us feel like we aren’t whole.

Unwanted. Unheard. Under-valued. Unseen. 

I’ve carried this tornado inside of me for almost three months. Every time, I think I have made it through some of the hardest parts, something new tells me that I’m wrong. Like the fact that no one else in my family really cares for cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, except for my dad. And he won’t be here. And there won’t be cranberry sauce. 

It makes me want to give up.

The last two days have been one of those times that it makes me want to give up. Such divides. Such contempt. 

What is the point?

I told my dad, in my secret heart, that I would try to use the days ahead for something good, something better; that wasn’t about me. 

And then I see the vitriol at its angriest, words burning red in my eyes from a screen. And I wonder what the point really even is?

I sat on my stair case today, that sun still meandering its way down the sky. My children knowing something was wrong as my insides turned out again, when I just wanted to tell someone that I hurt so, so bad, about so many things. 

And the words whispered into my ear: no one said this would ever be easy. 

It’s easy to love people when they are lovable.

When it detracts the least possible amount of energy and expenditure on our parts. It’s the times when people are wildly unapproachable that we must seek to love the hardest. Or else…we aren’t really loving them, are we? We wouldn’t be living by a mantra to tolerate and accept others if we back down when it would be really, really easy to. 

We would be giving in to pain. And if we stay here long enough, a single angst ridden track on repeat, the pain won’t ultimately change. But we will. 

There are days to fold up inside of ourselves, and give up. 

But we can’t. We just can’t.

 

 

 

 

 

What I’m Slowly Learning About Grief

By all serious accounts, I am very much new to the “club” when it comes to grief. 

It’s been just over a month since my life turned upside down.

I lost my grandfather and my father within a week’s time. In both cases, both men had been dealing with serious, long-term illnesses. And yet both of them passing away happened about as quickly, and as unexpectedly, as you could consider it to be, even despite their declining health. 

Once a person who thought she had a grasp on the happenings of life, I realize that I am now being schooled in something entirely new: profound grief.

Being leveled doesn’t even begin to describe any of what’s still happening to me, to my family. As a blogger, I’m doing the one thing that I can to retain my sanity in bits and pieces: I’m writing.

Truly, the outpouring from those around me has been tremendous. When in comes to the abundance of prayers and steadfast loyalty of those around me, I could not be richer. 

Still. When it comes to processing everything that has happened, while facing days ahead filled with constant reminders of what has happened, I feel very much on my own. 

Here are truths I am slowly learning about grief:

 

You will feel like you weren’t enough

How many conversations or memories have I played back in my head over the last few weeks? The last time we watched Fourth of July fireworks together. The last time we carved pumpkins. The last phone call. The last time I said goodbye, completely unaware that the world was about to cave in.

I couldn’t tell you the number. 

How I wish I could have made those last goodbyes something more. How I wish I could have given one more hug, one more kiss on the forehead. How I wish I could pick up the phone and talk about the weather, the kids or the migrating geese flocking overhead that mark the change of the season. 

I judge myself as a daughter and granddaughter based on the actions of the last few weeks, when the truth is that perfect goodbyes don’t always exist. In our case, we were lucky enough to gather at the bedsides of those men we loved to pray over them, and love them into the next life.

That is more than so many get, I know. 

To dissect the tiniest fragments and pieces of our lives together does us no favors. When I look back over the years though, in both cases, I am fortunate to be able to say that in each moment, I loved them both as best I could. 

The feeling of not being enough is a lie, the inner workings of an enemy bent on our destruction. I wasn’t supposed to be “enough” for them. I could only be their child, their grandchild. For every shortcoming, the love between us, and the love that is still left behind, can be the salve for nearly every bruise if we let it. 

 

You can’t rewrite what’s happened

There are moments I’m not proud of. There are moments where I failed my dad, and those shortcoming are sometimes an angry slap across my face when I’m laying awake in the middle of the night, wondering what I could have done differently.

“You don’t get to make up most of your story. You get to make peace with it.”

– Ann Voskamp

The last few weeks have served as a stark reminder that I, we, are not in control.

We wonder if maybe by some action of our own we could have changed everything if we had said or done something different; been different. One of the worst things that we can do is believe that we somehow could have changed everything if we had only…

Grief is a nuanced thing. At times, I’m learning, you put yourself on trial. And you are your own worst accuser. Because maybe if you had picked up the phone more, said you were sorry sooner, seen what was coming around the bend, you could have controlled the outcome. Which just isn’t true. 

It’s a road we shouldn’t even tempt ourselves to go down. Easier said than done in some of our darkest moments, but no less true. What’s happened is what’s happened.

What might bring us eventual healing is trying to make peace with it.

 

There is no such thing as perfect goodbyes, because there is no such thing as perfect people.

We gathered around my dad’s bedside as his life was slipping away, and tears quietly rolled down our cheeks. We played The Beatles for him, held his hands while they were still warm, and watched the lines on the monitor flatten while all of our insides hurt beyond the telling of it. 

We were with him when he transitioned. As much as it hurt, and though it didn’t feel at all like it, those last moments were an extraordinary gift that I will never forget.

Still, afterwards my mind couldn’t help but almost immediately sprint towards all of the unresolved things that still lingered. All of the things that I had had faith would be satisfied before this time came. The things that hurt. I was piling pain upon pain until it almost crushed me. 

I thought we’d all have a chance to individually make peace with everything, and with each other. So much has happened in our lives during the last ten years as he grew sicker and sicker. In that slow unraveling for him, we all lashed out at one another out of fear and pain. Before that even, we had all failed each other magnificently at one point or another.

About two years ago, I wrote my dad a note and left it in his hospital room as I was leaving, after he had drifted off to sleep. In it, I thought I told him everything I had ever wanted to. It seemed premature, but I felt that it was something that needed to be done. Still, just two years later, there are hundreds of words that I wish I could have told him before the end finally came. 

I imagine that’s how the rest of my days will be. We are no longer a phone call or short drive away from each other. And every trivial thing that happens in my day is something that I will always wish I could share with him.

I mostly just wish I could tell him how much I miss him. 

I don’t know if that final goodbye will ever come to feel like the final period at the end of a sentence. I don’t know if the days ever turn from feeling like my mind is an endless, churning river, upturning stones after stones to see what I find. I don’t know if I will ever feel like myself again. Then again, what is normal even after loss?

I just know now that my job is to let it be.

 

Though the temptation to hang on, want more, do more will always be palpable, I know that for me, for all of us, the two men that we have lost would wish on us a life spent chasing the sun, welcoming the future and all the gifts that it holds. 

 

Indeed, the future could never hope to be as bright if they weren’t here before to light the way. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you’re grieving, hope is the thing that carries you.

I keep having this vision in my head. 

I’m outside, walking. 

The sky is gray and wild. It’s raining, and the wind is battering my face as I ascend upward,  my feet digging into the side of a hill. I’m alone, surrounded by walls of gray above me and green before me. As I reach the top, I look to the closed, storming sky that is spilling out for miles above the rising slopes, unfolding in gray upon gray, cloud upon cloud.

And I shout. 

I scream. 

At first, it’s just blistering shouts of anger barely puncturing the air as it feels like I am heaving every drop of malice that I have ever stored up inside of me out into this great precipice of nothing. I scream because it feels like there is nothing good in me anymore, so why not unleash the torrent of bitterness that’s locked inside of me.

At first, I feel relief. 

Before long, though, the relief fades and the shouts turn to haggard wails as hot tears begin to pour out of me like the rain from the clouds on high. 

When I have released every drop of venom that I possibly can, the howls start, and I can’t stop. I crumple to the ground as the rain is still pouring, the wind now lapping angrily at the sides of my face. Now, I feel naked against the indifferent gray sprawl in front of me as the sorrows pour out openly from me the way the rivers dump into the ocean.

The way it feels like it is always going to be. 

Then I snap out of it. 

This is a confrontation, the one I want to have with God. In my mind, I feel huge as I march myself up that hill. I know what I’m going to say. I have been keeping score, and I know the ways that I have been wronged, and I assuredly climb to the top to receive my just recompense.

I will make someone answer for each offense that I have kept note of.

But when I finally stand at the top, and I let my full-throated anger and indignation loose, I realize that my screams are barely even audible over the wind and rain. I realize that my aching is but a dot against the horizon. A drop of rain into the ocean.

I finally feel like I am nothing. 

We went to the beach a few weeks ago, and my three children each had different perceptions of the ocean. One felt free when he was rushing headlong  into the waves. Another inched further and further out from shore the more comfortable and confident she got. And then there was the littlest, who did not trust me at first. 

As she stood looking out and registering the size of the ocean and her place among everything, she realized truly how small she is. She shrank back as the waves foamed at her ankles. But I was there, behind her, assuring her that I would keep her safe. 

She swallowed salt water a few times, and was sent spilling over backwards a few more. But she learned to navigate the inward and then outward flow of the water, and found my hands to hold on to when she knew that she needed to.

She still fell. She still cried. But in she went.

Now, God has His back pressed to me as I sit in the church pew indifferent and miles away and angry. And He says that he is looking out after me. No, He says that He moves before me, in ways that split seas open to guard my steps.

I will never be carried away, even though right now I want to be. I want to escape to where I don’t feel watched, so that I can unfurl these clenched fists in secret, and let hostility spill out of me.

For all of my inward thrashing, there is still nothing I can do. 

In other moments, I have a different vision of me. 

I’m climbing the same face of the same hill. My steps are still heavy, my grief still real. The face of the sky still upon me, and, yes, still angry. The sadness and enmity are still turning over and over inside of me. 

When I reach the top this time, carrying with me all of the losses and wrongs that I have tallied, at that moment, as I see the gray spilling out infinitely in front of me, those numbers are suddenly lost to the great expanse of everything, to the miles upon miles that we tread if we are fortunate enough.

Instead of hurling venom, this time I just say thank you into the wind. And while that quiet thank you is just a whisper, my shaky eucharisteo is carried beyond the wall of gray.

And suddenly, the pain that’s wrapped itself around my hurting heart is paled in comparison to hope. 

The anger that poured out of me before fell sharply to the ground like stones, but my thanks has wings, it’s the thing that carries me for miles beyond the storm. Disentangling wildly over hills of calamity, uncertainty and chaos. 

Hope is the thing that carries you.

Hope is the thing that carried our cross up a different hill, transcending veils between creator and man, past and future, life and death.

A cross borne into the back of the One, stinging him with each step, each strike, each nail. And with each step tread, marking the Earth in His suffering, He says that as we so suffer, He has suffered along with us before us. And surely He suffered the cost of hope more greatly than we.

Hope is sometimes the thing that hurts.

But hope is also the thing that saves.