Sunday, November 26, 2017

On Grief

It's the phone call we're all dreading. The one that comes early in the morning while you're lying next to your loved one, running your fingers through their hair to gently bring them out of slumber. The one that beats the alarm clock and beats the daylight, the one that comes in the dark and feels heavy and cold. The one with MOM on caller ID.

"Ron died," I could hear her say. I saw Wes go limp as he relayed his condolences and comfort while trying to wrap his head around what he just woke up to. You know that phrase, "It's always darkest before the dawn," I felt like darkness just came and it sat there. It camped out there. Made a home for itself. And dawn never came, not for a while, not for months after those two words were uttered.

Jeanne recounted the story with bright memory, how Ron, her husband and the man who raised Wes, woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, laid down to sleep, and had a seizure that his body wouldn't recover from. It was our impression from that phone call that he had passed, but through talking to others we found out he was still on life support and between hospitals until his daughter could pay her respects. He was pronounced dead the next day, Friday, November 3, at 12:03 am.

The truth is, right now I’m still grieving. But not for Ron—only because we’ve felt emotionally and mentally prepared for him to pass. No, this isn't about grieving Ron; rather, it's about grieving the loss of the life we used to have. As quickly and unexpectedly did he pass, so did everything we knew about our everyday life—our normals, our routines, our constants. As with Ron, we never had the chance to say goodbye.

Without hesitation, we bought bereavement flights to Alabama, kicking into a gear what might be the most stressful two weeks we've ever had to experience as individuals and as a couple. How do we deal with funeral costs, or lawyers and the estate, or outstanding bills, and life insurance, and medicare? And no one knows where the security deposit box key is to even find out what his will says, or if the will is even in the security deposit box. And where's the deed to the house? And one of their horses is dying, and who's going to put it down the day of the funeral? And Wes hasn't seen his blood sister in 20 years but she's crossed states to be here; where and how to begin with conversations? And with a limited amount of time, we are having to plow through files and emotions and anxiety and phone calls and confusion, waiting for death certificates, waiting for banks to blow open security boxes, waiting for a chance to breathe, waiting for the dawn. And I don't have cellphone reception, and there's no wi-fi, and the carcass of that horse makes this property smell like sour death.

We need to get out of our heads.


There's a story Jeanne proudly tells about how Ron used to work for FEMA, so he would leave her home alone for days or weeks, and she was fine living on her own. In fact, she'd tell us (and others) about the revolver she keeps under her mattress. When she'd say all this, Wes and I would consider: perhaps she's ok on her own? Perhaps we could hire caregivers in the daytime to keep her company, and have video monitors to check on her at night? But in the days following the funeral, we realized her memory had deteriorated drastically. Her fears became a little more irrational. Her questions were repetitive and more frequent. She was not okay by herself, and Wes as a loving son could not leave her alone. And I as his wife, and about to mother a son, I understood—she is the woman who sacrificed for him, loved him, raised him. Wes was her final remaining anchor, and a nursing home was not an option. Our home was the only option. Wes was her home.

Being six months pregnant, we were already anticipating a change, but it’s different with baby: we know he’s in there, we're granted (God-willing) nearly 9 months to prepare for his arrival. We could take classes or do thorough research. People surround us with wisdom and support. We start dreaming of nursery spaces and expecting sleepless nights, knowing—fully aware but never fully grasping the total scope—that everything WILL change. But nothing could prepare us to fly across the ocean to a funeral and come back with a roommate.  There were no preparatory classes on how to suddenly deal with someone with memory loss, diabetes, and other health issues. There was no checklist on what administrative task to do next, no guide to tell us the best decision.

When we left our apartment, we didn't envision coming back to a twin bed in our living room. We didn't anticipate that our house would be wallpapered with notes and reminders, like "Knock first, do not enter" on our bedroom door, or "wash dishes with soap and water" because used plates were always found in the cabinet.  We didn't know how to meal prep for a diabetic with teeth issues and a limited taste palate.  We didn't know how to deal with the same question being asked every five minutes.  Wes, as a grown man, didn't know what to do with the incessant phone calls, "What time will you be home?" Or worse, when she didn't want him to leave because "What if you die in a car crash?"  Sometimes he would say, "Well, what if I died here in this apartment?" And she'd respond, "At least I'd know where you are."  This wasn't our dream. This wasn't the plan. We weren't ready for this drastic change.

Before I continue, I need to be clear: I’m not mad at her, I definitely don’t blame her, and I do love and care for her. It's not her, it's her condition—and that condition is out of her control. She's not shifting our lifestyle intentionally, she's probably not even aware.  I'm not mad at her.  I’m not even mad at God. I do get frustrated at her condition, but the bottom line is, it’s just a HARD situation. Can I reiterate that enough? It's just a hard situation. I don’t want to be misunderstood as accusing her for changing my life—life changes whether we foresee it or not, and usually we don’t foresee it at all. When it boils down, hard things happen, and the sorrow comes from not feeling strong enough, or capable enough, or even willing.. at all.


Sentiment #1: If you have depression, you're living in the past. If you have anxiety, you're living in the future. If you are grateful, you're living in the present.

Please allow me be vulnerable: I have not yet reached gratitude. I've come to acceptance, but that's it. I'm not even close to contentment. I fight depression, longing for what used to be. And Wes fights off anxiety, fearful of what is to come. We learned that we are resisting the present, we are resisting change. And what a shame to admit that sometimes, I cannot look into the eyes of change. It isn't her, I constantly tell myself, it's her condition, and the change that her condition brought. The change that I cannot accept. The uncomfortable sacrifices I'm required to make.  The new normal that isn't mine.

I miss it being just Wes and me. I was looking forward to a final trimester in the little apartment where our marriage first bloomed. I miss our morning routines of coffee and chit chat. I miss our evening routines of late dinners and switching between our favorite TV shows. I wanted Thanksgiving, and Christmas traditions, and a New Years repeat of last year where we made and ate unhealthy amounts of dairy and carbs and sugars and champagne (nix the champagne this year). I want to walk around half naked in my own home.

These days look a little different. My house hasn’t really felt like home. The living room is not where I live, it's where she lives; I’m banished to the bedroom at 8pm. My dreams are haunted by the countless rape victims portrayed in Law and Order, since it's on repeat from morning until bedtime at high volume. I feel bad eating whatever I want. Wes works from home a little longer, I stay at work a little longer. And we’re still trying to balance all our aspects of health—emotional, mental, physical, spiritual—while carrying the weight of new financial and legal responsibilities, and I'm still gaining weight with this unborn child.

But what I really miss?  Not having tension case my body.  I miss having conversations outside of this situation.  I miss laughing! And I mean really laughing.  I miss rest.

And I feel SO selfish, and SO guilty for feeling selfish, and guilty for missing my old life. And I get really sad, and I want to feel better, and I want to embrace this new normal. I want to be full of gratitude. I want to be able to rejoice in my sufferings, to have contentment in all circumstances. I want to say I'm better than how I'm reacting to everything... But right now, I'm just dealing.


Sentiment #2: we can see transitions as divorces to grieve, when we should see them as graduations to celebrate.

Sometimes I think that Wes and I would have been okay if we just had time. Typically speaking, I need time to let go of something and slowly close the door before I walk on the new path, and Wes needs time to learn as much as he can about the things ahead of him before he can embrace it fully. Wes needed time to say hello, I needed time to say goodbye.

It feels like a terrible breakup. The kind where you're up at 2am looking at old photos and pining for the happiness you felt in photo-worthy moments. The kind where you keep repeating conversations in your head, wondering what you could've said better, or where things went wrong, and where things could've been so right. The kind where you start to beat yourself up with regret—should've been more grateful, should've been more present, should've loved more selflessly.

But I want to move from grief to anticipation. From all the things that are lost, to all the possibilities and opportunities that can happen. From looking back to looking forward. No, not even looking forward—to looking at now. I want to stop WISHING I loved more, I should just LOVE MORE.


You know what the ironic thing is? Even before we were married, Wes and I would talk about having kids and agreed that yes, we wanted them, as long as we had our first full year of marriage to ourselves. And indeed, we had only one year. On our first anniversary, although "our family" was just the two of us, I was pregnant, and then Ron passed away a few days later, kickstarting this cycle of events. When we asked God for that one year, we thought it meant one year before having to care for a baby; we didn't think it meant one year before having to care for his mom.

I suppose we never really realize the things we pray about, or the way God answers prayers. Sometimes I think, what if God wanted to take Ron sooner? What if the timing of his passing was an act of grace? What if God wanted to take Ron in the middle of our first year, or the first trimester, when emotions are high, and Wes and I were still navigating love and sacrifice for each other? We needed that one year to build a strong foundation, to fight and get over hurdles, to celebrate and make the most of of small moments. We needed that one year to fall in love. That one year, the year that I am still grieving, was the grace of God.

But to this day we remain questioning God. Why us, why now, why this way? And I don't think He'll answer us, just yet. I think we still have a lot to learn about patience, about grace, about being able to compassionately look into the eyes of the ones we are called to love. About being okay if the answers never come. About choosing joy every day, and finding the buoyancy that brings us back to the surface. And there's still a lot of healing that needs to be done in my heart, the kind of full healing where I can look at this situation and it doesn't hurt anymore.. where I can say that grief was a season, not a definition.

I know that embracing feeling when the sun kisses your cheeks after being in the cold for so long... the way the warmth bites at your skin, causing the tension to subside and melt off your shoulders... the way the Light gently wakens the world around me and the world inside me. I know what it's like when Love gently takes you out of slumber and welcomes you with a sunrise that spans the horizon. Surely it's always darkest before the dawn, but if I have a sprig of hope, it is that dawn still comes. Morning still comes. The Son still comes.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

- Psalm 130