Monday, February 28, 2011

Growing Alchemy

Starting over is really hard for me.  If I’m working on a failing sewing project, I tend not to scrap it until I have bled, sweat, and cried on it.  Most of the time I just finish it and pretend to like it.  But how do you start your life over?  I know that Vincent’s life and death has changed me, but how will that work itself out in my life?  One of my friends messaged me on facebook and said, 
“You will find yourself again... You won't be the same person, but in this lengthy grieving process, new roots will establish themselves in your foundation, your worldview, the things you value in life, new interests that you weren't interested in before this all happened, they're 'Vincent roots', an extension of him growing in you and making an impact in this world.”
Somehow I must trust that this process of alchemy has already begun in my life, that somehow my grief, anger, and disappointment can transform into something beautiful.  Somehow “Vincent roots” have taken hold and are sprouting upwards, fed by light and rain alike.  

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Darn you, Grief!

Last week Theo threw up while we were finishing dinner.  It looked really gross, all dark and runny from our shepherds pie w/ barbecue sauce dip.  I was so proud of myself because I caught all the puke in the cup.  No splatter.  (isn’t this the grossest post ever?)  
These days I get so proud of myself over the littlest things.  I rearrange the bookshelf and think it looks awesome.  I get a craft prepared for Theo the night before and marvel at my foresight.  I read a non-mystery book and pat myself on the back.  I have so much grace for myself, and yet almost none for other people.  
Why am I being so witchy?  (don’t answer these questions, please!)  Why can’t I give Dan the amount of grace I give myself?  Why are my expectations of him so high?  Why do I demand so much from God?  
I hate the fact that grief can make me so self-centered, so needy, so demanding.  I want my grieving to be about Vincent, about how wonderful he was, about how much we’ll miss him, but instead it has triggered all these other emotions. I know that’s normal, but I don’t like it.  I know that after you lose someone important to you, you start realizing all the “secondary losses” that their death has also incurred.  
It seems that each week that goes by reveals more secondary losses caused by Vincent’s death.  I gravitate towards families that have 2 kids, yet they can only see 1 of mine.  I’m never going to be able to bring Vincent to preschool, or see his face light up when I come to pick him up.  I can’t hold his hand as we walk across the road together.  When I drive in the car now I can’t see his face in the backseat mirror.  I am no longer a breastfeeding mom, or a working mom, for that matter.  I won’t be able to take a picture of the first time he poops in the big boy potty (I told you this was a gross post, isn’t it!)  There are literally thousands of things that I lost along with Vincent, and I'm just beginning to realize what they all are.

And then, just when I feel I’m doing better, another secondary loss surprises me and once again I’m in shambles.  
There were a few good days in this past week, I guess I should just be thankful I don't feel worse.    

Friday, February 25, 2011

Grief Journal: February 16

Today was exhausting, as every other day this week has also been.  I am bone tired, and yet don't want to go to sleep early in the evening because I want to feel something other than drudgery and frustration.  I want to feel good about something, anything.

These days when I wake up in the morning instead of feeling the promise of what-could-be in the new day, I feel something like dread.  What is going to be different about today than yesterday?  Vaccuuming?  Sewing? Watching a movie?  I'm not looking forward to my future, whatever it may be.  And I'm too exhausted to be good company to my friends who want to reach out to me.  Nothing's enjoyable.

Could this be depression?  A new facet of grief?

Maybe reading a few more mystery books will help.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Man of Sorrows

"It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live.  I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live.  A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live.  Or perhaps his sorrow is his splendor.
And great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness the God who suffers with us did not strike some mighty blow of power but sent his beloved son to suffer like us, through his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil.
...Though I confessed that the man of sorrows was God himself, I never saw the God of sorrows.  Though I confessed that the man bleeding on the cross was the redeeming God, I never saw God himself on the cross, blood from sword and thorn and nail dripping healing into the world's wounds." 
-Nicholas Wolterstorff, prominent philosophical theologian in his book Lament for a Son

Growing up in the largely Catholicized Philippines gave me many opportunities to see crucifixes in rather odd places.  Little shops in the marketplace would have a Santo Nino doll, hands outstretched in blessing, and next to it would be a cross with Jesus twisted in pain.  The way I remember it, there were crucifixes everywhere.  They were usually rather large, almost always made of plastic, and were somehow battery powered so that little candles would flicker in front of them.  Sometimes they looked rather creepy.

Being Protestants, we didn't have Jesus hanging on any cross in our home or at church.  Any crosses our churches featured would be rather bright, angular, and... empty.  The way my mom explained it was that we like to remember Jesus as he is now, glorified and seated at the right hand of the Father.  And that made sense.

But the more acquainted I get with suffering, the more I need to see Jesus, God himself, twisting in pain on the cross.  I need to see his blood flowing, his hands and feet mutilated beyond imagination.  I need to see Jesus drinking in full his cup of pain.  I need to remember his beautiful wounds which offer me the promise of healing.  And when I see him one day, one of the first places I want to look is at his hands and feet, at his scars that remain.

In Revelation chapter 5, the apostle John is weeping and weeping because no one has been found worthy enough to open the sacred scroll and break open its seals.  One of the elders comforts him,
"Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders."
This is a really apocalyptic passage (one of the reasons I don't read this book as often as it deserves!) John is told here that the Lion of the tribe of Judah (In my opinion one of the more glorious names of Jesus) has triumphed and therefore only He can open the sacred scroll which John wants opened so badly.  And when John looks up to see this magnificent person, what does he see?  A triumphant King appearing like a mighty Lion?  A glorious Being of beauteous light?  No, John sees something weak, something bloodied, something vulnerable.

Christ in his glorious triumph comes as a lamb.  A lamb that looks like it has been slain.  That's not very sexy or powerful or even attractive, is it?

The prolific 19th century preacher C. H. Spurgeon said this in one of his sermons entitled "The Wounds of Jesus,"
"We may talk of Christ in his beauty, raising the dead and stilling the tempest, but oh! there never was such a matchless Christ as he that did hang upon the cross.  There I behold all his beauties, all his attributes developed, all his love drawn out, all his character expressed in letters so legible as I see them written in crimson upon the bloody tree.  Beloved, these are to Jesus what they are to us; they are his ornaments, his royal jewels, his fair array."

Don't mind me, I'm just going to wait here a while, looking at the glorious wounds of Jesus.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Really Don't Mind

I’ve found that after someone close to you dies, most people don’t ever want to bring up the subject.  Have any of you noticed that?  

Very few people in my life seem to want to talk about Vincent.  When I was on the phone the other day with one of Vincent’s old babysitters, she actually referred to him as “your second son.”  What is it about saying his name, about bringing the subject up that is so hard?  I’ve been surprised by how many people are just acting now like nothing happened, and actually go out of their way NOT to talk about Vincent.  Perhaps they are afraid that if they talk about him, I’ll either start crying, or it will somehow make me feel more sad than I already am.  My conversations used to be dominated by the subject of Vincent - what he’s doing, how he’s feeling, how his treatment is going - and after he died, that all stopped.  All we had left to talk about him were our memories of him, and some of them were pretty painful.  
But I’d rather talk about him than not.  One of darling teachers at Theo's preschool (you know who you are Mrs. Nancy!!) talks to me about Vincent.  She asks me if he was similar in personality to Theo, what he liked to do, how they used to relate.  She talks to me about his birthday and what I will do on that date this coming year.  I love that.  Just because he died doesn’t mean we can’t talk about him anymore.  He’s still just as pivotal to my life now, dead, as he was alive.  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Run, not walk

These past few weeks I have been hiding from myself by reading way too many mystery novels.  I've enjoyed not having to face the realities of my new life through the mindless escape they offer. Tonight as I slipped into bed I picked up my latest mystery novel from the library and my flashlight, expecting to read until I fell asleep. While I was doing so, my lit flashlight illuminated a book beside my bed that I haven't read for some weeks now, the Book of Hope. I started to read it instead of my mystery novel, and as I was doing so, cracked open some kind of inner window to my heart that has been intentionally closed. 
As I was reading, a thought came to me that one of my fears may be that I am, in fact, fully capable of surviving this tragedy and thriving.  Perhaps, like the mythical story of Michelangelo and the hunk of marble he’s carving, there is a lion in me waiting to be uncovered.  
After Vincent died I expected my whole life to be shattered and for me to never walk again, let alone run along life’s road.  Perhaps the truth is that in fact, I am able to run again more quickly than I thought.  I am afraid that perhaps I can do this, and do it well.  Why is this so hard to believe?  Because I want to be bed-ridden.  I want to act as devastated as I feel.  I want my life to never be the same again, like the woman who went to bed after her daughter was killed in a hit & run accident, and who died years later in the same bed, leaving a huge indentation behind in the mattress.  I want to leave a dent that shows I have been wounded.  I want to leave a huge indentation that is a testament to the extent of my grieving.  
I’ve been expecting that this said dent would be in my mattress, and I’ve given myself many opportunities to do nothing.  In fact, that’s what I’ve been doing.  Nothing.  I have no job, I have no expectations of myself other than mothering my almost 4 year old who is eager to please and can entertain himself for hours on easy-to-set up craft projects, plus my ipad.  All I’ve been doing is reading book after book and eating crackers and cheese for dinner.  Is it possible that I can do more?  Perhaps.  And this thought terrifies me.  
Dan has been running miles every day in preparation for the Aloha Run, which he ran yesterday.  His knee started complaining a couple weeks ago, and froze up one day during his run so badly he could barely walk.  But he did walk home.  And then he walked to the store, because he was afraid that if he didn’t move he wouldn’t be able to walk for a while.  So he kept moving, and it helped his knee to normalize.
I have been grievously injured.  And I’ve been expecting to not be able to move.  And yet perhaps that’s exactly what I need.  

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rant: February 15

A year ago I had two children, a decent job with good career developing opportunities, and a stressed marriage.  Here I am now, almost 30 years old, with no job, one less child than a year ago, and a frazzled marriage (I guess some things don’t change easily).  I’m “supposed” to be enjoying the rise of my career, the development of my children, and the fruits of my marriage.  At this point in my life I’d love to own something larger than my Nissan Altima, like a little condo or house, or at least have a masters degree.   

I feel like I’m getting older, but not getting closer to achieving anything.  My favorite authors are around the same age as me, and what is happening to my career?  Where are my opportunities?  I feel like God owes me something after taking Vincent (and I guess my job too) from me.  (I know he doesn't, my theology isn't that bad, it's just what I FEEL like.) 

What am I supposed to do now?  Read mystery books all day long?  Write journal entries that no one is going to read?  I’m mad and frustrated and lonely.  And frickin‘ devastated.  

God, please open an window for me before I suffocate in my own crap.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Grief Journal: February 11

I can’t even begin to describe the way I feel.
Sometimes I’m in good spirits.
Sometimes I’m raging.
Most days I physically feel broken... I can’t swallow, my stomach hurts, I feel like I weigh a thousand pounds.  I feel wrong.  And wronged.
But then, even a few days later, I can be just fine.  Laughing, buying Apple products, drinking iced tea, watching a movie with Dan.
I feel like I have a split personality.  Even though on the one hand I feel so close to Vincent, (as if he was literally a part of me!)  I can go for the entire day purposely not thinking about him.  Because actually remembering him, allowing myself to think about him and our life together, watching his videos and looking at his toys makes me feel crazy.  Now I know I need to let myself feel, even if the ensuing emotions are extremely painful, but I just don't have the energy for it.  Grieving is a lot of work.  So instead of really remembering and thinking about Vincent, when the crushing feelings build, I simply say his name, groan out his name. "Vincent. I. Miss. You."  
I’m very careful when doing this to NOT actually remember him, not to summon up his face, his grin, our devastation at his diagnosis, the hope of his possible recovery, the memories of his drawn-out death. I’m not thinking about any of this.  I’m just saying his name out loud.
But if I were to sit down and remember Vincent nursing, laughing at me, reading his books, playing with his brother Theo, watching baby einstein, then I would be inconsolable.  So all I can say is his name.  Vincent.  
Don't get me wrong, I WANT to remember Vincent exactly the way he was.  I’m scared that one day I won’t be able to immediately conjure up his smile and his face from memory, I’m scared that I’ll lose track of how old he'll be turning each year.  I’m afraid that if I follow my self-preservationist instincts I’ll do myself the even greater disservice of forgetting exactly what Vincent was like, forgetting many memories of our time together.  Not because I don’t want to remember him, but because it’s simply too painful to do.