Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tragedy

I have been reminded today that grief is no respecter of persons.  Grief comes to the rich and the poor, the educated and ignorant, the powerful and the weak, the believer and the atheist, the proud and the humble.  Grief even comes to those who are already grieving, which seems so unfair.  After Jonah died I had a moment where I thought, well at least this is it, this is my trial.  But I know that I am young, and that I love too many people not to grieve again.  If only I could trust in the immunizing power of a singular heartache.  Unfortunately none of us is immune and we each will have to find our way through extremely difficult days.

This morning my friend Anna-Lee shared this blog about her dear cousin, Lisa King, who lost a son 4 months ago, and last week lost her husband suddenly and unexpectedly.  Today I have tried to imagine the feelings of this young mother and her three living boys.  It must seem so unfair, even tragic.  But after reading her blog I am sure that tragedy is not the right word.  It is obvious to me that this family knows what love is and that they have loved  and will continue to love each other deeply.  It is inspiring.

I have thought about tragedy a lot.  When I wrote Jonah's obituary I initially wrote "On September 29, 2011, a beautiful and tragic September morning, Jonah returned to the loving arms of his Heavenly Father."  This phrasing did not sit well with me.  I wrestled over each word, and I could not leave it this way.  Something inside me said this is not a tragedyJonah's short life was full, even brimming, with love.  Jordan and I love him and each other deeply.  Our home life was simple, peaceful, and joyful.  Jonah's death was sorrowful.  The pain of our separation was intense, but I could not bring myself to say that his death was "tragic."   

Neal Maxwell wrote,
“The great challenge is to refuse to let the bad things that happen to us do bad things to us. That is the crucial difference between adversity and tragedy.”

In my life I have found that it is tragic to withhold compassion and love.  It is tragic to purposefully deceive those who trust you.  It is tragic to choose momentary pleasures over lasting joys, and it is tragic to become a victim of life.  

I do not want my life to be a tragedy, so I choose to love daily.  I choose to get out of bed, and to be kind to my husband.  I choose to reach out when I can, and accept help when it comes.  I choose to keep trying.  I choose to live with hope, with optimism, and with faith. 

I have no doubt that the King family will withstand the incredible adversity that has befallen them, and that they will transform their heartache into even greater love.  Our lives are not perfect, our circumstances vary, but our choice remains the same.  I believe we can choose to experience grief and disappointment with our hearts and souls not only intact, but magnified.  I am inspired by the hope of this mother, and by her faith, and I pray that God will bless her with the strength she needs to overcome. 


Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way. Victor Frankl

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday

I married a man who likes to sit in the back of church.  He likes to have an escape, whether it is from awkward conversation or sudden explosions, he believes the back is the place to be.  So I lovingly oblige him.  The only problem is that all of the beautiful active vibrant children are also found at the back of the church, and today I couldn't help but watch them. 

I starred at the little red head in front of us as she repeatedly banged her chubby hand on the metal folding chair.  Her father's hand would muffle the noise momentarily, only to be followed by a more exuberant bang.  I noticed the restless, necessary, and unsatisfying sleep of the infant beside me in her mother's arms.  I remembered the difficulty of nap times interrupted. I noticed my friend at the front of the chapel silently snatching her child before she could make it to the stairs, then to the stage, then to the organ.

I used to do these things with Jonah.  I spent 3 hours of each Sunday chasing Jonah through the halls.  I would pull out every toy in the diaper bag, in the first 10 minutes, trying to keep him busy.  He would knock over plants, lick the windows, and consistently need a diaper change.  I was always relieved and exhausted when he would finally fall asleep, his long heavy body resting in the cradle of my inadequate arms.  Even though I often wondered why I went to church with a small child, I miss those moments.  My Sundays are very different now. 

Jonah has been gone for 4 months today.  I am constantly reminded of moments that I miss, of reasons why my heart should and can continue aching.  I see him everywhere, and think about him constantly.  My prayer in this fourth month has been that my memories of Jonah can bring me more joy than pain.  I want to be able to think of him and just remember the love and happiness his life brought to mine. I can't say that I am there yet, but I feel the balance is shifting toward joy and I'm grateful for that.  I am grateful for moments when Jordan and I talk about Jonah's antics and we laugh.  We wonder what things he might be able to do now, if he were 18 months old, and still with us.  The heartache lingers around the edges of each memory.  I'm sure it always will, but there is room for light, and life.  I felt some happiness to match my heartache as I watched these sweet children. 

After a few moments, lost in memory and observation, I leaned back in my chair and looked up.  I saw the most remarkable and simple sight.  A single shiny blue balloon, hovering alone among the vaulted ceiling beams.  It was a sight only to be seen by those who looked up.  I immediately thought of Jonah.  He loved balloons and could spot them in the most unusual places.  I am grateful I looked up.   I'm grateful for a misplaced blue balloon, for Sundays, and for mostly joyful memories. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Perfection

I feel different today.  Not whole by any means, but more optimistic I guess.  I don't feel like writing about my grief.  I want to tell you about Jonah, and a lesson I have learned from him. 

I grew up believing that we are all created in the image of God.  I never really questioned this idea, because it makes sense to me.  I like the idea of praying to a God who is like me, who understands me.  In the book of Genesis 1:26 its says "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."  

Before Jonah was born this phrase was a normal part of my theological vernacular.  It found its way easily into casual and serious religious conversations without too much thought on my part.  But when Jonah was born, and his body was "imperfect," I couldn't help but think more deeply about what it means to be made in God's image or likeness.  If God is perfect how can we be so imperfect?  How can each of us be so different and still be made in His image?  If we are made in His image why are some born crippled and some born disfigured? 

For me the answer came gradually as I watched my sweet Jonah grow.  I realized that his adorable dimples were just like his father's.  So were his funny bug-eyed expressions.  I began to see myself in him. The "imperfections" that had been mine, a small withdrawn chin, the smooth round chest indentation, the ridiculously thin blond hair, were also his.  Over time these features, that I had disliked or I had even disguised in my own body, became the unique and beautiful features I loved in my child.  I could not hate these aspects of myself, because they now belonged to Jonah.  I saw the intense beauty in Jonah's eyes and began to see the beauty in my own.  It became clear to me that Jonah was created in my likeness, in my image, in his father's image.  He was not a carbon copy but our essence was in him. 

A few days after Jonah died we had the difficult privilege of preparing his sweet body for burial.  I was so nervous.  I didn't know what to expect.  I was worried that the experience of seeing his dead body would ruin my living memory of him.  I had not seen him since we had to leave him at the hospital, but oh how I longed to be with him again.  Seeing his little body laying on a seemingly giant bed in the funeral home was almost overwhelming.  Even though it was clear his spirit was gone, it was healing to care for his lifeless body.  After all I cared for his body his whole life.  I knelt beside him and I reached out to touch the beautiful dip in his chest.  I traced the outline of his slanted eyes.  I rested his tiny fingers over mine.  I swept his wispy hair against my cheek.  I stayed beside him and cried.  Finally I turned to Jordan and told him what a perfect boy we made.

It is easy to be critical of our bodies.  We live in a world were "perfection" seems equal to happiness.  But I cannot accept that ideology.   I have experienced the beauty of "imperfection."  Now when I view my own body I think about Jonah and about the God who gave me life.  I am grateful for the "imperfect" reminders I have of my boy, and I can't help but wonder how God, the father of our souls, views us.  What parts of me are reminiscent of Him?  Does His essence shine through me?  Maybe we are all perfect to him, just as Jonah was perfect to me.  As a loving parent I'm sure he thinks that we are beautiful, in all our variations, because he made us, and we are like him. 

John 9:1-3
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Remember

A few days after Jonah died I remembered an unusual moment from last summer. 

Jordan, Jonah and I were standing in line at a grocery store in Vernal.  As we moved forward to buy our groceries the checker looked at Jonah, smiling and swinging his legs.  Of course he starred intently at her, as he did with all new faces.  Our typical grocery store conversation began.

"What a beautiful girl" she said. 
"Thank you...actually he is a boy, this is his hearing aid, not a headband.  Everyone thinks he is a girl so don't feel bad."

I went on to explain a little about his hearing aid and his syndrome.  I had this conversation almost every time I went to the store.  Then the conversation changed. She began to tell me about her own son as she passed our produce over the scanner.  He had special needs, but she loved him intensely.  Speaking of him, she became emotional and told me that he passed away 13 years ago in a tragic accident. 

Why is she telling me this? I thought.  But I replied "I'm so sorry to hear that", not really knowing what to say, or what to do.  She wiped her tears, we both smiled at Jonah, then we paid and walked away. 

As we left the store a nagging feeling began to pull at my heart.  I should go back and tell her something, something that would make her feel better.  I quickly ignored this feeling and carried Jonah to the car.  I thought to myself I don't even know this woman, I don't know what she believes. Again the feeling came.  Again I ignored it.  I buckled Jonah in his car seat while Jordan put the groceries in the trunk. We began to drive away.  I felt a sickening regret pour over me as I continued to ignore the intense feeling.  Out of the blue I told Jordan to stop.  I felt so stupid.   This woman's life is none of my business, who am I to preach to her, who am I to tell her what to feel.  

I explained the situation to Jordan, and he turned around to park the car.  I began searching for a piece of paper and pen so I could write a message.  I tore a blank margin out of the Vernal Express and began writing...
 
I want you to know that I never do this kind of thing...
But as I left the store I had such a strong feeling that I needed to tell you something.  I want you to know that I believe that you will be with your son again.  I believe that even though life is hard God loves you and he knows you. 

There was no more room on my small scrap of paper.  I signed it and for some reason gave her my phone number.  I quickly jumped out of the car with my scrawled note.  Once inside, my stomach churned.  What am I doing?  I found the cashier busy working.  I tapped her on the shoulder and said "here, I want you to have this."  She looked confused, understandably.  I smiled, turned, and bolted out of the store to the comfort of my car.  I felt relief.  Relief that it was over, and relief that I wouldn't be nagged by my sympathetic heart for the rest of the day. We drove away and I soon forgot about the stress induced by my simple note. 

But after Jonah's funeral I remembered.  I remembered the words I had penned about eternal life, and about the love of God.  At the time I fully believed what I had written, as it applied to this humble woman.  Why had I felt so compelled to share my beliefs with her?  Why was I remembering this experience now? 

I have given a lot of thought to this memory and moment.  I will probably never know if or how it impacted her life.  She may have thrown the note away, she may have been angry, or it may have given her peace.  I hope it is the latter. 

Most of all I think that note was for me.  I think God knew that I would need reassurance in the months ahead.  He knew that I would need to be reminded of the depth of my belief.  He knew he should remind me that at some point in my life I believed in Him so much that I felt compelled to share His message of love and eternal families with a total stranger.  That little scrappy note and the simple message it bore has helped me remember that I believe that God knows and loves me, and that I will be with Jonah again.  I cannot wait for that day. 

John 14:26
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. 



video
Jonah's first time in the grocery cart. 

Click here to read one of my favorite messages about remembering.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Doubt

I have discovered a secret chamber of my heart.  Most of my heart is reserved for beautiful ideas, for love, for joy, for optimism, for God.  But this tiny hidden portion is set aside for doubt.  I keep it there for protection, as a hedge against uncertainty.  When Jonah died my heart was shattered, so vulnerable, so hurt.  I fear the intensity of those feelings.  So I let doubt in.  Part of me believes if the rest of my hopeful heart is poisoned by disappointment this small doubtful portion will be saved.  It will be right if all goes wrong.  I often hear doubt whisper "you believe that you will have more children, but I know you might not", "you believe that you will find joy again, but I know that is impossible", "you believe the rainbow was a sign, but I know it was only sunlight and rain", "you believe in God, but I know he is only a figment."   Lately I have been clinging to my safety doubt to stop myself from expecting too much from life.   

This week I feel my heart changing.  I was blessed with an epiphany, a moment of clarity.  In a fog, I watched my niece and nephew scamper around their house, running and laughing, and occasionally bursting into tears.  I watched them and my heart ached for Jonah.  I imagined him in their midst, full of life and joy.  He was the epitome of joy.  I pictured my former self and wondered how I could have prepared for the devastation of losing him. 

If I had known Jonah would die, and if I had doubted my potential for happiness, it would not have changed my heartache.  I don't think it would be any easier.  My heart would still be broken.  The only thing that would have changed was my journey.  My 14 months of happiness and joy would have been smothered with fear, anxiety and hesitation.  I would have been a shadow of myself.  I loved Jonah with my whole heart, I didn't make room for doubt or fear.  A sprinkling of skepticism would not have lessened the pain I feel today.  My pain is intense because I loved absolutely.  

My epiphany is echoed in the inspired words of Lance Wickman, who also lost his son.    

Please know that grief is the natural by-product of love. One cannot selflessly love another person and not grieve at his suffering or eventual death. The only way to avoid the grief would be to not experience the love; and it is love that gives life its richness and meaning.


As I look toward the future I realize that the difficulties of life will happen.  My small, or large, reserve of doubt will not save me from disappointment, but it may handicap my ability to love.  It may stop me from feeling God's love for me.  It may blind my spiritual eyes.  It may keep me from playing with my beautiful niece and nephew.  It may halt my dreams and ambitions.  It may dull and deaden my heart. 

Belief is the only antidote for doubt.  I want to  renovate this small chamber in my heart.  Little by little I plan to excavate the doubt from my heart, and replace it with belief.   I will remind myself that doubt is a hinderance, not a protection.  I will prepare myself for future, for the potential depths of grief, with the knowledge that I have loved completely, without reservation, and with no more room for doubt.  

Mark 9: 23-24
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Boy

I miss my boy so much today. 

I miss his dimples, the brightness of his eyes.  I miss his funny little laugh.  I miss seeing him climb into his little arm chair to watch a movie.  I miss chasing him around the living room.  I miss holding him close and dancing with him.  I miss taking him to the park and exploring our yard.  I miss seeing his eyes light up when he saw other children, or animals.  I miss him handing his blanket to me each morning before I pulled him out of his crib.  I miss Jordan's joy in holding his little boy.  It is all too much to miss.  Today life seems so unfair.  The grief and longing is too much sometimes. 

Today I feel like I'm treading water.  Waiting to drown or to be rescued.  I continuously kick to keep my head above water, and at the same time try to conserve my energy, because I don't know how long I will have to tread.  My grief feels as endless and lonely as a vast ocean. 

Most days I can look for a silver lining.  I can find things to be grateful for.  But some days, days like today, I hate the impulse to try to find joy in such pain.  There is no way around the pain, no sugarcoating it.  I am left with the constant jolting realization that I have experienced something so traumatic.  It can only be felt.  I can only go through it. 

I share this with you because I don't want grief to seem easy.  A friend told me a few weeks after Jonah died that I was making grief look good.  I understood that she was trying to compliment me for handling the situation well.  I appreciated her kindness.  But grief is a horrible messy business.  The compliment would not have been given today.  A day when I quickly left the house, unshowered, with crinkly bed head hair, no makeup, rosy puffy cheeked from crying, seeking the comforting arms of my mother.  Even when my outward appearance is pleasant, the grief is still messy inside me.   

I don't ever want to make you think that losing a child is easy or manageable.  That would be a lie.

I'm sorry there is no hope in this blog post.  I don't want to give the impression that I am hopeless or desperate.  I am neither.  But, today all I can do is tell you how much I hurt, and how much I miss Jonah.  Maybe tomorrow I can return to finding perspective and truth and beauty amidst the heartache.  But today I will just miss my boy and continue to do just enough to keep my head above water. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Better Late than Never

I know it is cliche to say "better late than never."  Like all cliches it is said so often because there is truth at its core.  In the past three months I have learned that sometimes late is not only better than never...but late can be perfect timing. 

For weeks after Jonah died we received so much mail.  I longed for the mail to come, because it gave me strength.  Cards, letters, money...some from dear friends, some from acquaintances, some from total strangers.  It was overwhelming and beautiful and kind.  I was so grateful that people took the time to write a note or email and let me know of their grief at Jonah's passing.  It helped me to know that friends prayed for us, and wept with us.  Gradually this mail has tapered off.  When I go to the mailbox now I find the usual...ads, bills, etc...  But every so often I get a card or a note about Jonah. 

I wonder when I open these cards if the author was hesitant to send it.  Maybe she thought she was too late, that she should have acted sooner.  But the arrival of these notes is perfect for me.  As the world moves on and I have fewer natural conversations about my beautiful boy, I am so grateful that someone is thinking of him, that someone is thinking of me. 

I often feel like time is sweeping me down a swift river and I have left Jonah on the shore.  No matter how I try I cannot fight the current that pulls me away from his existence.  Another cliche...time marches on.  There is no stopping the progress of life, no going back.  These simple notes are like calm pools of water where I can stop for a moment.  They are a resting place. They bring me hope and usually make me cry.  I need moments that make me cry.  Sometimes I can't cry on my own.

If you are a sender of tardy notes, thank you.  Thank you for sending your love to me, whether quickly or slowly.  I truly need it.  I hope you will remember that beautiful words, and kind acts are always needed.  It is never too late.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.  Ecclesiastes 3:1

video
Here is a video of Jonah listening to music and licking tupperware, for your enjoyment.  It makes me laugh.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Plans

I interviewed for a job yesterday.  Its a job that pays too little and requires too much.  Just what I'm used to.  I applied because I need something to do.  My life is so unstructured.  I don't get out of bed until 9:00, creeping closer to 10:00 each day.  I stay up late doing who knows what.  I need some purpose, so I'm looking for a job.  Not a career, just a job.

I haven't interviewed for a job in 4 years, so I was a little rusty.  I didn't really prepare for the standard interview questions.  I have been so happily immersed it the world of motherhood that I really had to dig deep to remember my work life before Jonah.  I find it funny that the job of motherhood is inappropriate to reference in professional interviews.  When they asked me "Tell me about a difficult work experience and how you resolved it?" I wanted to tell them about trying to teach Jonah to sleep through the night.  I wanted to tell them about Jonah's cleft palate surgery, how I held him and tried to stay calm when he was in so much pain. Both experiences are so much harder than anything I've ever dealt with at work.

"What adjectives would you use to describe yourself?"  I wanted to say incredibly strong, hopeful, devastated, confused.  I think I said adaptable, passionate, creative. 

Here is the question that really got me.  "What are your plans for the next two years, what are your goals for the future?"  This question almost made me laugh. I have always been goal oriented. I like to have a plan.  I like to know where I'm headed and that I'm achieving something.  I like to put things on my resume.  Four years ago I would have had a great answer for that question.  Instead I said,

I have spent a lot of my life achieving goals, and working on plans.  In the last year of my life I have had all my plans turned upside down.  I wish I could tell you where I'm going to be and what I will be doing in two years.  I wish I could plan that far in advance, but I can't.  All I can tell you is that I want to be involved in something important, and I will do my best at whatever job I am given. 

I don't know if they liked that answer.  It felt honest, although not the whole truth.  I do have a plan.  I want to be a mom again.  I have come to realize that pregnancy is not always as easy and effortless as so many teenagers make it look.  It may be months, or years, or eternities.  I cannot plan my life.  I can hope.  I can wait.  I can try.  I can pray.  I will do all those things and try to appreciate the days I am given, the opportunities that present themselves and the love that comes my way.  And maybe someday I will get a job.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.  Woody Allen

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Imagine

"I can't imagine what you are going through."  These are words I hear a lot.  No truer words can be spoken.  Jonah's death is something I imagined occasionally when he was with me.  When we were at the pool or the playground I thought about all the difficulty and danger in the world, and wondered how I could possibly protect him.  I would gaze at his perfect body while he slept, and contemplate how I would ever survive if I lost him.  And then it happened.  I quickly discovered there is no imagination that can match the difficult reality of losing a child.  There is sincere sympathy and empathy, and yet experience is the strictest and finest teacher. 


Kelly, Finn, Ryan and Colum Pa

On Christmas Eve the Pack family were driving home from a family party.  An SUV jumped the median and hit their car in a head-on collision.  Both parents were critically injured, and their adorable little boy Colum (who was Jonah's age) died on Christmas day.

As I read about this family I wept, and I heard myself say to Jordan "I can't imagine..."  I truly can't.  I have lost my own little boy, but I can't imagine losing him because of a drunk driver.  I can't imagine having a broken body and a broken heart.  I can't imagine the heartache, the anger, and the physical and emotional pain that this family is feeling. Only they will ever know how it feels. 

While I try to fathom their loss, I find hope in imagining the goodness and service, that will envelope the Pack family this year.  I know it will come to them because it has come to me.  This is an experience that I know by heart.  There are many sympathetic hearts in the world.  Many will try to imagine how the Pack family feels and then they will act.  I am amazed by the simple and sometimes extraordinary ways people find to lift the burdens of broken hearts.  I know that Ryan and Kelly will have the same experience.  The abundance of pure love that follows tragedy is a phenomenon I could never have imagined. 

Colum Pack
I hope when you hear of someone's tragedy, like mine, or the Pack family, you will find ways to help.  If you can't think of what to do, use your imagination!  Or read this post.  If you have sent us letters, donated money, brought food, visited, called us, and countless other acts of service...thank you.  It all helps.  It all heals. 

A few additional notes:

Colum's strong healthy heart now beats in another baby's body.  Organ donation is a selfless choice, and a healing miracle.  You can sign up to be an organ donor here.

If you feel inclined to help this deserving family you can do it here

If you ever drink and drive you need to stop today.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year

Jonah's Laughing Heart
In the past I have made complicated resolutions at the new year.  I have divided my life into categories, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and created specific measurable attainable goals to achieve in each area.  This method has helped me feel productive in the past.  I find that this year I am not interested in being productive, I want to be whole.

A few days ago as I contemplated the new year I remembered this poem by Charles BukowskiI love this poem and love the title.

The Laughing Heart.   

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

My life is different than it used to be, but it is still mine.  I have come to realize that there is very little that I control, and heartache is inevitable.  Despite this I control the most important aspects of my life, my heart, my hope, my willingness to step through open doors.  My resolution for the new year is simple.  No complicated plans, no exercise goals, no self-denial.  It breaks all the rules of goal making, it is not time specific or measurable.  I simply want to recognize light in my life.  I want to see the beauty along with the pain.  I hope that the light I find will magnify.  I hope that this effort will make me whole again.  I hope to remember that I am marvelous and that the gods wait to delight in me. 

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. Psalm 139:14