No Light, No Grace

When I began this blog and considered the title, it seemed fitting to establish my roots in faith. I sought examples of God’s light and wanted to document experiences of grace as I journeyed through each day. But what now, when darkness seems to close in unexpectedly, when grief overcomes my ability to see or trust the Light? Certainly I have been shown grace as my emotions rule, as tears flow in the midst of everyday conversations or when I appear hardened and aloof, trying desperately not to feel in order to complete tasks. Truthfully though, I have discovered during this mourning time that I don’t find the light to be bright enough,  the grace I once knew was from God is little comfort. Marooned, angry, unable even to recognize a thirst for healing waters, I realize I have lost my ability to write as well.

What was comfort, a means to express what I often couldn’t say out loud, now feels like whining and moaning and pointless. Shall I say each day that I am sad? Shall I list all the ways I have displayed my anger? Who really wants to read such depressing drivel? How can I find my way back as a light-seeker when I am distrustful of the rays that break through, knowing the night is coming again, the inky blackness that mutes colors and turns all who move around me into shadows? Eleven years I was faithful in praying to a God, asking fervently for the prayers of others who seemed more deeply faithful, that my son would be given a way out of his addiction, that he would be safe and redeemed and restored. A pastor told me once, through the darker times, that my Arrow was working on his testimony, that one day he would share his witness. Taking this as a promise from one who had the inside track to God, I just knew Arrow would stand in church one day and thank everyone for coming alongside him in prayer, for propping up his family and caring for his child He would say he was now a believer and committed to a different life. I held this as a promise even when he was homeless and filthy, even when he was missing and the police were searching for him. I trusted this plan when he was in danger in prison and when he attempted suicide. I trusted God with my child, yet God took him anyway.

Tricked, I feel tricked. I search for a way back to God, a reason to go back to God. I still beg him to protect my daughter, to keep my husband safe, to watch over my grandchildren but I know He may not be listening to me. After all, why hasn’t He restored my daughter to us? Why is life often complicated and difficult with Plum’s mom? When is it going to go our way, when? Yes, we have a safe home and food in our fridge, we are mostly able to pay all the bills and our health allows us to participate in our church ministries. Still my deepest yearnings, my fervent prayers lay at the altar, abandoned neglected shriveled. I want the easy joys of restoration and relationship and celebrations, when do I get my share, my payback for the mistake of taking my son? Kubler Ross might notice I am angry and bargaining and oh so far from acceptance.

I listen as others who are mourning or have grown in their grief talk about the assurance of a better place for their lost loves, knowing I am rejecting their faith, rejecting the idea that the timing was God’s intention. How can I believe that Arrow was supposed to die alone in his kitchen with drugs coursing through his body, destroying the chance of listening to his children laugh and walk and run and play football? What sense does that make? How can I not feel rejected by the One I have followed, to give me this child only to rip him from our lives?  No, writing does make me feel better, see truths I may have missed. I can only rant and scream out with the ragged voice of one who has suffered a wound so catastrophic that wholeness will never be possible.

I am sad. Everyday I am sad. Every minute I ache and I search for answers that won’t come. Acceptance of this loss and of a new relationship with the One who pulls the strings seem far off, out of reach to a mother who just wants to hear her son laugh again.

I Don’t Care and I May Never Again

A friend texted me that she was sorry to say it but this is my new normal. She knows, she has lost a son as well. She knows the struggle to be a friend, the struggle to find yourself after you have lost a portion of your heart. Can we really live with just pieces? I watched a dear friend donate a kidney, watched her recovery. She gave to a stranger, not because a family member needed it. She has been preparing for this her whole life, her health choices leading to a swift and full recovery. Yet the stories of those who give out of urgency, I understand their battle to regain their daily life, to live without pain meds. I too have only sliver of my original heart, it barely beats enough to sustain me, I am existing with the knowledge I will never be whole again. I lost the portion of my heart that cares, that holds concern, that oozes compassion with each beat.

I can no longer meet someone new. It just comes down to that, the realization that I will never enter into a new relationship without fear of the opening get-to-know you questions.  Do you have any kids? That moment of choosing whether to skip all the details or answer with truth, much like the moment when someone asks “how are you today” is paralyzing. Not including the information that my son has died is the easy route but still causes me to abandon all further discussion, no relationship is built. Alternatively, if I share what is really threatening to break me beyond healing, this new acquaintance might flee for the nearest exit as well, too much heaviness too soon. How do you respond to that overshare? Maybe I would be met with compassion but that threatens to destroy the thin hold I have on public composure as well. My living room, curtains drawn, alone as the tears freely flow, no expectations of a recent shower or combed hair, I am at my most honest. I barely note that the dogs want out or the cats need fed. Dust coats everything and I don’t care.

Keeping my circle of friends just the same as it was 8 weeks ago is safer, as if my ability to relate and behave acceptably in social situations died along with my son. Maybe this truth will be fleeting, lasting only during these early days of grieving, when mourning overwhelms my senses and requires all of my energy. The truth is that even chatting, even quick interactions with a cashier or the dental hygienist frustrate and anger me. My thoughts are on a loop, the refrain “I don’t care” beginning somewhere between the “hello” and the “How are you?” Introspective by nature, now I am self-absorbed, lacking empathy and devoid of compassion. Recognizing that I am not the kind of person I would want to get to know, I wonder if I ever will be again. Protective of my meager social skills and aware of just how exhausted I am, my interactions these days are limited to those who know and expect little of me. Putting on a mask to get through the check out line, responding when someone in passing nods or waves, I can’t keep it in place for longer than 5 seconds, it slips and I am lost again in memories that bring comfort or those what haunt me.

Sitting in the dentist’s chair, standing in the entry area at church, walking through the store all bring anxiety and the fear that I will scream out, “My son died! Stop talking to me.” Can you imagine? How alarming would such a breach of etiquette be, how could any of us recover from such an outburst? So I slink away when I can, I avoid whatever social situations I can. When stuck, like in the dentist’s chair or with a real talker as I try to scan my groceries, I check out mentally and wonder when they will notice that I am no longer present.  Attempting to connect with me, many people share stories of others who have lost someone important in their lives, an honest attempt to let me know they get it and yet the very act snaps the thread between us. I cannot accept any donations of more pain, I am at capacity. Thus chit chat overwhelms me, other stories of loss anger me. No, my circle has to be small enough that my instincts to host or be accommodating don’t war with the desire to scream. Worse yet, I can’t muster the desire to care how I am perceived.

Certainly there are people who know I can only be engaged for moments, they offer the space for me to float in and out without judgement. These folks are my inner circle, the friends who share grace with one who is full of judgement and anger. They know I have little to nothing to give and am selfishly taking, taking, taking. They join me for lunch and know it might be silent. They help me with meal preparation church and realize I am far away even as we stand side by side. They ask me how I am doing and really want to hear the answer.  Hours later as it occurs to me that I didn’t ask about them, that I showed no concern for their well-being, I wonder if they still see ME through the haze of my grief, if they believe I will one day be concerned about more than my broken crumbling heart. I can’t find me anymore, though I am not looking very hard.

To be the most honest, my Chef gets the worst of me, maybe that has always been true but my bad was not this horrible. My anger explodes is rapid bursts, I forget to ask about his day or check out quickly as he answers. He doesn’t have the luxury of sitting at home like me, he puts on the mask daily and enters the public arena where he laughs at jokes and shares basketball scores, he interacts as expected, I just can’t fathom how he puts on such a show. When he returns home, he is met with silence, an oppressive air of sadness that permeates the rooms and coats the walls. I remember years ago when we helped my mother move from one house to the next, nicotine could be seen dripping down the walls, leaving a stain noticed only when a picture was removed, when a planter was picked up. I know now that was sadness, not merely evidence that she smoked constantly inside. My sorrow has tainted my home, my relationships, my desire to be nice. He comes home to this, exhausted from holding his mask in place and finds me, sitting on the couch, with nothing to offer. The painful reality that he has tried to avoid all day confronts him as he puts his key in the lock. Yes, many days I even want to scream at him and he already knows. My son died and my heart is failing. Our relationship is stained and coated with tears that won’t stop.

I am lucky to have those deep friendships to keep me stepping out into the world, telling me that it is okay when I say shitty nasty judgmental things, they accept my anger. It could be that they are paving a way out of this darkness, pushing my heart to function in my new normal. Maybe one day I will say the words out loud, I will be able to share orally that my son died and then know how to say something else. Today, I can’t, all my thoughts stop there. No new relationships, minimal interaction with strangers, venturing into public for short bursts and no eye contact, this is my current reality. I don’t even care enough to apologize. The things I am sorry for are much deeper than poor social skills, much wider than forgotten niceties.  My son died. His heart stopped and I can’t find a way to make mine beat again without screaming out in agony.  We both ceased being us on that day.  I know I will never again hear him laugh, I can’t imagine ever doing so again either. I will never again watch his smile brighten the room, see his eyes sparkle. I cannot find the strength to lift my own lips in greeting, my eyes are dulled by devastation.  The cobwebs grow around me as relationships falter, as interactions sputter to a halt. I don’t care anymore and I may never again.

Carrying My Elephant

When I explained to my friend that I felt disconnected to my Plum, that I knew I wasn’t being emotionally available to him, that I feared for our relationship but felt helpless to muster the energy to play our pretend games or create my own Lego robot to battle his, she offered many gentle suggestions but one stood out. I needed to tell him the truth. Hardly shocking or earth-shattering yet I hadn’t even in my foggy state, considered the power of offering him my truth.  Her ability to discern and deliver hard truths and beautiful insight with a softened tone and gentle words has aided me in correcting my paths too many times to count now. I trust her, I believe she has my best interests and even more, my soul, in mind as she listens to me. What if I offered my Plum the same gift of truth?

Her ideas about how to stay present with Plum, to create some space for even a few moments of engagement that would carry him as I sunk back into the fog of memories and heartache, they changed our weekend and brought me closer to this sweet child. Putting the plans in motion alleviated the guilt I was trying to add onto over-burdened shoulders. We built some Lego guys, we chitter-chatted. By Sunday though, I was exhausted and weepy and just needed some alone time. “Gran can we play our pretend game?” When life was our normal, he and I took on the role of characters, or more accurately, I did. He always stays Plum but I am a cast of friends who have different voices and attitudes and agendas. Our group tackles the concerns in his mind, we work out proper sharing and competitions and word choices and even a new crush. This play forces me into giving him my full attention and he loves it, craves this secret activity of ours (if Chef approaches, SILENCE!) By Sunday morning, I was completely unable to take on any more roles, I barely had my own voice. “C’mon here Plum, let’s talk.” Instead of playing any other parts, I gave him my truth.

“Gran’s sad is so big, so heavy, it is as if I am carrying an elephant.” Spreading my arms out wide, I showed him how heavy they were, how cumbersome this elephant actually is.  “Gran is so tired because this elephant is huge and heavy and it is wearing out my arms, making my shoulders ache, my body is exhausted.” I asked him if he noticed that I wasn’t very attentive right now, he said I was grumpy. Yes! I owned his label and told him this elephant is making it hard for me to see anything else, my view is blocked. I get distracted with the heaviness of it, I forget to be nicer and I can’t pick up anything more. Apologizing for not being more with him, expressing that I so missed our special times together, I told him I wouldn’t be carrying this elephant forever. “But Gran, I thought you love elephants?” Clarity and history broke down my metaphor, I struggled to explain that indeed, I do and yet this one was coming between us. Still, he said he understood and he offered grace to his Gran, tempered his invitations to play and met me in the light of our truth. Even as I pondered my promise to him, that this elephant carrying wasn’t forever, I realized I had no idea how to set it down. Slowly, carefully, with great care so neither of us were permanently damaged, I imagined.

“Your joy is your sorrow” writes Kahil Gibran in “The Prophet,” a work that has greatly steered my thinking for over 30 years. The words of this poem have been echoing around my thoughts as I consider the question posed by my Plum. Yes, one of my greatest joys ever was when Stella and I interacted up close with elephants in a sanctuary in Thailand.  The opportunity to side atop one as she played in the river, to be dunked under by the mahout, her tender, and gasp in delight as a baby elephant swam under us and popped up spraying water all around us, this joy is deeply connected to my daughter and my time of discovering her fully as a young woman. Why didn’t I tell Plum my sad was as big as a whale? A huge building? When the words left my mouth to this sweet boy, I said elephant and it was truth. My most joyful moments are the self same deepest sorrow, forever joined in my love for these two children. Remembering how carefully we made meals for the elephants within this sanctuary, how we marveled at their size and gentleness, I am reminded that my grief deserves the same consuming tenderness.

One day I will merely visit with this elephant, I won’t be carrying it. That day seems quite out of reach in these early dark moments. For now, I got honest with my Plum and we are both better for it. While I am weighed down with grief, we have offered each other space to feel how we are, be where we are, we are finding language to share difficult emotions. Mostly though I was to free up a hand to reach out to this child.  Joy will come again, I am confident this child will we teach me the way back. Reconnected, I release the guilt and hold my sadness tenderly.

 

 

My Whale of Grief

The story of Jonah and the whale has been reverberating these last few days, bouncing around my mind as I vacillate between trying to string thoughts together and shutting down any thoughts at all. Why is this bit of scripture pestering me, what have I to learn or gather from the story of a man who avoided his calling, who went to extremes to push his own agenda and allow his anger and hate to fester? What I am sure of is this relentless pursuit of my soul is not of my prayers, rather those of all who are surrounding us in these dark days. I just want to be left alone, allowed to nurture my resentments and give way to the grief that is telling me to give up, to become bitter and even to explain to the God who is supposed to bring me comfort that He has failed me miserably. Yet the whale and this man are hounding me.

I can barely type the words that share I have lost my son. I cannot find motivation to live in this world without the hope of reconciliation, without the knowledge that my baby is out there somewhere, smiling and laughing and being so silly. No, I have been swallowed by the whale of heartache, unlike Jonah I haven’t found a way to pray to this God who seems to love others, to cherish them and allows a mother’s heart to be shredded again and again. I wish I were stronger, more faithful, to rest in the truth of God’s ever presence, even within a sea serpent’s belly of soul crushing devastation. But maybe if I allow a bit, a tiny thread of connection to this far away God, I can admit that even while Jonah was disobeying God, questioning the direction God was asking him to go, still He saved this man and allowed him sanctuary within the whale, a place of darkness, room to mourn for the ideas and hopes he had while preparing for the next step in his journey.

The rest of Jonah’s story is seemingly not for me, a future of proclaiming God’s faithfulness and even then resurrecting anger and hate. I am stuck in hopelessness, filled with the horror of seeing my son for the final time in such a horrible state, days after he had taken his last breath, after an autopsy that only brings insult to the baby I held, the child I nurtured and cuddled and bathed. Desecration, disrespect as the crematorium owner placed a box of tissues on top my son as he laid cold and bare, swollen and discolored, a simple act of treating him like a bench forever etched within my soul. The belly of the whale will hold me for longer than Jonah’s three days, I am comfortable there where no light shines. I have no great testimony to lead others to truths that seem empty as each night comes and then the morning, the sheer insult of time continuing for me when it has stopped for my boy.

Maybe one day I will emerge, asked to be thrust back into the world where I can find purpose and shout that God held me during my exile. Until then, I can feel the prayers of those who surround us, those who tell me that they are talking to God because they understand that I cannot, that I will not. The problem is that I do not want to loosen the binds of my grief, what is left if I allow myself to fall fully into this horror, will I someday come to laugh and smile again? How could I want to carry on, to do the work of this God who seems to care so little for me? No, Jonah,  I will sit within the belly of my grief, you can pray to God all you want, I prefer to stay in the darkness, secluded from joy.  God and I have some things to work through, words I must speak that are not fit for those who wait on the shore. I have been angry at God before but this time, this is just a bridge too far, a brokenness that will never be healed.

As raw as the fish that were swallowed with Jonah, my grief is foul and writhing. As I claim my time within it, I can hear the whispers of you all. Thank you for your belief, for lifting me and telling me to breathe. Someday I may tell you a story of my healing. That day is not today.