Grief

I woke up with a start and reached for my phone.

3:22 am.

Flopping back on the pillow I rolled over and tried to get comfortable but my chest felt tight and my mind was fully alert.

Memories I wanted to forget flooded in and I winced, closing my eyes tight to black out the image of my baby on a hospital bed.  Gritty, unsettling details played on the screen of my mind.  Black and white words on a page, our surgeon’s face smiling kindly at me and my son’s still body.

My ears strained for sounds through the halls as I got up to get a drink.  I wanted to go to their doors and peek inside like I do sometimes, just to listen to their breathing and make sure everyone was ok, but I shook it off, feeling silly.

We’d been home from the hospital with our son for three weeks.  The crisis was past and the prognosis was great.

But my heart was staggering to hold the weight of reality.

What had just happened?

For over a month we had lived under the shock of our son’s sudden diagnoses, surgery and recovery.  We had gone from one crisis and milestone to the next, pushing forward toward healing.

We kept going because we had to.

There was no time to sit back and process.

No time to take in the what ifs.

There was too much to do to allow the fear to creep in.

But now, with quietness all around me and the comfort of my own bed beneath me I felt my heart race.

All the fears and the what ifs came crashing in around me.

I had almost lost my son.

How had life made a turn so quickly?

How had I lost the innocence I lived with before?

I wanted so badly to just keep going.  To pick up where we had left off and continue on as if it had never happened.

But I couldn’t.

Because had changed.

As much as I wanted to be able to go on and forget, I couldn’t shake the brokenness that I felt inside.

My friend’s kind eyes and gentle words came back to me.  She had been sitting there on my couch, staring straight at me on just the right day.

“And how are you?” She had asked, after I gave my usual glowing report of Karter’s latest accomplishments and the goals he was meeting.

The laundry I was folding knotted in my hands and I felt the tears rush in.  It was just one of those days…and she knew this story oh so well.

It had only been a few short years since I’d been at her bedside as she fought against the unexpected.

It’s ok to take some time to grieve.

Grieve?

It felt strange.

We were all fine!

We were so grateful and humbled at the goodness we had experienced.

I felt like all I could rightly feel was gratitude and joy.

I had my baby here at home with me, sleeping peacefully in his crib.

The future looked bright.

I thought of 7 year old Jack and his mom; of tiny little Aden, both of whom were still where we had last seen them, and wouldn’t be going home anytime soon.  Their scenarios were so much worse than our own.

How could I grieve when I had so much to be thankful for?

And yet…

I felt let down.

I felt scared and hurt.

I felt like I had lost something precious to me.

Sometimes I had to avert my eyes from my son’s somber gaze, or from his teary cries.

I felt like I was going to break if I let myself take in the possibility that he might be remembering too.

I didn’t want to go out and see anyone.  I didn’t know how long I could continue to hold it together and paste on a smile that was fitting for the ‘God is so good’ conversation.  It wasn’t that I didn’t believe it.  It was just that there was so much more depth than just a bandaid smile to that statement.

I avoided the videos on my phone of the days and weeks before all this happened.  I didn’t want to see the subtle changes.

The lack of speech, the cautious movements, the melancholy depth in his gaze.

Gradually, we could see him coming back to us…but I missed my little boy.

I missed the little boy who waved a hockey stick in his right arm with confidence and strength.

I missed the babbling chatter that he had just begun, pointing at the world around him with eager curiosity.

I missed the clear baby gaze that used to be so innocent and pure, looking at me with absolute trust.

I missed being enough; feeling brave and strong.

This one child, I had grown inside of me and tried so hard to protect the way I could never protect my daughters.

I was going to keep him safe.

He wasn’t going to know what it was like to feel scared, hurt and alone.

Yet here we were.

Slowly over the next weeks I tried to take it in and to take time to feel.

I still am.

To feel the pain, the fear, the loss.

To let myself adjust to the unexpected life has brought us.

I feel like my mind has room for very little these days, but I’m realizing that’s ok.

We have had little people in and out of our home again the past few weekends as relief foster care placements and I am so grateful to be able to offer love to them despite the inadequacy I feel.

It feels good to feel that heart-tug when their little hands reach for my neck.

It feels good to remind myself of who I am and to know that even when I am not enough, God promises to fill in the gaps.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”                                      2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Strong?

Delight?

It feels so foreign and yet I can see it shimmering through.  When I fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, yet I close my eyes and see her sweet little face tucked into my daughter’s bed.  Safe for one more night.

I feel it in the little boy arms that sling around my neck as he somersaults over the couch back into my lap, shy in his request for some affection.

I feel I have so little to offer these little people God has set in my home for a few days, yet somehow it’s obvious they can feel His love, His acceptance, His grace shining through the chaos and busyness of so many little people in one house.

Karter continues to make progress, though it comes more slowly now.

His happiness and slowly returning confidence is like a healing balm to my soul.

I cannot get enough of his smile,

his laughter,

the little shrieks and sounds he’s just started making again.

We went camping last weekend and he absolutely loved it.

To watch him toddle around taking it all in was so fortifying to my limping heart.  Swimming, exploring, boating, stomping on bugs, eating beside the campfire and falling asleep exhausted at the end of the day curled up in his sleeping bag next to me.

I needed it too.

The fresh air, chilled lake water, smoky campfire flavour and dirty faces of the ones I love most around me were so far away from the fear and pain.

It felt good to take one more step forward, away from the darkness.

Bouncing over the lake with my girls as we tubed beneath the bright, hot sun I felt more free and happy than I have in months.  We laughed and shrieked over the waves, again and again and again.

Just now my eyes land on a piece of mail.

“Never Give Up Hope!”

Hope.

It can feel so elusive but it’s always right there within grasp when we believe in a God who is so much bigger than this broken, faded world.

If this is you right now,

limping along grasping for threads or feeling disillusioned with the world,

take these words as my prayer for you and hide them deep within your heart.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

-Romans 15:13

 

 

 

 

Life Unexpected

It is the stuff of nightmares.

A doctor with an apologetic face;

He’s offering a chair, taking a deep breath…

Brain tumour.

My heart clutches.

I look to my husband and I see his face cringe.

Our son snuggles closer between us when we cling and sob out sorrow.

I race home to collect a bag of things,

To hug my girls good-bye.

Their fear and innocence in contrast pushes me on.

I promise them and hold them tight.

Before I can breathe,

process,

hold this new reality in my hands…

We are being rushed toward the helicopter, my tiny son strapped to a stretcher and crying as we roll through the darkness.

I’m kissing my husband goodbye.

“I will be there as fast as I can.”

I want to scream,

To pull my baby in my arms and run far away from all this.

The men are large and strangely comforting in their neon jackets.

They are gentle and calm.

They strap us in and sit quietly in my stunned grief as we fly through the night sky.

My son settles into an exhausted sleep and I hold his hand and stare down at the lights below.

Steadfast love.

It comes to me and pulls together my anguished heart.

Over and over in the last 2 weeks I was drawn to the psalm, not sure why, and now the words bind up my wounds.

“Your steadfast love, O Lord; extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.”

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!”

“Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”

Steadfast.

Love.

I breathe and take refuge in the angels in neon across from me.

We are landing and they place him back in my arms.  I hold him close and wrap a blanket around his bare arms.  We’ve left without a jacket and the night air is cold.  I grip him to my heart and try to transfer myself to him.  I know he is afraid.

Steadfast love.

We follow strange corridors and crowd into an elevator.  The men in neon surround us and tower over us.  My son gazes wide eyed and scared.

We follow back outside to an ambulance and whisk away.

I breathe gratitude and feel tears well when they allow me to hold him instead of strap him to the stretcher.

We are sitting in a busy hallway on a stacking chair being admitted and still I hold him tight to my chest, the blanket securing him to me.

My eyes feel big and scared.  I feel small and unsure.

My heart flows gratitude when I see my big brother round the corner and come to us.

He stays with us even with his own son lying upstairs.

Steadfast love.

The hours blur as they insert IVs, put on lead lines and watch monitors.

My baby’s skin has always been so spotless and white.

I cringe as they pin him down and poke and press.

He is terrified.

My husband comes and we sit together in shock as our baby drifts to sleep on the cold white hospital bed.

Questions.

Answers?

My phone dies from the texting.

We spend the night in a crowded room trying to sleep in the upright hospital chairs.

We won’t leave him.

He falls into sleep and I am so thankful he can escape this nightmare as I try to get comfortable.

The next day there are tests.

More questions.

Information staggers my mind and makes me stare at my boy unbelieving.

So perfect.

So unblemished.

So innocent.

Brain surgery tomorrow.

9am.

They will cut his scalp open and drill a passage way through his brain.

I hold the words at arms length and turn my eyes so I won’t have to look too close, to let the terror seep in.

I focus on reassuring my toddler, learning new terms and piecing together brain anatomy.

I phone my girls and once again I put on my brave voice.  I am their string of hope and I won’t let them down.

My voice is strong and sure as I promise them and reach for words they can understand.

I give them just enough to ease their anxiety, but not too much.

We take our little boy, clad in hospital gown and pajama pants, to the play room.  For over an hour he plays and we watch him forget about the IV on his arm.  He babbles and laughs and points at the elevators moving up and down.

Steadfast love.

I wonder when he will play again.

That night I sleep on a couch near his room, comforted by knowing that I will be close by if he needs me.

Morning.

Surgery day.

Only now do I let myself Google it…preparing my heart for the fall.  The words I find give me footholds of reassurance and I claim them fiercely.

My husband carries him through the halls to the OR.

We look at books and try to hide our uncertain tears from his little face as we wait.

He likes the trucks and tractors in the book.

For a minute he goes very soft in my arms and snuggles up to my neck.  I squeeze him close and breathe him in.

Steadfast love.

When they take him and his bunny Flopsy away he cries and we force ourselves to turn and walk away.

My mother in law’s arms give me a second to collapse and I feel tears rush in.  She holds my pain for a minute before letting go and it feels good to share a bit.

It is 6 long hours.

I am nervous…but I also feel held.

I am humbled as I realize all the people praying in this moment.

I believe.

Steadfast love.

The surgeon is there.  I anxiously rise to the inevitable and scan his face for hope.

He is so pleased.

Gratitude overwhelms as he describes what we hardly dared hope for.

It is gone.  They’ve gotten every piece they could find.

Steadfast love.

We go in to see him and I could weep with relief.  His chubby cheeks relax in peaceful sleep.  Flopsy is still there with him and we tuck him up by his arm.

Steadfast love.

The uncertainties lurk but we hold onto the hope and embrace it.

Its been a few days now and I sit by my baby’s bedside in the ICU.

The adrenaline rush is collapsing and the truth feels cold and hard beneath my tumbling heart.  I am scared and uncertain in this new reality but still…

Steadfast love.

I reach for the hearts that I know will hold me, us, in all our pain.

He is seizing beneath my trembling hands and his eyes stare dull and lifeless.

They are rushing in, grabbing masks, calling code.

I am being pushed back from his bedside and I cling to my husband’s trembling chest.  More and more…they just keep coming, calling out orders and stats.

I am terrified and the sobs push out of my lips.

I stumble out into the hallway into the waiting arms of my sister in law, who came rushing when she heard the code.

She holds me and says “I’m sorry” as I fall apart.

I know she knows this feeling and I am so grateful for her presence in this moment.

He knew that I would need her tonight and her son is surprisingly, blessedly, fast asleep down one floor in his room.

Steadfast love.

We return to the ICU and I am so grateful.  The carefully monitored room feels familiar and safe after the last 24 hours.

Answers come and we nod in understanding as they explain.

Knowledge gives grip to confidence and I advocate for my son, feeling strong and sure in the normalcy of knowing what is best for him.

Steadfast love.

It’s painful to watch him grasp for strength and my heart staggers under the weight of discouragement.

She knows me well and despite my efforts her arms bring the tears flowing.  It feels better than I thought to let the fear out and fall apart.

Steadfast love.

He meets us on the street corner with the kindest and gentlest of words.

“Don’t worry,” he tells my husband, and we see he really means it.  He gives generously and my eyes fill once again with gratitude for this man who has continually blessed our family again and again and again.

I am humbled and so grateful.

Steadfast love.

The waited on words are offered casually and its anticlimactic as we cautiously grasp hope.

No cancer.

No further treatments needed.

“I see no reason he should not have a full recovery.”

Really?!

Steadfast love.

A weight falls off our shoulders and breath comes easier.

For the first time in days I see light.

I wake up to the video and I smile the biggest smile.  It’s my little boy grinning his crooked little smile and high fiving Daddy with his right hand!  The side that’s been weakened since surgery.

Steadfast love.

So much joy with one small milestone!

They keep coming and coming.

First kick,

first reach,

first grasp of my finger,

first step,

first bite.

So many reasons to be grateful.

Steadfast love.

I talk to them on the phone and they are bubbling over with happiness and news.

“I miss you, Mommy.”

“I miss you, too.”

And then she goes on with what Nana said, what Papa did, what happened at school…

I smile the biggest smile as I listen to her happy voice.

They are safe and happy, even though they are so far from me.

They have found their people and they know who they belong with right now.

How do we deserve to be loved so unconditionally and fully?

Steadfast love.

It’s our first weekend home!

We get a pass!

I am ecstatic and my heart actually skips a beat as we drive into our small town.

It’s so beautiful and green everywhere!

We’ve been gone a month and so much has changed.

Life everywhere.

I drink in the green trees, the breeze on my face as it blows off the bay, the sight of my children all playing together in the back yard.

Steadfast love.

Life has changed, and I miss the way it used to be.

But in it all, I am so grateful.

And I know…

In the journey there is beauty,

growth,

redemption,

and always…

Steadfast love.

-AF