I have started and stopped various writings to share (in my head) about a million times. Somehow it was either too hard, or just not the right time to get the words down in writing. The past eight months have been a period of great sadness, change and most importantly growth for me. All are important steps in the grieving process that I will likely embark on many times before my time here on Earth is done. Because despite what appearances may look like, how functional I am, or how big my smile, I grieve each and every day of this life. Some days I am able to function at near normal levels, and others it is exhausting to get up and make breakfast. Even though our loved ones who are gone are not visible to us for the rest of our lives, for those with direct loss, grief is ever present, always lurking behind a corner, and when we least expect it the tidal wave hits and we have to tread water incredibly hard in order to maintain our head above water.
When I look back on the fall, and 2019 for that matter, there is not much I remember. This confirms my theory that the first year of grief, no matter what we think becomes a blur and huge significant chunks of time are just absent from our minds. No matter how hard someone tries to help us remember, it is just blank. I have recently found that picture taking in times of grief are also lacking, so often there are not even pictures to trigger our memories. This is the same thing that happened after my dad died, and also the same thing after Charlotte died. I was just in survival mode. I do admit that after Maggie I was able to pull off that I was doing fabulous much better. It was easy to pretend like nothing happened because she was never in our house, there were not memories to take down and pack away, or soak my tears in. There wasn't even a nurse set up to close the door on. Maggie's life began in private and ended in private. Just Junji and I present in person. I also threw myself into manic overdrive and took on as many projects as I could possibly fill my time with. They made me feel alive and allowed me to hide from the reality that someday I would have to face.
With the ever passing years of Charlotte's passing in November (three years to be exact), the memories, the feelings the smells were all still ever present in my mind but as the years go on, and things return to normal around you, grieving parents start to feel as though the very fact that their child existed is fading from the Earth. Their mark becomes known less and less by the people around you, and people start entering your life that know them only by memories, they never actually met them. This is hard. Last November I felt myself longing to go back to those last few months with Charlotte. The hard months. The long scary days. And back to the end where sometimes I forget how bad it really was for her. People who have not lost a child may never understand, and maybe even some who have may not understand but my heart last November begged to go back to November 2016. To be around her, to feel the fresh stabs in my heart, to feel the uncontrollable burning tears in my eyes, and in my soul, because that meant that I was closer to her. As hard as I try, sometimes it still feels as the years go by that I am getting further and further away from my loved ones, and I want to be close to that time, so that I can remember, feel, smell, and truly know them like I did then.
I wadded through the holidays which honestly just don't feel the same. It is still painful to hang empty stockings, look at ornaments that are theirs, and to shop for only one child. We have done the best that we can to embrace that they are still incredibly hard for us, and that that is ok. We have added new traditions, and recognized that there are some things are just too hard to do without them there with us. We are ok with that. This year I knew I just had to make it through to mid-January to my much anticipated for pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The Holy Land. It is so hard to put into words the journey that I both psychically, spiritually, and mentally took while I was there. The sheer overwhelming power of placing my hands on the most sacred places is beyond words. And when I finally took the time to slow down, and be with just myself and God, I heard answers and comfort to my prayers that the distractions of the world at home frequently blocked out. I have never wanted to die from my sadness, I know and fully believe that these crosses I have been entrusted to carry int his life are a huge blessing in addition to the pain and suffering they inflict. I accept the crosses with open arms and know that while they may seem unfair to others, are a gift of grace and love for me. I was most monumentally moved in two places on my journey. The Garden of Gethsemane and at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which houses many of the very last places of Jesus' life, including Calvary, and the tomb where Christ was buried and rose again. In the Garden of Gethsemane. I was struck by the overwhelming recognition of the humanity of Christ. The suffering that He may have endured there knowing the coming betrayal perhaps was more painful than the crucification itself. It was there that at the Rock of Agony Christ showed the fullness of His human nature by the fear expressed of what was to come, yet accepting His father's will. I laid my hands on that rock and felt a union, and connection to suffering, pain and fear, and yet an understanding that it wouldn't last forever.
Then when I made my way up the stairs to Calvary, and placed my hand upon the stone that held THE cross He was crucified on, I instead of sadness, felt life. Life surged through me like a fire through my veins. I thought maybe it was a fluke, so I made my way many times in the line to again place my hand through the hole and on to the stone, and every single time, it was life and only life I felt. The feeling tells a two fold message to me. First it tells me that my dad, Charlotte, and Maggie are filled with life, they are filled with life that is far greater, more glorified, and most of all divine compared to the life I live down here. Secondly, I knew instantly that my accepting that life giving energy was a not a gentle push, but a huge shove to pick up my crosses, and to truly live in this life, to not just pass the moments by living in a fog a hundred percent of the time. I left there with peace, with a veil of grace laid over my soul for all the times I am not able to pull out of the fog, and above all a deep desire to live, and to live a much better more purposeful life, not only for me but for all three of my daughters.
This was all amazing and great, but then I came home and realized that in order to live on Calvary, there was a lot of unfinished business I had to work through back home. And then came what I call "the great pause" otherwise known as Covid-19. The timing was impeccable for me for a number of reasons, first I was able to make it to the Holy Land. If just a week or two later, we either wouldn't have been able to go, or we would have had to cut the pilgrimage short. I knew I was meant to go on that trip. Second, it has gifted me for lack of a better word time to do some pretty hard work in the grief department that ultimatly ends up being good for my soul.
My initial feelings in the beginning of the pandemic were filled with anxiety, nightmare ridden nights. Many may not know or fully understand how this so closely mimics our life with Charlotte when respiratory season started in Minnesota only on a much grander scale. Sophie and I quarantined many times in the basement when she was sick in order to avoid Charlotte catching anything. We changed clothes when we came out from being out in public, Sophie changed clothes when coming home from preschool. We debated endlessly the pros and cons of sending Sophie to school vs. keeping her home. We screened visitors, wore masks, sanitized until our hands were raw, and kept Charlotte away from the public as much as we could. We essentially established our own personal lock down. So when we went into a literal shelter in place the same fear and panic set in like it did in the past. I then moved into sadness. Sadness knowing what families who are in the hospital are going through with diminished support, one parent at bedside, and overwhelming fear. I couldn't stop myself from visualizing Charlotte's last weeks of life with only Junji or I at bedside, without loved ones and friends being able to say good-bye while she was alive and after she passed. It makes my eyes fill with tears right now for those families who have actually had to do this. The death of a child is hard enough, but facing it in the midst of a pandemic feels like it would be impossible.
I was then able to move into the phase that I probably have subconsciously been able to avoid for six years. The un-digging and purging of things and the sorting of memories. Over the past six years we have one hundred percent been in survival mode. Just having enough energy to make it from one event to the next. This means that paperwork, un-needed things, and overall just "stuff" has piled up and been shoved in every corner possible, both visible and hidden to the eye. I also have mementoes strewn about the entire house in drawers, little boxes, big boxes, or just sitting out, if I needed to find one there is no way I could possibly do so. Going through these things meant that I had to and continue to have to feel the feels as I sort, decide what I want and don't want, and establish one localized spot for each persons momentous to live. It meant opening up the plastic bags of clothes that Charlotte lived in the last few days of her life, and smelling her smell fresh upon the cloth. It meant looking at pictures, feeling items and trying to decide if it brought back bad memories or good ones. One thing I have learned is that when someone dies, initially everything they have owned or touched becomes sacred, or at least it did for me. I was able to decided that after almost five years of being gone, that the toothbrush my dad kept in his desk maybe didn't have as much significance to me as the little pins he earned from donating blood, or the old school mechanical pencils he always used. Doing this had been incredibly heavy on my soul, and there have been many tears, but in the end it feels like an enormous weight has been lifted off of me. It has and continues to be a mountain to climb, but I will say that I feel like I am not far from the peak, and the amount of grief that has been lifted from the house and the physical things as been profound. This deep urge to dive deep has lead me into the rabbit hole of pictures, pictures that have remained largely unsorted or printed for six years. It began with working on getting the pictures sorted, which led me to seeing so many amazing pictures of my loved ones that I wanted to look at over and over, and ended with finishing a digital scrapbook of the year 2015 within a week. Hard, hard work, but work I know is part of my spiritual journey 2020 has lead me on. Maggie is a little harder. Looking back and remembering her, placing my hands on all the items that were "potential" for her to use has proven to be much harder, and so for now they are safely tucked away in a few drawers waiting for me when I am ready.
I know that the life changes that have occurred in the past few months have been incredibly hard for the entire world. I am the first one to say I am not meant to be a teacher, and even though we have looked at this time together as a family and with Sophie as one of the biggest blessings in a long time, there have been many times, sometimes multiple times a day where I have had to remove myself and go behind a closed door and count to ten to prevent myself from losing my temper. There have also been many days where I have lost my temper, whether it is the current world situation, my journey with grief, or just an overwhelming sadness about some of the nastiness this pandemic has brought out in people, it has happened and I am sure the neighbors could hear my frustrations loud and clear....I am after all human. If there are two things I can say about this period of time in our lives it is this - whether or not you believe this is true, or maybe feel like your rights have been violated, please be kind. There are people currently in this world living lives like we used to with incredibly vulnerable people who they are terrified of losing. If Charlotte got sick, it wasn't from her going out, it was us bringing it in the home to her, and while the overall numbers may seem small for mortality, I can assure you that there is no statistical number small enough that doesn't feel enormous when that small percent is your loved one. Secondly, I hope that while you recognize and embrace how hard this is, which is perfectly ok - it is hard for a lot of us, including me, I hope that above all you can find some blessings in the slowing down of life, the less commitments, the time together as a family. Because despite all the heartache that has come with this including physical suffering, and financial suffering, this "great pause" has given us an irreplaceable gift of time. Time with our loved ones which from someone who is greatly missing three, is greater than anything else that is taken away during this time. What we do during this time and how we live in this time can and should define not only the rest of our lives, but the lives of our children as well. I am thankful that I will be able to look back and tell the stories of how hard it was, in addition to all the amazing memories and joy we made together - just the three of us and it will forever remind of us to take time to live in a period of pause throughout the years that come, to stop and smell the roses, and be thankful for all that we have been blessed with because in the end it is not money or things we will long for, but more time with our loved ones.
I am ending with one of the most amazing, unassuming picture I found while sorting through photos. I never noticed it as a remarkable picture but when I was deciding which ones to put in the photo book, I found this and in it I saw the greatest form of love. A love so great that it is visible in the eyes of both Sophie, and in Charlotte who at the time continued to live her days filled with thousands of seizures, and many medical interventions. A love that is greater than time and space, and can be felt just by looking at the image. I hope upon all hopes that you can realize during this "quieter" time in life that this love for your loved ones also exists inside of you, and sometimes it is when we protestingly are forced to slow down that we actually are able to see and feel it. Choose love. Choose it in everything you do, everything you say, and everything you see.