Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ten



I celebrated my son’s tenth birthday today.

He wasn’t here to blow out the candles.

He wasn’t here to eat cake.

He wasn’t here to peek out the windows or linger at the door and ask me, “Mom, when will my friends be here?” or “Is it almost time for my party?” while I hustled and bustled to get things ready.

He wasn’t here like that, but he is not so far that we couldn’t celebrate him.

What I loved about today was that it felt normal.

It felt perfectly normal to celebrate a boy who I haven’t seen for almost ten years. It felt perfectly normal to gather around a table and light ten candles and sing the Happy Birthday song.

It felt perfectly normal to sip tea and eat treats while boisterous boys ran around my home. It felt perfectly normal to answer sincere questions from those inquisitive little boys about why Josiah isn’t with us anymore.

It felt perfectly normal to smile and laugh with family and friends. It felt perfectly normal to feel alive and grateful and happy and content.

It was a good day.

* * * *

Soon after Josiah died, I had lunch with a woman who was much farther along on the losing-a-child journey. She looked me in the eyes, and I knew she understood.

My heart was raw and vulnerable. I was confused and disillusioned. She knew it. She saw it.

With her kind eyes and her wise words, she reached in and touched the frayed places of my heart. She assured me that I would be okay. She promised: “Your life will never be like it was, but it will feel normal again. It won’t be like the old normal. It will be a new normal.”

Today I sunk my feet and wiggled my toes in the fresh soil of my new normal. And it felt good.

I miss my son. I always will. But somehow the chasm between us that seemed so wide, so impassable, so impossibly deep, just doesn’t look that way to me anymore.

Maybe the chasm has shrunk. Maybe I have just gotten bigger. Maybe I can finally see that my legs are long enough to step over that hole. (Why, yes, maybe it’s always been a hole and never was a chasm.) And maybe connecting with my firstborn isn’t as hard as I made it out to be.

Or perhaps the chasm simply closes when I do perfectly normal things.

You can read more about Josiah here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Year of the 12


I might institute a new tradition this year.

Since it hasn’t even been a month, and I already want to change my one word for 2012 to two, I’m wondering if this should be the year of the 12.

What does that mean? Quite simply, maybe this year is so monumental that it cannot be contained in one little word like STAND.

Maybe 2012 is going to be so big, so life-defining that each month needs its own word. So that by the end of the year, I will have not one, but twelve powerful, clear words to describe what 2012 has been all about.

Perhaps STAND isn't meant to stand alone.

It’s the only way I can explain the experience I had last night. There I was minding my own business when another word started pulsing upward, beating in my heart so hard that I could not ignore it.
In the same way STAND emerged and demanded my full attention at the end of December, another word wants to be front and center too. It's name is Through.

When I talk with people about the grief process, I find myself using the same phrase over and over again: “The only way through it is through it.”

Yes, there are things in life that I just have to go THROUGH. I can’t take shortcuts around them. I can’t wish their existence away. I can’t push the fast forward button and breeze past them unscathed. I simply have to go through them.

More specifically, I don’t possess a magic wand to quell the storm that’s raging in my life right now. If I want to emerge on the other side, I DO need to STAND, but I also need to go through it.

In that way, Through reminds me to stay in the process and surrender to the fact that I can't escape it.
But Through reminds me of other things too.

Just before falling asleep last night, I gave myself a pep talk. I do that often. I told myself things like, “You are going to get through this. This storm will not last forever."

In that conversation, Through stood out as a beacon of hope. In just one word, it spoke to me, "This too shall pass."

And yet, Through wasn't done speaking. It wanted to remind me of one more thing.

In times past, I have thrown in the towel when things got too hard. Playing the victim, I’d fold my arms across my chest and say, “I’m through.” I felt defeated.

But that is not my stance anymore. I have declared war on the victim and put my stake in the ground for something different. Because I am through with living life that way.

Through reminds me that the times they are a-changin'. My standard of what I will tolerate and accept in my life has radically shifted. And that's a good thing. I'm through.

I’m still not sure if it’s going to be the year of the 12. But if a new word comes knocking on my door at the end of next month, I’ll be listening.

How about you? Have any new words been been tap, tap, tapping on your heart?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Gravity Belt


I have had my head in the clouds for the past couple of days.

I am continually amazed at how the smallest thing can set me running back into the enticing arms of Denial for (false) comfort and hope.

Even though I know it’s a fa├žade, a sham, full of half truths and empty promises, Denial’s embrace is a comfortable place. When pain comes rushing in, my heart longs for the familiar.

Sometimes cuddling up to my old lover can feel exhilarating. Why? Because Denial promises relief. When my heart is hurting and life feels unbearable, I’ll do almost anything to feel better.

When Denial tells me I can fly, I want to believe it. And before I know it, there I am up in the sky. I temporarily defy gravity and get launched into space.

When I am up in the clouds, my world looks so teeny, tiny and my problems are so far off in the distance that it's easy to forget there is a real world outside of my denial-induced fantasy.

So I float along, blissfully unaware.

I understand the importance of getting outside of my problems, of stepping away to see the bigger picture. But Denial takes my hand and leads me way outside the perimeter of "perspective" and into the land of make-believe.

When I'm there, it’s a lot like living in a fairy tale. I convince myself that I am lingering between my own “Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after” and at any minute a prince is going to come and kiss me out of my slumber.

I tell myself that floating high above the ground gives me a better vantage point. I will see the prince coming; I won’t be caught unaware.

The anticipation part of denial is what is (temporarily) intoxicating. I get high on the thin air. I get high on my ability to “fly.” I get high on the beautiful story I keep telling myself--the story that promises quick resolutions and miraculous interventions.

But at some point, my high gets interrupted. The clock ticks on, and there is no prince on the horizon. My hope starts to wane and I am forced to make a decision: stay asleep forever, or slap my own cheeks and wake myself up.

Today I chose to muster up the self-respect and tenacity it takes to rise from my bed in spite of the prince’s absence.

There’s a lot of talk about the wonder and gift of fairy tales these days (at least in the spaces on the Internet where I spend my time).

I understand where others are coming from--the notion that fairy tales strike a chord within all of us because they are a shadow of things to come, a mirror of the Ultimate Love Story where Creator God ends strife and destruction and whisks His bride off into eternity.

But I don’t connect to fairy tales in that way. I never have. I don’t think about the Eternal when I read a great love story. I think about NOW.

The fairy tale mentality hasn’t deepened my faith, it has quenched it.

Fairy tale thinking has been the food that nourishes my love affair with Denial. Fairy tales promise me the same things that Denial does: if I wait long enough, the ultimate resolution to my pressing problems will come.

Life turns into a waiting game.

But life is not so tidy and linear. There is never just ONE conflict in our life’s story. So there is never just ONE answer. There is never just ONE kiss needed or ONE wave of the wand that can end my troubles forever. Answers haven’t come to me when I sit around and wait for them.

All of this leads me back to where I started. At the word STAND.

It’s interesting that as soon as I chose that word, I have wanted to do everything BUT stand. Last week, all I wanted to do was lie down in a puddle of tears and this week I want to lift my feet off the ground and float away entirely.

When I introduced my word, I shared a Bible verse about life's daily spiritual battle that prompted me to choose the word STAND.

It says, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

In the very next sentence, the writer explains specifically what he means by spiritual armor. He breaks it down, piece by piece. He writes, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.”

Putting on my truth-belt requires concerted effort. I have to do a lot of self-talk. Often out loud. I have to go through a long list of things I know to be true. I have to look myself in the mirror. I have to pace the floors.

Truth is what grounds me. When I wrap it around my core, my center, Denial loses its grip. Then suddenly, quite amazingly, I find my feet are touching the ground again.

The belt of truth is my gravity belt. It keeps me out of the sky.

If I am going to STAND this year, I am going to need a lot of truth to do it.

It's not that I don't relish a great love story. I do. But I'm not going to linger in the clouds until it finds me. I'm going to keep my feet firmly planted, stare into the face of the waves that are raging, and see what emerges in the storm.

And I won't need a prince to find me. Because I will already be wide awake.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012: A Progress Report

I’m five days into 2012, and I am not writing to tell you that I want to trade my word--STAND--in for a new one. I’m not. I knew I was going to need that word. That’s why I chose it.

While I would love to say that I am starting the year off strong--STANDING in the face of the waves of grief that are foaming and roaring all around me--the truth is that right now I want to sit and rest more than anything else.

And you know what? I know I can. I know I can sit. And rest. And that I’m not being unfaithful to my word for the year.

STANDing is an attitude. It is a commitment to not give up. It is a commitment to go again. It is a commitment to stay engaged with life.

NO word ever prohibits me from being human. Or weak. Or feeling frail.

I said in my last post that I see myself standing on a shoreline and I am being pelted by incessant waves. I’m digging my feet into the wet sand and I am bound and determined that I am not going to give up.

That’s still my stance.

But something else (that may seem quite contradictory) is equally true. When I think about where I am at in life, I see myself somewhere else too. I’m in a field. It looks dry and barren and like it’s been pillaged and touched by fire.

I am surveying what’s been burned and damaged beyond repair and I am sifting through the ashes—letting them fall through my fingers. I am taking stock of what I have lost. I am allowing myself to face what’s gone, and now the value of what I still have is ever so much clearer.

I am putting this out there because for the past ten years my default--my unhealthy coping mechanism--has been denial.

Denial twists, perverts, covers up, minimizes, pacifies, rejects, cajoles and scoffs at the truth. It parades as padding for the soul.

It seems like it’s protecting my heart from whatever threatens to puncture and pierce it, but instead it drives the most painful wedge into my being and keeps me in perpetual separation from health and clarity. (That was a heavy sentence, but if you have been married to and subsequently divorced your own denial, then you know what I’m talking about.)

So I want to make sure that I’m not saving face when I say that I am going to STAND in 2012. (Even though I am going to.)

Because I may also have a meltdown in the middle of the storm I have so valiantly declared that I am going stare into the face of. In fact, I may fall right down in a puddle of tears and momentarily get swallowed up by the foaming waters that ebb and flow over me. But I will get back up. I won’t give up.

Maybe I need to have this written and posted so that when I feel like I’ve lost my footing, I’ll remember. I scroll back to this page and I’ll sigh with relief and find the strength to get back up.

Or maybe simply giving myself permission to falter and fall and not do it perfectly will help me stave off my performance anxiety so that I can funnel my energy into the task before me. I don’t know. Because like I said, I’m only five days in.