Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Parenting of Grief

With each child I gave birth to, I found it impossible to figure out how to successfully shower within the first four days. I was sore and tired and filled with these overwhelming emotions that threatened to consume me. And I didn't want to leave the side of this new life force - not even for a second - not even when people offered to arrange for it to happen, not even when people suggested it should happen. I wanted to be selfish in my emotional connection. I wanted nothing else and no one else to interrupt what God had allowed. This baby was mine. This experience was mine. And I wanted to breathe it all in by myself; fill every cell of my body with the knowledge that no one, no matter how hard they tried, could ever begin to feel the complexities of the love that pulsed through my veins.  

Then one day I showered. It was quick and cursory and born out of necessity and I quickly changed into the sweat pants and baggy shirt that looked eerily similar to the sweat pants and baggy shirt I had just discarded because, truthfully, I didn't care what I looked like. I was beginning to tire of being tired and I couldn't remember what day it was because it felt like a lifetime since I gave birth and yet it was only just a matter of hours and I didn't even remember what exactly I had done in the last 60 minutes except that somehow I must have gotten through it because here I was, hair dripping, armpits shaved smooth, thinking isn't it funny how fast hair grows?

And  just when I figured out that the baby sleeps well and not only can I shower but I can also wash the dishes, the baby decided it's more fun to stay awake and make noises and start to roll over and now I had to find another way to make it through my day. Because the changing baby was changing my normal every fourth or fifth day and just when I thought I had it figured out it changed again.

But babies are supposed to grow. I know this. I just didn't know how hard it would be to adapt to the growing, changing days that come when you've been chosen.

But adapt you do because, really, what choice do you have? 

Some days it looks ugly. Messy. Like you're the last person in the world that will ever get it together and figure it out. But somehow you do. You can't explain it other than to say you put one foot in front of the other because that's the only thing you know how to do. Even if it's clumsy.

Losing a child is an awful lot like giving birth. 

The initial shock and disbelief that my little girl is now in heaven; my little girl is with Jesus... that God decided that on this day, at this moment, He would allow for this to happen, that I would be chosen and I am now forever redefined. I could only sit in awe and wonder. Was this really my life now? How did this happen?

I couldn't figure out how to shower.

And yet I didn't want to. I wanted to sit in my grief - MY GRIEF - and let it consume me. I wanted to be selfish in my emotional connection. I wanted nothing else and no one else to interrupt what God had allowed. This grief was mine. This experience was mine. And I wanted to breathe it all in by myself; fill every cell of my body with the knowledge that no one, no matter how hard they tried, could ever begin to feel the complexities of the sorrow that pulsed through my veins.

I was scared to step away from it. Scared, in a sense, because I had no idea what to do with it and I didn't want to do anything wrong. I didn't want to mess it up. How did God even think I was remotely capable of taking care of something so precious and so fragile as the death of my daughter? I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't have the right training or qualifications. Does life just let anyone lose a child?

As the days passed, I found my grief growing, just like a baby does. But not growing in a bad way - not like taking over and taking control; but rather becoming self-sufficient so that I didn't need to spend every single second cradling it. 

One day I found myself able to place my grief in the middle of a blanket spread out on the living room floor so that I could take a shower. And again to wash the dishes. And again to answer the door.

I found myself able to fall into a routine. But as soon as I figured things out something shifted, something changed; the grief changed, demanding more of me, demanding something new of me - and I had to figure things out again.

The stages are the same, it seems, whether birth of a baby or birth of grief: the lack of sleep as I kept strong hold, always cradling stage. The zombie like trance somehow taking me from minute to sleep deprived minute, in a way I couldn't recollect if my life depended on it. 

The come on in and let's talk while the grief baby is playing on the floor stage. Some days I held on tight, still craddling even though I didn't need to, while others I was able to sit next to the grief baby, keeping careful watch, but not needing to grab hold of it. I could form sentences now. I had complete thoughts.

The I can walk into the other room by myself and nothing bad will happen stage. There's a trust needed in this stage. A trust that I can take my eyes off my grief, that I can look toward something else, and while I'm enjoying the splendor of whatever I choose to take brief interest in, my grief will be just fine on its own. I'll be able to come back to my grief and I won't need to feel guilty for leaving it.

And if you can make it through that stage, you can move on toward the toddler stages. The ones where you can drop your grief off for a couple hours a day while you find yourself again. You will always have your grief, but you weren't meant to be consumed by it.

In some ways, I suppose I feel like I have two Avery's. My earthly Avery, who grew long and lanky, with sparkling eyes and the best out-loud laugh ever; who carried a Bible and cried during the tragic Justin and Juliet tween love story of Wizards of Waverly place; who only had 11 years on earth with me, but, oh! How I treasure each and every one! And then I have my heavenly Avery, who is growing bright and beautiful, with a faith so strong it's all anyone can see and it's all everyone needs to see; who continues to make me proud every second of every day, making me want to shout from the mountaintops how blessed I am to be included in her story, even in the slightest way.

My heavenly Avery is only two, having passed away on October 24, 2012. She's still so young. And I'm still a newly grieving parent. Learning as I go. Making mistakes, handling things wrong. Worrying too much and being wound way too tight. Allowing anxieties and fears to trump common sense and natural tendencies. But it'll come. It always does. For me. For you. For all the grieving mamas. 

We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other... even if it's in a way we've never done before.