Sunday, January 18, 2015

Searching for Your Set

When I was in college (and I use that term lightly, since I was, at that time, a single mom who was taking night classes over an hour away and never graduated), I had a friend who was always on the lookout for some sort of antique pink wedgwood china. She'd scour antique malls and rummage sales, attend vritually every estate sale in the tri-state area and planned vacations around flea markets.

When she was successful she'd bound into class like a little kid jumping off the ferris wheel at the local fair. You will not believe what happened! she'd practically scream, and we would all settle in for a detailed account of the successful purchase of a dessert bowl or service plate. Because it was never just about the plate; it was always about the journey to find the plate.  

It was a set that had originally adorned her grandmother's table, belonging before that to her great-grandmother, and she always assumed that the love she held in her heart for the bone china meticulously displayed on special occassions was so apparent and so obvious that the set would one day become hers. (Secretly, I always thought that was ridiculous. She had many cousins and aunts and in-laws who also probably loved the china just as much, if not more so, so I never understood why she felt she had a "right" to it. But in the end it didn't matter.)

The grandmother died and the dishes left and no one thought about it again. 

Except for her.

And I suppose she may have gone through a time when her cousin or aunt (or whoever the recipient was) was the evil selfish one to blame for her heartbreak. And maybe she spent too many lost hours lamenting over the unfairness of it all. Who knows. I sure don't. Because I met her after she changed her attitude, after the paradigm shift, when the disappointment finally morphed into hope and grew into action.

The bottom, unchangeable line, was that she couldn't have her grandmother's dishes... they would be missing from her life forever. And she could sit in the ashes of her dispair and want or she could do something about it.

One day, she took a deep breath and realized she still had blood pulsing through her veins. Her heart was still beating and she was still made up of air and water and the only way to fill the missing part inside her was to find something to fill it with

So, she pulled her car into the third parking spot at the right of the front door of a resale shop and grabbed her purse. She walked up and down crowded aisles filled with old dresses that had once been pretty and tin signs brightly advertising tobacco and flour, and old wooden chairs with broken seat bottoms pleading to be replaced. And when she turned the corner her heart leapt and she stared down the aisle of hope: green milk glass and tea cups of toile, a mixing bowl the same color yellow as her grandmother's and a vintage butter dish in eggshell blue. As she lightly brushed her fingertips across the  plates decorated with chickens and garland of flowers, she suddenly, for the first time in years, felt like she had a purpose.

She didn't find the pink wedgwood design that day but it didn't stop her. She woke each morning knowing it was out there. Knowing and trusting that slowly, bit by bit, she'd find what she was looking for. And she did.

By the time I had met her, she had amassed quite an impressive set. I remember asking her when she would be done, when she would consider her collection complete. She shrugged, sadly almost, her eyes looking out into a distance I couldn't see. "I don't know," she said quietly. "In a way, I hope I never do."

At the time I thought that was ridiculous. Why spend all that time and money trying to replace something that wasn't even what she had lost in the first place? That would never even be complete? But, now? Well, maybe now I understand it a bit more.

I will never have, in this lifetime, on this earth, the ability to have once again the one and only thing I want at my table; the one thing that, for me, would make my table setting feel complete. 

And I can lay blame and lament about the unfairness of it all and sit in the ashes of my despair and want.... or I can go out and find something to fill my missing part in with.

For me, it won't be bone china and my missing part won't ever be filled. Not really. I get that. But that doesn't mean that the journey to find the good things isn't worth trying for. 

I guess that's why I sponsor my sweet son in Haiti. He, too, is missing a piece. And I guess that's why I sponsor my special girl in Rwanda. And probably why I spend so much of my time with other broken children, loving on them and listening to them. Because we're all missing bits and pieces and maybe, just maybe, at the end of our lives, when we're all gathered in heaven, we'll be able to look around at each other and smile when we hear God exclaim, "oh, my sweet children! My set is complete!"

I'd like to think that the journey to find the others - the soup bowl and the bread plate - is, in part, mine. Mine not just to pass the time while on earth, but mine to help make sense of my loss. To make me realize that, although my original daughter was precious in a way that no one else can compare to or replace, that there are other children just as wonderful, just as precious, just as lovely, that, without me taking the time to search for, they might be destined to sit in a crowded orphanage, dusty and forgotten on a cramped shelf, wondering if anyone will think they are beautiful enough to belong to someone's set. I want them to know how beautiful and precious they truly are.

And so, whether it makes sense or not, I'll continue to spend the time and the money searching for the kids that are meant to be in my set. And, maybe they won't ever sit at my table, or, if they do, maybe they'll only sit at it for a little while - a week, a month or two, maybe a year or eleven... but, I think the journey to find the good stuff - to love on the kids that deserved to be loved on - well, that's worth it. It's worth it to me.

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.

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