Monday, March 30, 2009

Moment of Relief and a Smile

In some ways my life hasn't changed at all:

As I cleared the kitchen table this morning of last night's dishes, I removed the tablecloth, which is in desperate need of a trip to the wash.

To remove the tablecloth, I first had to remove the centerpiece, and as I put it back on the table I noticed it for the first time in, probably, days:

A Pier One glass platter,
a tall white candle
and three small sea blue and sand colored votive candles,
given to us by friends when we escaped to Key West at Christmas,
and one unpackaged and half-used roll of dental floss.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Life Used to Be So Hard

Still is.

But yesterday, as I was out walking around the Little Lakes, I saw the most magnificent German shepherd. She loped across the grass like a panther, or a cheetah -- a huge, glossy, shaggy dog of utter gracefulness and elegance.

I think that I might like a little house, with a German shepherd and two cats in the yard.

I know that ease is gone. But a small house and shaggy friends do not seem like so much to ask for.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Just Wrong

Back from my church's women's retreat.

I make stupid choices every day. But once in awhile I make a whopper, one which causes me to be reminded on a second-by-second basis that my life has changed in ways that completely isolate me from regular people having normal interactions
with one another.

Everyone else apparently had a great time.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I May Have Figured It Out

No, not death ~ I haven't figured that one out.

But I think I've realized why I have had such a visceral reaction against The Shack, which many generous people in real life and online have recommended to me.

The Shack presents a generous God who cares for all of the people of the world, who lovingly acknowledges the depth both of social sin and individual sin, who exudes forgiveness in situations we would find challenging beyond the possible, and who gently reminds us that we are the creatures and not the Creator. So far, so good.

But in The Shack, as in real life, the child is GONE. She is not coming back. She will never live the life her parents dreamed of for her, she will never marry the young man they would have loved, she will never have the children who would have brought her such joy and made her parents delirious with ecstasy. Her mother will never touch her hair again; her father will never kick a soccer ball down the beach with her again. Her many good gifts will never again be shared with the world. The doctor, the architect, the teacher she might have been ~ she will never be. All of those things which made her uniquely the child she was and the adult she would have become, all of them are gone.

Just gone.

I know that my Musical Friend finds comfort in her vision of the life to come, a vision in which she and her husband will be reunited. She relies in part on the words of her sister, who lost a teenage son and says that when they are together again, none of this will matter.

I find that my own feelings are quite the opposite.

This is the life I want back for my child. This one.

The Shack just rubs my face in the thick, dark reality that it is not to be.

Cross-posted at Search the Sea.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This coming week-end our church is hosting a women's retreat. Last year I was supposed to make a presentation, but had to cancel because Musical Friend's husband died. This year I offered to try again, since what I had to offer the first time can be re-tailored to fit almost any theme. Other than making the offer and having had it accepted, I haven't participated in the planning.

The theme, as it turns out, is Reconciliation - with self, with others, with God.

W-A-Y too soon for any of that.

* * * * *

I realize that I am feeling a bit resentful. Isolated. Neglected. Sorry for myself.

Our pastor mentioned in last week's sermon (which I read online) that she is doing some reading about grief work. I hate that term, "grief work." My "grief counselor" uses it, too. I think I hate it because it makes it sound as if the journey of grief is a project, something that you could pick up from time to time to work on, like gardening, or a legal brief, instead of the all-enveloping haze that you have to re-negotiate minute by minute.

At any rate, I think that she is doing the reading because she has recently spent a considerable amount of time with a family that has just lost a young child. I wish she had done it six months ago.

Maybe then she would have known that seven months out would be way too early to broach a term like "reconciliation."

* * * * *

Was it my job to be the educator? Our pastors were wonderful ~ spectacular, even ~ in the week after our son died, when there was so much to be done, so suddenly, and in such crisis circumstances. But I had the sense that the long-term process of grieving was not in their realm of expertise.

It was just a matter of intuition.

I suppose that I shouldn't use the word "just" as as modifier. After all, on the Meyers-Briggs, I am 100% intuitive. Not an ounce of concrete affects my approach to life. (Yeah, I'm working on that.)

The thing is, I think I was right.

* * * * *

They keep preaching on the wisdom that emerges from suffering. (Which is why I've been reading sermons online rather than going to church.)

I asked a friend last week, a woman who lost a child many years ago, whether she thinks her experience added to her store of wisdom.

"No," she said.

One would like to think that one might find wisdom, grace, perseverance, courage, in such circumstances.

Perhaps, eventually, such things emerge. Who knows?

No one who understands the cost would want them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I bought some flowers yesterday. Red and yellow in a vase, arranged in a springtime bouquet from the grocery, they brighten up the dining room.

I used to love to have flowers in the house.

These are the first ones I've purchased since the memorial bouquets that filled every room faded and drooped in September.

When I went out back yesterday afternoon, I looked at the garden beds and felt the smallest stirring of longing. Last fall I had thought, in a vague sort of way, about planting new bulbs, but with getting out of bed being something of a problem, going to a garden center was out of the question. Now, looking at the few scraggly daffodil shoots struggling through the hard ground, I wish that I had been able to do it.

That's something, I thought to myself. Flowers in the dining room and a wish for color and life outside. That's a small beginning.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Backward to the Present

When my boys were born by c-section, the anesthesia didn't work.

I'm serious. The epidural, which had been in place for several previous hours of labor, was compromised, and so the anesthesiologist used a spinal. As my OB began to cut (which I know because I was watching in a mirror), the ineffectiveness of the spinal became apparent. As soon as they boys were out (which I remember) I got a heavy dose of other stuff for the hour of repair work (which I don't).

Weeks later, in great dismay over the general mess made of my so-called pain relief, I called the hospital and spoke at length to the resident anesthesiologist who had participated in the delivery, so that I could understand what had happened. I'll spare you the details.

This morning, at the hospital down the road for my daughter's eye surgery: the anesthesiologist came in and introduced herself as Dr. S. I pondered the last name for a moment and then said, "Are you SS, and did you use to do OB at The Other Hospital?" When she answered in the affirmative, I said, without thinking, "You were there when my boys were born!" "I did some 5,000 deliveries there," she said. "Oh, yes, I was the Epidural Queen."

Well, not exactly. But I didn't mention that.

And then I realized with horror that she might ask me about my boys.

Fortunately, she was too busy chatting with my daughter about where she goes to college than to think to ask her about her brothers, and too busy talking about her own four daughters and where they have ended up than to think to ask me how far away my own children have gone.


Since she was a resident when my boys were born, then she is likely a few years younger than I am, and since she has four grown daughters and one grandchild, life has been good to her, at least as far as I know.

There is just no place I can go without running headlong into reality.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I have to pace myself so carefully.

I forget that grieving takes up about 200% of your energy, and you have to do everything else with whatever's left over.

I forget that my energy was depleted seven months ago, and I get involved with things, and then I am so tired that I can hardly move, and then I remember that I am running on way below empty.

I am really grateful that anyone even wants me to be involved with anything. But I have to remember: It will take ten times as long as and 20 times the energy that I anticipate.

(Image of Grief by Gustave Miller

Friday, March 20, 2009

Minefields Everywhere

Today's: Target.

I walked in and there was a Muslim woman with tiny twin babies in a stroller.

I stood in line at the register and behind me a small boy with white blonde hair threw a temper tantrum so impressive that his gentle and serene mother calmly scooped him up and left, abandoning her items without a backward glance.

I went to the return counter on the way out and there were twin African American boys, one of them roaming around the waiting space and vocalizing strenuously while his brother hid behind a row of shopping carts and peeked out with a shy grin.

All colors, all energy levels.

I felt the loss when my small blonde boys grew into tall buzz-headed young men.

I used to think that the death of a twin would be at the outer limits of the rim of unbearable for his or her brother or sister. I'm not sure that I ever took into account what it might be like to be the mother of twins, one gone. Exactly on the rim.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I'm beginning to understand at a new level why we find hospital chaplains, spiritual directors, therapists -- anyone with the skill to ask open-ended questions and the capacity to listen to the answers without feeling compelled to comment, fix, teach, change, or make better -- so valuable in our lives. Anyone with the ability to name names and to hear feelings and experiences for what they are.

My father has been widowed three times, divorced once, lost a child. You might think that he would be one of those people.

He hasn't said my son's name aloud to me in months.

He called last night and peppered questions at me in a booming, jovial voice. How's school? Your exams are finished? Everything go well? New classes? How's your other school? What exactly are you studying there? How's the young lady in Oregon? When is her graduation again? The young man at home? The husband?

My answers: Fine. Yes. Fine. Yes. Fine. Spiritual direction. Fine. May 17. Fine. Fine.

The real answers: Very difficult. Two weeks ago. I did well and and what difference does it make? What difference does anything make? Yes, and I am appreciative of the chance to study Matthew with one of the world's great experts, terrified of attempting Homiletics at this juncture in life but possessed of enough of a sense of self-preservation to want to go forward, perplexed as I finally begin to look at Calvin in depth and address the endless series of paradoxes and dichotomies that mark my faith. It's wonderful and I am incredibly grateful to the people who urged me to go ahead with the spiritual direction program, telling me that I might find healing there. Would you like to know sometime what spiritual direction is and why I am investing two years of my life in formal training as a director? She's doing well and busy and productive and her heart is broken. He's confused and struggling to get a handle on life. He's sad and angry.

My father and my former spiritual director are almost exactly the same age. One of them could tell you quite a bit about me, before and after; sends me things that help sometimes; can absorb it all. The other can't even go there.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hooded Mergansers

I am extremely fond of hooded mergs, and I saw a pair as I walked around the Little Lakes today.

It seems impossible to me that the world can still contain such beauty.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Settling In

I'm back at seminary. We are on a quarter system and my first class was yesterday.

Last night, my friends at home gathered after a Taize service, around an altar lit only by candles, to mark the year since Musical Friend's husband died. My husband described it as "terrible, somber, the family much less controlled than they had been at the funeral." That initial shock creates such a protective veneer, seared away a year later. And I had not really thought ahead to what it would be like for my husband, just as I had not thought ahead a couple of weeks ago to what it would be like for me to go into a funeral home. I keep forgetting that we are not who we were.

I have already written in other places that I had read that the sixth to eighth months are bad, really bad, as the shock finally wears off and the real reality sets in. Now, on the outside, we look functional. I go to class, I take notes, I laugh with friends over lunch. I have moments off and on all day when something reminds me of that real reality and I stop breathing and wonder whether I can get to the next minute, but I do. I had a meltdown during an exam a couple of weeks ago as I looked at the questions and the words swam off the page and I realized that I knew nothing, absolutely nothing -- but I was able to compose myself in a few minutes out of the room and return to fill a bluebook with -- something. Yesterday there was a moment in class when the professor said something, something meant to be encouraging and inspiring, and I wanted to flatten myself into the floor and melt away. Intention and effect so seldom merge these days.

wonders whether the word trauma is too dramatic. Oh ~ no. I responded in her comments that if this were physical, we would be covered in bruises, our joints would be swollen, our bones cracked, our blood sometimes seeping through our skin. It only sounds like a melodramatic word because on the outside we look like ordinary people living ordinary lives.


Last week-end, two of my friends, in two different contexts and conversations, referred to blogging as navel-gazing. I decided both times that it probably wasn't the moment to reveal that I have been blogging away for ~ I think it's five years this month.


But I do hope I don't sound whiny. Grief is a self-absorbed process, but I am merely trying to record it as I experience it. I'm not under any illusion that I am the only one.


I think I'll cross post at
Search the Sea. I haven't actually navel-gazed there for a few days.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Suffering: Does It Have Any Meaning?

Great discussion about suffering going on here.

Mike has been posting some interesting material on this topic for several days, so you might want to go to his main page and scroll back.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My brother is becoming interested in a life of faith.

But every time I move in that direction
, he says, something completely awful and completely senseless happens.

Like me, my brother struggles with certain words that other people seem to find manageable. Duh. He doesn't even remember our mother.

I looked up one of the words.

Main Entry: trust

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: belief in something as true, trustworthy

* = informal/non-formal usage

Interesting sets of words.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Early Morning

I got up earlier than usual this morning. The Quiet Husband was in the shower, and the dog jumped off the bed and began to roll around on the rug. Realizing that she wasn't going to be able to last until he was ready to leave for work, I sighed and got out of bed. We went downstairs and I opened the back door for her, then went into the downstairs bathroom to take care of my own needs before letting her back in.

Sun streamed through the kitchen windows and I thought about the many mornings I had gotten up, come downstairs after my own very early shower to let a different dog out, and started making lunches. Peanut butter sandwiches, goldfish crackers, fruit roll-ups, pudding packages, juice boxes. Then I would awaken my three little blond children and focus on clothes, breakfasts, backpacks, and coats and hats and mittens. Feed the dog, the cat, the guinea pig, the parakeets. Grab anything that needed to be taken care of in the way of errands after dropping the kids off. Completely routine mornings; I haven't thought about them in years. Load the kids into the car, make sure everyone is buckled in. Drive off to Montessori school.

For the last couple of years, with the kids all off in college, the suddenly quiet house, pretty worn and dilapidated after two decades of sheltering an active and intense family, nevertheless shined with potential. I wasn't sure whether that meant potential for a new young family or for us in a new state of life, but I thought that it would open up to new colors, new spaces and, someday, small bodies whirling around once again.

Now, midmorning, I sit in my living room. Sunlight dapples the couch, where the dog is once again sound asleep.

It seems so utterly empty here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Days in the Desert

I am having days that might be called good days, good being a relative term, defined differently than it would have been six months ago. I am surrounded by people whom I love, people who love me. I have work to do that I love, actually. I get emails and real mail, one thing or another every few days, that keep me going. I have a couple of people to whom I can pour out my heart, say the things which most people cannot bear to hear.

And yet . . .

as I am writing a take-home exam for seminary, my husband pushes a tax return across the table for my signature, as administrator of the estate of my child. The child who a year ago was exulting over his first refund.

Most of my classmates are not going home in the evenings to documents like that.

It's not that I feel sorry for myself. It's just what my life is now.

And sometimes I just want to stretch my body out in the desert, to lie as still as possible in the dry sand as a rattlesnake slides by, and to let the sun bake away the waves of sadness that ripple visibly through the heat.