On Pain ~ when you are trying to not feel it

**I wrote most of this post several weeks ago. But I still wanted to post it because I want to document what this whole experience has been like for me.**

Its amazing to me how hard I work to avoid pain. Have a headache? Pop a motrin. Got a sore throat? Take a throat drop. Fall on the ice while going to the car to fetch a toy for your child (ahem)? Please don’t ask me to move for the rest of the day because my leg hurts, badly. Cut your finger while prepping dinner? Go to bed! (I wish!)

I spent a good portion of the day one day a week or so ago sitting on the floor with a crying child (who shall remain nameless), explaining consequences for actions, discussing good and bad choices and mostly just being with him in his pain. At one point he said to me, “I will do ANYTHING good and have ANYTHING else taken away but please don’t take away ….[that thing I really really wanted to do]…”.

My son was trying to find a way to avoid the emotional pain caused by the consequences of his actions. He pleaded with me over and over not to make that thing his consequence. It was hard, so hard to stand firm because I hated seeing him in such emotional turmoil.

Lately I realize that I have been pleading with God, myself, my husband, to not let this be my reality – the reality where my daughter, who would be nearly ten months old but for the fact that she got really sick and she died. I found myself distraught this past month over the evidence that, no, I am not pregnant.

Just last week I was remarking on how things seemed to be more even emotionally for me. I felt better able to “manage” my grief. I could see healing happening and I felt like I was starting to move forward. At the same time I was struggling to feel connected to Naomi. I had such a short time with her, we didn’t really get to know her much at all. And while I was relieved that the raw, sharp, biting pain of early grief had subsided into a deep ever present ache, I also felt more distant from my daughter.

I have been discovering that when I employ various strategies to numb the emotional pain of loosing my daughter I also numb out the joys of knowing her as well. Now, some of the coping strategies are just that. I need to cope. I need to be able to keep living so I can’t live in the pain all the time. But when I avoid it for long periods I find myself not only escaping the pain but also in some ways unable to feel the joy and love that she brought to my life. And there is oh so much love and joy she brought to me. God has used my daughter in my life in ways I never could have imagined. But I am so grateful.

Life is precious and fragile and painful. I don’t want the pain, but through it, and sometimes in it, I see love and beauty that simply takes my breath away. So today I try to face the pain as best I can with the prayer for strength and grace in all the places I need it most.

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Walking With You: Finding Hope and Healing With or Without a Rainbow

For the final WWY post in this segment, we will share our experiences with longing for another baby to fill our empty arms. Some experienced a subsequent pregnancy after loss. Some may be fearful of embarking on that journey again. Some may not be able to have another child, whether due to infertility or other reasons. Some may have found that having another baby, however precious a gift, was not the key to healing the grief. Can you experience hope and healing…even if there is no rainbow after the storm?

So, yes, I’m quite behind in getting this final post in the WWY blog series up. There have been several reasons including a really busy few weeks at work and a quick get away with my husband to celebrate our ninth (!!) wedding anniversary. But really, I just was not ready to write this post last week.

I still am not quite sure what I have to say on this topic. We do not know whether or not we will have another child. That is a question that we both wrestle with and while I, more so, long for a baby to hold, it is just too soon for us to make any sort of decision. Naomi was supposed to be our last child. And now that she is not here with us it is so not what we had pictured.

I will say that right after Naomi died my desire to have another baby was so strong. And I think a lot of that was tied to my idea of trying to recapture the pure joy I’d experienced with my previous two babies’ births. I felt at the time, in the initial raw stages of grief, that the only way to regain joy was to have another baby. But now I can say, with certainty, that joy and hope is possible again…and its found in God.

There are no easier answers but one of the things I’m coming to understand is that the sorrow I feel over Naomi’s absence with us right now will never go away. I’ve been thinking that healing, what I’ve been shooting for, meant a return, somehow, to how it was before, to how I was before. I think I’m starting to understand that sorrow, instead of being something to work toward being rid of, can actually deepen and widen joy, making even the ordinary every day become infused with a preciousness because this moment with these ones I’ve been given is a gift. And each of those moments I had with Naomi, they were gifts too, though well watered with many tears.

I was talking with my counselor recently about this very topic and happened to mention the term “rainbow baby”. Its such a popular term in the baby loss world, I guess, that it didn’t occur to me that she wouldn’t know it. So after explaining it to her that got me thinking about rainbows…they come after a storm. The rainbow in the Bible was a sign given to Noah of the covenant God made with him and with all living creatures following the flood, that never again would God destroy the earth with the flood waters — God’s promise to sustain life, not to destroy it, even when passing through the deepest, darkest storm. And I see God sustaining my life, even as I’ve passed through the valley of the shadow of death. Whether God chooses to give us another child one day or not, I see rainbows all around, made more beautiful by the tears that continue to fall and refract the light into millions of breathtaking colors.

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Walking With You: Mirror, Mirror ~ the comparison trap

I’m back here this week with the next installment of Walking With You. This has been such a great series for reflecting on where I’m at in this journey and I have really been encouraged by Kelly’s posts each week as well as reading through the posts of so many other beautiful mommas also walking this path. How grateful I am that there is this kind of community, that we truly can walk together on this most difficult of roads. Here is this week’s topic:

Mothers often fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to one another. This is a trap many women fall into. We compare our families, mothering styles, fashion sense, careers or lack thereof, bodies, etc. Even mothers with babies in heaven compare the way we grieve our children. I know…sad…but we do it, if we’re honest enough to admit it. So, how can we find freedom from this? Sharing is a start…telling the truth…admitting the struggle. I think, then, we will see that we all love our children, regardless of how we choose to remember and honor their lives…whether publicly or quietly…with big parties or simple moments of remembrance. Be real on this week’s post, and let’s free ourselves from the trap of comparing!

This was one that shocked me the first time I fell into the comparison trap in grief. Why I was surprised, I’m not sure as comparison is such an easy thing for me to fall into with normal mothering. But it really brought me up short when I started hearing about how other moms who had lost their child around the same time were pregnant again. I wondered how they could be ready for that step and yet I knew I was not, I didn’t know if I ever would be again. Another area I was tempted to compare myself to others in was in how people went about helping others in their child’s memory. I was and am so busy just keeping up with life it was really hard for me to imagine in those early days how I could do something more to give back in Naomi’s memory (more recently I am starting to see how giving back can and will become part of my healing process, but that is another post).

In these and many other ways that I’ve been tempted to fall in to comparison and jealousy I have found in some ways it is easier to just give it up when it comes to other grieving mommas. Because the reality is that she has her own hard hard road to walk just as I do. And as much as I’ve tried to figure out my own path I know we each have to walk the road ahead of us as God shows us. Usually I find that if there is something about another person’s way of grieving that is triggering feelings of jealousy or comparison then it is an indicator to me that there is an area I need some deeper healing in, that there are unanswered questions in my own grief and walk that are being reflected there. Maybe it seems they have it all figured out. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But if there is anything I’ve learned over the past seven months its that nothing comes easy on this road and any measure of healing or peace I’ve found is only by the grace of God. Comparison, jealousy, those things only slow my healing down.

All of us baby loss mom’s need support and encouragement, not comparison and competition. What binds us is this incredibly, deeply painful experience and really, haven’t we already experienced enough pain without needing to inflict more on ourselves through comparison? I wish we could all just agree to chuck the comparison thing overboard and just keep helping each other cling to the lifeboat that is Jesus. Easier said than done, I know! But I hope that as I learn to have grace for others and for myself that I can let go of that dead weight a bit more quickly whenever it comes creeping in, in both grieving and in general run-o-the mill mothering and life!

Walking With You: Clinging in the Pit

So its week two of the Walking With You blog series. Though it makes me so sad to meet so many beautiful mommas who are walking through this same terrible loss, it is a comfort to know that I am not alone. I found so much encouragement from just reading others’ posts last week. This week’s topic is “Clinging in the Pit”…

January 14, 2013 ~ Clinging in the Pit: If you are not new to loss, talk a bit about early grief. What was it like, clinging for hope in the pits of despair? What did you cling to for hope? How did you survive the early days? What helped? What do you wish you could share with someone new to this walk, clinging in the pit? If you’re in the pit, currently, share your struggles. What can others do to encourage you?

Well, I guess I am still fairly new in my loss, though it feels like it has been ages since I last held my baby girl in my arms. I can definitely identify with being in the pit, though. And while these last couple of weeks have brought a bit of lightening from the heavy weight of grief, these past few months have been so hard…hard to breath, hard to see ahead, hard to hope.

I can still so vividly remember the day I walked out of the hospital finally and forever without my baby girl. It was a beautiful June afternoon as we left and walked back to the Ronald MacDonald House one final time. The sun was shinning and the sky was a brilliant blue. The world was alive and moving while I was falling apart. A piece of my heart had died just that morning as my sweet Naomi’s heart had beat its last on this earth. It was all I could do to keep myself upright, to not scream and throw something. I wanted to just come unglued. But I didn’t. Not that there haven’t been many of those days over the past six months that I felt like I was going to just fall apart. There have been so many moments where I didn’t know how I could keep breathing for one more moment let alone for a lifetime, still are. it was tremendously difficult to get out of bed this morning, in fact. But in each one of these deep dark moments I have found that I am never alone. Sometimes a song or a scripture, or the seemingly supernatural strength to pick up the phone and reach out for help, or the strong arms of my husband have found me and I am rescued again from utter despair by my Lord.

It’s hard to say what has been my biggest struggle. The consuming nature of my grief has seemed to suck a lot of joy out of me. I have found more and more that I struggle with talking about my grief with friends. There has been a lot of loneliness as my husband and I have been grieving very differently. Months four and five I found myself deeply depressed, just not caring all that much about life, going through the motions and just so so sad. I started seeing a counselor, which has been a really enormous help. The most significant part of my counseling has been gaining a better understanding of grief and learning to accept myself and where I am on this path and to trust that in time I will heal, I will have hope again. Talking (or blogging!) with other mommas who have been walking this road, to include my counselor, who herself is a bereaved mom, has been one thing that has been a help to me. At first it was hard to hear that the struggle never goes away, that there will always be hard days. But then to know that it does get better, bearable, brings me hope. And as I said before, I feel like I am getting small glimmers of healing, of the lessening of the intense rawness and a bit more of an ability to manage my grief. As long as I allow the time and space for myself to grieve, to talk, to write, to feel what I need to feel, I am becoming much more able to handle more of “normal” life. Yes, sometimes I fake it, but there are also times where I am able to be present now in a way I wasn’t able to two months ago when I was in the deepest part of the pit.

Shortly after Naomi died, some friends of ours that we met during her life gave us a CD of worship music from the Vertical Church Band. This song is one that I listened to over and over again as I drove (and cried) my way through out the days back and forth to work or wherever I was going. The truth of this song…that I have never been nor will I ever be left alone by my God is what I have clung to in the pit, what I cling to still this day.

Ruthless Trust

“Unwavering trust is a rare and precious thing because it often demands a degree of courage that borders on the heroic. When the shadow of Jesus’ cross falls across our lives in the form of failure, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, unemployment, loneliness, depression, the loss of a loved one; when we are deaf to everything but the shriek of our own pain; when the world around us suddenly seems a hostile, menacing place – at those times we may cry out in anguish, “How could a loving God permit this to happen?” At such moments the seeds of distrust are sown. It requires heroic courage to trust in the love of God no matter what happens to us… I can state unequivocally that childlike surrender in trust is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship. And I would add that the supreme need in most of our lives is often the most overlooked – namely for an uncompromising trust in the love of God. Furthermore, I would say that, while there are times when it is good to go to God as might a ragged beggar to the King of kings, it is vastly superior to approach God as a little child would approach his or her papa.”

– Brennan Manning, from Ruthless Trust

I was struck by this quote posted on the friend of a friend’s Facebook wall the other day (one time when I appreciated that statuses of people I don’t know show up in my news feed when one of my friend’s like’s their status). I feel like I need some of that heroic courage…to have ruthless trust in the love of God.

Honestly, I am really struggling with the sovereignty of God in the face of Naomi’s death. I know I’m not the first and I won’t be the last. But sometimes it makes me want to jump out of my skin because everything in me screams out that this is wrong. Children are NOT supposed to suffer and die and I can’t make sense of it. I don’t understand why God permits these things.

The one and only thing I have to cling to is the fact that Jesus suffered and died on the cross because of all of this. Because evil had corrupted our very beings so that even in the womb a little body can be malformed. Yes, he died to redeem our souls, but I believe more than ever before that we are both body and soul. He died to redeem every part of fallen creation. I long desperately to see that redemption become a reality, to be done with the pain and the suffering. But knowing that Jesus didn’t just love me from afar in His perfection, but rather came here and experienced all the wretchedness of sin and suffering, that is what gives me the first glimmer of hope.

Weird that I find hope in the suffering of Jesus, huh? Anyone who’s been a follower of Christ would say, “Of course, that’s where our hope is!”  But I feel like I’m seeing this in a new way. I guess its akin in a small way to how it feels to talk to another mom who has also lost a child. There is an immediate connection that we both know this deep pain, that we experienced something that we thought would kill us, and a part of us is gone with our children, but we are still here, still standing and trying to learn how to live even while a part of us has died.

I know I could have absolutely nothing to do with a God who said he loved me yet left this world to suffer, even though we did and do bring it on ourselves. His willingness to identify with me, with my suffering, with my daughter’s suffering, draws me to Him. It speaks of a love that IS stronger than death. A Love that reignites a spark of hope in my heart. Someone loves me THAT much. A Love that was so powerful and so pure that death could not conquer Him.

Right now, there is just a little, flickering light of hope, kept alive by Love. And yes, I’m camping out on Calvary, at the cross and in the suffering. Yes, I know He rose again and He gained the victory. But today, right now, I don’t see the victory and am not ready to celebrate. I believe and know that one day I will see all things restored, the final victory over death accomplished. But today I stand beside the cross, beside Naomi’s grave and am so grateful that my God came and walked this path through the valley of the shadow of death and He is walking it with me even now.