Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Dangerous Escape

Some of you know that both of my parents have passed away. My mom died just before I turned 15 and entered high school. My dad died when I was 21 and in my junior year of college. I did not grieve their deaths well. I have since been able to identify the lie (or at least one of the lies) that kept me from responding to these losses in a healthy way. I felt that I needed to be strong for others – for my dad, my sister, my brother, etc. I don’t think that anyone ever told me that I needed to be strong for others; somehow I just adopted that as my philosophy. It worked well for a while, but it caught up with me.

I can’t say that I never fall into those patterns anymore, but for several years now I have been trying to be more attentive to my emotions – identifying them, understanding them, etc. Just days before Samuel was born I had been encouraged by someone close to me to “pay attention to my soul” as I continued to grow in this area. The circumstances around Samuel’s life and death have given me far more opportunity to do so than I ever would have wanted. At the same time, I am grateful for the timeliness of that counsel because from the first hours and days of Samuel’s life it became a mantra that I frequently turned to and a prayer that I often uttered. Many a time that thought or prayer alone – pay attention to your soul – helped me to identify what was going on in my heart. Sometimes it was anxiety or fear or anger. Other times it was peace or joy. Either way, what I identified gave me the opportunity to respond, usually in prayer. For the former, they were “prayers and petitions with thanksgiving,” casting my anxieties on God, and pleas to grant me the grace to trust Him. For the latter, they were prayers of gratitude for the inexplicable and undeserved grace of God. Thank you, John, for that counsel!

I want to continue to “pay attention to my soul” and to grieve Samuel’s death well, but I am finding it much harder in these days since his passing. Our 4 weeks in the CICU were desperate times. We read a NY Times article that described how parents who have spent extended periods of time in an ICU with their child are often diagnosed with or show symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I can totally understand why; we lived those days in survival mode. But traumatic circumstances seem to lend themselves to vigilance. It was natural to pay attention in those days since our surroundings were new, everything was uncertain, and the stakes were so high.

Now that we are home and the current of life is pulling us into routine, paying attention to my soul requires much more effort. First of all, we are no longer living with the sense of urgency that we had in the CICU. The drama is over; Samuel has died. We are not waiting for another test result or “Cath conference.” We are slowly and uncomfortably slipping back into routine. Secondly, there are the distractions that I’ve written about before. These are the things, by my definition, that are necessary – paying bills, mowing the lawn, preparing or cleaning up from meals, picking up toys, going to work, etc. Sometimes these things are a welcome diversion, other times I resent them, and at others times still I'm energized and healed by them. While the label “distraction” suggests that I slip into these tasks effortlessly, the reality is that they are all significantly harder than normal (but that may be a post for another day). That said, I think of them as “distractions” because they take my mind from grieving Samuel’s death, from paying attention to my soul.

I have recently observed a third reason that paying attention to my soul is harder these days, and it is particularly troubling to me. I have noticed that in my quiet and in-between moments, I quickly fill my world with noise. I don’t necessarily mean noise in the literal sense but rather that I am prone to flee from stillness to busyness, from thoughtfulness to mindlessness. I am prone to escape. This propensity is strong enough that it has me wondering how long I’ve been doing it, how deeply engrained this habit is. It looks different at different times. Sometimes it is reading up on sports on the internet or watching it on TV. Sometimes it is feeding my appetite for order and organization by tidying up. Sometimes it is checking email or Facebook or this blog. Clearly, none of these things are bad things, but this is troubling because these still moments are my greatest opportunity to pay attention to my soul. In fact, I think the reason that I turn up the noise is that in the silence I begin to hear my own hurt, in the stillness I feel the heaviness of my own heart, and in the thoughtful moments, I am mindful of the gap that has forever been opened in our family by Samuel’s absence.

I don’t fully understand how to grieve well. I can definitely tell you a couple of ways not to do it, but little by little I’m learning. For starters, permit me to state the obvious. If I want to grieve well, then I have to actually grieve. That makes running from these quiet moments particularly dangerous. How can I grieve if I’m escaping the hurt? So this is what grieving well and paying attention to my soul looks like for me right now. Find the quiet moments and remain in them, still and thoughtful. Allow myself to hurt, feel my heavy heart, acknowledge my loss, and remember my son.

I have a lot more thoughts and a whole lot more to learn. I am sure that I will uncover another dozen or so unhealthy patterns along the way, but I am committed to doing this well. That means doing it honestly. That means not doing it alone. I need my family and trusted friends. Most of all, I need my God.


  1. thank you both so much for your transparency and posting the service online. I was not able to go and was so grateful that I could see it later.

    been praying for you both to allow yourselves to enter the pain so that God can rescue you from it and bring you to a place that you couldn't have gotten to had you not entered that seemingly black hole of sorrow...

    my heart grieves with you. we'll continue to pray for your healing, peace, and joy in the Lord.

    Sabina Mazac

  2. I worked with Brian for a short while at NorthPoint and Melanie Moore lead me to your blog.
    My heart breaks for your loss, but rejoices in the time you had with Samuel. His brief life touched so many. You can take comfort in knowing that you will see him again - fully healed.
    Thank you for being transparent. I pray that God continues to heal your hearts. May you find comfort in Him.
    Many blessings,

  3. Bryan, this is amazing and wonderful. Thank you for paying attention and for writing so well. These blogs are the seeds of your book to so many hurting people who need to mourn properly and be comforted by Jesus. I put this on my Twitter and FB. Thank you. John

  4. bryan...every time brian & I meet w/ you, we have walked away from those meals feeling blessed by your words, inspired not only about our group, but about our faith. this blog, yours & kathryn's words, is part of your healing - yet you continue to inspire & encourage US - we are blessed; that seems so unfair. but as your friends may we never shy away from helping you fully experience & walk through the grief, pain, joy & healing that will fully be yours in Christ. i'm praying that every where you turn, you are met by someone who isn't afraid to walk with you. someone who will point your eyes to our Father. He has not forsaken you. He never will.

    Hear my cry, O God; give heed to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy. Let me dwell in Your tent forever; let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. (Psalm 61:1-4, NAS)

    we continue to pray for you, kathryn & the boys. we continue to give thanks for samuel's life. we love you guys!
    beth & brian

  5. Oh Bryan, how you have spoken to me and of me in your words on grieving. I have felt resentment at times for "life" getting in the way of how I thought I would really want to grieve for the passing of my mom. But with kids and the duties of a wife, I simply denied myself and put my grief in a box. I have countless books given to me, and have read none!!!! I think it is too hard. But I have caused greater suffering to myself and my family in being this way. Now you need not be strong for others ... take care of your soul ... allowing you to be the best you really can be for you and your family. Prayers are with you and Kathryn always. I am here for you if you ever need to talk. There is so much more I want to say ... so, I am working on a letter for you ... just taking some time. I love you all dearly.


  6. Not all of course, but a lot of grieving is done alone. That is what we want to run from. Our society works against alone, quiet time. There are so many distractions. You have to make quiet time alone. It is something I want for myself that I don't make happen enough. There is something healthy in the contemplative Christian tradition that we have gotten away from. I appreciate your effort at paying attention to your soul.

    And of course you can't grieve all the time. It would burn you out. You need some distraction and time away from it. You need to allow that too.

  7. Bry,
    As I sit here in the very early am on 9-16 I realize that some of my questions/comments at our meeting may have been really out there on Monday (9-14) after catching up with the blog. I am sorry if this was uncomfotable. Again, I apologize for being such a woos about my past. I still believe that you guys are the strongest people
    I know.......I am way too much of a wimp. My Grandmother (moms mom)said that I survived my take care of Lindsay/Matthew. Bryan said he did did not deserve the things people were giving to him....yes you do. BryKat should have all! It is all messed them now!!! I don't think Matthew understands either. Again, I apologize for my outbreak the other am.

    Love You Much!!!