Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Relentlessness of Grief

Over the last several days I have repeatedly experienced a strong tension between contradictory thoughts. They seem to happen in rapid succession, each with full conviction.

The first thought abruptly ends stretches of time in which I do not feel heavy-hearted. Sometimes I experience these moments of relative light-heartedness because of exhaustion (too tired to feel or, at least, feel deeply), sometimes it is because I am busy or distracted (it’s amazing how quickly we are back into some of the mundane things of life), and sometimes it is because of joy (as today when I spent the day enjoying my family). Usually these moments are a welcome respite… until I am cognizant of them. Then, however, my mind quickly shifts to the realization that my son died 4 days ago and that we laid him in the ground yesterday. In that moment it hurts my heart to realize that thoughts of him are not always present. I am afraid that I will not remember him, that we will “move on” too quickly.

Leaving the hospital on Monday was very hard for me. Samuel had been dead for several hours, and I knew that the body that lay in front of me was not him. It was his earthly body, but he wasn’t there. At the same time, I had the hardest time walking away from Samuel’s body and out of our CICU dock, 2112. I understand better now than I did then that much of the reason the parting was so hard for me was because the hospital was the only context in which we knew Samuel. We never knew him apart from ventilators, medicine trees, cerebral oximeters, vitals monitors, nurses, hand sanitizer, syringes, warming lights, constant beeps and dings, respiratory therapists, blood gas tests, blood, plasma, and hemoglobin transfusions, doctors, etc. I think that I was afraid that when I walked out, I would be leaving memories behind. In reality, I think that I did. That is hard.

The departure from that world (the hospital) and re-entry into this one (home) has only amplified this challenge. Now that we are home and there are two bedrooms filled and two car seats occupied in the mini van, everything is the way it was just 36 days ago. Honestly, I am frightened by how easy I can already slip back into the old routines, how easy it is at times to miss the significance of the empty nursery, the car seat sitting pointlessly on the floor of the garage, and the new photos all over our house. My awareness of this tendency makes it hard not to resent everything that does not remind me of Samuel. I do not want to forget him. I do not want the old normal back. I want Samuel back. Short of that, I want to remember him. I want to feel the loss, mourn his death, and leave the gap.

Of course, when I fear moving on too quickly and resolve to grieve Samuel’s death, my soul is taken to a place that is very different from the respite where it began. I quickly and willingly re-enter the sorrow of the loss of our son. I seem to feel more alive here. The challenge, however, is that the weight of our anguish is such that I cannot remain under it for long before crying out to God, wondering if this will ever go away, wondering if we’ll ever feel whole again from the battering that our souls have taken in the last month. In this way grief is relentless. In one moment, I am concerned that we are moving on too quickly and in the next that we won’t make it through this.

I say all of this with full conviction that God is good and faithful. I love and believe the words of Jesus that tell us that those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted (Matt 5:4). My family – Kathy, Erik, Jen, Charlie, Grady, Marta, and Adam – all spent the day with us; they go home tomorrow. I made an intentional effort this morning to give myself permission to be “distracted” and enjoy my family. I know that that may sound funny, but it actually wasn’t easy. As I look back at my time with them, I see evidence of the Lord’s grace, kindness, and comfort. He gave us fun memories and many moments of joy. Though my faculties are insufficient to resolve this tension that I feel, I was reminded today that the grace of God is sufficient to see me through. I will trust in Him and in that.


  1. We appreciate your transparency and continue to grieve with you. Samuel may be gone, but he will never be forgotten in this household.

  2. I have asked God to continually bring you guys to mind, so that I can pray for you without ceasing in the hard days to come. As a mom, I ache for you and was prompted to pray about the things you wrote recently before you posted them.

    Even in your pain, you guys are shining brightly.

    Becca Daws

  3. Bryan,
    Your anguish is so real and documenting it will also be a connection to hold the memories of Samuel and the void you feel without him. The "what ifs" are so hard to come to terms with and when you have loved so deeply and purely it is hard to move ahead. Life does go on but you, Kathryn, Caleb and Joel will create your "new normal". We are so heartbroken that you are all walking this difficult path but do rest assusred that you are not walking alone. Your faith will bring you what you need. Love to all, Vicki

  4. Bryan,
    Your daily living may go on "like normal", but your heart and soul will forever be changed by Samuel and that's what you'll take forward with you as you "go back to living". Samuel has and will continue to shape your view of God and this life in a way that will never be "undone". You don't need to fear "forgetting" Samuel because he has already left his mark, and will continue doing so as you lead your family, love Kathryn, father Caleb and Joel, and seek God's face in all you do.

    So start each day knowing how Samuel's broken heart reshaped yours forever and each time you minister to someone with your reshaped heart, you are remembering and honoring Samuel. Not many people who are given a lot more than 31 days on this earth have that great an impact on others.

    Lastly, be kind to yourself as you grieve. Grief work is gut-wrenching; it knows no limits or time tables. Good moments are crushed by bad moments and often you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Lean hard into the One who collects our tears in a jar and can put your heart back together.

    With hugs, prayers, and tears,
    Susan B

  5. although we don't have the pleasure of knowing your sweet family, we have heard about Samuel and your story through so many. Your ministry and life, along with Samuel's life will not be forgotten. It is a true picture of Christ and a role model for every young couple struggling to have a family. Samuels life has already had more of an impact on your community than most people will ever dream of having. May God bless your family and sweet baby you will get to see again one day.

  6. I haven't had the chance yet to read up on your entire story, but please know that I'm prayin for you guys - that God will continue to walk with you (and even carry you) during the ups and downs of your grief journey. A month ago today (at 39 weeks), our OB could not find our son's heartbeat. We delivered him 2 days later stillborn. This past month has been difficult, and I'm dealing with many of the things you wrote in your post. Just know that you are not alone - grief is an interesting beast, but I'm thankful that you have the Lord to cling to and rest in. He is faithful!

  7. I have been thinking of you all day. Thank you for writing and processing as you are doing. I am strangely blessed by your words and thoughts and feelings. thank you for writing. I love you sooooo much. JW

  8. A very good and honest description. Thank you for that. Our emotions are strange and wonderful. You will be feeling these opposites for quite a while. And of course you will never forget Samuel. His memory may perhaps fad a bit but he has left an indelible mark. Though I never met him, he has done the same to me.

  9. Hi friends. I continue to appreciate your blog, both for the updates on how you are both doing, and for your insights into life/faith/grief etc. I have to say that I am impressed by how you both are able to so quickly organize your experiences and to have insight into the bigger picture narrative. I think your thoughts on the two "contradictory" experiences of the grieving process are right on. I have noticed the same phenomenon (perhaps we could call it the "hard reality" and "blessed distraction"?) during hard times in my own life. I have to wonder if they aren't complementary rather than contradictory though. The intensity of the grief keeps you close to Samuel and to God. This is a good thing but probably unsustainable. It hurts too much. The times of mundane/distraction/joy allow you to decompress a little, have some respite, recharge for the next time of mourning. I think this is a good and necessary thing, and not an indication of "moving on too quickly." I think moving on too quickly is when you are set on avoiding the grief, and instead stuff your feelings. Just my two cents; feel free to disregard! I will continue to pray for you to have a good night's rest each night and to have sweet dreams of Samuel. All my love, Ki

  10. B and K- I accidentally posted this under one of your previous posts, but I wanted to make sure you saw it. love you guys, Jason and Jennifer

    Hey Bryan and Kathryn,
    As I woke up this morning the lyrics to an Aaron Shust song came to my mind and made me think of you. They reflect the mysteries of God and yet remind us that He is our God...and that is unchanging. Here are the lyrics:

    My Savior, My God

    I am not skilled to understand
    What God has willed, what God has planned
    I only know at His right hand
    Stands One who is my Savior

    I take Him at his word and deed
    Christ died to save me this I read
    And in my heart I find a need
    For Him to be my Savior

    That He would leave His place on high
    And come for sinful man to die
    You count it strange, but once did I
    Before I knew my Savior

    My Savior loves, my Savior lives
    My Savior's always there for me
    My God He was, my God He is
    My God He's always gonna be

    Yes, living, dying; let me bring
    My strength, my solace from this spring
    That He who lives to be my King
    Once died to be my Savior

    My Savior loves, My Savior lives,
    My Savior's always there for me
    My God He was, my God He is
    My God He's always gonna be

    You can listen to it here on youtube if you'd like:

  11. Bryan and Kathryn,
    My heart breaks for your pain. I have read your blog after a friend from Brownsbridge asked for prayers for your family. I had tears streaming down my face reading your heartfelt enteries. My husband and I lost twin boys, who were born at five months, ten years ago. We held them, sang to them, and prayed with them. We had a service at the hospital and leaving was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. It is such a unique and sad lonely experience to lose a baby. No one understands the pain of only knowing someone for a short time, but having their whole life planned out with you. Your faith in God will get you through this time, let every emotion be felt. You will have anger, sadness and hope directed at God. Let him hold you through this time. I heard you mention the "What ifs" those are what haunted me for a long time. Until I put them in the Lord's hands they can take over your thoughts. I am praying for you both. If you need to talk to someone please email me, sometimes you just need someone to listen.
    Lori Warren

  12. I am so so sorry to hear the news. I'm late on hearing this but my heart is broken for you and your whole family. What a painful tragedy. You are a beacon of light even in the midst of this and I know that your story fits into God's bigger picture somehow. I don't really know what else to say other than to let you know that I am grieving for you and will pray.