Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Seeking the Courage to Embrace Grief

Today has been our first day without company (my mom doesn't count -- she is here for another week or so), and I can already feel the difference. I think with so many people in and out of our house, there have been distractions upon distractions, and there hasn't been a chance for Samuel's death to really sink in. There was always something ahead of me to get through (like the funeral) or someone who was coming to see us, and it wasn't normal life at all, so Samuel's absence didn't seem so real. At every quiet moment, there was someone to sit down and keep company (which I enjoyed since it was my family who I love dearly and one of my best friends, Mandie), but it meant that I never dwelled in the truth that Samuel is gone. I didn't have to think about it for long because there was something else to focus on. That is starting to change.

I can feel grief beginning to close in on me. I can feel it approaching. The air in my house is heavier today that it was last week (with the exception of August 31 -- the day on which Samuel died). Grief's presence is almost audible for me -- it's no longer lurking in outer corners but creeping ever closer and starting to surround me. Sorrow is in my throat and tugging on my heart. It's waiting patiently (or perhaps not so patiently) for me to face it and embrace it.

But the truth is, I've been hiding from grief pretty actively the last week. I know this is all still brand new in the grand scheme of things, and I need to give myself time and grace to feel all the sadness of Samuel's death, but I also know I've been trying to cheat this past week. I've sought distraction in company and in the computer. I've been looking on our blog, my inbox, and facebook for someone to say something that could tide me over until the next person's comment -- for some sort of solace that would protect me from engaging the sorrow. And instead of letting God be my comfort and my rock, I have looked for people to fill my void. But I know this is an empty pursuit, and I have already seen the exhaustion of chasing comfort instead of turning in to the grief and allowing God to meet me there.

And honestly, even in my efforts to ameliorate this pain, I haven't been able to escape it. Late at night when I finally lay my head on my pillow, all the memories come flooding in, and sleep eludes me. When I want to close my eyes and find the peace of forgetfulness in sleep, that is when I can't stop thinking about Samuel -- about all he suffered and endured in his short life, about watching him die a slow death, about holding his synthetically paralyzed body while he faded away, about how his body was unrecognizeable from the beautiful boy he was when he came out of my womb, about the smell of death that clung to him his last week of life, about the constant beeps and dings and alarms that would make our hearts jump. In the still moments, I am bombarded by the pain we witnessed and endured.

I look back on that month in the hospital, and I cannot believe we survived it. There is no way we could have done so without the grace of God. And we not only survived it, we had unspeakable peace through it. How I see God's grace and presence when I replay all the stress-inducing elements of hospital life. I am in awe of how the Lord carried us through. I am amazed that He even granted us joy in those days -- that mostly when I think of my time by Samuel's bed, I think of ENJOYING him. That is a gift from God, for it would have been so natural to spend the whole month in anxiety and fear, with our stomachs in constant knots and unceasing tears streaming down our faces. And though we certainly experienced fear and tears, the predominate emotion I remember is joy. Thank you, Jesus, for blessing us with Your peace and Your joy! Bryan and I can take no credit for that -- You alone are the giver of such gifts.

I guess the short of it is this: I know I will have to walk through grief if I hope to come out of this pain as a whole and well person, sincerely trusting God and praising Him. But it will take incredible courage to truly embrace what is before me. I can see the temptation to try and just tiptoe around the periphery of grief and only dip my finger in the waters when I am willing to shed a few tears and then keep on my merry way. But I need to submerge myself in this new life and experience it fully, without shame, and let GOD be my rescuer and comfort. I need to let Him wash over me with His grace in this new part of my journey, and I need to do so again and again. This won't be a short jaunt. I can't spend a night in misery and then think I've faced it all and can now start about my life as usual. I have to be patient with myself and with God, with my sons and with my husband, and I have to let God heal me in His perfect time, with me a willing follower of His perfect leading.

It will take courage to evaluate how honestly I am walking the road of grief, but I am asking God to grant me the eyes to see clearly and not be deceived. I am asking God to give me discernment into my own heart and how fully I am depending on Him. I am asking Him to give my friends the clarity to identify my evasion tactics and the boldness to ask the questions I need to hear. I want to be the woman God wants me to be both through this process and years down the road as I tell my story that is part of His story. May God do in me whatever it is He wants to do. Lord, grant me the heart to accept Your will and Your refinement; "create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10).


  1. Dear, sweet Apinis family,

    You don't know me but a friend of mine sent me your blog just a few days ago. I have spent the last few hours reading everything you have so beautifully written from your first post on. I can honestly say that I know every single emotion that you have felt from start to finish. I will not go into great detail here but if you would like to e-mail me I will list it below for you. Just know that I feel your pain in every way. We must have just missed each other at Egleston. I was there with my third son as well who was diagnosed with an extremely rare heart defect on July 28th and was in the OR at Egleston having open heart surgery on the 29th. However, our third son did remarkably well. It was our second son, a twin, who is showing your sweet son Samuel around Heaven that did not live very long on this earth with us. Reading your posts about the last few days/hours with your son brought back every emotion I felt with our son, Cooper. Please know that I am praying for you and your family and if you need to talk to someone who has been where you are please feel free to contact me.

    With Love and Support
    Lauren Hess

    PS--I know EXACTLY which doctor you were talking about who has no bedside mannor what-so-ever...

  2. My dearest niece Kathryn,
    I'll be praying for you most deeply in those late-night hours when it seems the grief may be the hardest. I don't know the way to walk this path and wish that I could take some of the pain. We love you so much.

  3. Dear sweet Kathryn, how my heart aches for you. Your words are so clear and eloquent that I have a picture in my head of the grief that is longing to take you under, and I know that it will be painful when it is time for you to turn and face it. I have no doubt though that as you face the sadness, anger, despair and all of the other emotions that come with a loss of this magnitude that Christ himself will be sitting by your side, holding your hand, and lifting you up when it seems the strength to go on has left you.
    You and Bryan and the boys are never far from my thoughts and prayers.
    Much love,

  4. Kathryn,
    You and I have only ever met maybe once. Your fabulous husband is our groups director and I have the pleasure of serving on staff with him as well.
    I wanted to thank you for your honesty on here. It really helps us to know how to pray for you guys. I want to encourage you to continue writing about your story-even if it's not on here for the world to see (though I hope it is!). I think that will be helpful for you to process everything and will give you a record to look back on and see God's hand. But I also want to encourage you to be brutally honest on here, as much as you are comfortable. I can imagine that there's a little pressure to seem super spiritual and constantly trying to point people to Him.
    But, if none of my unsolicited advice sits well with you, I would like you to know this:
    You are not alone. I understand what you're saying about avoiding the grief and distracting yourself. I also understand that no one on this Earth can truly know what you're going through.
    But I also want you to remember the part where Aaron held Moses' arms up to continue the battle. It was Moses' arms that counted, but that didn't mean he had to hold them up all by himself.
    Even though you walk YOUR road of grief and most of those around cannot really relate to your story, we are all willing to take a turn holding up your arms. I imagine this is very isolating and want you to always rest in the comfort found in your Heavenly Father, but know that you are not in his lap by yourself.
    Praying every day for you,
    Allison Russell

  5. I just heard this news today from Bryan and have just started to read your blog, but I couldn't continue to read without comment. As I come upon what-would-have-been my daughter's 2nd birthday this month, alot of thoughts and feelings come back to me. You have so eloquently journaled the reality of such an experience and shared your transparency, as they are the same feelings I have had.

    Bryan was the one who conducted our Hayley Marie's funeral service in 2007 and I think I remember him telling me it was his first funeral or at least his first child funeral. He did a wonderful graveside service and I can only pray that God used him then to help you now.

    Grief comes in bits, as I don't think God will put on us more than we can handle. If it is a comfort to talk with those that have shared experiences, please feel free to email.

    "It Is Well" was the song we chose to be sung, also. I wouldn't change my experience either and I do believe God used my husband and me during that time for a greater purpose. Nonetheless, the song continues to move me when I hear it.

    I am praying for you and your family.

    Sarah Embro

  6. Kathryn, I had a dream about you. I walked into the back of a classroom and was surprised to realize it was my high school English class. There was only one student in the class--you. You turned around from your seat, and your face had a look extreme stillness and the deepest sorrow. In my dream, you were alone, and when I awoke I was teary thinking of you that way. But I agree with Allison and other posters that you are not alone in grief, and you need not be alone in order fully to confront your incomprehensible loss. Loss brings an occasion for gathering and fellowship. These pages are a testament to that. Everyday I think of Joel and Caleb. They will live with Samuel's loss forever, but you and Bryan are keeping a chronicle through which they will be reminded that they are not alone in their grief. They will learn about the faith that sustained you and Bryan through these days. And they will witness the fellowship that your faith and transparency inspired. As young adults looking back on this time, I imagine that every detail of your chronicles and online exchanges will be illuminating for them.

  7. Kathryn,Thank you for sharing this journey, for sharing your pain and ultimately for glorifying GOD...I sense His presence in every word you have written

  8. Kathryn and Bryan,

    I am in clinic today (it is good to get away from the hospital occasionally) and met a mutual acquaintance who let me know about your blog. I have been trying to spend whatever time I can between patients today to read your blog and watch Samuel's service.

    I just wanted to let you know that I, along with many others at the hospital, continue to think and talk fondly about you and your family. The two of you have left an impression which we will never forget. Reading your blog, it reminds me how much we as medical people can become somewhat detached from wholly understanding/recognizing what families are going through while their children are in the hospital. Certainly this is a defense mechanism for us, but it is important for us to unshield ourselves occasionally, so for that, I thank you. The technology and terminology are routine for us, but must be so difficult to understand and intimidating for those who don't spend their careers there. To have met the two of you has been so special to those of us who have to deal with this kind of tragedy on an unfortunately too regular basis.

    In medicine, you meet people and families from all walks of life and the names and faces can become a blur. However, there are a few that you will never forget- your family is one of those to me. I think it must be due to the unbelievable grace and composure that you and Bryan always displayed throughout everything. Watching Bryan so eloquently speak at Samuel's service was incredible. It was truly inspirational to me as a father.

    I once met a family and they had a similar peace and sense of grace that was something special. At the time I did not know who Matt Redman was, but I felt compelled to find out more about him and subsequently found out about his and his wife's work. I thought about that when I heard "Blessed Be Your Name" played at the service. You and Bryan left a similar impression with me after I first met you.

    While the road toward healing will likely not end (nor should it in memory of Samuel Erik), I hope the sun shines on that path soon. You have a beautiful family and I wish you all the best for the future- it will certainly be bright despite the recent overcast skies.

    Dennis Kim