Monday, November 23, 2009

Surprised by Grief

Lately I have found myself surprised by grief.  I think after two and half months without Samuel, the pain and ache in my soul has softened into a settled kind of existence.  It's always there; I'm always aware of his absence; Samuel is actively missed at every turn.  But, the pain is more even-keeled.  It's more predictable, more constant, less poignant.  Or so I thought.  The past few days, however, have held numerous moments of grief rising up and taking me unawares.  It crashes over me and leaves me breathless, clutching at my chest, gasping for air and a reprieve.

For more than a week, Joel has struggled with being sick.  He's finally on the mend and almost his normal self.  But Friday he started hacking and hacking and was having trouble getting all the breath he needed between coughs.  At one point he laid down on the floor and just held his beloved Cookie Monster and waited for the fit to pass.  I scooped him up and held him in my lap and put my hand on his chest.  I was overwhelmed by the sorrow that swept over me as I felt Joel's heart pound under my hand.  It brought back so many memories of Samuel working for every breath of his little life and of how we could always see his heart fluttering under his skin because it was working so hard to pump blood to his body.  Sometimes I would gently lay my hand over his heart just to feel it beating, and having Joel's heart under my just brought back a wave of grief and sadness.  After Joel's coughing subsided, I ended up going to another room and sobbing.  How I miss my Samuel.

This weekend we also did a little shopping to get some things for a project we need to do and to buy a few Christmas presents before the rush of people flood the stores.  I was caught off guard by another wave of grief in Home Depot.  I was walking through the Christmas section, and suddenly the thought of Christmas and no Samuel was more than I could take.  Again, my hand was pulling at my chest, and the pain was sharp and shooting.  The same thing happened when I was grocery shopping at Walmart and looked up at the Christmas decorations.  Somehow the juxtaposition of such joy in celebrating Christmas with Bryan, Caleb, and Joel and such sorrow in life without my third son knocked me off balance.  I found myself breathing deeply and trying to ease the weight on my chest.

And after dinner one night we all had pudding cups for dessert.  The expiration date on mine was August 31, 2010 -- what will be the 1 year anniversary of Samuel's death.   Another unexpected moment of sadness.  One minute I'm eating my vanilla pudding and laughing at Caleb and Joel, and the next I'm in a daze, thinking about the day Samuel died.

And then last night I loaded on to my computer a disk my mom sent me of all the pictures she took while she was here in August and September.  They were new pictures to me.  There are some of Samuel when he was a couple of days old -- beautiful and relatively well -- and at least one of him two days before he died -- swollen and so sick.  There are photos from days when I never pulled out my camera and therefore didn't have a record of how that day looked.  Mostly they are photos of Caleb and Joel or of me and Bryan at the hospital.  And even those are heartbreaking to see.  I see in our eyes the pain we were experiencing.  I see, in nearly every shot from Bryan's birthday, the way Caleb is draped over one of us, suggesting how scared and lonely he was for his Momma and Dadda.  I see in my face the torn state of my soul -- wanting desperately to run back up to the CICU to be by Samuel's side but also knowing how much Caleb and Joel needed to hold my hand or rest their heads on my chest.  And then there are pictures of the hospital that I never thought to take -- pictures of parts of the garden where Bryan and I spent many anxious hours waiting to hear a procedure was over and we could come back up to be by our son, pictures of the different medicines and machines that sustained Samuel's life, pictures of our dock number, 2112, where Samuel spent most of his life and where his life came to an end.  All of these are heartbreaking in some way or another.  And, though I'm more grateful than I can say to have the pictures, looking at them was so hard and meant another flood of grief and wave of sobs.

Honestly, I'm kind of surprised that I haven't yet learned how grief is ever-changing, how it is unpredictable, how it swells and ebbs but not in any kind of rhythm.  Grief is grief.  It does its own thing, and I cannot control it.  I cannot chart out a map for it.  I can only pray for the wisdom and courage to respond willingly and honestly when it catches me by surprise, for the wherewithall to identify it when it shows up and to let it wash over me and therefore boulster me up for the next wave and the next plunge.  Each time I follow where grief leads, I find I am grateful for the journey, and I am a little less broken and a little less afraid.  Clearly God knew what He was doing when He designed grief.  I would never have dreamed it up or made it just this way, but I am thankful for it.  As weird as that sounds, it's true.  It's a healing journey.

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