Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Promise of Empty Graves

Sometimes I think I'm passed unexpected outbursts of tears and sorrow.  I think I'm in the stage of grief when I can tell sorrow is welling up inside me and will want an outlet, when there isn't a risk of me breaking down out of nowhere into uncontrollable sobs.  Apparently that's not true.  A few nights ago at dinner, Caleb started talking about Samuel.  It had been a couple of weeks since either of the boys had mentioned Samuel's name without me or Bryan mentioning it first.  On Wednesday, however, Caleb started talking about Samuel being in Heaven and how he first knew Samuel was in Heaven when he saw the "little white box he was in."  He was referring to the casket.  Then he proceeded to talk about the Pooh bear he picked to go in the casket with Samuel.  He asked why we put an animal in there with him when Samuel was in Heaven and not really in the box.  Caleb turned his big, brown eyes up at me and asked again, "Momma, why did we put Pooh in that white box with Samuel?"

It had been a long, long time since I had thought about Samuel's casket.  I hate thinking about it, and I have purposefully avoided going there in my mind.  Seeing it when we went to the graveside was one of those moments that will be forever etched in my mind, walking up to the plot and realizing my baby was in that tiny box.  Euh.  It turns my stomach even now.  And the thought of his body in there is almost unbearable for me.  For several months I felt haunted by the image of Samuel in varying degrees of decay.  In fact I had horrible, horrible nightmares about it for awhile -- ones that nearly made me throw-up in my waking hours and still physically bring on shudders.  Samuel's body in that box is just one of the things I don't think I will ever be ok with.  It's one of the reasons that visiting his gravesite is so unappealing to me.  I prefer to remember my baby boy as I knew and loved him in his best days -- or even in his worst and sickest days over thinking of him buried under the ground in that tiny coffin. 

A couple of months ago, after the nightmare that was probably the worst one of my life (and that's saying something), Bryan and I talked about Samuel's body on one of our walks.  When it was time to make arrangements for Samuel's funeral, Bryan and I were in such shock and so stunned, that we didn't really discuss burial or cremation at any depth.  In absence of time and energy to really talk and think about what to do, we went with what seemed the most traditional and least likely to come with regrets.  And Bryan made a good point at the time about how he wanted a place to go back to, a place we could visit to help us remember, a place the boys could see and have a more tangible understanding of.  But after my dreams, I started to really second guess our decision and to wish we had chosen differently.  Bryan, however, had some well-thought out reasons in the time since Samuel's death that reinforced his preference for a burial.  As we walked, he talked about the beauty of the resurrection and a resurrected body.  In his seminary studies, he has studied the resurrection, and though we believe Samuel's spirit is in Heaven already, the Bible talks about how one day our bodies will be resurrected, and though God can certainly resurrect ashes, Bryan loves the picture of an empty grave.  It was a helpful conversation for me and eased the fear and stomach-turning I was feeling about Samuel in his coffin.

So when Caleb turned those beautiful eyes up at me and asked about Samuel's casket, I burst into tears.  I put my face in my hands and sobbed.  The boys haven't seen me do that since October, probably.  Though they've certainly seen their fair share of tears and crying, they haven't witnessed much full-out sobbing.  When I collected myself enough to look up, I saw that Caleb was absolutely on the verge of breaking down.  Bryan said, "Caleb, I can see you're feeling really sad.  It's ok to feel sad and to cry," and with that Caleb burst into deep sobs.  I pulled him into my lap and held him while he cried and cried.  After awhile I wiped away his tears, and we told him, "Caleb, honey, you didn't do anything wrong by asking about Samuel.  And it's ok to cry.  In fact, Mommy and Daddy love when you ask about Samuel and talk about him.  And we need to cry sometimes.  If our tears don't come out, then all the sad feelings come out a different way.  Sometimes they come out as frustration or maybe yelling or maybe being impatient, and those aren't what we want.  It's good to get our sad feelings out in tears."  Caleb said, "Miss Judy told me about that."  He remembered talking to our grief counselor about how important it is to cry, and he seemed comforted by us talking about it as a family.  In some ways, Bryan and I both felt grateful for the chance to be with Caleb in his grief and by the opportunity to show both boys ours.  We want them to know that we continue to miss their baby brother, and we want them to feel comfortable talking about him and missing him too.  It was a precious time as a family, even if our dinner was growing cold in front of us and even if it meant lots of tears.  I am grateful for the chances to be sad together as well as happy. 

This journey of grief in so many ways is a privilege.  I feel honored to walk this road and to learn more about my Savior and about my family.  I feel blessed to have loved Samuel so much that his absence is deeply painful.  And I feel so inexpressibly grateful for Samuel's life.  It is among the greatest gifts of my life.  And I think this road will be perpetually refining, and for that I am also truly thankful.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Time Away...Hooray!

As you may have deduced from the pictures in the last post, we spent last week at the beach.  (I never feel comfortable announcing on the world wide web that we're out of town while we're actually gone.)  Thanks to a friend of a friend whom I have never met, we got to have a week with the family enjoying the beautiful ocean right outside our 25th floor condo.  It was wonderful and much needed and so well-timed.  We had just come out of a crazy stretch where Bryan had the end of a seminary class (which is always a hectic time) and North Point's DRIVE Conference; plus it was a rough Mother's Day, so a week away was a true blessing.  We needed some time together to just refocus and breathe a little, so THANK YOU, THANK YOU Sharon and family!

A couple of days before we left for Florida, I spent an evening rereading our blog from August.  It had been months since I'd gone back and revisited those posts and all the kind, amazing comments people left us.  I cried nonstop for three hours or more.  There are still days when I can't believe this is our life, and Samuel really lived and really died, and we really endured that month of joy and agony, fear and peace, intimacy and isolation.  I look back and wonder how we survived it, but then I read about God's amazing presence in those days, and I am in awe all over again of how abundantly He cared for us and carried us and provided for us.  And I read all the comments people left us, and I am humbled anew at how people loved and served us, how people carried our burden with us, and at how people allowed themselves to experience our suffering out of love and compassion.  It is a time in my life that will always challenge me to love others with such abandon and such tenacity.  Thank you for loving us and serving us in ways we would never have thought to ask for.  I get choked up just thinking about it.  And our time in Florida last week has left me a bit speechless because neither Bryan not I have met the family who gave it to us, and they don't even own it.  They graciously gave us the week they had bought and planned to use themselves.  That kind of selflessness astounds me.

While we were gone, Bryan and I spent one evening out on the balcony, listening to the sound of the waves 25 floors below us and talking about Samuel and how we're doing.  We both miss him terribly, and we both feel like August was so long ago and like it gets farther and farther away from us with each passing day.  Samuel feels far away from us, and the time we spent with him feels surreal in many ways.  Neither of us like that.

But we also talked about how God has grown us and deepened us and taught us so much about Him.  He continues to grow us as He asks us to surrender new hopes and new dreams in the present.  I feel like it's been a loooooong season of intense growth for me, and even though I learned to surrender Samuel, I am still struggling to surrender the things I cling to each day.  Surrender has been a painful process so far, and though I've seen its benefits and its joys, I find it immensely difficult to lay down my dearest hopes.  But because I love God far more than I love my dreams, I am continually trying to unpry my fingers and to open up my hands, lift my palms to Heaven, and say, "They're Yours, Lord.  I give them to You.  I trust them to You.  And if You want to take them from me and never grant me the things I long for in life, then that is ok with me.  I want You most of all.  And I want what You want.  Help me to surrender all that I hold dear."  I hope that God will give me back what I lay down, like He did with Abraham and Isaac, but I can't lay it down just because I think God will then give it back to me.  I have to really, truly put it on the altar before God and really, truly be willing to give it up.  I'm working on this...intensely.  I still have a long way to go.  And I know God is not searching for ways to take things away from me.  He's not unkind or selfish or vengeful.  But He does want my heart -- all of it -- and sometimes the things I most want in life keep me from giving myself fully to Him.  Like I said, I still have a long way to go.

When we got home from the beach, a gardenia plant someone gave us when Samuel was born had its first blossom.  The plant hasn't done so well in my care though I've tried to help it thrive, and I didn't think it would bloom.  Previously every bud it had grown would reach a certain size and then fall off, I assume because it got to be too heavy for the sickly branches to support.  But I walked in the door and almost immediately saw the fragile white blossom and smelled its amazing fragrance.  It made me think of Samuel right away.  During the stretch when Bryan and I slept at the hospital for 10 days straight, my mom brought us a ziplock baggy with 2 gardenia blossoms in it from the boys.  I think they were from a bush in our yard though I'm not sure.  I would open that bag and smell it over and over before I'd climb in the tiny cot for the abbreviated night's sleep next to Bryan.  The blossom made me think of how life is beautiful even when it's broken, of how life was going on at home even though we weren't there, of how smells could be lovely and full of life instead of sterile or foreshadowing death.  The blooms always broke my heart a little, but they also gave me a picture of life to come -- of beauty still ahead some day.  And so something in my spirit broke while something else soared when I saw our Samuel gardenia in bloom.

Ok, this is a disjointed entry, but here are some pictures of our time away.  Once again, thank you, friends, for loving us so well.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mother's Day Missing a Son

Mother's Day was a whole lot harder for me than I anticipated.  Several people had told me ahead of time that they would be praying for me, and I thought to myself, "I think I'll be ok.  I don't think it will be too bad."  Turns out they were more right than I was.

I woke up sad.  Really sad.  And the morning was downright painful.  We had actually decided ahead of time to celebrate Mother's Day later in the week because a lot of family was in town for my cousin's college graduation from UGA, and Bryan was working on Sunday.  So, I woke up with Bryan already at work and feeling very blue.  I went to get the boys up, and Joel was a booger as he often is these days.  (The threes are a tricky age when kids try hard to declare their independence and therefore push boundaries at every turn.)  By breakfast Joel had had at least 3 timeouts.

I felt teary and fragile all morning.  By the time we got to church, I was on the brink of tears.  After delivering Caleb and Joel to their rooms, I sat down alone in the auditorium, way before the service was ready to start.  I started praying and thinking about Mother's Day and how it's hard for a lot of people.  I've heard stories of people who struggle with infertility and dread Mother's Day, who dread the "Will all the mothers take a moment to stand so we can applaud you" announcement at the start of church service.  I thought about moms who might be estranged from their children, of moms who have a child off at war, of would-be moms who have miscarried.  And then I thought about me.  And about other moms whose child has died.  It feels so wrong.  A day focused on me as a mother feels so painful, so broken, because the picture of me as a mom is so incomplete.

By the time Bryan got to church, sat down next to me, and put his arm around me, my tears were spilling over uncontrollably.  I wiped at my cheeks frantically in an effort to erase all evidence of my tears, but they just kept coming.  I couldn't stop them from brimming over.  It took a good way into the service before I finally felt peaceful inside and wasn't trying to master my emotions.

The rest of the day we spent with my extended family, and I kept telling myself, "it's not Mother's Day.  It's not Mother's Day."  I wanted to be able to enjoy my relatives and not spend the day in a funk, especially considering I don't get to see some of them more than a couple of times a year.  At the end of the day as we were heading home, my aunt Jeanne gave me a hug and told me that she was sure it had been a hard day, that I had been missing Samuel terribly, and that she was so sorry.  Those kind words of course made me cry again, but I was so grateful for her willingness to broach a difficult subject and for her compassion.  It was a bright moment in a hard day.

On Wednesday we celebrated Mother's Day as a family, and it was a blessed day.  I was able to enjoy my two sons here with me and to love our day together.  It wasn't so fraught with pain and heartbreak.  I missed Samuel when I came out to cards from Caleb and Joel, and I missed him when they gave me their presents, and I missed him as they said, "No, no, no, no!  You can't do any work today, Momma!" and I missed him as we went out to dinner, but mostly I felt gratitude in my heart for how God has blessed me with my children, for how I get to me called "Momma" everyday by two little boys, for how I get to kiss away booboos and cuddle away fears, for how God has made me a mother to three precious and amazing sons.  I have a lot to be thankful for.  And I continue to trust God with my story.  He has written it this way, and this, exactly this, is the story I want to be living.  Whatever chapters He pens ahead, I want to live those too -- even if they're not the way I envision them and hope they will be.  Again I pick up my sorrows and joys and say, "Lord, I am Yours.  I trust You.  I will follow where You lead.  After You, my King."  I pray He gives me the grace and faithfulness to do that afresh every day of my life yet ahead.  And for the chance to be a mother, I cannot begin to thank God enough.  It is the greatest privilege of my life.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Beautiful Caleb

Ok, I just cannot resist posting these pictures.  Caleb's preschool brought in a professional photographer, and we could spend $20 to get our kid's picture taken.  Man, that was among the best spent $20 ever.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this boy and his tender heart, his kindness, his encouraging words, his sweet love for God, and his unselfishness.  Caleb is so much more unselfish than I am.  I have so much to learn from this kid.  How I love my oldest son!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Celebrating Joel's 3rd Birthday

Yesterday Joel turned 3.  It was a great day celebrating our middle son.  We played hard and laughed a lot.  We smiled until our cheeks hurt.  We jumped and climbed on indoor inflatables at Jump!Zone.  We ate cake and had a birthday dinner and watched a birthday movie.  We opened obscene amounts of presents.  We had a wonderful time.  But underneath it all, I felt a little bit sad.

I kept thinking about the morning Joel was born and my labor and delivery.  I was a little horrified that at first I couldn't remember any details; all I could recall was Samuel's birth day.  After probably ten minutes racking my brain for memories of May 1, 2007, I finally remembered our special day when Joel came into this world.  I smiled thinking about those glorious, breathtaking, purely joyful minutes of first holding our baby after a painful and surprisingly fast labor.  I smiled remembering the doctor saying, "It's a boy!" and thinking, "I knew it!"  I smiled thinking about those hours after Joel was born when we just held him and stared at him and deliberated about what we should name him, when I got to nurse him and cuddle him and proudly show him off to everyone who came to visit, when I got to introduce him to his big brother for the first time and place him gently into Caleb's little arms.  All those memories made me smile.  But they also made my heart cry a little.
I didn't get to do any of those things with Samuel.  There were no purely joyful moments after his birth.  They were fear-filled and quiet and oppressive in some ways.  I was so glad he was here, but I wanted to hold him.  I wanted the doctors to stop working on him in the corner, and I wanted someone, anyone, to tell me, "He's ok!  He's going to be great.  Just wait a minute, and we'll have him in your arms."  I wanted to hear him cry, and I wanted to see his face, and I desperately wanted to know if he had Down Syndrome.  I wanted to stop shaking all over my body, and I wanted Samuel in my arms.  They were difficult minutes followed by more difficult hours followed by horribly difficult days.  Yesterday, on Joel's birthday, I kept thinking, "It's been three years since we've had a totally joyful birth day.  I wonder if we'll ever have one again."

And throughout the day I missed Samuel.  I wanted him to be there with us.  I wanted to be passing Samuel back and forth between me and Bryan so one of us could go jump with Caleb and Joel while the other snuggled our 9 month old.  I wanted Samuel on my hip while talking to our friends and in my lap while singing "Happy Birthday."  It was hard to have Joel's birthday without his baby brother there.  I didn't dwell on it yesterday, but during all the celebrations, Samuel's absence was very noticeable.  I miss my third son.  I always will.

A couple of weeks ago during our bedtime routine, I was lying on my back on Caleb's bed while Bryan read a book to the boys.  Joel plopped down beside me on his tummy and propped his elbows on my stomach, resting his chin on his hands.  In that moment I was overwhelmed with love for Joel.  Sometimes the love I feel for one of my children comes in concentrated doses, and I feel washed in a flood of love and gratitude.  As I looked at Joel's blond little head resting on me, I also felt a wave of sorrow.  It was one of the moments when I knew what I was missing with Samuel.  I was missing the little joys, the daily surges of love in my heart, the getting to know my child day in and day out, the simple pleasure of reading a book together, the evident love between a mother and son.  In some ways having other children makes grief harder because I know what I'm missing with Samuel; I'm missing this amazing abundance of love and connection and joy in spending each day with my son.  I'm missing so much.

Though yesterday had an underlying sadness to it, it was a deeply joyous day.  And we're now inundated with Star Wars toys, books, coloring books, and even sheets!  In fact, my aunt and uncle even gave me a Star Wars cookbook: Wookie Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes.  It's hilarious, and this week we'll be dining on TIE Fighter Ties and Yoda Soda.  Look out Star Wars, here we come!

And because I simply must, here are some pictures from last week's pancakes and Joel's birthday:
 Chewbacca pancake
Han Solo pancake
The wonderful Thiels dressed in orange because it's Joel's very favorite color.
Joel requested a Han Solo birthday cake.  Bryan decided to add a Tauntaun to surprise the birthday boy.  These are based on the Star Wars lego figurines.  For the record and the Star Wars aficiondos out there, we know this is not Hans's correct outfit for riding the Tauntaun, but Bry decided to go with the more recognizable Han outfit.  Isn't Bryan something?  I keep telling him it's too bad all his artwork is edible.  We need something we can frame!