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.


  1. I am incredibly grieved thinking of you dreaming those horrible dreams about your sweet boy. Perhaps I missed it, but those are the types of things you need to tell us about! I will begin praying for sweet dreams (literally!) for you now. Thank you for taking us along on your grief journey.

  2. Kathryn, what an amazing family you have! To be able to grieve together as a family and to have children who already mostly understand what God has done for us is incredible! Those pictures relay a sad but peaceful atmosphere to me. I can't imagine what you guys have been through! I will continue to pray for your family over the next few months as those may be the hardest. Love you guys!

  3. You and Bryan have definitely chosen the "right" path as grieving as a family. It's so true that if we don't let our tears out and cry that those feelings will come out in other ways (many times ugly ways). I know this is still so hard to walk through, but the lessons you and Bryan are showing to Caleb and Joel are so glorifying to God. Praying for you all.

  4. wow, Kathryn....your post and pictures leave me teary eyed and broken for you all over again. I don't even know how you and Bryan had the strength to get through those days....all I can think is "not to us, not to us, but to Your name be the glory"...I hope it brings some comfort for you to know that you and Bryan are living lives that are bright, loud billboards of God's mercy and grace to those of us who you share this journey with. Love you guys. The Conleys

  5. Thank you for letting me touch my grief again too.