Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Grief Heavy Week

Last week was unusually grief-filled for me.  With Beauty on the way, we have a lot of projects we hope to accomplish before her arrival, and one of them has been hanging over my head for nearly a year and a half.  All of the precious things we have from Samuel's short life are in a keepsake box the hospital gave us when he died.  When we got home that day, I just put it on the floor under the picture window in our room.  As notes, cards, letters, and gifts arrived in the days following his death, we started to put them under the window too, until pretty soon it was an ungainly pile of nearly every tangible link we have to Samuel.  It continued to mount, and I continued to avoid organizing it and sorting through it.  We read every word that came to us in those days, but I didn't know what to do with them afterward, so to the pile they went.

For over the last year, that collection of things has been on my mind and not just as an eyesore.  I knew I needed to go through it all, order it, and put it away, but I shuddered at the thought of actually doing it.  So it just sat there.  Once we knew Beauty was coming, my burden for the pile grew, and two weekends ago I finally tackled it.  I went through Samuel's box and found his hospital tags, his foot and hand prints, his socks which were the only article of clothing he ever wore while alive, a picture the NICU took of him in his first hours of life while we waited anxiously in a post-delivery room, the blanket he laid on the last week of his life in the CICU, the once white but now bloodstained prayer pillow case someone gave us that is covered in verses and the meanings of Samuel's name, his newborn birth statistics from the hospital, the molding of his foot, the sign I made with his name on it that hung above his bed, and numerous other keepsakes.  Going through them was heartrending in many ways.  I am thankful for every little treasure we have from his life, but holding them, smelling them to see if any scent of his lingers, and remembering the overwhelming joy at his birth as well as the incomparable pain at his death was difficult and exhausting.

After I went through his memory box, I reread every letter and card we received and organized them in a large file box as well as a shoebox.   I was touched anew at the kindness of our friends, our church, and even strangers.  So many letters that were meaningful at the time were healing afresh, and I shed a lot of tears pouring over those pages.  I even found one Chili's gift card that we missed the first time through.  For those hours, I felt like I re-entered the world of intense grief: loss, sorrow, heaviness, ache, weariness, and tears engulfed me.  When I finally finished sorting through everything, I was completely exhausted and felt like I needed to sleep for the rest of the day.  It took a lot out of me.  But, I am glad I did it.  I am grateful for the reminder of God's incredible care for us and people's genuine displays of love and compassion.  And I am glad to look under our window and see a cleared out space with just a memory box, a shoebox, and a file box waiting to go into the Samuel's closet (or is it Beauty's?  I am struggling with calling it Samuel's room or Beauty's room as both names seem to neglect the other precious life) once I clean it out.

A few days later was the year and a half anniversary of Samuel's death.  I was heavy-hearted all that day and just plain lonesome for my baby boy.  It is hard to believe that so much time has elapsed since we were in Samuel's presence.  A year and a half sounds like a significant amount of time, and feeling so far removed from his life makes me sad.  In some ways I feel thankful because we've experienced much of the healing I expected a year and half to bring, and in some ways I feel heartbroken that it's been so long.  Time is a friend and an enemy in grief as it softens the wounds of loss but also pulls us away from the one we love.  I picture Samuel stranded in an ocean, and the current of time pulls me ever farther from him, my body drifting helplessly away from my son.  Though the waves push me closer to land, they take me from what I treasure and long to cling to.  I know time is part of this grief journey, but sometimes I find myself resenting it while other times I am on my knees in gratitude for its gradual lifting of pain.  The year and half anniversary was a grief-laden day for me.

A couple of nights later, I woke up around 4:30 am and couldn't go back to sleep for thinking about Samuel and our days when he was alive.  I kept playing through our routine in the first weeks of his life when we still came home at night to sleep.  I started thinking that in a few months I will wake up at some crazy hour every night to nurse Beauty.  That reminded me of how awful it was to have to wake up in the middle of the night to pump during Samuel's life.  We would stumble in the house around 8:00pm after a full day at the hospital, barely in time to kiss Caleb and Joel goodnight.  Then we would sit down to a very late and quiet dinner, too worn out to talk about our day or even fill my mom in on what happened.  Usually that was followed by writing a blog entry and trying to stay awake long enough for a late night pumping before crawling into bed in complete exhaustion.  Around 3:30 am, my alarm would go off, and I would wake up to the horrible realization that our baby was in the CICU, and his life was by no means certain.  I would have to turn on the lights to pump, all the while dreading the phone call I was going to have to make to the CICU to see how Samuel was doing in the hours since we'd last called to check on him.  Then Bryan or I would have to fully sterilize all the equipment and go downstairs to put the milk in the freezer, my stomach in knots every second about the impending phone call.  Once I finally picked up the phone, my hands and body were usually shaking, fearing what news we might receive.  On more than one occasion, we got very discouraging news about Samuel in the night, and that meant staying awake longer to call back for an update and fearing the worst in every minute of waiting.  Then our alarms would wake us early, so we could shower, eat breakfast, spend a short while with Caleb and Joel, and leave in time to make the 45-60 minute drive and arrive when the floor opened back up after shift change.  Living that day over and over in those weeks was beyond tiring.  It was completely unsustainable.

In some ways, it was easier once we were at the hospital 24 hours a day.  Even though we climbed in bed at 12:00, woke at 5:45 to see Samuel for about an hour before shift change and to pump, and then tried to steal an extra 45 minutes of sleep (yeah, right) before eating breakfast, showering, and getting back on the floor when it opened, it wasn't as taxing as being away from Samuel all night long.  I knew bad news was coming while we were at Egleston full-time, but I also knew we were only a hallway away, and my attention didn't have to be so divided.  Anyway, remembering all of that kept me awake the rest of the night, and I was in a bit of a daze the next day.

All in all, last week was the hardest grief week I've had in some time.  I simply miss our Samuel.  I wonder if Beauty's arrival will spark a whole new wave of grief.  I've read from numerous sources that the gift of a new, healthy baby can be extremely difficult in terms of grief.  I have no doubt she will be part of our healing, but I anticipate she may very well be part of our grieving too.  Grief is a strange road, and no two roads are the same.  I am thankful for this journey God has faithfully carried us through thus far, and I am thankful that more healing is ahead.  I am grateful for the little girl who is kicking me with surprising force while I write about her big brother, and I am glad that God will be with us in the healing and grief that accompany her arrival.  Strange as it may sound, I thank God for the grief He has brought into our lives and for the ways He has used it to shape us, to change us, and to shower us with love.  I wouldn't trade our grief for a suddenly healed and joyful me.  The journey of healing and hurting has been an unexpected gift, and I believe it will continue to be a blessing in my life.


  1. Ever since you have dubbed your little girl "Beauty" I have been thinking of one of my favorite verses from Isaiah:

    "and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
    to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
    the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
    and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
    They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the LORD
    for the display of his splendor.
    Isaiah 61:3

    Hate that we are just "computer friends"! Maybe we can actually meet and be real friends one day :) Sarah

  2. Thanks, Sarah. I love those verses. They seem so fitting for our "Beauty." Thanks for sharing them. And yes, let's be friends in person! :) -Kathryn

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  4. Kathryn,

    I was struck by your words: "I am grateful for the reminder of God's incredible care for us and people's genuine displays of love and compassion." Just as you, Bryan, Caleb, and Joel were not alone during all of these months of grieving, your daughter will not be alone either. I can imagine worrying about your vulnerable baby girl entering this world and shouldering grief and burdens from days that precede her birth. But she will not be alone, and she will not carry that burden alone. The outpouring of love you found in Samuel's memory box is a testament to that. The verse above is a reminder of the love, joy, and splendor that will fill her room, which is also Samuel's room, even though you are grieving. It would be so much harder for her if you were not grieving intentionally, which in itself is an expression of your love.

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  6. Kathryn, you write so well. These words, even though I have never walked the road you are on, stir great compassion in my heart. I grieve with you for the loss of Samuel and await the arrival of his little sister with such excitement. When you said "Time is a friend and an enemy in grief as it softens the wounds of loss but also pulls us away from the one we love", it rang so true in my own experiences with loss. And the picture of the really write so well. It paints an incredible picture of how you are feeling. Thank you for sharing this. Praying for you this morning. I wish I had words to comfort you but they seem to fall so short. I can tell you that Samuel is on my heart often as is your family. Really love you all.