Explosion

Photos from Goodbye Graham

I wasn’t hungry, although I hadn’t eaten for well over 12 hours, and I wasn’t tired, although it was almost 2 AM.  It wasn’t that I was refusing to indulge in these necessary, normal parts of living – It’s just that, after returning home without my son, I truly wasn’t living at all. The tears flowed from my eyes and milk from my breasts, but I wasn’t there somehow – it hadn’t hit me just yet.

I half-heartedly tried to pump milk, but I had always loathed using the breast pump and it seemed like such a waste to endure its frustrations now for no greater purpose than avoiding pain…  I knew full well that something far worse than pain was pummeling towards me at a life-crushing pace, and the worthless whir of that awful machine couldn’t lessen the blow.   So I packed away the unwashed plastic parts, flushed away the small amount of milk I had drawn out, and resolved simply to endure it…  All of it.

My home slowly grew quiet with dimmed lights and sleeping family members.  I announced to Facebook our horrible secret and moved upstairs to discover my storm-weary husband holding our sleeping Nora in his arms.  Charlotte was cuddled close to her Manna in another bed.  I slipped between the covers and lay motionless in the dark, suspended in the emptiness, as my breasts swelled and my heart sloughed away.

At 5 AM I just opened my wet, aching eyes – nothing came rushing back because I had never forgotten.  The house was still quiet, and I ate a bowl of cereal.  I drove to the grocery store and wandered the aisles in solitude, quivering and leaking with every step.  What I needed wasn’t for sale – but I looked for it anyway.  I finally walked away with a head of cabbage, an ace bandage, a box of nursing pads and a bottle of aspirin.

I walked through the quiet parking lot and climbed into my car to drive home, but what I was really doing in those lonely moments was placing my body into a wide stance and digging my feet deep into the loose gravel of my path.  I was slowly and deliberately lifting my face upwards to look full on at the charging, massive force that was finally catching up to me.

As it barreled forward I breathed in my last moment of poise before the screaming, black horror exploded into me and everything that hadn’t already leaked out detonated outward – spewing forth the oozing, unrecognizable fragments of a life that once was.

Conversation

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CJ: Mom, can I get killed in real life?

Me: Yes, that’s possible.

CJ:  When?

Me:  You probably won’t die until you are an old, old woman.  The bible says that God is the only one who knows for sure.

CJ: How can you get killed?

Me: There are a lot of ways people can die.

CJ: Yeah, but what’s one?

Me: Well, some people die in car accidents.  That’s why we buckle up and try to stay safe when we drive.

CJ: Mom, do you want to die?

Me:  No, but I do want to see heaven and be with Jesus and Graham.  So, it would be ok if I died, but I don’t want to die right now.

CJ: I don’t want to die either.  At night-time I pray that Graham wont be dead anymore.

Me: Sometimes I wish that too, but he isn’t going to come back.  We have to wait until we go to heaven to see him again.

CJ: Yeah, he’s still dead.  I guess Jesus just wants him in heaven.  When I get to heaven I’m going to ask Jesus why Graham couldn’t live with us.

Me: That’s a good idea, I think I’d like to know the answer to that too.

 

I choose heaven!

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The choice for me has never been heaven or hell, but rather, heaven or earth.  Before Graham left, it was often easy to pretend that this world, this earth, was good enough… everything around me seemed to sparkle.  Brokenness and pain were merely sad parts in an otherwise wonderful existence.

Although I understood the promise of redemption and the need for it intellectually, my relationship with Christ was often one-dimensional or at the very least, the emphasis was misplaced. Thankfully God is forever steadfast, and he drew me to himself again and again… but it wasn’t until Graham was ripped away that my lens suddenly panned out as never before.  The vastness of my destitution had been revealed, and this lackluster, shitty existence will never be good enough, ever again.

I can no longer be seduced with self-made, mediocre living.  I can no longer find power in myself or perfection in my children.  I can no longer settle for the wonder of a sunset or the presence of a loving community. This is one of the most profound truths that Graham’s loss has uncovered — a crystal clear understanding of my absolute dependence on Jesus.  Just Jesus.  He infuses the good things of this world with their beauty and power – He IS the sparkle!  Apart from Him… well, it’s a wasteland apart from Him.

In a culture that reveres self-reliance, beauty and strength we try so hard to avoid any opportunity for weakness.  We believe the solution must somehow come from within – or at the very least, from the goodness of those around us. We believe that somehow, perseverance or love is the answer… We believe this world must be, somehow, good enough.

But it’s not.  It’s just not.

Looking full on at my complete helplessness is a foundational layer of my grief… I couldn’t save Graham anymore than I can save myself.  I am fully desperate, fully crushed.  Every morning I wake up and realize the world is still without Graham, which means every morning is a reminder that I am powerless, worthless, ugly, and lost.  And before you jump forward to assure me that it’s not true – Don’t, please.  It’s ok.

It’s ok, because in my weakness, Jesus is made perfectly powerful. In my ugliness, Christ is wholly beautiful.  In my emptiness, God pours into me unending fullness. The promise of Jesus is sufficient.  This world – – is not

So, storm-weary and aching I simply cry out, “Jesus, please. I choose heaven!

The Kids

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“Evan’s going to take the kids, and…  Oh, wow.” I stammered.  My words hung in the air as tears welled to my eyes.  The kids…

Recently, it seems, I’ve been referring to our two remaining children as ‘the girls’.  It wasn’t an actual choice I made – in fact, until this moment, I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

Apparently my subconscious had set about to delineate ‘before’ and ‘after’ with the use of seemingly meaningless vocabulary… Maintaining sense, in an otherwise senseless existence – a rickety barricade between my fractured heart and the horrible truth that I live in a world without Graham.  And perhaps it has worked to some degree – I do, after-all, continue to wake up every morning, play with my children and make decisions for the future.

Kids. My kids aren’t all here.  Girls. I have a son too.  Who do I have, what have I lost?  Where am I?  How can this possibly be true?!?!

It feels like being crushed between two panes of glass, suspended between my before and after.  The pressure in this reflective prison builds precariously, threatening to explode with splintering shards of reality at any moment.  I can’t fully exist in either world anymore – but I have to live in one… and the glass must shatter.   Over and over again.

Story Time Snuggles

I love this video, for obvious reasons… but as I watched it today I was surprised to notice little Nora’s absentminded cuddle near the end. I wonder if I neglect to fully honor her relationship with Graham, sometimes. She is still so young, and although her age is a cushion for the pain – her loss remains profound…

Memento

Wrangling three children was often a disorganized, messy task so when Graham left, I remember having a fragmented gratefulness that the work would somehow be easier now that I only had two children to care for.  I could get rid of all the baby paraphenelia perpetually strewn about my house, and I wouldn’t need to pack a diaper bag anymore or puzzle three car seats into the van… everything could be cleaner, more organized, and less demanding…

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In those early days, I actually viewed the let-up in my chores as being some sort of blessing.  I didn’t have Graham, but at least my house was cleaner.  Wow. This sentiment makes me sick to my stomach now, but in those moments when I was barely existing, I suppose any semblance of blessing was truly a gift – so despite my inclination, I try to withhold judgement of my earlier self.

I was quick to pack-up, give away, purge and streamline everything that was left behind – the sense of control, accomplishment and movement was strangely soothing.  Keeping things the same felt dishonest, so I simply ripped the band-aid off.  Despite my decisive response, I was careful to indulge in countless mementos and pictures, and allowed myself plenty of moments to touch, smell and cuddle things whenever I needed.

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When it is all said and done, I had filled a small ottoman storage box with our collection of memories.  His unwashed crib sheet sits neatly folded beside an almost empty tub of diaper rash cream.  His newborn coming home outfit, a positive pregnancy test and a handful of binkies fill another corner. A lock of hair, hospital bands, footprints, a favorite story book…  A brightly colored diaper, a dried flower, a paper ring chain counting down the days from his deathday to his birthday… It’s amazing how many things can fit into such a little box, how these worthless objects can be intimately linked to such a worthy person… One item at a time, I have worked through what he left, what was lost, and ultimately – who I want to be.

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Lastly, I sorted and organized his wardrobe, but felt so uncertain on what to do with his precious clothes.  Sleepers, onsies, hats, and t-shirts… diaper wipes, nursing covers, bags, blankies… I couldn’t bear to give them away, for I found his personality and physicality lingering amongst these items – trapped in the fabric somehow…  I couldn’t just get rid of them, but felt so uncomfortable boxing everything up just to store indefinitely and for no clear purpose.  I let them sit in his dresser for a couple of months, some washed and folded others crumpled and unwashed – harboring food stains and drool that had suddenly become precious… When it was clear the bond wasn’t going to fade, I found an artist who was able to give them second life.

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This woman, although a stranger to me, graciously uncovered a purpose for the bits of fabric that once had a far more important task.  By giving his wardrobe new life, I could honor what I don’t have while embracing wholeheartedly everything that remains!  So many happy, happy memories!  Every day – every outfit was so, so beautiful.

The gorgeous quilt arrived in the mail today, and as I removed it from the box I was overwhelmed with the heaviness it represents – an effective symbol for the complexity of loss and love.  But if I were to be honest, as I ran my fingers over the colorful, soft fabrics – I felt disappointed.  I had been so looking forward to having this memorial blanket in my arms, and although its everything I hoped it to be, it’s not Graham – not even close, really.  How maddening that the closest I can get to him – – isn’t close at all!

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His sisters cried out in recognition as I unfolded it open, “Graham-ie!! Mom!  Look, it’s Graham!!”  They immediately began rolling around on it, touching their small faces to the pockets and buttons.  We looked for favorite outfits i-spy style and told stories inspired by the bits of fabric.

I could smile with satisfaction, but not fullness.  It turns out, I’m still pretty empty.