Consulation

286There is richness in suffering.  Goodness.   Until my last breath I will wish this wasn’t my story, but I’m pretty sure with my first breath in heaven I’ll be glad that it was.

To be perfectly honest, I’m finally giving up on happiness.  It’s been mostly absent or worthless to me for over a year now anyway, wisping about like bits of sight that remain once you’ve closed your eyes. The thing about happiness is how elusive, how draining it is.  You can pour into it all the time and still not discover anything meaningful.  Tricks, habits, patterns, choices… over and over and you will never actually be happy. One more thing, one more action… I’m almost happy, but then of course I could be happier…

But suffering?  Perhaps we’re best suited for suffering. Brokenness, sadness, emptiness, longing… these things come naturally, we can’t avoid them if we tried. With suffering, the burden of ‘doing’ is entirely on God – the one and only who can fill the gaping hole that expands into eternity.

Some people get huge suffering, the kind that guts a life of all sense and reason.  Sometimes the suffering is slow, steady and additive. Sometimes we can go long stretches where pain is held out at arms length, but always – for everyone – we suffer. 

We have been promised suffering, and yet we still fight against it – still refuse to believe it. I look at my little girls and realize that God has promised them suffering too, that already their little hearts and minds know pain beyond what I would choose for them… or maybe it’s exactly what I want for them… Suffering so great, that God’s comfort is stronger, bigger, fuller, and more real than it could’ve ever been before.

God’s promise of comfort for those who mourn always seemed like a strange consolation prize. Because you missed out on Earth’s ‘happy’ you get God’s comfort instead – an ambiguous, vague thing that is somehow supposed to be special…

But what if the ‘happy’ we cling to, and expect, and desire… What if ‘happy’ is the actual consolation prize? What if suffering is actually the only path to real happiness?  What if God’s comfort IS the prize – the greatest prize? What if my capacity for joy and fullness is only possible because of my deep brokenness, my overwhelming agony, my great pain?

I know I could never be the person I am today without the loss of Graham.  I must take a long deep breath after a statement like this, let it sink in… let it hurt.  Many would assume that a truth like this makes his death ‘worth it’, and I say with quiet resolve – NO, not worth it. Only heaven can redeem his death – only heaven.  But there is some sort of strange meaning, some deep purpose.  Beyond me… beyond him… maybe it’s the story of Jesus entwining through us?

I don’t want this suffering, but I do want this God.

Good Enough

graham smiles 011So it has become apparent to me that my grief has turned a corner, so to speak. I’ve lost much of my rawness, and the pulsating, seething agony has quieted. I have gained clarity and capableness that has been missing for a very long time.

The process of my grief has shifted, and I find myself motivated to indulge in layers of understanding and doing beyond just life-sustaining actions. Graham and his loss are still with me – integral to everything that matters – but the loneliness for him is no longer sitting two inches in front of my face.  The landscape stretches out before me and the barrenness seems less desolate and more peaceful.

I say this carefully, I whisper it even, lest you think I’m healed. I’m not.

Lest you think, that I think I’m healed. I don’t.

Scarred, not healed.

Scar tissue should never be mistaken for healing… because it will always let you down. Scar tissue aches – always. It remains tender and weak – always. It gives way and breaks down when we ask it to take on too much – even sometimes, for no reason at all.

Scar tissue will never be ideal but it is, somehow, good enough.

Birthday Part III

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At some point the pain finally escalated and the anesthesiologist was summoned.  While I sat on the edge of the bed waiting for the needle prick he asked routine questions about my medical history and I remember thinking, “You better hurry this up buddy, I don’t have a lot of time!” As a particularly painful contraction ramped up I was completely incapable of forming words to answer his latest question.  Strangely however, I maintained the capacity to form coherent thoughts and as I moaned loudly I pondered internally, “so this is what it’s like when you can’t talk through a contraction!”

As the epidural began to take effect, my skilled and experienced mother became increasingly anxious about the intensity and frequency of the contractions displaying on the monitor screen.  As I lay peaceful and oblivious she diligently encouraged the preoccupied nurses to start getting ready, this baby was on his way!!

Suddenly tears welled in my eyes for no apparent reason, my heart fluttered and a heavy wave of emotion rolled over me.  Trembling I whispered, “I feel funny all of a sudden.”

“She’s transitioning!” my mom declared with authority! “You need to check her NOW! She goes fast – this is it – this baby’s coming now!!

The nurse continued to drag her feet, but finally agreed to check me.  One look under the sheet and suddenly her movements picked up pace and intensity and the doctor was finally called in. A couple more nurses appeared from nowhere and the room was quickly transformed for delivery.

The chagrined nurse made an offhanded joke about the possibility that he might just ‘fall out’ given how things had progressed so quickly and smoothly.  We all sort of chuckled at the thought of it… and then suddenly I felt a flutter of panic and quietly reached under the blankets to feel around between my legs – just in case my small son had popped out without anyone realizing it!  It’s such a silly thing to admit now, but in that moment it seemed absolutely plausible that he might have been snuggled up at the foot of my bed!

At last the doctor floated in, donned her gear and I began to push.

Just a few intentional pushes – that’s all it took… I opened my eyes and watched as his long thin body was pulled out and up.  He arched his back and stretched out his arms.  His face scrunched and furrowed as his swollen lips formed around a brand new wail. Carefully he was draped over me and I gathered his wet, squishy body into my arms.

My voice was hushed and intentional as I welcomed to the world, “Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday, sweet boy.”GRAHAM 134_2

Birthday Part II

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We casually walked into to the emergency room reception area and politely announced that we were having a baby.  Unamused, the receptionist told us to take a seat while she called someone to come collect us. I sat down and closed my eyes as my belly tightened again, only this time it actually hurt quite a bit. I breathed in and out, my face pouting in pain, all the while thinking, “YES! This is it!!

We were escorted to a labor and delivery room, where the nurse reluctantly hooked me to monitors and explained that she wasn’t going to take the time to admit me… The floor was busy and understaffed she complained, “In my humble opinion, you probably aren’t even in labor and we’ll be sending you back home soon.”

After waiting around for about an hour, our friendly nurse popped back in and was legitimately surprised that I had used the time to steadily progress and dilate.  My unimpressive contractions were accomplishing active work after-all, and she finally resolved to admit me and give my doctor a call.

I labored through the rest of the night, mostly walking in circles around the labor and delivery floor.  My mom arrived and we kept good company chatting, laughing, and walking.

I required little medical assistance, and we went long stretches without seeing a nurse.  In fact, I never did have a nurse specifically assigned to us and instead enjoyed a steady stream of busy, frazzled women who would manage to introduce themselves and apologize for shift changes and staffing upsets before slipping away never to be seen again.  We could tell it was a particularly tumultuous environment outside our door, but inside our room – inside our story – it was peaceful and happy.

Just before the rest of the world came alive, our doctor arrived and skillfully broke my water, we chatted briefly as the contractions gained force. “It won’t be long now!” she encouraged.

For several hours we had a nursing student sit between me and the machines, he diligently recorded numbers and patterns into his binder.  I small talked with him for a little bit before I realized that the conversation was keeping him from his journaling…

My thoughts trail off and I realize the scene’s subtly different somehow… it almost looks the same – but it’s not… Graham’s dead.  Suddenly there are shadows amidst these happy moments and everything’s noticeably darker.  Like a dream within a dream I can feel my skin cool and the familiar is unexpectedly foreign.  The beauty feels farcical.

I see myself reaching over and placing my hand onto the shoulder of the busy nursing student sitting beside me. He raises his head and I look into his eyes explainly bluntly, “The little heart you’re listening to, it’s broken – he’ll be dead in a year.”

And then suddenly everything swirls and the doctor’s there again – I look down at her face in between my raised legs and announce in a trance-like voice, “He won’t even make it to his first birthday.”

Next it’s the fellow families that we pass while labor-walking the maze of hallways, “I hope your story turns out well,” I call out, “because mine doesn’t.”

The nightmarish carnival ride finally ends at the beginning as I look into the eyes of the ER receptionist, “We’re here to have a baby… and I’ll see you again in 11 months when it’s time to watch him die.”

Every joy, every shred of normal and happy is no longer pure.  Death and pain, anger and emptiness have destroyed everything!  I can’t just celebrate his birthday – no matter how diligently I try! I can’t even remember his birthday without the ugly creeping in.  Distorted, tainted… ugly.

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I reach out to smooth a hair away from her face.  I splay my fingers out over her taunt belly and can almost feel him deep within.  With tears welling in my eyes I whisper, “Oh mama, you can’t have him… you think you can, but you can’t.”

 

 

Birthday Part I

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Our home, full with people, slowly quieted down. My brother visiting from California slept in our guest bed and each of my sisters took a couch. Our small daughters were peacefully snoozing in their own beds. It wouldn’t be long before they would undoubtedly rouse with just enough sense to stumble across the hall and crawl into bed between Evan and me.

Everyone was sleeping soundly… except for me. I lay quietly staring into the darkness with a small grin creeping across my face and a sense of giddiness rising up within me.

I was counting contractions.

One after the other, slow and steady.  Finally I reached over to Evan and whispered loudly, “Wanna count contractions with me?”  He fumbled in the dark and quickly pulled up a labor app on his iPhone.  Admittedly, I was surprised to discover that the mild pulses were actually coming very regularly and quite often.

“I don’t think it’s time,” I clucked. “I’m sure they’ll peter out. They don’t even hurt really…”
Evan watched me closely, skeptical that I wouldn’t announce a contraction in my attempt not to raise our hopes. He watched my face, my body, my belly and became really skilled at identifying each contraction. “There! I see it – that’s one just starting, right?? I’m recording it – that was totally for real!”

In no time at all, he was fully awake and sitting up in bed…. Giddiness is apparently contagious.

I jumped into the shower, hoping to relax and quiet my mind, but instead I found myself anxious and preoccupied. As I emerged from the bathroom and nonchalantly admitted that they were still going strong, Evan jumped up laughing, “That’s it, I’m calling it! We’re going in – it’s baby time!”

We packed up quickly and prepared to leave our sleeping home. I woke up my brother and casually informed him that we were going to the hospital to have a baby.  In confused sleepiness he grinned up at me, “Right now? For real?”

I also woke up my sister and asked her to finish sleeping the rest of the night in our bed, so my night-wandering daughters wouldn’t be scared when they discovered our empty bed.

We jumped in the car and quickly turned on the heated seats while shivering in the cold morning air.  We drove through the heart of our sleeping city, the usually busy streets now completely abandoned. While I braided my damp hair we excitedly chatted about a little boy we couldn’t wait to meet. Evan was my very best friend in that moment, and our partnership was authentic and unforced.  We were tangled up in deep love and an intoxicating sense of adventure.

Almost a year later we shared a similar drive. While I sat in the passenger seat, my beloved drove us to the funeral home to make impossible arraignments. The city streets weren’t empty this time, but they might as well have been for the world had stopped moving. We remained mostly quiet this time, and a strange sense of anxiety hung in the air. There was no happiness, but all the same, I was with my very best friend – in fact, I couldn’t tell where I ended and he began. We were again tangled up in deep love but instead of adventure, this time we shared the compulsion to survive… but perhaps there is no greater adventure than that after all…