Both, And

Not long ago we were at a family event where a speaker began with an icebreaker question for her audience, “Who here is the oldest child in their family?” Hands went up around the room. As I raised my own hand, I glanced over as my firstborn shot her arm up in a confident and calculated manner.

The speaker went on, “What about the youngest in the family? Who here is the youngest?” I suddenly realized that our second born had casually thrown her arm into the air, half her body goofingly along with it…

She hadn’t considered the question – she didn’t pause or think, she just raised her hand and looked around the room to see who else had joined her.

I felt a nauseating jolt of adrenaline in my throat as I internally quipped, “Put your hand down – You’re wrong! You are NOT the youngest child in our family!” How badly I wanted to correct her, remind her… Really I just wanted to grab her little arm and yank it down.

Instead, I carefully swallowed as I looked above my daughters’ heads and met the knowing gaze of my husband.

With resolute disappointment, I began to change the tone of my own voice inside myself. “Forgive her, this isn’t about you. This isn’t about Graham… the deck is rigged for our family – she gets to answer that question however she wants… Because even though she’s wrong, she’s also right.”

As I carried on my internal conversation, I heard the speaker ask her final question, “And what about the middle children? Do we have any middle children here today?”

Nora, whose hand had already returned to her lap after the last question, quietly and enthusiastically rose to her feet and stretched her arm into the air as high as it could go. She didn’t hesitate, didn’t even consider…

A smile stretched across her face, as she tilted her head back and met my eye.

Room

My girls were cuddled close to me, giggling and daydreaming about our upcoming move to a new home. Without a change in tone or demeanor, Eleanor mused, “Where is Graham’s room going to be?”

The question just sort of hung in the air.

I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Well, I suppose Graham won’t have a room in our new house… I guess he doesn’t really need one anymore, does he?”

Graham hasn’t made use of his room for a while now… but its remained his all the same.

The function and purpose of his room has gone through a variety of changes in the three and a half years since I last lay him to sleep in his crib.

A couple of the photographs and art on the walls hasn’t been touched, a few other pieces have been moved around, added or taken away.

My favorite art in the room was purchased on a lonely day of empty grief. I walked through the store aimlessly while imagining all the things I would like to buy for my son if he was still mine. Suddenly I stopped in front of a piece of art and listened as his name screamed in my heart, GRAHAM!

I wavered and trembled. I’m not supposed to do this, what would people think if they knew I was buying this for a dead child… in a rush of confusion and self loathing and love, somehow with a lot of love, I threw the print in my cart and made a beeline to the checkout. “Fuck it. I can buy my son whatever I want to — just tell me I can’t” I hung it on his wall and have never, ever regretted the decision.

When my sister lived with us she filled Graham’s room with her own things. For a time it became “Nastya’s room”. I didn’t resent her presence in the least but I missed being able to freely go in and just be. When she moved out, it naturally and easily became ‘Graham’s room’ once again. I think we all liked the opportunity to say his name.

We used the closet for storage, I put together a little reading nook with the kids’ old baby glider.  Evan moved his desk up and for awhile it was our work and school hub.  We all stole moments here and there to use the space, appreciate the serenity – whenever we need to.

Every now and again at bed time the girls will bicker and fight in their shared room rather than drift peacefully off to sleep. “Split up!” I holler up the stairs, “One of you move to Graham’s room”.  It’s almost always Eleanor who moves to his next-door room.

His room has housed sweet little foster children. Precious souls in need of safety and respite. His room has become haven… for all of us. Not a shrine, not even memorial exactly… just a place. A place for him, a place for us… where we can still remember.

“But what if we need one? You know, a place for Graham?” Charlotte asked earnestly.

“Yes, you’re right, we’ll always need a place for him, won’t we…” I trailed off.

The truth is I don’t know what that will look like. I have no desire to recreate his room in the new house – it just wouldn’t work – not practically, not emotionally either – besides, the thing we really need is him, and the moment I lose sight of that I do us all a grave injustice.

All the same, as we pack the boxes in preparation to walk away forever, each of us is holding on to a deep sadness and nagging fear.  And of course it’s not just his room – this whole house contains his memory – we’re leaving a piece of him behind, and it seems there are no ‘new’ pieces to discover.

Time and circumstance are constantly moving us further away from him… a memory of a memory – a life once lived.

What would you suggest? How do we say goodbye, how do we say hello? Without Graham.

Resistance

I read a passage from the bible today. I had a weak memory of this story, like maybe I had brushed beside it long ago – a memory of a memory. As I read through the developing plot I instinctively knew how this story would end, even while hoping – expecting – God to intervene… to make right what was blatantly, horrifically wrong.

But he didn’t. Intervene. And my hope felt wasted.

Injustice, hopelessness, murder, meaninglessness, lament… had the last word in this story. A nameless girl utterly abandoned – obliterated. My longing for a child I can’t have seems to grow uglier in the face of a parent who destroys the child they DO have.

God didn’t show up for this girl, her father either for that matter. In fact, it seems God may have been the culprit – must have been – right?

Like any grief or pain or loss that finds me in this post-Graham era, it layers onto my soul and suddenly I can’t untangle my emptiness from hers — It’s all the same disappointment – a double portion of fear – and my anger that once lay dormant now suddenly rages in desperate abandon.

What pain is mine – sacred and holy – and what pain is hers? or yours? Is all pain my pain? Certainly not, but certainly so.  I can’t even handle my own hell…

I don’t have resolve and I don’t really have a meaning to share with you. When I went looking for an explanation, a silver-lining – any way to balm my throbbing scars and lessen the overwhelming feeling of betrayal – I came across this recorded sermon. I rarely watch sermons as they pop up in my news feed (even when I’m sure to appreciate it) and because I rarely watch, I rarely share (even when I’ve come across a really good one). But I could discover very little else, so I watched – just 20 minutes – and Jesus broke in. He flooded through me. So I’m leaving it here for you to find – a quite act of resistance.

Injustice, horror, hopelessness is threaded into my story – and it IS in yours too… it most certainly is the heart-song of this little Israeli girl from all those years ago.  It just IS. Today I am claiming this truth. I’m holding it up high and taking the time to simply stare at the ugly, ugly display.

Today I am broken. Incredibly disappointed and sorrowful. But sometimes lament is resistance.  and sometimes resistance is hope.