Sunday, 15 October 2017

Lessons in Grief

My way of processing emotional things is often through writing. There are several entries I wrote this year that were never published. So, I decided to post them now as a documentation of my grief process. Maybe it will be helpful to others who are going through their own grief journeys or maybe it will just give more insight into my peculiar mind...

To Make A Wretch His Treasure- December 18, 2016

These words have echoed in my mind since we sang them in church recently. I am that wretch. I feel tired and wretched and so aware of what I have and what I lack at this point in the year. 2016, brimming with hope and happiness this time last year, has brought some heartbreak that I could not have imagined. Thanksgiving weekend my first sibling/ foster brother Daniel wound up in the hospital with pneumonia. A day later we were talking options and decided to intubate him. Two days later, he was gone. TWO DAYS LATER...he was GONE. It still seems surreal to write this. Call me naive, but I could never have imagined that he would go that quickly. I'm used to our foster siblings being in the hospital for weeks at a stretch and making a full recovery. Despite Daniel's condition, I sort of thought we would have more notice before he went. I fully knew that 31 was 30 years longer than he was expected to live. Since his life had always been marked by miracle, I just was not prepared. Add on top of this the emotions of talking about options and being the one to sign off on those options and you find the current version of myself on December 18th.

I still can't believe he's gone. Christmas is fast approaching and I don't know how to take the nuances of one less person at our house this week. I suppose, in reality, it won't be one less person because we will inevitably invite more people than last year, but there will be a very real hole in my heart...

Brokenness- January 14, 2017
Five days from now it will be Daniel's 32nd birthday, a birthday he will never reach. That sentence shouldn't stun me, but it does...continually.

Every time I hear his name or speak it myself, I feel an aching in my throat and nose, tears burning the back of my eyes.

I don't know why it surprises me. He was never meant to live longer than a year. The fact that he lived 31 years was entirely a miracle, but it shook me to my core.

Perhaps it is that I have learned in my 30's to grieve things properly and in their time. Perhaps I am acutely aware of the utter normalcy that the loss of life is. Perhaps it was the weight of the responsibilities surrounding his death: putting him on life support, taking him off, and witnessing his passing. All I know is that he is gone and that it hurts.

3 months later, it hurts.

So, this Thursday, I will celebrate and I will grieve. I will recognize my pain as part of the process and it will hurt and I will once again give it to God.

I will see hope in the fullness of life around me- in the comfort of friends who have walked with me in my pain and sorrow and in the laughter of nieces and nephews. I will find love in the company of brothers and sisters who are still here with me and who I have grown to like as much as I love them. I will find joy in the reminder that Daniel is experiencing life like he never knew before. He is surrounded by perfect love and wants for nothing.

And, I will remember that this is part of the journey; that to feel is one of the greatest privileges of life, therefore, it should not be tossed aside. I will remember that I am human and in need of grace constantly.

A year later- Oct. 15, 2017
Today I went back to the hospital where Daniel passed away. It was an unexpected visit initiated by my sister's frantic texting. My foster sister was in the hospital. She is actually doing fine, but as I drove to the same hospital that we said goodbye to Daniel, my thoughts surprised me: Not again...not this close to losing him...I can't handle losing another sibling so soon. Notice how much of this was about me? Not her suffering, not her pain, but mine.

I was struck on Friday (as I visited Daniel's gravesite) by the thought that my sadness that day had everything to do with my grief and loss and nothing to do with his gain. He is only experiencing joy and peace, mobility and freedom. It's so strange to feel the dichotomy of joy for him and sadness for me. I'm aware once again what a gift it is to feel everything in the midst of loss.

And I pondered how his life itself was a gift to me. He was so limited in his body and mind and so simple and authentic in his feelings. If a room was tense or someone was angry or sad around him, he'd cry. If it was joyful, he'd laugh and giggle. The truly precious moments were when he broke tension with a laugh. You couldn't keep a straight face over a Daniel giggle. It was loud and then quiet; exuberant, then secretive, almost like a private joke.

                                                          *A video from his last birthday*

I was given the gift from a young age of not taking everything so seriously and delighting in simple sounds, smells, and feelings like Daniel did. I think this privilege I feel can probably be summed up in a few lines that are on his headstone: "Your life was the miracle that God let us witness".
While this year has been a difficult one of walking through grief intentionally, it has been a very present one. I'm grateful for the process and aware that it continues to be a nuanced journey. Today hurts less than a few months ago and definitely less than a year ago. This year has passed by quickly in retrospect, but it didn't feel that way in the process. Unlike previous years, months passed by in a natural way. Time didn't seem to be escaping me and I'm so incredibly grateful for that.

My church has been preaching on gratitude lately and something that one of the pastors said has been resonating with me this last week. She recently walked through a difficult time in her life and some of the observations she made speak powerfully to what God has been teaching me this year:
"We attach His goodness to pleasant outcomes. We attach His goodness with things working out in our favour. God is not good because we have a pain-free life. We are not blessed because things are working well for us. See, God is good because whatever we walk through, God comes near. He lavishes grace upon us. He sustains us. He strengthens us. He grows us. He enlarges our heart. That is why God is good."

I know that part of His grace for me this year is that I wasn't able to drown my pain in my usual comforts or avoidance techniques. His grace actively pursued me this year. And, while my eyes still sting when someone asks me about Daniel or I talk about his passing, I am able to say I'm grateful because my grief has not happened alone. My hand is being held through it.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!

This song is deeply entrenched in my mind this morning. It has looped over and over as I strolled to the town's bakery and back. Can I just pause and tell you what a deeply satisfying sentence that is? The aesthetic side of me has always wanted to know what it is like to live in a little town where you know all of the shopkeepers and birds serenade you as you stroll to the town bakery or flower shop. Well, reality is somewhat like the Disney interpretation.

I lay in bed until nearly 11 this morning, watching Scandal and generally mapping out , in my head, what I would do first. My stomach started creeping up near the top of my priority list, as its grumblings told me I would be semi-productive or totally angry if I didn't appease it. So, throwing my schedule to the wind, I threw together a semi-chic, small town girl Saturday morning outfit and put on the coffee (because my roommate works for the best coffee roasters in the Lower Mainland and I have a free pound of it burning a hole in my cupboard). As I glided down my steps and through my gate, I realized that I was sporting scary bedhead and a blank canvas on my face. My roommate's mother would be aghast. She tells her daughter to take care of her ABC's (always be cute) before leaving the house and I've barely taken care of A and B. Shrugging off my chagrin at sporting People of Wal-Mart hair in the cutest town in the world, I carried on my merry way toward breakfast.

Halfway down the road, I had already drunk in the hazy morning sky, the colourful running groups stretching by the trail, and several families wheeling buggies by me. The romantic side of me was inwardly exploding with glee and I just wanted to dance and twirl my way down the sidewalk. In fact, a well-placed bench would have quickly become one of my props. A Gershwin score was running its melodies through my mind.

I can not even make this up, but as I passed the local antique shop, a buggy started rolling away from a dad who had his back to it and I reached out and stopped it before it continued its course for the road. It fit so perfectly into my 'beginning-of-the-best-love-story-or-meet-cute-ever' morning. As I stepped into the bakery, I drank in the lightly powdered, flaky pastries, and hugged my arms to myself as I waited in line. I probably looked a scary disaster, grinning like a deeply contented mad woman on a mission for her delicious glutinous breakfast.

Musing over my walk, the reality began to play out and a smile curved my lips. In reality, a 12 pack of beer at the front end of the stroller is probably what caused it to start rolling away from the dad. Truthfully, in all of my single glory this morning, I couldn't remember fancy words like 'stroller' or 'buggy' and I quickly stopped it with my foot as I called out, "Excuse me, your thingy is rolling away". No word of a lie- that is what I said. Anyway, I picked up my delicious breakfast, walked confidently out the door, and proceeded toward home.

The Gershwin Score never left me and, as it played out in my imagination, I began to realize that mornings like this are full of romance for me. It's not the conventional romance of fairy tales and Nicholas Sparks books. It's deeper than that; it is my heart full. It reminds me of a quote from Friday Night Lights, of all things. Full hearts, clear eyes, can't lose. That's how I feel this morning. My heart is full and it is because of the notion that I am dearly and deeply loved. No matter what I face, I am never alone. And I never have been.

This morning, as I lay in bed, I realized that somewhere deep in my subconscious I felt like I had overcome the worst things that I may face in the first 20 years of my life. I somehow had imagined that I may have smooth sailing from here. I know that there are no guarantees in life, and yet I thought that I would never again face pain or trauma like I had in my past. What a strange paradox I am sometimes. Realistic and yet an eternal optimist. The truth is, I know that I have no guarantees in life other than a Creator who loves me, is everything to me, and guides me through this life. I'm not assured any absence of pain or suffering, but I am promised that He is here with me through it all. I trust that life will turn out better in the next 30 years because I know Him in a way I didn't as a child. I will never again have to face loneliness, betrayal, or suffering alone. No matter what happens to me or my loved ones, He is always my constant. And that assurance feeds a part deep within my soul that no other human could ever touch.

Therefore, with full heart and clear eyes, I strolled the rest of the way home knowing that I couldn't lose; that the very definition of losing had changed so much since I've met Him.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Lesson 1: The Peculiar Ones

On a recent trip to Ontario, my friend and I perused the young adult fiction section of Chapters in search of novels that could work for high school English classrooms (and mostly to feed our inner teenagers who craved fantasy and adventure after so many good nonfiction books that adults are supposed to read.*) A friendly Chapters gremlin offered himself as our literary tour guide and pointed  out some fantastic books and we heaped our arms full before navigating toward the till.
One such book was "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children." While this novel was at times creepy, its themes clung to the recesses of my mind this last week. Essentially, the main character visits an island that is home to a collection of children with unusual gifts. They have been misunderstood, battered, and abandoned because of their abilities so Miss Peregrine has offered them shelter from the cruel world of "ordinary" people. The main character, rather than being aghast at their qualities, finds himself at home for the first time in his life. I won't share any more details for those of you who may want to read the book, but the metaphor of being peculiar entrenched itself in my psyche and I have been making parallels to life all week.

I'm peculiar. Just like everyone ever created, I am unique and I come with my own set of characteristics, passions, idiosyncracies, and affinities. I happen to believe that everyone is a nerd- it is just a matter of time until you become self-actualised. I am peculiar because I have always been aware of my peculiarities. I tried to diminish them for years and fit into a mould that seemed destined for every good Christian girl who went to a good Christian school. But it didn't fit. I mean to say that I didn't fit into it and struggling to make myself fit the mould only led to dissatisfaction and heartache. The end of that struggle was the start of my life.

Sometimes I feel like the entire message of society is that our worth is measured by our relationships with people. I realize that as human beings we are hard-wired for relationship. But I am often caught in the trap of believing that my worth is signified by my relationships or lack thereof with the opposite gender. I do not think that the church intends to isolate people or make them feel like they must be miserable if they are not married or working towards marriage (whatever that means).
In fact, I choose to see this obsession with wanting people to be married as a testament to my church leaders' great marriages and their desire for us singles to experience it.

What bothers me with the negative messaging about single life is our inherent posture towards wishing for what we don't have rather than choosing to be grateful for what we do have. I'm not saying that it's wrong to long for marriage or to be sad or lonely. Those are all normal human experiences and it's healthy to be authentic about them with yourself, God, and your support team. God is not afraid of our anger or sadness; in fact, he loves when we run to him with our problems rather than pretending they're not there. I merely state all of the above to say that I wonder what life would be like if we chose to focus our energy on being grateful for what we DO have. Single life can be and is rich and abundant. We can make ourselves open to life and experience; being fully alive beings that interact intentionally with the world around us. We can choose to delight in the freedom and independence we have while recognizing our utter dependence upon God. In the end, doesn't that make us better prepared to be in relationship with others- recognizing our need for God and allowing him to fill the empty places in us and give us our sense of purpose?

I don't want to pine for things that I don't have and miss out on all of the opportunities I DO have. I don't want to have regrets about my single life. I want to intentionally enjoy each phase of my life and realize all that I will give up one day in order to be with someone because I love him enough to sacrifice my awesome singleness in order to serve him and walk with him. (I also have my sneaking suspicions that he would have to at least match my peculiarity level and I'm still waiting for that to happen.)

A new narrative must be born out of our changing society, and that must be that there is space for amazing singleness in Christian circles. We are not desperate incomplete beings, but fully alive and thriving individuals who have the opportunity to accomplish so much for the kingdom of God. Life is rich with possibilities and time is too precious to waste. For my part, if this perspective is odd, then I cherish being a 'peculiar'.

*I actually really do enjoy nonfiction literature.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Welcome to my Classroom

It is a truth ecclesiastically acknowledged that a single woman past the age of 21 must be in want of a husband. That, or she "bats for the other team" or must have taken some sort of Pauline vow of celibacy. I should know for I now have reached the ripe "old" age of 30 and have heard it all; however, I adhere to none of the aforementioned policies. I'm just an imaginative woman who has tapped into the fountain of youth and wants to Benjamin Button her life with all of this newfound knowledge. Welcome to my classroom- it stretches beyond the 4 walls of my portable and into the vast, unpredictable realm of cyberspace.*

*That last line should give you a clear picture of the fact that I grew up in the pre-Internet-rules-my-life-era and use ancient words like cyberspace.