Grief Roulette

Today was the day 4 years ago that the doctors told us that Katie Grace was dying. I know this day is coming every year. I know what putting her to bed each night wondering if we were going to have her in the morning felt like. I know what it was like holing up in the house trying to soak in every minute of every day you had. I know what it’s like to just sit and hold your child trying to make the next 72 hours last a lifetime. I know what it was like to know she was done. I know when she breathed her last breath and what I felt when she died. What I don’t ever know is what I am going to feel each year when this time comes around. Death is simple, its grief that is more complex. It’s like a roulette wheel, you just don’t know where the ball of emotion is going to land.

In the first years of grieving, I think I wanted a timeline. A structure in which I could expect something. In true to me form, I wanted boxes in which I could check off the grief process. I wasn’t aware that I wanted that but I did. It wasn’t that way when I was logically looking at death. I knew Katie Grace was going to die at some point, I was intentional about my heart and emotions when it came to death but you see I was looking at just death. I didn’t consider that grief was a whole other beast. I did not give grief the respect that it quite possibly deserves.

Today as I write this I think I might finally begin to grasp the respect that it deserves.

You see this year I am not looking at myself to define the emotions of the next couple of days. I am not trying to box myself with expectations of what year four should look like. I am not analyzing the time passed and declaring I am here this year. Instead, I am looking at the roulette wheel of grief. I am watching the ball spin around and giving it the space it needs. I am not placing my hands on it or willing it or hoping. I am simply watching it. I guess you could say I am trusting grief. Not because I understand or have any form of control but because I respect it.

My mom and I call grief “a sneaky bitch”, it’s our inside joke whenever we are processing and need a good laugh in the middle of our tears. We joke about how it sneaks in at sometimes the most inopportune times, like when you are telling a story you have told a thousand different times but this time randomly leaves you in tears. Or when someone asks if I just have the one child and asks don’t I want more and I can’t laugh it off; instead the tears just fall. Or when Isaac comes home from school emotionally exhausted and it boils down to he misses his sister. Or how randomly you remember you should have an 8-year-old and you don’t and the overwhelming sadness makes you catch your breath. Grief, its sneaky like that. Also, it’s true. A kinder way of saying that, is grief is a mystery, a roulette wheel. It is as I am learning necessary, important, and valuable to respect. I most likely won’t ever understand it. I won’t be able to box it or capture it. I simply will be able to respect it and that matter-of-factly is enough.

I scrolled TimeHop today and the images I captured and words I penned fell before my eyes. I didn’t cry. I didn’t mourn. I missed. I loved. I appreciated. I don’t know if I will feel the same way tomorrow morning when I repeat the process. Or the next day. Or the next. I don’t know how or what I will feel on the 1st when we wake up in 2019 and will we know that this is the day we said goodbye 4 years ago. I don’t have any expectations or preferences. I am just simply standing in front of the roulette wheel at peace, respecting grief…..trusting it.


“That’s really the question you are going to ask here….at Zaxby’s?” Isaac said his opinion apparent in his tone.

“Uh yeah,” was my only response. I didn’t see anything wrong with the question I asked. Yet again I also didn’t realize what emotional door I was opening or the conversation it would lead to.

Before I get into that I have to tell you I have been pondering this question my friend T asked me almost two months ago. We were on our six-hour drive to Kentucky, we started talking about kids and babies. She just said, “I know what your boys want but you know I don’t ever hear much from you about what you want. Do you want another baby?” I guess I knew that I hadn’t really talked about my own thoughts about it, I just kind of went along with, “What, yeah of course I do”. Her question made my heart sit up inside and look around though. What I saw was this spot that I don’t really actually talk about. I have talked around it, discussed aspects of it, but I haven’t verbally revealed that spot. That’s curious for me, we all know I talk about everything. I analyze everything. I find the smallest emotional issues and I dig into it, pushing it around, feeling it, doing everything to understand and come to a place of resolve. This though. I have just left alone.

Now that I am aware though, I have been looking at that spot for two months. I have talked about not talking about it. I have poked it a little bit, pushed the outside of it to see how tough the skin is, but I haven’t dug in.

Well until that moment at Zaxby’s.

We were just sitting there, the three of us, as it usually is. This question just popped into my mind out of my mouth: “Would you guys be okay if it is just the three of us? Can you be content if this was just our family?”. I didn’t expect my voice to crack or my eyes to well up with tears but they did.

They both responded with a resounding yes. Then Isaac asked his, “Really, here.” question. Then Charles paused and said “Wow, wait, I think yes. It just hits me in this spot to think that we wouldn’t have anymore.” (Did I swoon? Or course. I love a man who can identify his feelings and communicate them). We finished up lunch, hopped in the car to finish our drive to see his family in North Carolina.

The next hour was filled with the emotional banter of two parents trying to figure out where their hearts are. Charles kept asking me “What do you want? Do want another baby?” I kept replying “This isn’t about whether I want another baby. Of course, I want another baby. I wanted 4 babies. I wanted to have more than one right now. I wanted to keep both of the ones I had. This isn’t about wanting another. This is about can I accept how life is playing out with regards to our children.”

You see if I ran the world. I would have 4 kids, living in a house somewhere in the country. They would play outside all day and we would have family dinners at night. I would be spending my day’s navigating emotional conversations between them giving space and guidance, to help shape them into the phenomenal beings I know they were made to be.

I don’t run the world though. I don’t have 4 kids and a house in the country. Nobody is playing outside all day to only come in for family dinner at night. I am not spending my days navigating conversation between amazing little people we have been entrusted with. I am a mom of a 10-year-old, trying to figure out how to not be too much most days, and too little the other days. As Charles and I processed, I realized I am a mom who is having to figure out if it is okay to bring another life into the world who doesn’t know the life who left early. If a baby joins us, they won’t know Katie Grace. They won’t have the opportunity to hold her hand or kiss her cheeks or be in her presence. They will come into our family and never know this precious soul who changed who we were. It aches my heart in a way I don’t have words for.

In all honesty, when I first started writing this post I had to stop. Grief showed up in a deeper way than I had expected. I thought I had grasped something during that conversation with Charles, and I did, it’s just that there was more. As the words of the story left my mind and heart, this space opened inside me, and I realized….it isn’t just about can I accept how my life is playing out in regards to children.

It’s about my heart being broken.

We see professional athletes run on injuries or people in stressful situations whose mind pushes the pain of broken limbs or sprained joints out of the way to get them to safety. Our hearts are no different. I was dedicated to living life with Katie Grace, committed to loving her with all that I had even when I knew it was going to hurt at the end. For her entire life, I wrestled with the consequences of loving her thoroughly. Always seeing death looming around, letting the expanse of the impending pain known. Relentlessly I battled back somehow discovering the grit to keep pace with my girl, making sure that when she crossed the finish line of her life, she wasn’t alone. Her race is over though, and rightfully so, my place beside her is also over. All the injuries I suppressed, all the pain I pushed to the side, they have slowly made their presence known. I just didn’t realize how broken my heart is. I think because I processed so much to be so strong beside her, I just figured I was okay, my leg wasn’t that broken.

It is though, I gave that girl all of me. I fought self-preservation to stay wholeheartedly present and madly in love with her unto death. I went against norms to embrace new normals to make space for who she was. I raged against sterile environments to make memories with her, knowing they were going deepen our connection, hurting more when she left this world. I did what parents do, I did the hard things so that she had the best of what this world offered her.

Katie Grace was still with us when I made the decision in my mind that I would have more. I actually blogged about it because it was one of those I won’t live in a sterile world because I know something painful is coming moments. I just decided the trauma of her life wouldn’t stop me from bringing new life. So we stopped preventing and just decided what will be will be. That is where we have stayed for the last five years. It has been easy to write off the lack of pregnancy as life was stressful, or busy, or my body just not being ready.

Now here I am, finally realizing how broken my heart is. It cringes at the thought of loving a new child, not because they are not wanted but because it knows fully the depth of “what if something” happened. It is awakened the vastness of pain that comes with saying goodbye to a child too early. I think also, having another, is truly letting go. Bringing new life into this world, growing our family, is a huge step of moving forward. Right now we are this unit, this tight family of 3 who knew her, loved her, held her, and in a way it keeps her with us. This tender broken heart might just need time to let pain breathe now that it has been brought to light. Maybe all these years it hasn’t been a deficiency in my body but I simply needed time and space for my broken heart to heal

Time is simply something you cannot rush. I know we like to, especially in our culture these days. Yet you can’t rush it. Time is what gives us the space for our memories, our hurts, our victories, our failures.

Right now, I am breathing. I am let the tears fall. I am looking at this broken heart and letting it breathe. I am giving it permission to fully grieve and although it hurts my fingers to type, I am giving myself permission to move on.

I am leaving this post with a song I listen to strategically. It’s a song Isaac and I played almost every day after Katie Grace died. I would pick him up from school and when we hit our neighborhood, I would open the sunroof on our blue van, let him stick his head out the window, and play this song as loud as I could. Take a minute, listen to the words, they will tell you why.

Fear of Flying

The plane landed and I was stunned.

My heart rate was not elevated.
My palms were not sweaty.
I hadn’t taken a deep breathing session to calm my body.
Music wasn’t hammering into my ears to drown out the sound of the panic inside.
My normal hypervigilance was nowhere to be found.

I was 22 when a crushing fear of flying hit me. I use the word hit on purpose. It literally hit me. I had flown for years with no issues. It was innocently a flight, people do it every day like they make a career out of it and never die, kind of innocent. It just wasn’t a big deal. Then 22. I took a trip to the East Coast with my mom. I really went to spend time with her and get lost in the colors of fall. Not one other single place in America does Fall like the East Coast. The reds, yellows, greens, browns, even Crayola doesn’t make colors like that. It is a wonder to behold and a treasure. It wasn’t the flight out that got me, that was a breeze. That flight back though, it was when the hit came. I had a two-leg flight back to Southern California, first stop was PA for a short layover, no plane change. Somewhere in the air between where I took off and PA, the fist of anxiety deeply embedded itself into my skin with such a force it left me reeling. This knowing just spread over me from the pit of my stomach, and I knew this plane was going to crash and I was going to have no control. It was going to plummet out of the sky like an out of control roller coaster and death was going to be the end. I froze in my seat, unsure as to what to do with the feelings that were continuously slamming into me. When we landed in PA, all I knew was to get off the plane. I needed to just step outside and breathe, try to get my bearings. So I did. I got out and paced by the gate, trying to get myself under control. An agent catches my eye and informs me it is time to board. I just stare at her. She smiles and just stays with me. Finally, I say, “I don’t know that I can get back on that plane. I need to know that I am going to be okay.” She takes a minute, grabs my hands and says “Oh. You didn’t see, this is a new plane. This is one of the newest planes our company has. Also, the pilots are new. Fresh, alert and some of the best in the field. If there is any plane to be on with any pilots, it’s this one with these guys.”
She is the only reason I got back on the plane. I knew in my rational brain she was lying through her teeth, I also knew I wasn’t about to rent a car and drive to Southern California from PA, although before she said any of those things to me I was strongly considering it. So I got back on the plane.

That is where and how it all began. There has never been a rhyme or reason that I could find. People often tried to talk me out of being afraid of death, yet death never really scared me. It was more the feeling of dropping out of the sky. It was more not being able to take care of myself if something were to happen. If you think about it flying is incredibly vulnerable. You can’t run anywhere, you can’t grab the wheel of anything, you can’t move out of the way…you can’t…you can’t…you can’t. I refused to stop flying though. I wouldn’t let fear stop me from living. There is too much life to be had, adventure to be held, and people to see to stop traveling.

So I made myself fly anyway. Four months after that flight to the East Coast, my mom and I flew the 8 hours to Europe. I had small panic attacks for two months before that flight. My mind would play out the sensation my body would feel when the plane was no longer supported by the ground and the panic would hit causing my cheeks to go flush, my hands start to sweat, and my heart rate elevated. I would have to take deep breaths and allow myself a minute to recalibrate. Just thinking about it flying! I got on the plane anyway.

My senior year of college I flew out to see some friends in Atlanta. One month before I got on that flight, the same. I flew anyway.

I have white knuckled through almost every flight I have taken since that flight. I have grabbed onto the arms of strangers during turbulence. I have engrained myself in conversations in which I had no interest to simply distract from the panic on the inside. I have read my bible and listened to worship music in hopes to find my peace and calm in my faith. I have learned how to breath deep, lean my head back, close my eyes and embrace the panic. My body has learned how to take the hits that flying lays upon me.

I gave up hope long ago that flying would be anything other than what it had become. I just stopped caring whether or not I was going to be afraid and settled with I was afraid. It was okay to be afraid. My job wasn’t to make the fear go away, it was simply to embrace the fear/pain and manage it. It became my job to manage me when the fear hit, not manage whether or not the fear came. Fear wasn’t my enemy, how I reacted to the fear was my enemy. So I started to manage that and you know what happened. Over the years the symptoms have become less cruel. I learned how to embrace the window seat with the window up. I picked up a conversation between the Lord and me that starts once I get to the airport. It’s this quiet banter between him and me, that I am not even sure how we got it started but it carries me from beginning to end. I accepted that non-stop flights are my jam. I learned how to measure flights through movies and not minutes. I have loyally kept up the deep breaths, head back, eye closed, panic embracing poses in my seat. And when I fly with Isaac, I manage even more because of the concern that I would teach him to fear flying scares me more than flying itself.

That day 6 days ago was my second plane of the day because for the first time in almost 10 years I didn’t book a non-stop flight. I had two take-offs and two landings. I had two sets of pilots and two different airplanes. One was quiet and smooth and one was loud and turbulent. I had peace on both planes. I giggled when the pilot slowed down in the sky instead of sucking breath in between my teeth and then holding it until it I felt safe. I smiled when I heard the whine of the engine or when the air shifted the plane without warning.

It. Was. Surreal.

I don’t know what the winning ticket was though. I am still mid-process as to what changed. I have been boarding and de-boarding with the same anxiety for years. I have created a lifestyle of facing the pain and anxiety with flight, almost just resolved that this is my plight. What changed? I don’t know. I wonder though. I wonder if it wasn’t simple resolve. If it was that at some point of the journey I stopped getting into a power struggle with fear. That decision I made to no longer fight fear but instead become powerful in how I manage it, I wonder if that wasn’t a course changer for me. Although the change wasn’t immediate. The anxiety/ fear didn’t immediately go away, I was still depositing into my life the belief that I was in control of me no matter what happened. Every time I stepped foot on a plane and embraced my tools to manage what I knew was coming, I said “It’s okay fear. I got this. I am not afraid of you. I know how to handle myself when you appear. When you hit against my body, I know how to handle me. My fight isn’t with you.”

Not too long ago the Lord told me: “The heart of pain is the breeding ground of redemption.”

Pain has a purpose. We get to decide how we interact with that pain. We get to decide if we let it control us or not. Labor is the best analogy for this. A woman has no control over pain when she is in natural labor. The contractions are going to come on their terms, at their time, with their own force. She can’t control any of that. She can though control how she interacts with the contractions. She can manage whether or not she fears them, or embraces them. She can control how she breathes through them or how she doesn’t breathe through them. Her power lies in how she interacts with the pain that hits her body until that child is born. Matter of fact if she fights the pain of contractions they hurt more, they slow labor and in some cases can make more problems. Woman are instructed to lean into their contractions, to embrace them and let them do their job, that contraction is pushing the baby into where it needs to be to be born. Is that not the same with us in life?

We don’t have control over whether or not pain hits us. Or how it hits. Or how long it stays around hitting us. What we have control over is our ability to interact with that pain. What we have is the capacity to embrace the pain, figure out how we are going to breathe through it and let it do its job. We don’t stay in the pain, we don’t call out for pain, we don’t live a life of pain. That isn’t what this is. Pain will come. Fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, crummy life events, hurt, all of this stuff will at some point land on our doorstep. If we are living life, loving people, embracing this world, all of those things will eventually find their way to us. So the question isn’t how do I stop the pain. The question is who am I going to be when pain shows up. How am I going to embrace it when it hits?

For me with the fear of flying……I just got on the plane. I laid my fist of fighting the fear down, and put my hands on figuring out how to embrace it. How to manage me in it? I picked tools and used them every time my feet stepped onto a plane. I breathed into the fear, embraced it. I said yes when my insides screamed no. I parented myself into each flight and held my ground, held the belief that I know how to manage me when fear hits. I flew anyway, and 6 days ago my redemption came.
How are you breathing into pain today?

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