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.

Leave it to Grey’s Anatomy

It was the next thing I did after I pushed the start button on our coffee pot. It wasn’t your normal end of the season shirt. Generally, I pass those ones on to Goodwill. It wasn’t even one of those I am so much smaller now I can’t wear this shirt kind of shirt. It wasn’t even a shirt, it was an undershirt. One of those skinny strapped tank tops that you wear for layering purposes. I have had it for almost 9 years. Yeah, I know…too long. I couldn’t get myself to the place where I parted with it. It’s not like it was any good anymore. The elastic on the bottom was stretched out. There were holes, the fabric so thin it was see through. I had gotten all the use out of this shirt, I was going to get. Yet still, I couldn’t seem to let it go.

Until this morning.

I have been sitting in this place emotionally where I am just letting the heartbreak of having a child who died, be. I am allowing my heart to take this journey and process however that may need to happen. I have no time frame, no clue as what to think or feel, I just am where I am. Open, present, and engaged with my heart for whatever it may need. Last night I decided to do what I call hibernate. It’s basically where I ditch the boys, snuggle up in the back, and just breathe. Sometimes I write, sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I watch tv. I don’t know what is so life-giving about that for me. There is just something about not having to be responsible for anybody. When I hibernate, Charles and Isaac run the house. They navigate meals, bedtime, or whatever is in the schedule. It isn’t always Isaac’s favorite, he loves it when everybody is together. He also gets it and always finds a way to sneak back at least 3 or 4 times for a quick kiss and snuggle. Don’t even know who I would be without that kid! So last night, hibernating, I end up watching some tv. It was Thursday, or course, Thursday. Grey’s Anatomy was on. Now I have not been a fan of Grey’s Anatomy for many years. I like the old school Grey’s, like McSteamy and McDreamy days. Matter of fact when Katie Grace was born, I went back and binged watched the older shows. There was something incredibly therapeutic about it; it was as if I could release my pain through Meredith Grey. The ache in my own life was too much but I could feel it through the dark and twisty life these writers gave her.

It’s been a hot minute since I have tuned in. Until last night in my hibernation. In the episode, they were showing a scene between Owen and Amelia. It’s a long twisted story I don’t want to get into and isn’t relevant to this story. Here is the part that is, Amelia was talking about a child she had that had died. Apparently, when she and Owen were married, he wanted kids and she wasn’t ready, part of the reason was facing the death of her son. As they were talking, she said something about finally being able to say his name, the freedom that it brings and the fact that the memory of him isn’t lost when more children are born. I can tell you 100% that is not what I expected to watch on Grey’s Anatomy. I just cried. I sat in my bed and let the tears fall. Somehow, someway, this fictional character on this fictional show gave my heart permission in a way my mind has not been able to.

Leave it to Grey’s Anatomy.

That undershirt I threw away this morning, is the last article of clothing I own that I wore when I was pregnant with Katie Grace. It seems so nonsensical to feel so connected to an inanimate object. It’s not like I don’t have things of her’s stored away in storage. Items I thin out each time we move or in each new season. I have at least 3 boxes of her. This undershirt though, I could wear it. I could put it on and remember her. I can remember being so massively pregnant with her. I can be in shock that this shirt, was able to cover her in my belly. Somehow this shirt became a connection to not just my pregnancy but also her.

I have tried to throw it away before. I just couldn’t get ever get close enough to the trash can to let it go. This hitch would happen within my heart, and I would go, awe there is no harm holding onto it. My mind would be speaking another story, reminding me how trashed it is. How there are holes and barely any fabric left. Yet still, I would put it back in my drawer and keep it in my rotation of undershirts. My heart unable to follow with the logic of my mind.

Things are changing though. This healing process, the timing that life has given, change is here, my heart is finally catching up to the logic of my mind. The more I stay in this place of heartbreak, sitting freely, safely, and fighting the impulse to be anything but present; my heart is fully feeling and healing. It is also releasing. It is letting go. Gah! It still makes me cry to write it. I don’t want to let go. That momma in me, that bear that fights, I want to hold onto what I know with her. I want to keep what life gave me. Life already took her, it can’t have anything else.

Yet in true Katie Grace form, doing what isn’t natural as a parent has been the only way to do life and death with her. Fighting to keep your children alive, healthy and well rounded, that is the intuitive drive. Not with her. It was almost always about letting that intuitive drive go, finding who she was, and following her lead. Here she is again, leading me into life, just as much as she led me into death.

Seven or so years ago, I was a new mom with a brain damage baby, weeping through Grey’s Anatomy because it was the only way to release the overwhelming pain of what my world was. Here I am today weeping through Grey’s Anatomy on a Thursday because of the overwhelming pain of letting go was too much for my heart to bear on its own. It’s a full circle. The embracing and the releasing of life and what it holds, the good and the bad.

Leave it to life.

Leave it to Katie Grace.

Leave it to Grey’s Anatomy.

P.S For my die hard Grey’s fan, I wrote this two weeks ago so it was not last Thursday episode. Just clarifying 😉

 

When Grief invites himself to Thanksgiving

 

Thanksgiving is coming up, in about 4 days to be exact, and man my heart is slowly unraveling at the seams. This is my second Thanksgiving without her. My second year of being a family of three instead of a family of 4, and it is possible that this is my hardest year. Grief surprises you like that, its like one day you hear a knock on the door of your heart so you open it and you see grief there. As you watch him walk in, you realize he actually has always been there, he is just demanding a little more attention. Grief is knocking pretty loudly this year, and I have chosen to welcome him; giving him the attention he is demanding.

I want to run though. I want to bury myself in another family and enjoy the festivities of their function. I want to hide away in their dynamics and pretend for a day that we aren’t simply a family of 3. I had that luxury last year. My community in Redding were aloe to my soul, a buffer in the best way to the magnitude of life without Katie Grace. They held memories of her in their hearts, I could see her legacy in them and it made her closer. Last year at Thanksgiving I hosted at my house, which really meant my Rebekah hosted, we just had it at my house, and at some point it all became too much. I got a little edgy, so I hide away in my room, laid in my bed and just missed her. Not long after, someone came in and just sat at the edge of the bed. It was simple. I am not even sure what we talked about, there wasn’t any demand for a reason, it was a simple don’t forget your loved in the pain check in. Aloe for this heart on that first Thanksgiving without her.

This year though we are thousands of miles away from that community and although we are building community and have had friends offer a place for us, I hear this knocking on my heart. I hear this quiet pounding, calling me to take the time to open the door, invite in the grief, and sit with him. You see, we are a family of 3 here on earth, I cannot get away from that. It is what it is. I will either accept it or I will continue to try to fight it, never at peace with what is.

The question: How do you make peace and move on with something you don’t allow yourself the ability to accept?

Answer: You can’t.

Well maybe you can, I can’t. It is in the making peace with grief that I am able to receive not just the healing power of God’s love but also the ability to keep living to the fullness in which I was created and Katie Grace came for.

Growing up my family had a tradition of spending Thanksgiving with my mom’s family. We would drive to Northern California and spend it with them. When Katie Grace was with us, I kept that tradition because I didn’t know how long we had with her, and that was the only time that extended part of my family got to see her. It kind of became our tradition. Now that we are here in Georgia I have a blank slate. This is the time for Charles and I to decide what are we going to do for our family, the three of us. How do we want to spend our Thanksgiving? What traditions do we want to put into place so that one day when Isaac has children he tells stories of what we did every year and his children get to experience a piece of his childhood when they experience that same thing. In order to do that though, I have to stay. I can’t run into the arms of another family and their traditions, I can’t use the sweet aloe of my community. It is time to open the door to grief, to acknowledge his presence, to spend time with him, and then usher him out the door.

When grief came knocking last Thanksgiving he suggested he was larger than my heart could handle, this year, after a year of rest, of learning to lean into all that God has taught us and showed us, I know better. The aloe of love from my community oozed into my pores and has taken residence in my heart, the beliefs that have become facts of who God is are the chairs in which grief and I sit and speak. They hold me; mind, body and spirit, and I know grief will only be there for a while, but that love, those chairs, they stay always. It is with those things I want to build the traditions of my family. The three of us.

This year I am making my first Turkey and drinking a glass of wine or two. Our family will piece together a puzzle, play some games, try to figure out how to watch football without cable, and we will laugh. We will think about our girl, talk about her red hair, and the littles things she used to do that made her ours. When the day winds down, in the quiet I will have made peace with grief and I will gently usher him out the door from which he came.

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