Because of L

This morning, within 30 minutes of each other, I received a text from a friend that a local young man named Luke died of childhood cancer and a call from another friend that my neighbor was having surgery.

I didn’t immediately think about my own Luke, and thank God that it wasn’t him. I wept for Luke’s parents and brothers. For their permanent emptiness and the courage it will take to grieve.

About my friend, I thought, “that’s awful, how can I help?” not, “why didn’t she tell me?” I share this not to brag about how wonderful I am, but rather, to offer two thoughts.

First. Healing is possible and thank you for your help in my own healing journey. Years ago, amid my own grief and its corollary of self-absorption, I would have made my friends’ tragedy- and it is that- about me. Or, I would have diminished her experience altogether. Saying something (to myself at least) cruel like, “well, at least they caught it early.”

Second. A gentle suggestion. If When you are in the same situation- because tragedy finds us all- respond with love and empathy. Offer to help. Some of us believe that among #HurricaneHarvey, #DACA, #HurricaneIrma, the wild fires in the PNW we are in tragedy right now.

Grief was supposed to make me kinder, softer around the edges. It has. Healing is possible. But It’s one hell of a road. And you must do the work. You have to stay on the mat, as my friend G says. Stay on the mat. Don’t hit the easy button. I’ve learned that deflection and comparison are my easy buttons. I’ve also learned that they’re thieves. They steal people of their own grief and they rob me of the chance to be kind, to be a friend, to be a Christian, a fellow human.

Healing doesn’t mean “over it” or forgetting. I will never be over L’s diagnosis or the collapse of my career, or the betrayal of friends…or whatever events mark my life as before/after.

Healing means using my grief as fuel, instead of as a weapon. Healing means letting things impact me without defining me. Healing means action.

They will know we are Christians by our love. And love is a verb. Love and prayers are awesome and they helped us. They continue to help me. But don’t stop there. Too many of us Christians pray and think that’s enough. Pray, of course. All the time, for everyone. Pray to be inspired to act.

I donated to St. Baldrick’s in honor of Luke. Some friends and I are rallying to create a schedule to help our friend with housecleaning and meals. I hope you will feel inspired to act as well.

 

Tomorrow

Tomorrow is December 12th. Diagnosis Day. Dx day. D day. THE day.

Usually this time of year, I am anxious. Tight. Angry. Yet, for the first time in eight years, I feel….”normal.” I have prayed for this day. Waited for this day to finally come. It did and I barely noticed it. It snuck up on me. People always say that don’t they? “Enjoy this time, it goes so fast” or “time heals all wounds” blah blah blah.

The class I teach is on Monday nights. In August I wrote down all 15 weeks, 15 Mondays, and posted them on our kitchen bulletin board. December 12th is a Monday. It’s been staring at me, in my own handwriting, since August.

And I’m fine. We’re all fine. And I finally mean it. I’m not just saying that to get people to stop asking me about it.

I bumped into D day last week. I was standing in the hallway outside my classroom waiting for the class before us to finish up, writing a note to remind my students about their final paper, due December 12th. I wrote out December 12th, looked at it and remembered. Not that I ever really forgot, it’s more like I was reminded. This year the waiting has been less..heavy. I wrote out 12/12 and had to immediately text Sean: “OMG! December 12th is next week. Can you believe it?” I was so excited that I had forgotten!

It happened again today. We were grocery shopping and in the orange juice section the boys started counting out how many more days until school break, until Santa comes, until NJ vacation. They were off because today is December 11th, not the 10th. I said out loud, “Today is December 11th. Huh.” Sean heard me, caught my eye, and said, “I know what you mean.”

I am not sure why this year is different. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal since October 10th. Every day I write three or four things that made me happy, or that I’m grateful for. I’ve been praying more. I’ve been more open in asking others to pray for me. I went back to yoga. I am learning to breathe more fully.

Who knows if any of these things have contributed to my healing. Maybe none. Maybe all. Regardless, I’m going to keep doing them. I’m also going to stop looking for the perfect combination or magic formula. That’s where I get into trouble- I dissect every little thing, event, conversation. I weigh and measure it. I spin my wheels trying to make things work, instead of just letting them work.

We go to church every Sunday; it’s one of the things that I’ve always done and will keep doing. I confess (ha!) though that sometimes it doesn’t always do it for me. Sometimes church is one of the things that I try to make work. The choir picks random hymns that are too high for me to sing, there’s a screaming kid behind me, or the readings are for someone else.

Not today. Today, church worked. It was as if God was speaking directly to me. It was just me and Her today and it worked. Words and phrases lept out at me.

“Sorrow and mourning will flee….meet the Lord with gladness and joy” (Isaiah).

“Be patient. Make your hearts firm” (James).

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “Rejoice” and today reminds us to take a step back and recall our joy. Gaudete is a light-hearted break in the midst of the pregnant waiting of Advent. Our priest’s homily challenged and encouraged me to be hopeful. “Hope is a desire for something good that is difficult to attain.” Whoa. Slow down there, Father. You’re speaking right to me and it’s making me kinda squirmy.

For years I have been desiring healing, to feel…free, loose. That is something good that sure as hell has been difficult to attain. Sometimes I felt distant from God. That S/He wasn’t hearing my prayers. Maybe I wasn’t praying hard enough, or right enough or even just, enough. Why was God taking so damn long?

Of course today’s readings were about hope and rejoicing. And of course, today was Gaudete Sunday, the day before D-day. Because that is how God works. That is God’s timing. I’m learning to trust that God is always with me. S/He has been working on my heart, helping me to be hopeful. It just took me a little longer to catch on. It took me so damn long!

Today I rejoice. I will continue to train myself to choose hope. Because I get a tomorrow. Luke gets a tomorrow. Even if tomorrow is D-day. Even if tomorrow is a hard day. I still get it. It’s mine to use or waste. It’s mine to embrace or push against. I rejoice! I choose hope!

 

Dear Fellow Trauma Parents

No child should experience what your child is right now. No parent should experience what you are right now. No parent should witness their child’s suffering. Yet here you are.  Here we are.

Everything has changed. Forever. That’s dramatic. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

I know what it is like to have the rug pulled out from under you. To have all of your plans and dreams permanently shattered right before your eyes. Let no one tell you different. That is what has happened to you and to your baby.

Having walked- no, dragged my ass through a similar road- I wish I could take your pain from you. Take your hurt away. Make your baby better. But, I cannot. And neither can you, and I know that that is the hardest part. The helplessness. The fear that smells like hospital soap and tastes like bile and rage.

This sucks. Sucks. It sucks so bad. Everything that you are feeling is normal. And what you and your baby are experiencing right now is not normal. It is OK to grieve that. You have to grieve it.

I know that there are people in your life who are trying to be helpful. They are filling your Facebook feed and texting you with messages of hope and “this too shall pass,” and “you’re almost there,” or “I can’t imagine,” or the worst one, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Bullshit. I call uncle. God has nothing to do with this and everything to do with carrying you through it.

They mean well. They’re still good people. But you are in a different category now. You are not like them. You never will be again. What is happening to you, to your child, to your family, it is changing you. It is making you into a different person from the inside out. You are in the beginning stages of your “new normal” and you will not go back to who you were before. That person is gone.

Your new normal involves an entire team of people who were strangers to you just days ago. They are your family, now, your tribe. You believe in them. You trust them in ways you didn’t know were possible. You know things you shouldn’t know. Medical terms. Diagnoses. Prognoses. Some days, you will barely make it out of bed because the weight of your new life is too much. Other times, a ray of hope will worm its way into your heart and you will smile again. A real smile. Not a fake smile like the one you wear for your mother-in-law or your co-workers. Joy is not gone forever. It just looks different than it did before. And in many ways, it’s better. More pure.

I will not tell you that when this is over, you will look back on this time and feel awash with gratitude for all you have been through. Because this will never be over. And I know that there is nothing you wouldn’t do to take this from your child, to swallow it whole and let it be you instead. It is jarring that your greatest lessons as a parent have come to you through your child’s trauma. Something inside you has been broken.

It is OK.

Broken things can still be useful and beautiful. The crack makes them beautiful.

Continue to let people help you. Post on social media, share or not, rage, sleep, drink, hold each other. Do what you have to do. Lean into your fear, your hurt, your anger. It is healing. Lean into the prayers of others and let them hold you. We are carrying you. I promise.

I am thinking of you. I am praying for you. Tomorrow, you will get up and do it all again.

You can do this. You have to do this. You will do this.