“So, are you doing better?”
“I hope things will continue to get better for you.”
“How is your family? Are the days getting any better?”
It’s a word people use to kindly inquire or gauge the progress of healing from grief. But now that I’m in this odd land, “better” just doesn’t seem to fit.
It doesn’t offend or bother me when people ask if I’m doing better. Whenever friends acknowledge Elliot in any way, they validate his life. I appreciate it. I just genuinely don’t know what to say when someone asks if I’m better. It feels kind of like someone asking me what time the sky is.
I’m rarely shy about being genuine with my experience of losing Elliot, or any of my heaven-babies. I usually respond to questions of if I’m feeling better with a much longer explanation than expected. I paint a picture of day-to-day activities becoming more automatic, more bearable. In that way, yes, I am functioning in a “better” capacity. Thank the Lord, I have two bright-eyed little girls who require me to do so.
One of the sweetest people in my life recently asked if I was starting to have more good days than bad days. I laughed. To an outside observer, my days would look sadly routine: wake up, chores and breakfast with the girls, a morning of learning and outings, lunch, naptime for them, crying time for me.
But I explained then that yes, in a way, even in these afternoons of tears, there is the occasional “better” day. In the first weeks and couple of months, the only tears were those of complete despair: no hope, no light, no way out. I can now sometimes cry with just the love of a mother for her son, with sweet longing to be reunited with him. “Oh,” she said when I explained it. “So they’re different kinds of tears.”
There is progress. But I think the word “better” is a misnomer because better implies being restored to what once was. If I break my arm, and it is set correctly and heals well, my broken arm can become better. Someone might ask, “How’s your arm? Is it getting better?” This would be an inquiry about if my arm was functioning as it once was.
But no one would ever say to me if I were to lose an arm, “Is your arm doing better?” The arm is gone. It is never coming back. Functioning as a person without an arm, I would be changed. And that’s the point.
I am changed.
I am changed.
Better is not even an option. A part of me was amputated against my will. Each day, I will learn to function better as this new me. But I can never be better in the sense that I will go back to being the old me.
It is a hard reality to bear, but an important reality to accept. To ever really get better, I have to, in one sense, realize that “better” is never going to happen.
The arm could never grow back.
Elliot can never come back. Nor Everett. Nor Avery.
I have found more comfort and validation in C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed than in any other book or source I’ve read since losing Elliot. Nestled in these notes he scratched in journals after his wife died, Lewis writes this:
“If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but what for her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.”
Whether or not Lewis’ theology or interpretation is spot on, I could care less. He gets the ache of it. My mother’s heart grew extra chambers, first for Avery, then for Everett, then for Elliot. Beautiful, shining, perfect Elliot. Oh how my heart grew room for him! Just as real and part of me as my arms and legs.
Cut off. Written off. Gone for the rest of my life.
I will undoubtedly function better, view God better, “feel” better as time goes by. It has already begun. But I’m also changed.
Miscarrying two sweet babies changed me. Holding my precious Elliot as he took his last breaths…that changed me as sure as I’d be changed if an arm or leg was amputated.
The amputee has to learn to live without the limb he’s been used to. I have to learn to live without the child my family and I had fallen deeply in love with.
Yet in one sense, there is a “better” I can be thankful for. I look into the bright eyes of my two little girls, and utterly realize that life is so uncertain. Today. Today is all we have. So I let them squirt me with squirt guns a little more, I don’t get so worked up if they make a mess “helping” me in the kitchen, and I read JUST one more story (or two or three).
Yes, Elliot’s brief life taught me this. I can’t say I believe Elliot’s death was God’s will or God’s plan. God allowed it, and that’s a whole other conundrum to wrestle with in years to come. What I do believe is that Elliot’s life mattered, and still matters, to God. Elliot’s death will never have an impact so profound that it will ever be “worth it” in my eyes. Yet Elliot’s life, his LIFE must have an impact. So I will look for and accept the ways his life can cause me to live more fully. I will let my girls play with my makeup (some days). I will count their freckles. I will play pretend even when the game makes no sense. This is the beginning. We’ll see where it goes.
That little boy is making his mommy a better mom to his sisters. And that is a better I can hold on to, even though I’d much rather be holding on to him. I accept that I won’t ever truly be “better.” I am and will forever be…changed.