I’m so tired of missing him. I’m tired of time passing and his brief life becoming more of a distant memory. I’m tired of triggers taking me back there when I’m not expecting it. I’m tired of thinking in years…Avery would be two and a half YEARS old. Everett would be almost two YEARS old.
Would be one and a half YEARS old.
Time will keep rolling by as I tick off the four years, five years, ten years, twenty years they should have been. Would have been. Could have been…if only.
And I’m tired.
I’m especially tired of crying.
I cried for about three months straight after miscarrying Avery Rose. Then the days and weeks between tears began spacing out.
I cried in increments after miscarrying Everett. I was so worried during my short pregnancy with him, and not surprised when we lost him. I think the grief was in a deeper place, under layers of anger and disappointment, and masked with desperate attempts of looking for meaning.
But after Elliot…after all the details of what led to his death, which I won’t recount here, and after the way the religious scaffold of my faith was knocked down, tears were my only response. I see it in my eyes when I look in the mirror. My eyes have aged more than they should have in a year in a half. I am not exaggerating when I say I cried every single day the first year after my baby boy died in my arms. I’d plan my grief time around the girls’ nap time. If I absolutely had to cry early, I’d turn on the TV for them and go to my room. Because this was not a pretty cry, a few tears trickling down and wiped easily away. This was my chest tightening, balled up on the floor, heaving sobs and barely breathing through them. Every. Single. Day.
I let those tears come. In a way, they brought me close to him again.
And I kept crying after his first birthday, and after the one-year anniversary of his death. I wrote a lot of angry, mournful words in my grief journal about how the second year was not any “better”, but often felt much worse.
But something happened in the past few months. I noticed recently that I hadn’t had much burning in me I needed to write. I hadn’t been thinking about my loss and grief much. The grief hasn’t been replaced suddenly with joyful, happy feelings. It’s more a lack of feeling. Numbness.
With fall bringing a new year of homeschooling and the arrival of my foster son, then birthdays and holidays filling up plans, busyness became a buffer against grief. I guess it kind of happened by accident: I was just too busy to cry. But when I’d find myself with some down time, or when the heavy feeling of missing him started pressing on me…I’d run away from my grief. I’d find something to do, from exercising to answering emails to turning on a TV show, ANYTHING that would keep me from crying. My journal has barely been written in. My Bible has rarely been cracked open. When I face the emotions head on, they are just too overwhelming. For example, this year on my birthday, I felt the absence of my son so sharply that I just had to be “near” him at the cemetery. I did let myself cry, but then I almost couldn’t stop. I can’t explain what that weeping was like. I thought I might need help, crying so hard I could barely breathe. It scared me.
Is it any wonder I’m tired of that? A big part of me is just done with crying! I don’t want to cry anymore!
So I stay busy and put my efforts into my girls and my foster son and taking care of our home and researching adoption and painting the walls and rearranging furniture and….anything. But, you see, I know I’m not busily doing all these things out of a place of great healing. Underneath it all, a layer of numbness keeps me from feeling. So while I don’t cry as easily, I also don’t laugh as easily. I don’t smile as easily. I don’t feel joy as easily.
Of all classic rock bands, Pink Floyd has always been one of my favorites. When reflecting on this numb sensation, their song “Comfortably Numb” keeps getting stuck in my head. I won’t try to draw some deep parallel out of this song; pretty sure it’s about drugs. But what has hit me is the fact that being numb is NOT comfortable. It might seem that way at first because numbness feels so preferable to pain. But my drugs of busyness/sugar/mindless entertainment also numb all the things I want to keep alive: the vibrant joy of family, the hope of heaven, the enjoyment of friends, the laughter of living.
I’m actually UN-comfortably numb.
I wonder if other parents enduring child loss know what I mean. I write this, as all my blog entries, simply for my own observation and record of what the aftermath of the death of my child has really been like for me. I told a fellow infant-loss mom friend recently that I just want to be able to look at pictures of Elliot and remember my time with him and feel happy in that remembrance. I want to close my eyes and picture my three children in heaven and have some of my burden lightened with hope. She reminded me that it has not been that long, that one day I will be able to feel joy in remembrance.
But to feel joy, I have to be able to feel at all.
As I’ve been avoiding my memories and my grief, a few precious people in my life have peeked through the numbness recently and helped me by, well, making me cry. It’s in shedding tears (despite my inner protest) I’ve been reminded just how intertwined emotions are.
At our family Christmas celebration, my in-laws gave Dustin and me a collective gift: a beautiful necklace of our five children, little boys and girls, with their names stamped on each one. I don’t think I cried then, but it started a crack in the numbness. It meant so much that they would collaborate and show us that they were thinking of us.
Soon after, I saw a precious former student. I’ve known her since she was 13, and now she’s grown into a beautiful 22-year-old wife, mama, and young professional. Her little girl was born the same month as Elliot, and this sweet friend has been a fierce protector of Elliot’s memory with me. At the end of our coffee date, she handed me this priceless gift:
And this time, I did cry. This beautiful picture hit just the point: three of my little birds have flown away, but they are not gone. They are part of our family, and they draw our gaze in the direction of where they are and where we’re going.
Then the next day, our family found ourselves near the cemetery and the girls wanted to see the Christmas tree I’d put at Elliot’s grave. We played, we ran around in the snow, then were about to head out, when my four-year-old, Valerie, said, “I need a little alone time with Elliot.” We all climbed in the van where we watched her stand, looking down at Elliot’s grave for a few minutes. My heart just flooded with the beauty and sadness of that picture. My daughter is so full of love! What a beautiful heart she has! But how utterly unfair that the only way she can “talk” to her brother is at his grave.
No amount of numbness could hold back the tears this time.
She returned to the van with a very deep, somber look on her face, and told me she sang the entirety of the song I wrote for Elliot, “My Little Bird.” She then said the words which are the constant theme of my life:
“I wish Elliot was here with us.”
I may try to put up a wall of numbness to hide from my own pain, but the pain of my 4-year-old daughter is another thing. And yet, though she was hurting, she was displaying a depth of love and understanding beyond her years. It was a good reminder that I can’t close off my heart to the hard feelings without sacrificing the beautiful feelings.
Sorrow, once again, is part of the pathway to joy.
Once I let some tears fall in response to these gifts and moments, I was able to feel other emotions again. I can more fully appreciate the beauty of the people and gifts around me when I allow myself to feel the pain of what I’ve lost. Maybe I’m not supposed to stop crying. Maybe letting tears fall is what cleanses my heart out and makes room for joy and love to continue to grow. Maybe I’ll just have to accept my cry-wrinkles.
All I know is that being numb is not the answer. For those of you who bring me to tears with your words and gifts and gentle hugs, know you are part of the solution, not the problem. You are the antidote against the uncomfortable numbness part of me wants. And for those of you who, like me, try to find ways to numb yourself against the pain life has brought you, I think I’m learning we can’t numb the sorrow without also numbing the joy. We can give ourselves lots of grace (and coffee) to make it through each day. But when it comes to it, we all have wounds that need to be cleansed with tears once in a while. I think our Savior comes to sit with us in those moments.
More sorrow in life will undoubtedly come my way, as will lots more joy. I hope I will have the courage to feel them both.