Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Transparent Grief

Over the past several weeks, I have thought many times about writing this post. I’ve written it in my head almost everyday from the lap lanes of the pool at the gym. The frustrating thing is I know that now I will not be able to capture what I want to say nearly as eloquently as (I think) I have in my time at the gym. Not only do I want my blog to serve as a digital scrapbook and reminder of the good and fun things, but also of the ugly, complex, and trying things as well. So, I write this post as a tribute and reminder to myself of a part of my life I don’t delve into much. In the end, I know that there is beauty even in the parts of our life that are less than perfect.

A couple of weeks ago, the world remembered the one year anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson. I felt like we just barely got over the “hype” of his death, and all of a sudden we were hurled into the one year marker. My hunch is that it will be several years before the news and specials stop airing on the anniversary of his death. While the country watched the news, relived the moments, tweeted and updated facebook statuses around the King of Pop, I quietly remembered something else. I relived moments in my life that (at one time) I desperately wanted to forget, and as memories faded, I desperately wanted to remember.

15 years ago, my family was forever changed. Until that day in our history, we thrived on change. We had come to expect it and embrace it. But, this change was different. In a series of moments we went from a family of 4 to a family of 3 when my older brother passed from this life to the next. The moments felt like hours and days, and in the end, I don’t remember much about how time passed that day or the days following. To say it was a blur is the biggest understatement I could make. This isn’t so much about those moments on the beach waiting for life flight, or the drive Dad and I took (with friends) driving to the hospital while I threw up in a Burger King cup in the back seat. This is about something longer lasting than that....grief.

I used to believe that time healed all wounds. I hoped that would be the case, and assumed in my limited understanding that it had to be true. Over the past 15 years I have come to realize that time does not heal all wounds and that grief does not go away. I would argue that it becomes easier to deal with as we continually push it down in ourselves so that we can go on. I would also say that I believe grief becomes familiar and, in some way, maybe even comfortable to us as we allow it to shape and define us. This has been my experience so far.

When Steven died, we went through the motions of a Memorial Service, then we came back to the States for his funeral and buried him on the third of July, just 6 days before his 15th birthday. We were on auto pilot. Toward the end of the summer of 1995, we moved to San Antonio and began to start over (whatever that means). I remember grieving at the loss of life, grieving for my parents’ loss, and trying to know when it was appropriate to talk about it, and when best to keep my thoughts to myself. I felt very burdened to not upset my parents or add to their grief. I grieved for adjustments we had to make as a family and for a lot of “little” things. Learning to set the table for 3 and not 4 was a big challenge. I wanted to put things up in “his” room and try to make things somewhat normal.

Over the years, that grief changed. I still grieved for many of those things, but I grieved for bigger things too. As friends watched their siblings go to prom and graduate, as they became friends with their siblings instead of “enemies” who were always picking on one another, I grieved that I would not know that in my life. I wouldn’t see Steven go out on dates, or get to judge the girls he brought home. I wouldn’t see him in cap and gown walking the stage at graduation, or help move him away to college.

A couple years later, the grief changed again. I grieved knowing that he wouldn’t be at my graduations or see my accomplishments. He would never know what I chose to do with my life or meet the man I married. I grieved knowing that I would never have nieces and nephews that would favor him. I wouldn’t get to spoil them rotten and send them home to him to detox off a sugar high, or tell stories of the crazy things their dad did growing up. I still grieve over some of these things. But lately, I grieve knowing that my children will not know him. They will not have the privilege of hearing his laugh, or benefitting from his kind heart and compassion. Sure, my children will know about him, but knowing about something and experiencing it are two different things entirely. I grieve that my children will not have an uncle that prays over them and longs to be involved in their lives. They will not have an uncle that cares about their walk with Christ or encourages them to be strong in their faith. My children will not have cousins to play with when we go to may parents’ house for holidays. In many ways, I assume my children will feel a piece of the void I’ve felt for the past 15 years. The grief is there, and it is familiar, and in some ways easier to deal with because of its constant place in my life. The things I grieve now were so far from my mind that first summer. Death has shaped me in more ways than I care to admit. Its given me an appreciation for life and challenged me to not be defined by loss, but to recognize its impact on my family.

As I prepare for Hadley, I am challenged in my excitement by some grief. I wonder how I will answer questions when she is older and how to bridge my life as an “only child” with my life as a little sister. I wonder how I will react if she doesn’t really want to know much or seem overly interested in that aspect of my life. And, because time does not heal all wounds, I wonder if I’ll be able to keep my composure as I explain this part of my life to her. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t.

One thing I know for sure now as I knew then, one thing does not change. God is in control. He has used death to speak to me and my parents and He has shaped our lives in spite of the grief that holds a piece of each of us. And, He has made me thankful for the familiarity of my grief.


Lauren said...

Beautifully written, Callie. Thank you for sharing your heart.

Although I have not faced the same situation, I find comfort in reading some of your thoughts as I lost my dad shortly after Caleb was born. Knowing about him and knowing him are two very different things.

Natalie Powers said...

I had never heard your experience through this. I know it had to be very difficult for you. I remember sitting on the bus with you after a camp and the song, He's my son" came on. I could feel your pain. This was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing it and being so vulnerable.

Praying for little Hadley!