Grief is Love

Sometimes you have to tell a story to get it out of you. I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately. It seems like everything hits me harder now that he’s gone. I see these movies and just think of everything that has happened in the last few months.

I remember waking up that morning like any other morning. I had slept in a bit, which was not unusual for me at that time. I went downstairs and my little niece looked at me and said, “Mommy is sad. The baby won’t wake up.” I went to my brother’s room and my sister-in-law went past me, crying, “he won’t wake up… I don’t know what to do.” My brother was in the room trying to do CPR on his little body. I asked what they had tried to do, gave some suggestions, nothing of substance. I don’t think it was really real for me at that point.

The police arrived a few minutes later. I went to keep the children away from the situation while the parents talked to the police and paramedics and firemen and anyone else who came. After a while, I took the children into their room and asked them to pray for their brother. My brother and sister-in-law went to the hospital. He wasn’t responsive at that point, but he wasn’t gone yet. We still had a glimmer of hope that he would survive, that he would come back, that he would be okay.

I remember the call… “He’s gone…” My little nephew was in the middle of a bite of pizza when I explained that his baby brother would not be coming back and that we had to go to the hospital to see him one last time. This amazing little 5 year old just started crying and didn’t want to finish his food, but we did. We finished our little lunch and headed to the hospital to say our goodbyes. I tried to get everything ready. I threw a bunch of candy and snacks in my bag to help console the children while we waited to see the lifeless body of my less than 2 month old nephew.

When we arrived at the hospital, we waited outside with the children’s other aunt, and my aunt also came after a few minutes. As we sat and ate candy while waiting for everything to be ready for the children to come in, I knew the younger two might never understand. This didn’t seem to mean much to them, other than that the adults and their older brother were sad. They were still fighting over toys and wanting their treats. Even after we went in, my three year old niece was playing with the doctor’s face as he explained what would happen next. It was somewhat frustrating, but also comforting, to know that she wasn’t experiencing the grief the rest of us felt.

When it was my turn to hold my sweet nephew for the last time, the reality struck me that he was really gone. I had known he wasn’t going to come back or get better, but feeling his cold skin made my heart stop for a second. I would never hold him again in this life. I would never stroke his head as he slept in my lap or hold him as he looked with wide eyes around the room. This was goodbye.

The strange thing about faith is that it never really leaves, but sometimes you are not exactly sure what it means. Would I get to see him again? Would everything be okay? What would this mean for my family? I felt broken, but my faith told me that this was not the end. I believe that he is in heaven. I believe I will see him again. I believe that everything will be okay. I just do not know when that will happen. I do not know when I will be okay again.

Everything moved on. I still had classes that week. I still went to work. I still turned in homework assignments and helped around the house and did what was required, but something was missing. I lost a part of me that day that I do not think I will ever get back in this life. I broke that Friday. He passed away on Sunday and by Friday, I had tried so hard to be strong that I knew I needed help. I texted a few people I thought might be free, but by the time they responded, I was sliding quickly into severe depression. When none of them were available, I gave up and went to my room to cry. I have never cried so hard in my life. One person, who I hardly knew, insisted on coming over and sat in my room with me until I finished crying. That was the most desperate I have ever felt, and nothing has ever made me feel so hollow as crying for the loss of that little boy.

Since then, things have been hard. Most days are normal and everything goes on like before this happened, but other days, I feel the loss like it was just this morning. You can’t run from pain. You can’t escape death. No matter how far away you go or what you do, there are some things that just won’t leave your head. That’s what this has been. It’s a never ending stream of grief that is always there, though I notice it less sometimes than others.

But… there is also great hope. In the midst of the despair, there is faith and hope and love- pure, undaunted love that will not go away. I keep seeing this quote, “Grief is just love with no place to go.” That is what grief feels like to me. The love that was there for little Gabriel cannot go into him so it goes everywhere else instead. It goes into me and comes out in tears and hugs and long, drawn out conversations. The love fills the room where I sit down to write a letter or tell someone my thoughts. It spills out in lessons I teach in church where a few dozen women gather to talk about faith in God. And it is still there when I’m running transactions at the bank where I work or going grocery shopping or eating in a restaurant. Grief feels like love constantly spilling out of you in endless streams of emotion that make everything beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

Love.

I thought I understood what that meant over the last few years. When I gained a best friend, when I forgave someone who abused me as a child, when my heart felt healed, when I felt joy after helping someone, I thought I understood love. All these things over the past few years have been love, but losing someone has given love a whole new meaning. Love is everywhere, in everything, in everyone, and when you lose someone, that love either leaves you or becomes you.  You either push the love outside of you or you let it flow into you. For me, love is like the emotion that won’t let go. It is ever present. It is me, and I am love, because losing someone took everything away and gave it all back wrapped in beautiful, tear-jerking, never-ending love.

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Finding Light in the Dark- The Purpose of Depression

I started this post a couple months ago, but didn’t have time to finish it. I attended a devotional meeting today though that brought this back to my mind. Life is hardly ever exactly what we wanted or expected. Things change. Life happens and we find ourselves a million miles away from where we thought we wanted to be. The question is if we will make where we are, into the place where we want to be. When things do not work out and we find ourselves at a different point of life than we wanted, can we still see hope? When nothing is going right and your world seems to have crumbled around you, can you still find ways to be happy?

I first started this post the morning after a hard night. I had fallen into a state of depression. I wanted a way out of everything. I couldn’t concentrate on reasons for my existence. I just felt pain and hurt and loss. And I didn’t see a reason for me to feel that way. Things were going well for me so it was confusing as to why I would feel so hopeless when there was so much to hope for around me. The thing is though, people seem to perpetuate the myth that you need a reason to be depressed. In all reality, this is not true. I never need a reason to get depressed. Sometimes it happens on a beautiful day when the sun is shining, and I’ve just spent time with friends, and my room is clean, and my homework is done, and I’ve eaten well throughout the day. Everything can be perfect, but depression grips like a corset pulled so tight you cannot breathe.

That night was one of those times. There was no real reason for me to feel depressed, and yet my mind cascaded into feelings of being incomplete, feeling detached and withdrawn from the world, wondering what my purpose was for being alive. It didn’t make sense to feel that way when life was going so well for me. And being a logical person, I needed to find a reason for what I was going through. So, I looked up, “What is the purpose of depression?”

I didn’t find all the answers I wanted, but I did find one that felt true to me. Depression is an adaptation to help us contemplate life. It produces different thought patterns that force us to deal with things we might otherwise avoid. And it makes us find a reason for why things are the way they are. Today, another reason rang true with me. Depression has been my refining fire. Every good quality that I have has been influenced by my depression.

I remember vividly the worst period of depression I ever endured. It lasted approximately 9 months. During that time, I felt like I was being stripped of everything. My joy, my hope, my mind, my heart, my family and friends, everything was taken away from me. Although none of these things were really gone, depression made them unreachable. I could not think. I could not smile. I could not stand some of the time. The darkness around me was so thick that I felt it would extinguish everything I had left in me. But in that dark, desperate place, I found the one thing depression could not take from me. When everything else was gone and it was just me and the darkness, I found that I was not left completely desolate. I still had faith. Even if I could not hope in that moment or smile or even get up, I clung to faith. Faith was the last of my light, the one thing the darkness could not put out. And with that faith, I found hope, and with that hope, I found a way to endure.

It was promising to find out that at the core of my soul was faith, but at the time, it didn’t mean much more than just a way to get through my circumstances. In the last few months though, that knowledge has carried me through some difficult times. My sister (who is like my rock) decided to move to another state, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my baby nephew died, all within about 2 months. I was devastated, heartbroken, and scared, but it was not the worse thing I had ever been through. And in that sense, depression was a beautiful blessing to me because I knew that no matter how bad things got, I still had that faith at the end of the day. I could keep going because at one point, I couldn’t keep going. At one point, I had lost everything in the most real sense because when you lose yourself to depression, you become lost to everything and everything becomes lost to you. So this time, I could stand with my family and have hope.

Depression is the hardest thing I have ever been through. I still have depression and can go through long periods of feeling depressed, but I see the light in my depression. I can see the purpose of my depression. I can see the blessings it has been in my life. Is my purpose for depression the same as yours? Probably not. But, I know that you can also find purpose in your depression or in your trials. You can find light in the darkest of places. I know because I have been there, and in the greatest darkness, I found the strongest light.

Believe

One of my favorite animated movies (if not my absolute favorite) is “Rise of the Guardians”. There are so many reasons why I love this movie, but one of the things I love most about it is that it revolves around the idea that we choose to believe. The things in the world influence our ability to believe, but in the end, only we can conquer our own nightmares by choosing to face them and bring them to light.

I look at the stars in the sky, snowflakes that freeze on the window, and the hundreds of tiny little veins in a single leaf, and I just think to myself, “how can anyone not believe?” There is so much hope here, so much light. There is so much good in the world.

As someone who hardly knows what it’s like to not have depression, I have seen my share of darkness. Most of my life has been spent trying to find the light in the darkness. But because of that, I see light everywhere. I see light in the darkest corners of people who’s lives have been torn apart by addictions or mental illness. I see light in desperate situations where some will say, “what good could come of this?” And most importantly, I see light in myself. Even when I am in the depths of depression and death seems like the only escape and I ache for any bit of hope to hold onto, I find light in my faith that things will get better, that someone cares, that I am not alone.

People say that light and dark cannot exist in the same space. They are right to an extent. Light cannot inhabit the same molecules as the dark. But there is no room, no area, no place that I know of that has absolutely no darkness. Likewise, it is extremely difficult to create complete darkness. Light and dark seek to inhabit the same space, but darkness wins when light reaches its limit. Darkness is the absence of light because it exists when light is not there. 

Inside of us, darkness exists when we don’t choose to make light. I have always marvelled at how people can be so cruel. I don’t understand how people can hurt each other or become numb to the pain of another person. I guess it makes sense though that if you don’t choose to put light in yourself, the darkness will reside there instead. But I can’t help but see light in even the darkest of people. There has to be some good there, if they would just choose to turn towards it.

At Christmas time it is easy to dismiss the beliefs of children in Santa Claus or even in miracles, but it is that choice to believe that is so powerful. I want to believe in Santa. I want to believe in goodness. I want to believe that there is something better out there. I watch movies like “The Polar Express” and “The Santa Clause” and they make me want to believe in the impossible. I have seen the impossible over the last few years. I have experienced what I never even dreamed could happen.

So I guess my point with all of this is just to encourage you to believe. Believe in hope, in light, in goodness. Believe in something bigger than yourself. Believe that you are not alone in this world.

“All things are possible to those who believe.”

-adapted from Mark 9:23

Grateful for Faith

Sometimes believing in something bigger than yourself isn’t easy. Sometimes it takes everything in you to believe that there is something better than how things are right now. In the desperate times though, faith has been the one thing that I have been able to cling to. Faith is what I am left with when everything else fails or falls away. Faith is my constant. Faith is my core.

I am so grateful for the faith that has guided me through difficult circumstances. I am grateful for the faith that has stayed with me when hope seemed to slip away. Life gets complicated and difficult and even unbearable at times, but that faith that there is something else helps me through the rough times. I may not have anything else left in me, but I am grateful that I can still keep a glimmer of faith no matter what happens.

Be a Weed

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I had a thought today as I was looking at the weeds in our grass. Our sprinklers broke a few weeks ago and the grass has mostly died, but the weeds are still coming up green. As I looked at those weeds (and the other weeds growing between the cracks in the sidewalk), I had the thought, “I want to be like that.”

It is interesting to me that weeds are the plants that are the most stable, grow the best, and stay the greenest longest. Weeds have deeper roots than grass and as such, are very hard to kill. Everything about weeds is great, except that they are weeds. If grass came up without much work and stayed green without much watering and would keep coming back no matter how many times it was stepped on, most people would be delighted.

So what makes weeds so bad?

The short answer is that they don’t fit in. The longer answer is that they look out of place with the rest of the lawn, and they are hard to get rid of, even with weed killing spray and digging deep to try to take up the roots.

Anyway, to get to the point…

Being a weed is not always a good thing, but it can be very good to have the qualities of a weed in a lot of life’s situations. I want to be like a weed because of their resilience. I want to be like a weed because of their boldness in standing out from a crowd. I want to be like a weed because of the deep roots that ground them when life gets tough.

Don’t be afraid to be a weed in difficult circumstances. Be a weed in standing up against injustice. Be a weed in standing your ground when others are asking you to compromise your morals or values. Be a weed in fighting depression or anxiety or health issues or other trials. Be a weed in coming back up when life knocks you down. Be a weed in having roots so strong in what you believe in that no matter how far someone digs, they cannot kill that part of you. Be a weed when your circumstances are not ideal, but you are determined to grow up strong anyway.

And perhaps most of all, be a weed in being okay with being a weed. Be okay with being different. Be okay with not going with the crowd. Be okay with standing up for yourself. Not everyone will love you for it, but sometimes being a weed is the best thing you can be.

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Trusting Someone with Your Anxiety

There are some people that you can just trust, that you know won’t hurt you, that you know won’t make you feel bad about yourself. My best friend is one of those people for me. It has taken me a long time to trust her, but she has patiently been there through it all.

The other day I was hanging out with her and realized that I was getting to the point of anxiety where I would either freak out or shut down. So I did what I always do and tried to escape as soon as possible. Of course, you can’t just leave without an explanation and because she’s my best friend, I told her the truth. Instead of just letting me go, she asked what would help. By the time I tried explaining everything, I couldn’t handle things anymore. I shut down and then freaked out and then shut down again, but it helped. I got it out of my system and could hang out again.

And she was totally understanding and didn’t make me feel bad about what happened or make me explain why I felt that way. She just hugged me and listened and let me still spend time with her afterwards.

I’m not sure what my point to this is, other than to just trust someone. Let someone know what you’re going through. Let someone know all of you, even the parts you don’t like. Maybe they will be more understanding than you would think. Maybe you will find someone who loves you anyway. And maybe then, you can heal from all the hurt and brokenness, from all the voices in your head that say you are not good enough and you are a freak and no one will ever love you. Maybe then, you can be whole.

I hope you find that someday. I hope you find someone that loves you and would do everything to not hurt you. I hope you find someone to trust with the hard things. I’m still working on becoming whole. I’m still working on the healing and recovery process, but with someone I can trust, with someone that loves me and doesn’t hurt me, I have hope that I will get there someday. I will get better. I can be whole. And maybe, just maybe, I deserve that.

A Wreck

Last Sunday, I was in a car crash right about this time. I was going to a friend’s place to return her cat that I had been watching the previous week while she was out of town. About two streets away from her house, a car swerved around another car in the left turn lane and made a left in front of me. I barely had time to step on my brake and honk my horn before crashing into the side of her car.

The good news is that no one was badly injured. My airbag deployed, breaking a small bone in my thumb. The cat that was with me has had a limp since the accident. But we were all very lucky considering the severity of the situation. When it first happened, I was shocked and shaken up but not upset. I took it really well and forgave them right away. In the days following, things have become harder to bear.

Just after the accident, I was fine. My thumb hurt and my car was totaled, but I was mostly okay. Not having a car to get around was inconvenient. I couldn’t go get something to eat whenever I wanted. I had to wake up early for work because that’s when my coworkers could take me. My thumb throbbed and I had to shower with my arm wrapped in a plastic bag so it wouldn’t get wet. It was more difficult, but all of this was mostly an inconvenience.

After day 3, things started to affect me more. The soreness set in and kept me awake from the pain. I got a rental car and emptied out my car. Looking at the front of my car and seeing parts of it hanging out was emotionally scarring. This was my first car, the car I learned to drive in, the car where I spent countless hours with my best friend. You might even say I made my best friend in that car. And here I was, cleaning my life out of it. It didn’t help that it appeared to have been broken into while at the tow lot and some of my stuff was missing.

Aside from my car, the increased pain continues to take its toll on me. I have finals next week and with the lack of my thumb, I don’t know how I’m going to complete them. The pain also makes it hard to think or concentrate on my work. In addition, I have no time off left at work. Due to everything that happened this year, I was running low on sick time and vacation time. The trip I planned to California for Christmas will have to be cut 4 days short.

I am honestly struggling. I have hope. I have faith. I believe things will get better, but in the meantime, life is difficult. Sometimes I wish it was just a little easier. Sometimes I wish I could get a break from all the hardness. But, I must be strong. I must hold on. My only question is, how strong do I have to be?