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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Grief

I never understood grief. I had never lost anyone close to me suddenly or unexpectedly. My great-grandparents have all passed on, but their deaths were not a surprise and I was not emotionally close to any of them. When my nephew passed away, I suddenly understood loss. For years I struggled to understand why one of my best friends was so emotional about certain things. I could not sympathize when she struggled with a coming date that commemorated a birthday or reminded her of the day a loved one died or so many other dates that seemed to mean something to her. I simply had no experience with grief and while I tried to be supportive, I admitted to her that it was not something with which I could sympathize.

I understand grief now- not in an all-encompassing depth of knowledge, as I only have a glimpse of the journey that I now travel, but I now understand that grief is real. I have nights of not being okay. I have days where everything seems to remind me of that terrible tragedy. I know what it is like to ache for a part of you that will never return. I try not to sink too deeply into my grief. I know that I must cling to happiness because depression constantly reaches for me, simply waiting for me to slip back into its grasp. I must not succumb to the grief because it will swallow me whole if I choose not to fight. However, I do need to greet the grief. I need to welcome it and entertain it for a while because it is now a part of me that needs to be addressed. There is a balance to grieving and a balance to living. I must do both. I will do both as I traverse these new emotions that I never thought would be a part of me.

Grateful for Family

I have had an amazing week of spending time with family and friends! I spent a few days with my sister and her family and extended family. Then, I came home and spent some time with my nieces and nephew. Today, we had a Thanksgiving meal with one of my best friends, who is practically family to me. I am very grateful for the wonderful people in my life. They help me so much. I really do not know where I would be without my friends and family.

I realized a few years ago that it is not a good idea for me to live alone, detached from the people that love me most. I need to be able to see people that love me on a regular basis. I am grateful for how readily everyone accepts me into their lives. I feel at home whenever I go to my sister’s or my parents’ or my best friends’ houses. They all make me feel so welcome and like I belong. I like that feeling of belonging. I like the feeling of being wanted and needed and appreciated. I am grateful for that feeling especially during the holiday season.

As a single person, I could feel very lonely. I do feel lonely at times, but I have so many people around me that help me to not feel so alone. I know that I am loved. I know that I will always have a place to call home. I know that I will always be welcome when I visit my family and friends. I am grateful for that knowledge. I am grateful for the feeling of belonging and love that I feel every time I am with my family and friends. And I am grateful that so many people accept me into their lives and let me be a part of their families.

Grateful for Stuff

I have never put much value in material things. I always have a hard time coming up with a Christmas list because I don’t really want anything other than the basics- food, clothes, a place to live, warmth, transportation, etc. However, if you look at my movies or games or books or room decorations, it is pretty obvious that I have a lot of stuff.  But for me, the stuff isn’t important. It’s what the stuff means that is important.

I have a collection of snow globes and music boxes. Whenever my nieces or nephew come into my room, they enjoy listening to the music and looking at the fun characters inside the globes or boxes. These decorations are an attachment to the children in my life that mean so much to me. Movies are a major form of entertainment in our household. We all watch some form of movie or show almost every day. My movies are a way to gather the family in excitement and anticipation. The same is true of my games. My games are a way to spend time with friends or family in a fun way.

My biggest collection by far is the stuff I have for gifts. I have boxes and bags and closets full of gifts for people. I buy things for all the people in my life all year long, whenever I see something I know they would like. Then, when a birthday or Christmas comes around, I take things out and decide what to give that person for that particular occasion. The gifts I buy and store are an expression of my love for others.

So today, I am grateful for stuff because it allows me to express what is important to me. It allows me to have an outlet for my love for others. Stuff gives me a way to give, to love, to spend time with someone, to be myself. I would be okay if all of my stuff simply disappeared, but I am grateful for the joy it provides to me and others while I have this stuff to give.

For the Love of Autism

I love looking at pictures of best friends. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Some look alike and some couldn’t be more different. But the amazing thing is that somehow, someway, two people saw the best in each other and decided it was worth sticking around for.

I’m so grateful for my best friends over the years. My first best friend in kindergarten didn’t last long, but she gave me something to aspire to. My next best friend in middle school really didn’t need me. She was more popular than I could ever hope to be, but I loved her because she saw me for who I was. She saw the good in me.

In college, I felt like I made my first real best friends. The kind that wanted to spend time with me simply because they enjoyed my presence. Unfortunately, with all of these best friends from elementary school to college, situations change and I didn’t know how to keep a friendship outside of situational happenstance.

At 20 years old, I made my first friendship that really lasted outside of school or work or church. She’s been my best friend for about the last 7 years.

Last year, I made another friendship. I didn’t really think that it could get better than it was. I didn’t think that God would send me another friend because having one best friend was all that I ever hoped or dreamed of. But I am so grateful for our friendship. This past year was one of the hardest and best of my life. I didn’t know how much I needed my friend until I had her. And now I can’t imagine my life without her.

I never really knew what it was like to love someone so much that when they’re not around, it feels like a part of you is missing. I didn’t fully understand the feeling of missing someone until I had my best friends.

There is a connection in friendship that is like a bonding of your heart to theirs. It’s not that I didn’t feel that with my family, it’s just that with my family that bonding felt more like a computer network. We could be far away from each other, but we were still so connected that I didn’t ever feel a separation. I feel the same way with my best friend of over 7 years. But with newer friends, that bond feels more like a piece of gum. You can be apart for so long and still feel connected, but eventually that gum strains and breaks, and it takes a piece of you with it. You can reconnect it and get it back, but sometimes the person just never comes back into your life.

Some people think that people with autism don’t understand love, that we don’t value the people around us. It’s not true. I remember everyone from Kindergarten to now. I remember everyone who was kind to me, who talked to me. I feel love. Too much.

It’s just that I don’t know how to express it. I don’t know how to let you know that I like being your friend or spending time with you. It’s not that I feel like I’m better than you or that I’m indifferent. I just don’t know how to navigate the social skills to tell you what you mean to me. But I love you and miss you more than you’ll ever know. And no matter how small, you took a piece of me with you and I will forever miss that.

I know it’s hard for you not to hear I love you. I know it’s hard for you to feel like we ignore you or don’t appreciate you. I can’t speak for every autistic person in the world, but I can tell you that no one could love you more than I love my friends and family. Yes, we love. Sometimes we just don’t know how to tell you how much we love.

When Someone Understands

My entire life I have dealt with not being okay. There are different reasons why I might not be okay- maybe it is too loud or too bright or too hot or there are too many people or there is too much going on or I am hungry or tired or anxious or just not okay for some other reason. Sometimes I do a pretty good job of getting myself to become okay again; other times not so much. I have learned over the years that there are times I simply cannot handle a situation in a positive way because of how I feel. I have also learned to find a way to escape when I feel this way so that I won’t do something I would regret. But, until recently, I was generally alone in figuring out how to deal with all this.

A few days ago I was at a family event that was overwhelming for me. I felt crowded and hungry and the noises around me seemed extra loud. I went to a chair in the corner of the room and tried to pretend like I was okay. I didn’t really expect anyone to notice or do anything. I was just trying to disappear into my head. But, my sister did notice. She asked if I was okay and if I needed to go to a quiet place to be alone for a while. She and her husband hugged me and told me that it was okay that I was having a hard time. They showed me where I could go to get away from everything for a bit, and while I was away trying to calm myself, my sister made me food and brought it to me.

It felt so amazing that I cried. I cried because people are starting to understand. They are starting to realize when I’m overwhelmed and need a break, and they are helping me. When someone understands it changes everything. It is easier to become okay again when others don’t expect you to be okay in the moment. If they get upset with you or frustrated or scared or react in a way that makes you feel abnormal, it invalidates your feelings. You get upset with yourself because you should not react in that way, you should be able to control yourself, you should not be overwhelmed by the situation.

I feel like I have pretty good self control. I can generally hold in a meltdown until I get to a place where I am alone. I can generally calm myself down enough to get to another room before I get overly upset about a situation. It is hard though. It is hard once you are not okay to do everything on your own to become okay. It is hard to be alone, yet that is often how we believe we must deal with how we feel.

Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of times when I was not okay. But I have been amazed at the positive, helpful responses I have received in these times. Not everyone has responded positively, but a few people have let me be not okay with them for a few minutes so that I could get to a point of being okay again. It has helped me to become okay so much faster and be able to still participate because I didn’t have to leave before I really wanted to go. Maybe it is not always that easy. Maybe sometimes other people can’t really do anything to help, but if someone can understand, if they can let you know that it is okay to not be okay, that can change everything.

 

Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

Deserving Love

I used to think that if you were loved, you must deserve it. I thought that in order for someone to love you, you had to have done something worthy of love. Love wasn’t just given freely, it came with a price. I wasn’t sure what that price was, but I thought that only truly good people could be loved.

I heard people say to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” I knew that people in church expressed their love. I heard the words, I love you. I just didn’t see it. I didn’t see where love lasted past someone doing something wrong.

Last night, I kind of understood what love really means. I was at my brother in law’s family’s house. I have always loved being in their house. It just feels good. It feels like love. Up until this point, I thought that everyone in his family just deserved to be loved because they were so good. Last night though, it struck me that it wasn’t what they did that made them loved. They are simply loved because of who they are.

They have this tradition on someone’s birthday where they go around the room and say things they love about that person. I have been there for a few of their family members’ birthdays. I am always amazed at how loved each of them is. As I sat there listening to the things they were saying, I finally understood that love isn’t a one way path.

There is no one thing you can do to deserve love. Each person is different and unique and has different things about them to love, but each person deserves love simply because they are. It is not the deeds that qualify a person for love, their simple being means that they are worthy of love. You just have to look for the part of them that you can love and then love them because of that.

I haven’t felt loved for a lot of my life. That wasn’t because I was not loved, it was because I didn’t understand love. I thought that anger meant hate. I thought that I could never be loved because I would mess it up. I felt love and affection at times, but other times, I felt unlovable. It seems strange, but I sometimes even thought that I was too unworthy to even deserve to be punished. When I did something wrong and didn’t get the treatment that one of my siblings received, I felt like I was so far gone that I wasn’t even worth correcting.

My friends don’t understand. They tell me they love me and wonder why I doubt it or why I seem to think that changes. I thought that was how love worked. I thought you loved someone until they did something to make you stop loving them. I was never sure what makes people stop loving you. So anytime I made a mistake or hurt someone in the smallest way, I worried that their love would be taken from me.

I don’t know how long this feeling will last. I don’t know if I have really internalized that love is simply given, not earned. I can’t say that I’m going to stop asking my friends if they still love me. I do know that I have been changed though. I know that I’m a little closer to understanding what love really means. Someday I hope to understand a little more. Someday I hope that I can know that I deserve to be loved, not hurt, and that I realize that love isn’t a reward; it’s a gift.