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.

Best Friends

I was feeling lonely a few days ago because none of the things I was trying to do to spend time with people were working. I had invited people to a conference, movie night, game night, I even organized a committee meeting at church, but no one came to any of it. And I found myself in a lonely and vulnerable spot because I desperately need people, but I am terrible at figuring out how to spend time with them.

In my lowest moment of complete desperation, I got a message from someone thanking me for something I did for them. I broke down because I felt like I was doing everything I could, but I was still alone. And then, after a while, I felt the gentle reassurance that I was doing okay. I mean, I don’t have all the friends I want, and I wish I could spend more time with the friends I do have, but I have the friends I need.

When I was a kid, I prayed every day for a best friend, any friend. I prayed that someone would see me and like me and want to spend time with me. And I got some friends over the years. I only saw them at school or church or things like that, but it was something. And finally, at the age of 20, I got a friend that I could count on, that I felt like loved me, that I felt like wanted to be around me, and that I felt I wouldn’t ruin our friendship with my problems.

It was pretty amazing to feel loved, wanted, needed, important. For the first time since I was a little child, I felt whole. And then I became friends with the most wonderful person. And it was like every bad thing that ever happened to me was okay. I looked back at my life and saw hope in places I had previously seen pain. And it was life changing to feel safe with someone, to trust them with myself, to want to tell them everything. My best friend has been everything to me. She has had a healing impact on my life that I could not be more grateful for.

So, that night when I was feeling utterly alone, I remembered the little girl that just wanted one friend, and I thought, I have the most amazing friends I could ever ask for. I still get lonely. My best friends are farther away from me than I would like, but they still love me. I am still wanted, needed, loved, and safe with someone.

I heard about a school that was trying to ban best friends. They said that it was unfair to those who didn’t have a best friend. I grew up all through school with no best friends, with hardly any friends at all. I ate lunch alone and played alone, and when someone did talk to me, it was usually to get help with something. But I would go through that all again for a best friend. I don’t think you can truly ban best friends, but I would never want that for anyone anyway. As someone who knows what it is like to be jealous of other people’s friendships, I plead with you to never try to prevent a friendship. Teach inclusion, teach children that they do not have to only have one friend, teach children to make best friends with everyone, but don’t prevent that special bond with someone.

Having a best friend has changed my life. With each best friend I had, I became a little less broken, less lonely, less scared, more confident, more secure, more at peace. I think I will probably always have lonely moments. As an extrovert with autism, I simply do not have the capacity to create the friendships I want and participate in the amount of social activities I need to feel completely fulfilled, but I have the relationships I need. I have the friends I need to get through the lonely moments, and that is enough.

The Day I Stopped Hating Myself

I started realizing a little over two years ago just how much I hated myself. Prior to that I thought that I liked myself for the most part but just had some self esteem issues. After suggestions from some friends to make my new year’s goal to love and take care of myself, I realized just how hard this was for me. It was not long before I realized that I had a deep and persistent hatred of myself. I considered myself to be the worst, most worthless person on the earth.

I wasn’t sure what to do with this new knowledge. How do you learn how to love yourself? Where do you start? I decided to start with the people who loved me. If they saw something of worth in me, there had to be something I could love about myself. I wrote on my mirror every single kind thing I could find that someone had said about me. I started out with about 30 adjectives, but got to about 50 after showing friends what I was doing. It was hard to believe all these things about myself, but there was the proof in front of me, written proof that I knew someone thought about me at one point. That was the beginning of a turning point in my life, but there was still a lot of work to do.

A year later, I had grown so much. I was kinder to myself. I was more forgiving of myself. I was not so afraid of myself. But I still hated myself. I messaged a friend one night to ask her what she thought about me selling everything I owned and starting over. This friend is spontaneous and honest and I knew that she would be willing to entertain the thought of me getting rid of everything, but would also tell me if I was being ridiculous or overreacting. We got talking about why I wanted to do this and realized that at the heart of my struggles was an ingrained belief that I was a bad person. But the most interesting thing was that I believed I was a bad person because I could not stop myself from being a good person. I felt unworthy to do good things, but I could not destroy my innate desire to help others.

After realizing all that I believed about myself and working to discover what made me believe these thoughts, I made a breakthrough. I still remember the first time I did something kind for another person and didn’t hate myself for it. I came home happy. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t cry myself to sleep that night. I dropped off the little box full of stuff for a friend and felt proud of myself. It was the most amazing feeling ever to not feel like a failure for doing something good. That was the first night I didn’t feel like I still hated myself.

I still have days where I question my worth. I have days where I wonder why my friends stay friends with me. I still have times where I don’t like myself for something I have done. But I no longer have those nights where I just curl up on the floor and want to die because I tried to be myself. And every day of waking up not hating myself is a beautiful day.

Different in Happy Ways

If there is one thing that life has taught me more than almost anything else, it is that I am different. That fact has been drilled into me from teasing in elementary school to tutoring in high school to not fitting in at church. I have just always known that I am different. Other people don’t see things the way I do. They don’t think the way I do. I see shapes and patterns, connections and intersections, possibilities and additional realities, where other people seem to just see an object or a story.

It is not bad to be different, but it can be difficult. It can be difficult to communicate so much where other people seem to see so little. It can be difficult to express feelings and emotions when others don’t seem to have the same connections. I have struggled with feeling different from others, feeling out of place and awkward in the things I do.

The thing is that most of my differences are good. I see needs that other people miss and I respond in ways that others might not think of. I notice details others ignore and draw connections to things other people are not thinking about. But sometimes, I just feel out of place. I feel lost in a world that seems to be lost in itself.

I have never been very good at joining groups. I struggle to find ways to become included in things without specifically being invited. So I do things for people. I notice needs and I respond to them. I do everything I would want someone to do for me. And people appreciate it, but it doesn’t make me belong any more than I did before. I still don’t feel like I belong. I still don’t feel like I fit in. I still feel out of place.

In a general meeting for women that my church does, one of the speakers said that people are drawn to our church when we “are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.” As I have been struggling with feeling different lately, I have repeated this often to myself. I can be distinct and different in happy ways. It can be hard and lonely to be different, but maybe somehow, people are or will be drawn to me because of my differences.

The Cure for Autism

It is amazing to me how much things can change in a year. With everything that has happened this year, I feel like much more time has passed. I look back at who I was 10 years ago and laugh at my selfishness and childish thoughts. I wonder how anyone put up with my whining and shortsighted views. I look back 5 years ago and am amazed at how much I have grown since then. I look back at two years ago and can hardly believe the healing and help and hope that has come into my life since then.

Two years ago, I posted about how I wanted to experience friendship like the love I had for others. I wanted to learn to love better and to love myself. I had grown to be strong and intelligent, resilient to the trials life would bring, but I was haunted by loneliness. Loneliness was a familiar friend, and many nights were spent in the deepest despair of want for human interaction.

I am not lonely anymore. That is the most beautiful statement in the world. I do not feel lonely anymore. I never thought this was possible for me. For so many years, I longed for a single person to see me and want to be more than a situational friend. It wasn’t until college that I felt like I had friends outside of church or school or activities. At that time, I was still getting used to the idea of having friends, and I messed up more times than I care to relate. But a little over two years ago, I started to really feel wanted. I started to have people I could call friends. I started to believe in hope.

I feel so blessed. I have felt love beyond my capacity to comprehend. I feel wanted, needed, important, and safe- most of all, safe. Two years ago, I was terrified of everything I was doing. I was stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to people that I had no idea how to communicate with and doing things for others that scared me almost to death. Every day felt like walking around with my heart in my hands, hoping that it wouldn’t get crushed along the way.

But those sleepless nights and silent tears and debilitating anxiety led to the most wonderful friends a person could imagine. All my loneliness, all my pain and suffering, seem like nothing now compared to the love and protection I feel. I feel overflowing gratitude for my friends and for all that I have learned. I feel healed, whole, loved.

I can text someone when I want to talk. I can say hello to someone I recognize when I see them in a store or on the street. I can ask for help. I can tell people how I feel without feeling awkward or out of place. I can hug people or let someone give me a massage. I can relax. I can be myself.

No one knows how far I have come, but it is impossible for anyone to miss the progress I have made. Everyone who knew me before can see how I have changed. We talk about milestones in autism- being able to talk, looking someone in the eye, communicating a need, but the most important milestones are the ones that make you want to be you.

I learned how to do everything I was supposed to do at an early age. I analyzed people to the point where I knew how to appear normal. No one would guess that I have autism, unless it was one of those rare moments when I made a mistake. But despite my capacity to fit in, I could never find the capability to belong.

My milestones are hope, love, and belonging. If there is a “cure” for autism, this is it- hope, love, and belonging. All I ever wanted was to feel like I have a place in this world. I wanted to feel like I belong, that I am wanted here. I wanted to feel like autism wasn’t a wall that kept out love. You want to find the cure for autism? This is it- love, accept, embrace, help. After that, everything else will just fall into place.

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