This is not a normal year. I think we are all craving light and happiness and joy a little more this year. So, even though I absolutely love Thanksgiving and feel that it is extremely important to express gratitude at this time, I am all for Christmas lights this year. Today we went to a friend’s house to drop off some puzzles for them. They unexpectedly invited us to eat dinner with their family. Afterwards, we drove around looking at Christmas lights and then watched Polar Express to end the night.
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.
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.
I lost my little nephew on Sunday morning. He was a perfectly healthy baby boy and it all happened so fast and was completely unexpected. The last few days have been a series of ups and downs. Some days are easier than others.
The world doesn’t really stop for grief though. I took Monday off of work (which wasn’t a big deal since I was just on call anyway), but I had classes to attend on Tuesday, the funeral services were on Wednesday, I was back at classes on Thursday, and then I went to work today. It has felt strange to be caught in the middle of the world standing still and everything moving way too fast.
Today was a hard day. Work was okay, but as the day wore on, I knew I needed something to be okay. I needed to get out and do something or see someone or anything to get out of my head. There is a balance between moving on with life and giving yourself time to grieve. I have been stuck the last few days in the reality of our situation. I live with my brother and his family so I felt like I had to be strong for them and help as much as I could because of how hard this has been for them, but in the process, I completely neglected myself and my own needs.
I need people. I need to see people all the time. I need to talk to people and spend time with them and even just be around people having fun. I usually go to activities on Wednesday nights, and I felt like I needed to go this Wednesday, but things were complicated and I didn’t feel like I could abandon my family to go have fun. Then on Thursday, I felt again like I needed human interaction, but I decided to forgo attending a scripture study night to do other things instead. Anyway, I have just been putting off doing things I enjoy because I felt like there were more important things.
Tonight though, I broke. I shattered. I was crying so much that I didn’t trust myself to get out of bed because I was afraid of what I might do if I did get up.
I feel like there is a strange dichotomy to grieving. You have to reconcile the feelings of wanting to be sad because something tragic occurred, and needing to be happy because life is still going on around you. It feels almost like a betrayal to be happy when you lose someone. Does that mean you don’t miss them as much as you should? Is it even okay to have fun this soon? I think that little Gabriel would want me to have fun. That’s what I have always thought when someone passes away- they would want you to be happy and to live and love and do all the things they would have wanted to do. When it happens to you though, it is more difficult to sort out the thoughts and come to this conclusion. I was made for joy, and no amount of tragedy or difficult circumstances should take that away from me.
So, yes, in the end, life does go on. But that is probably what makes it most beautiful. It is beautiful that we can move on with our lives, that we can laugh again, that we can have fun, that we can be ourselves. I am learning through this that it is okay to be both happy and sad. It is okay to find happiness in a sad situation and it is okay to be sad in a happy situation. It is okay to feel. And even though it is hard, life is meant to go on.
I think I feel too much. That is what autism is most like for me. Autism is feeling everything acutely all the time. I literally feel everything. I feel every object in a room. I feel sounds and smells and tastes. I feel words. I feel emotions. I can’t say I feel differently than you because I don’t know exactly how you feel. I have never been you. But I can say that I feel everything physically. And it is exhausting…
I was telling a friend today that I think I love too much. Love for me is overwhelming. It makes my whole body tingle. Love is a burst of energy that penetrates every fiber of my being. It feels like it literally changes my DNA so that I am now connected to a person in a way that they are made a part of me. I love hugs because it feels like the energy inside of me finds a place to belong. Like the love inside of me connects with the love inside of someone else, and for a moment, I feel whole.
Joy is like that too. Joy is like a spring inside of me. It makes me feel like every particle in me wants to jump up and down. This is why I flap and jump up and down and smile like crazy, because the joy in me has to have somewhere to go. When I am “flapping happy”, I feel like I am flying. It is like the joy inside of me has come out of my skin and when I jump or flap, I’m releasing that joy into the world. It feels like the joy springs from me and dances in the air, and when it lands, it becomes peaceful, like it is lying on the ground watching the clouds on a cool spring day.
Unfortunately, depression and darkness are also things I feel acutely. Depression is like millions of tiny weights hanging from each hair, each skin cell, weighing me down with an enormity that cannot be seen from outside. And if the weight wasn’t already enough, it feels like there is a black hole in my chest. Opposite to the feeling of joy wanting to come out of me, depression feels like it sucks everything into me. It is a constant sucking force that seems to suck all of the air and light out of a room, making it difficult to breathe and to see anything other than the darkness inside of me.
Fear, joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and every other emotion that ever lives inside of me all have their own physical feeling attached to them. Each one is so powerful and all-consuming that I can hardly do anything else because my body is overcome by the feeling of each emotion. I think that this is why I shut down sometimes, because constantly feeling everything wears me out. And after feeling so many strong emotions, sometimes it is simply painful. Pain for me is like an exploding of every emotion. It confuses me, and I don’t know what will come out. I feel like Cyclops from the X-men before he learns how to control his powers. Everything comes out and I don’t even see what I’m destroying until after it’s done.