This past week I have felt more “normal” than usual. This must mean some healing has come. It feels a bit like the sun has broken through the clouds allowing some warmth to my soul. Perhaps these periods of relief are meant to offer reminders of hope during the times of deep sorrow that will surely revisit me again and again, especially as the year anniversary of my child’s death approaches.
I went to a funeral for a boy who had lost hope and given up on life last week. I was encouraged to hear he knew Jesus and knew the love of family and friends. I am sure he didn’t mean to cause the deep hurt and suffering I know his parents will have the burden of carrying for the rest of their lives. Children aren’t quite aware of the permanency of death. He mistakenly thought he’d be helping everyone by removing himself from this world. As I looked for a sympathy card for the parents, it was difficult to find one that I didn’t find offensive, trite, or minimized their loss. It’s not really helpful to hear that your child is a star shining brightly in the sky, or heaven needed another angel. I wondered if there was a section for loss by suicide; there was not. As Montana has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, I think it would be appropriate. Why not bring it to light, admit it’s a huge problem that needs more attention? Making it taboo, shameful and secretive does not help those who are suffering, nor their families who must live in the wreckage. An amazing young pastor led the service. At one point, he addressed the children during the funeral, encouraging them to not keep their pain hidden inside. Talking about your scary feelings openly with others brings healing; holding onto them in secret can cause them to grow until they become unmanageable.
After Fiona died, there have been moments I have found myself in the same place emotionally as this dear boy who is now with Jesus. Losing a child causes indescribable pain that is physical as well as emotional. Grief is a constant, daily battle that continues relentlessly for days upon weeks upon months. It’s like the agonizing, terrifying feeling you get watching a horror movie, but it doesn’t really let up. I’ve had moments where I thought it’d be easier to escape this life than deal with the pain, trauma and visceral missing of my child. But I always knew suicide wasn’t a solution; it’s a lie of Satan who wants to further destroy and steal our hope. I could never cause my parents more suffering than they have already experienced in losing a cherished granddaughter; I’d never want them to also experience the loss of a child. And of course my surviving children tether me to this world. My 6 year old clinging to me for dear life as I leave her at school, or my teenager’s kind words, “thanks mom for spending time with me today” are bittersweet moments that remind me how much I am still needed here, and that I have a purpose to fulfill yet in this life.
I knew that after the scary, lonely, dark week between Fiona’s birthday and New Year’s I had to find more support in my grief. So we started going to Grief Share which has helped. I also started to exercise more by going to classes at my gym in addition to running either alone or with friends. My counselor said that exercise is 80% as effective as anti-depressants. I have the support of loving friends and family and a job in which I am surrounded by pastors and Christians who are probably praying for us often. I get a free sermon every week from the youth pastor as I take notes to type up the bulletin for youth group. Being seeped in the word of God has been essential to me in grief. Seeing a Christian counselor has also helped, although it’s painful to go and the progress is so slow. Spending time with other parents who have lost a child and now live fulfilling lives has provided living examples of hope for me. The fact is that grieving parents need a tremendous amount of ongoing support and prayers. And we often have to reach out for that support as people may be unaware of the depths of our pain. A broken heart can only be put back together by the Maker. But we are called to be the hands and feet of God and support one another in this journey of life.
While I continue to grieve Fiona’s death, some healing has come, and I must have made some progress. I can do many of the things I used to do, albeit to a much lesser degree. I am still very fragile, wounded, and in many ways disabled by grief. I can’t multi-task as I used to, I forget things, I startle easily, have bouts of upset stomach, sleepless nights on occasion, social anxiety, and an overall lack of enjoyment of life. I’ve found I must take time to read the Bible way more often than I used to; it is my lifeline of hope. I read it expecting to hear directly from God. His Word is definitely a lamp to my feet. I also have to take it easy, rest when I need to, exercise daily, and treat myself as if I’m in intensive care. It helps to schedule my week with manageable tasks, trips to the gym, visits with supportive friends, and activities with my family. Of course everything must be written down or it will be forgotten. I often wonder if I am keeping too busy to escape the pain and distract myself. It’s not easy to grieve the “right way”, or to know if there is a right way at all. My broken heart continues to very slowly heal.
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”, says Hebrews 6:19. I do have hope that I will see Fiona again someday, and that she is safe with Jesus. This hope I have does not mean the pain and suffering I experience in grief is gone; it will continue to some degree for the rest of my time on earth. The scars left by her death will be with me forever; they point me to heaven, and remind me that this earth is not my home. Some days the grief comes with such severity that all I can do is lie helplessly in the boat, and let the wind and storm sweep over me while He anchors my soul to His.
(To find out more about how Jesus is our anchor of hope, read Pastor Levi Lusko’s book, Through the Eyes of a Lion.)