I don’t panic much anymore – life experience has taught me that it’s not much use. But I panicked this week.
Our little baby is being baptized soon. All our children have worn a little sea shell on their baptismal clothes – a shell that was used to baptize their oldest brother in the moments before he died.
That tiny shell is worth more to me than the entire world on a silver platter.
And I can’t find it.
7 years have passed since our last baptism and I have absolutely no idea where I put the shell. We never imagined we’d have another baby, and we’ve moved twice since then. It’s not in the places it should be, or logically even might be. I can’t even remember if I would have left it sewn to big brother’s vest, or snipped it off to store in the right place for safekeeping.
We have torn this house apart top to bottom trying to find it.
I keep LJ’s things in a chest made for us by a dear friend. It rests high on a shelf in my closet, and is our #1 “house is on fire” item to grab.
It is packed with treasures – things he wore, the brush we used for his hair, hospital cuffs that barely fit around my fingers. A celebratory cigar. Cards people sent, ribbons we wore, programs from his service, a song someone wrote. The lovey he rested on. The blankets we snuggled in. The tiniest clothes you’ve ever seen.
His clay footprint. A wisp of his hair.
I don’t open this box often because it’s too hard to unpack – in every way. I know what’s in there and that’s enough for me.
But as we are preparing for this baptism, I need to find this shell and that’s where it should be.
So I found myself on Mothers Day carefully sorting through all these precious things… with G peering wide-eyed over my shoulder for the first time.
Sometimes this story, this motherhood and grief experience, is too surreal to understand.
I forget how awe-inspiring LJ’s tiny things are. He weighed only 1 pound. The hat he wore fits snugly on a little lemon. No wonder G was captivated. His story is as natural and as integrated into our family as what we’re having for dinner, so her questions are always simple and straightforward, and so are our answers.
Yet as she wanted to touch and explore the treasures in LJ’s chest, I felt myself heave a wave of resistance against her. It was a new feeling in the grief wheel, one I haven’t recognized until now. I don’t think I realized how protective I am of LJ’s things.
Maybe it’s because he won’t ever have any more of them.
Our family members leave things at his niche and I always collect them. Even down to the wilted flower petals. I tuck them away in a vase in a cabinet. The bunny picks from his Easter lily went in there. So did the candle from his birthday cupcake and the bow from his Christmas poinsettia. These are all special to me.
But they’re not his things.
Perhaps if I knew where the shell was, I wouldn’t have been so touchy with G. I heard my voice rise and raise, and realized I was allowing my emotions to take over what should have been a sweet and tender moment showing my amazing daughter what was in the box.
Most days I have a good handle on this stuff, but yesterday wasn’t one of them.
I packed the box back up and paused the search. It was already past dinner time on Mothers Day and my head and heart and sinus cavity were all pounding. After a full day of church, brunch, a visit to LJ, family time, and this dogged hunt, I felt completely maxed out.
G went back upstairs to keep looking through closets for boxes we may have missed. Thank you GOD for making her so unflappable. She will survive in spite of me, no worse for the wear.
I laid down on the couch to pull myself back together and make peace with the idea that I might not ever find this shell. I give things away all the time, I love to do that, and if the shell was still sewn to the vest, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that I could have loaned that little suit to someone or even placed it into a donation box without thinking.
It’s just a thing.
But it’s his thing. It’s his last thing.
After a few minutes I went back to check one more packing box of shoes high in the closet.
The box was mislabeled.
It was full of LJ treasures. And at the very bottom of the box… was the shell. Still sewn snugly to the vest.
I was so relieved that we found it. So was G. She said, “Mommy, is it weird that I prayed that we would find it?” Not at all, sweet girl. No prayer is ever too small for God to care.
I curled up with Jack in my jammies, checked my brain at the door, and ate peanut butter out of the jar in front of the TV that night. I don’t do that often but some days there’s just not enough heart space left to unpack anything else.
So today I am grateful for a lovely Mothers Day spent loving the hearts in my care… yet feeling a little hung over. Stuffy-nosed, puffy-eyed, and slow-moving.
Grief is a wobbly wheel. At the top of the wheel is my lovely, high-functioning life. At the bottom of the wheel is, among other dysfunction, the panicky voice that came out at G.
When the grief wheel starts wobbling, sometimes it makes its full lumpy turn in 10 seconds or less. Sometimes it takes the entire month of October. There’s still no rhyme or reason for what starts the wheel in motion. And much to my dismay, in defiance of my 10 years of trying, there’s still no quick push to get it to turn faster.
(I have paid lot$ of therapists lot$ of money to learn that there really is no trick or instruction manual for this wheel. We really do have to just muddle through the motion, trusting God for the next best step in the dark.)
I like a good moral at the end of every story, but I don’t know that there is one here, and even if there were, my heart is too tired to understand it and my mind is too tired to try to put it into words.
It doesn’t mean I am any less joyful, or any less grateful for the life I am blessed to live.
It just means that this heart stuff is hard sometimes, and maybe we aren’t supposed to have all the answers. Not every wrench in the grief wheel fits onto a Pinterest-worthy graphic.
In the meantime, I’ll label that box correctly, tuck it back high on a shelf, take a good hot bath, and save the rest of my unpacking for another day. The wheel will eventually wobble its way around.
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Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have 4 children, LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and brand new baby Elisha.