Well, we made it. Made it through October, I mean. I know the month’s not officially over yet, but we navigated 3 birthdays, including our late son’s, our toddler’s, and the birth of our newborn daughter. We walked through the weeks leading up to the day our marriage fell completely apart, and the anniversary of our son’s passing was the cherry on top of the whole weird sundae.
I’m 100% spent.
Because we share it all fairly openly, I’m sure many people probably look at what we navigate in October and roll their eyes to the tune of, “if it bothers you so much, why do you focus on it?” or “good Lord, just get OVER it already, we’re all sick of hearing about it.”
If I had a nickel for every time I thought those things to my own self, they would have long-ago funded all the therapy we needed to grow into the people we are by this moment in time – a couple who works on their emotional wellness every day and loves fiercely and relentlessly even in the face of a total $&!% hand dealt to them over the course of 31 earth-days.
I’ve tried skating over the surface of October a handful of times, in attempts to keep it light and breezy, and it never, ever works. I end up breaking down from the simple yet unbearable weight of lying to myself and everyone else that “I’m fine” and “I’m handling it pretty well this year.”
Humble admission: I don’t handle any of it well, any year.
But I do markedly better when I look it all fully in the face, and deal with my stuff before it stubbornly and unyieldingly deals with me. This doesn’t mean I wallow in misery or allow myself to slip into bad emotional habits – although it’s awfully tempting to bake and eat cupcakes until I explode. Instead, I acknowledge the feelings and memories that bubble up, hold tight to what serves me, and gently release the rest into the wind with a prayer for forgiveness and mercy and strength for today. And sometimes I break a few plates.
We cap off our October by taking our crew to the Zoo on the 26th, the day our son died, where we can see his NICU pod (or used to be able to, before the construction) from the very back of the park in the giraffe exhibit. On LJ Day, the answer is always YES. Every member of our family gets to select the things they want to do. We hear from so many people who love us but I only ever have the energy to respond to a text, at the most. It takes all I have to just make it through the day.
LJ Day is a special family ritual and I don’t ever regret all it takes to pull it off.
Yet when I wake up on the 27th, I always feel a little hung over. Sometimes it’s the awful kind of hangover – puffy eyes, empty tank, feeling sorry for myself under a weighted blanket of shame and regret and bad flashbulb memories.
But as time passes, more often I feel a sweeter kind of drain. As I told a friend last night, my heart is full and mostly-good-exhausted. Grateful for all I have, which is momentarily – this time around – squeezing out some of the anger for what I’ve lost by my own hands or by divine allowance. SUPER IMPORTANT: Gratitude is not a magical fix-it for grief, so don’t let a single person ever try to sell you on that crock. Grief and anger and gratitude and faith and fear and love can all live in the same heart *at the same time* and the better we practice navigating peace treaties with them all, the healthier we become.
So this morning my one-week-postpartum body is screaming for mercy and my mind and heart are on fumes. I treated myself to an extra cup of coffee and a yummy breakfast, gifted my toddler a Paw Patrol marathon, took a nap with my newborn on my chest, and then pulled out my laptop for the first time in… 27 days.
Because somehow it all makes more sense out of my head and on “paper.” Just as much for my own self as for anyone else who happens to stumble upon this strange little corner of the internet. For some unknowable reason, part of my weird little life’s work is shining even the dimmest light on the real path of grief and the pursuit of abundant living.
And make no mistake: the pursuit of abundant living has literally nothing to do with chasing down happiness. It has everything to do with cultivating fullness of heart. What do I do with the pain and love I feel all at once? What do I do with the trauma of what’s happened in my life, the regret of the past, the shame that could threaten the future, and the waves of grief that crash up on my shore whether I’m prepared to brace myself against them or not?
What do I do with this motley crew of emotions – deny them space, or invite them in?
October goes better when I open the door to the whole rowdy bunch, as much as I’d rather turn out the lights and hide in the basement until they all go away. If they mind their manners, they get to stay. If they misbehave, they’re promptly escorted out. And shame and regret can just sit their wretched rumps outside on the sidewalk because they’ve lost their privileges on my property forever.
We don’t get to choose what happens to us. But we do get to choose what we do with it.
I want to LIVE. Whatever magnificent, ordinary work I still have yet to do here is important enough that I woke up with breath in my lungs today. And work that important can’t be done well with anything less than love. Staying choked off by fear, insecurity, bitterness, anger, or pain only limits what God can do with the already-wonky version of me he has to work with.
I miss my little boy so much. I wonder what he’d be like now, and if he’s proud of who I am in his absence. I have more questions for God than I can count.
But I’m too tired today to think about it anymore. Thankfully there’s no rush on learning, understanding, growth, grief, or love. It’ll all come in its own right time.
Here’s to the going-forward: never easy; always worth the work.
HP, J <3