This is a big week in our house. Marriage stuff (ouchy stuff) and the anniversary of LJ’s death are JUST HARD and even though in the grand scheme of things we’re great, some days we’re just not okay.
I’ll lightheartedly say with mild humor that grief is pushing me to overcaffeinating and overeating and overthinking and overworrying and overobsessing. I find myself undersleeping, underbreathing, underforgiving, and under pressure.
Even when the humor and the rhyme and rhythm fall away, I can candidly admit that these anniversaries are supremely heartbreaking.
October is when our son was born and died, and it’s when our marriage fell apart. (Well, October is when our marriage broke altogether. It had been in steady decay long before then.)
So we have lots of scary, tender, upsetting, painful, and indelible memories crammed into one tiny month that send our emotional and grief wheels turning.
How am I doing? (Not okay is okay)
On any given day, both as a couple and as individuals, Jack and I are anywhere from “present and grateful” to “I really wish you wouldn’t have asked.” 10 years have passed since LJ died, and 3 years have passed since our near-divorce, and every year I think it’s going to get easier. Maybe someday it will. Some things are improved, like our patience with each other and our healthy (healthier) communication skills. Some things are still as yucky as they were the first time around, like recalling the irreversible events that led up to both traumas. I hope someday those memories and flashbacks won’t feel quite so painful. Time doesn’t heal wounds this deep, but it does blur their harsh lines a little.
The grief monster (all tricks, no treats)
What I’ve learned is that the grief monster costumes up differently every year. Sometimes he comes in a sad suit, and sometimes an angry one, and sometimes he wears an invisibility cloak to hit me over the head when I’m not expecting the blow. That’s his favorite charade, I think. He can hide different weapons under there too, like guilt and shame and regret and other toxic thoughts he whispers into my ear when I’m alone with myself in the quiet.
I wish I could say that our marriage communication is so sublime (it isn’t) that we don’t get awkward and uncomfortable around these painful emotions and memories (we do).
No matter how much you work on your marriage, or on grief recovery, there will always be little cracks in the armor where the enemy tries to get through. In fact, the more diligently you work on your marriage, the more intently he tries to get through.
If the enemy can’t wreck your family, and if he can’t wreck your marriage, he’ll try to wreck YOU.
And the old adage is true: when it rains, it pours. Lots of little old ghosts have come to call this month, in the form of written communication and live conversations. Each knock was an invitation to engage; an opportunity to step inside a time machine right back into the past.
NO GOOD WOULD COME FROM THIS.
The past is not really in the past if it’s bothering your present
A well-intending counselor sent my blood pressure to Jupiter once by saying “put the past in the rearview mirror and never look back.” I thought that was quite possibly the dumbest and most ignorant thing you could possibly do. Our cars have a rearview mirror for a reason. It’s to see what’s behind us so we don’t get in a wreck.
But the passing of time has given me a fresher perspective. I think this advice is right, but needs a qualifier to be fully effective: Put the past in the rearview mirror, once you have properly reckoned with it, and never look back. Resolve what you can. Reconcile what you can. Forgive whomever and whenever and however you can. And then, and only then, can you put the pain of the past in the rearview mirror and not feel tempted to look back (or God forbid, turn back around and drive back towards it). Those little old ghosts will tap your shoulder persistently until you finally agree to address them. It’s healthy to reckon with them intentionally and on your own terms. It becomes unhealthy when they push you into a corner, because at that point you’ll react with anxiety and poor decisions rather than a clear mind and a purposeful heart.
As far as “dealing with the past” goes, I promised myself this year that I would absolutely not, under any circumstances, say I am doing okay if I am, in fact, not okay at all. It is my gift to myself to honor where I am, how I’m feeling, and the true pace at which I’m navigating grief at ten (and three) years.
I promised myself to breathe through the hard conversations and the painful moments. And I promised myself to NEVER GO BACK into the cave of shame and self-destruction. I have sought and requested and received forgiveness and redemption. Both from my Maker and from my husband. So there is no reason to continually put myself back into that hole of despair and self-deprication. Grief is hard enough as it is without cutting off your own oxygen too.
So we’re doing it messy over here, lots of eggshells to walk around and plates to break.
How we “anniversary”
Friday is a tough day, and so is Saturday (Zoo Day, although Zoo Day is more sweet than bitter by now). Both kids have end-of-season ball tourneys both days, so I think we’re stressing about that scheduling monkey-wrench more than we’re giving ourselves credit for. Date night and zoo plans are fluid until we see how games shake out.
In the meantime, we’re trying to stay in the pale blue okay part of the chart, giving each other lots of grace and patience when we’re sitting deep in the black not-okay part of the chart instead, and taking one blessed day at a time. I know each time we walk this October road together we come out stronger. Someday I will hopefully look back on this aspect of “becoming” in my life and feel grateful I took the time to work through every raw step.
Praying for you, wherever you are on your own okay-not-okay chart, and thanking God that He gives us infinite chances to try again.
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