Annesley Writer’s Forum published some of my writing today, about road tripping with two littles by myself, the croup, and a happy ending.
I didn’t have a plan for how we would tell Ezra about Sam. Sam came before Ezra. Ezra never met Sam. I didn’t feel like we needed to bring it up, necessarily. I wondered if it would come up when Ezra was older, maybe in the natural course of getting to know his parents better. Then during our last move, a photo of Mommy and Daddy holding Sam came out of a box, at the hands of a very curious redhead.
“Who is this baby?” he asked.
Ezra was delighted to learn that he had another brother, and he’s been asking questions ever since. He often asks about heaven, almost like it’s another town, maybe a few miles away. He imagines Sam plays with our dog, Banner, who died last year. Conversations with Ezra about Sam are always adorable.
We went to Sam’s grave a few months ago, and Ezra was leaping all over the place. Not typical graveside behavior, but very much how a boy behaves when he is 1) on a ranch and 2) with his brother. So it felt joyfully appropriate to me. “He’s not here, but his body is here,” we had told him beforehand. That was an acceptable explanation to him. We went on a nature walk.
“I like going to Sam’s grathe,” he said later. Grathe. He also says “brathe” instead of “brave.” Anyone else think your kid’s mispronunciations are wonderful?
So today after I picked Ezra up from Sunday School, he told me that they had learned about Sam. “My big brother is so big! He has loooong hair! And they chopped it off, and he knocked down the towers. Sam was so strong. My big brother was strong.”
“Oh you learned about Samson!”
“Yeah. Samson. My brother.”
I explained that two different people can have the same name, that Samson is not the same person as our Sam. He seemed a little disappointed, which was understandable–the idea of having a big brother who could knock down towers was pretty exciting.
Ezra is always piecing things together, whether information about Sam or any other life thing he’s exploring. So many things are encountered for the first time. After all, he’s only been here four years. His perspective is unhindered, perfectly fresh. It’s adorable to me, as his mother. Just adorable.
I think there’s so much about grief that leaves me with unanswered questions. I tend to bury my queries when they are beyond understanding, especially when I’m met with more questions than answers. For a child, the whole world is mysterious, a giant unanswered question, and so they approach life with more acceptance, willing to turn life’s mysteries over and over in their hand like a found treasure. Children approach their detective work with a humble audacity–a willingness to accept that so much is yet unknown to them, yet boldly unwilling to stop wondering about it.
Jesus calls us to be like them.
Fellow sojourner, may you resist the temptation to bury your queries of God, and may you walk in the God-given faith of a child. May you be given comfort and even joy as you turn over and over the treasure in your hand, the unanswered questions in your sorrow, the cross you were called to bear. Pray the same for me.
That bump from my last entry here got bigger and healthier and turned into another beautiful baby boy, late September. We named him Lionel, and recently scheduled his baptism. Trying to squeeze it in before Lent but still allow time for family to make plans to join us, we landed on Sunday, February 15. Three days later is February 18, when Samuel would have turned five years old. The days of the week land on the same dates this year as they did five years old. Sam died on Ash Wednesday. And here we are, five years later, baptizing another beautiful son.
Then last week I connected with a couple of newly grieving mothers. For one, a mommy who recently lost her baby, I ran a meal and some gifts–she is one of the moms in a group I connected with when I was pregnant with Ezra. I bundled up a bunch of sympathy cards from our little group, tied them with twine, and cried as I always do for moms new to this grief path. I always cry like that for them. It’s all anyone can do.
I feel like my grieving “scars” were pressed and made to ache by these events in a way. And then, this weekend, we finally picked up Sam’s permanent headstone. Finally. We designed it a few years ago, ordered it last year, and are just now picking it up. Life just kept going on and on and on, the stone kept taking the back burner, and I felt like a bad mom every time something kept us from placing the stone, like I was failing Sam. Battling mommy guilt over Ezra and Leo is a regular thing for me–and I do battle it, not accept it–but mommy guilt over a baby who has passed is gut-wrenching.
We sat down to discuss when we could get out to the property to actually lay the headstone, and realized there may need to be some maintenance done for his grave–a little fence built, maybe. I had this weird expectation that I would lay the stone and just be done with it–I’m not a stuff-all-the-feelings kind of person, yet I had this expectation–and I began feeling discouraged about all the work ahead.
I’m realizing this weekend that the saga of the headstone may have been something of my story, not some bad mommy failure but rather a thread Divinely woven into this grief part of my life. I realized that my hope and expectation to just get the stone DONE paralleled my expectations of grief. I just wanted to be DONE with it. A friend, also a bereaved mother, posted an article from the New York times, challenging psychology’s current model of grief. I’m familiar with this model as I studied it in college. I found myself, over the past five years, trying to squeeze my own grief into that denial/isolation>anger>bargaining>depression>acceptance timeline. Not realistic. Grief doesn’t fit. It’s not a thing we do and get DONE. It’s like a new appendage, which can be an asset in life or a tumor. It’s not a timeline.
I think in word pictures, so all along I’ve had this vision of myself grieving through a Valley and then eventually emerging. Several years ago, when my husband and I met, I was working at an adventure camp where I led all kinds of crazy mountain adventures–hiking, mountain-biking, cross-country skiing, etc. So my vision of grief was that of a familiar trail through a treacherous but beautiful Valley, from which I would eventually just be done. Turns out, this Valley is a place to live in joy and sorrow.
And really, it’s kind of lovely here when I’m not fighting to exit.
It’s Christmas time. Lovely and joyful. And painful sometimes because Sam is so absent. But so sweet.
My heart was so heavy this morning, to the point of feeling physically painful… Days like these are rare, and difficult. Yet they are comforting in a way because I’m forced to dwell on things that matter. There is a lot going on in my life, lots of comings and goings and changes, and then there is Christmas and my hilarious Ezra and my sweet husband and… just… life.
Letting grief break in this morning, praying for several mamas who are faced with decisions, waiting, or grieving, this song came on the radio. And it felt like a gift, such a comfort to my aching heart, so I thought I would share.
“Contemporary jazz pianist Paul Cardall was born April 24, 1973; suffering from a congenital heart defect, he was given only days to live but defied medical expectations, enduring a series of surgeries and illnesses throughout his childhood. Finding comfort in music, Cardall began piano lessons at age eight…”
Life is such a gift, even in its brevity and trouble. It is such a gift.
I usually have a pretty clear idea of what I’d like to say in a blog post when I begin to write. I really don’t have anything to say right now. I haven’t a clear idea of what I’d like to tell you. So it’s weird that I’m writing. But I feel like I might explode if I don’t write something.
I think I just want to be here, in this space, for a moment. If Sam’s grave were nearby, I think I would plan to go and visit him tomorrow afternoon. I think I need to make a plan to fly to see his grave very soon. Usually on days like this, I wear my resurrection necklace. His birthday is on the back. Samuel Evan. February 18, 2010.
These tears are so welcome. I feel like I’ve been trying to have a good cry for a week, and haven’t had the time.
Maybe it’s just that there are lots of changes happening and ahead. Maybe it’s just that life feels really full, and sometimes just plain busy, and I just want to make space to breathe for a minute, to realign and make peace with waiting to see my baby again. I’ve been having these flashbacks, thinking of people who were involved in Sam’s life, seeing their faces clearly for the first time in a couple of years, remembering little things. The other day, I opened my wallet, and out fell a movie ticket. Why did I save this? I had to think for a minute. Avatar… December 25, 2009… it was the movie we went to when we discovered that Samuel could hear. He would kick and startle during the loud parts. Steven sat with popcorn in one hand and his other hand on my belly, holding Sam with me.
I think I’m so worried about overshadowing Ezra that I have overshadowed Sam in my heart lately. I know that others have moved on, and that is natural, but it isn’t natural for me to ever really move on. Move forward, yes. Move on, no. Did you know that a mother carries bits of every one of her children’s DNA in her bloodstream till the day she dies? Through my veins courses blood with bits of triploid Sammy DNA. I literally carry him with me every where I go. Literally.
My story was so public, and, as a result, there were people who spoke into my life who, in an effort to help me “heal,” made me feel like I should not make space for Sam. It wasn’t any one person, and it wasn’t anything really intentional or evil that I feel like any of those people need to even know what it’s done. They didn’t know what they were doing. They’ve never walked in my shoes. How could they know what to say and what not to say? Really it’s little lies that I took in and allowed to fester. I own my grief. This is my song to sing. I need to slough off that deadness.
It was such a healing balm to read comments from other grieving parents on my last post. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath lately, and those comments gave me permission to breathe. I’ll get back to my busy life. And I’ll get back to my beautiful family, with me here on earth. I’ll get back to work and play and life. But for now..
This is me tending this plot, this memory of my firstborn. This is me laying an autumn wreath and watering his memory with my tears, in this moment I have by myself. This is me making room to breathe.