I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while. After all of the craziness of working on the house, and finally coming to a point where there's not much more to do, I kind of crashed. I have been so exhausted. So, I've not been doing too much these days other than laying low and relaxing.
I've been thinking a lot about grief. The news of Steven Curtis Chapman's loss of his daughter Maria last week has hit hard. (For those of you who don't know, Steven is a Christian singer who has three grown children and three little girls that they adopted from China. Steven and his wife have a foundation that helps families adopt children from China. Their family is close to our hearts because, not only do we love his music, we have a niece from China and very close friends with a daughter from China. Just a few days ago, one of Steven's sons accidentally ran over the youngest girl in the driveway of their home.) Whenever I hear of another family loosing a child, it's as if the "club" has just gotten a new member. But it's a club that no one wants to join! No-one wants it, and no-one wants to see it happen to someone else. When someone loses a child, those of us who have gone before remember what it was like for us in the beginning days. And we know what road the new ones will go down.
I've been thinking about how to mesh the ideas of grief and faith. I am aware of the fact that I've written very little about God in these past 5 months. I have not lost faith - not even a little bit. The whole time that Ellie was being treated for cancer, God constantly spoke words of encouragement to my heart. It was such a time of stretching and growing and being encouraged by the promises of God. It was a time of drawing close to God and relying on His strength because I had none of my own. Now that Ellie is gone, it is a time of just resting close to the heart of God. I am constantly reminded of Larry Brown's words at the memorial services about trusting in the character of God. Right now, God feels very close, but He is not speaking much. It's like how I dealt with Ellie. I taught her what to do, how to be - I encouraged her in every way that I knew how. But when the pain was at it's worst, all I could do was hold her and stroke her... remind her to breathe... and say "I'm sorry." I am so sorry that you have to go through this - so sorry for the pain. I wish that I could take it away, but all I can do is hold you. I love you. That is where I stand with God right now. There are no lessons, not really even any "encouragements" so to speak. Just His arms and reminders of His love. It is enough. It is all that I can handle right now - being held and remembering to breathe.
So how does the day to day grief play out? Much differently for each of us.
Ethan will seem mostly o.k., playing and having fun, and then kind of unravel at the seams. Loretta has had some good talks with him and he has expressed that he wishes that he had died instead of Ellie. He misses her so much. When he and John went to get their hair cut, Ethan decided to get his shaved off - and John joined him. I think that it made Ethan feel closer to Ellie somehow. Ethan also pretends to be an animal when he's in a situation that makes him nervous. He also gets angry over little things sometimes. But, thankfully, at home he's a good talker and very open about his feelings. I would so much rather know what he's thinking, even if it's unpleasant, than let it stay buried in his heart.
John faithfully goes to work and faces the host of seemingly "normal" people, going about their "normal" lives. He often struggles with the feeling that he's going through the motions - talking and laughing - while he's crying on the inside. He's watched co-workers give tours to their wife and daughter, or be met after work at the door by happy little girls... Those are the days that really gut-punch him. So he will come home and look at hundreds of pictures of Ellie, listen to her favorite music, and cry. John's days off tend to re-charge him. He loves hiking with Ethan, watching movies with me, working in the yard... The home times seem to be the balm to his wounds.
I tend to be pretty up and down. When I get lost in the decorating and art projects, I tend to feel the happiest - the most normal. But when I'm not doing those things, I don't seem to know who I am anymore. It's strange. The one thing that I used to be completely solid on was exactly who I was. I don't know that I've ever gone through an "identity crisis" of these proportions. Most of the time I just feel uncertain. I don't know what to wear, what to do, what to say... I simply don't know. It's a big blank. Being creative is about the only constant, but I even struggle with that sometimes. I was trying to paint the other day, and found myself praying and begging God to help me know how to paint. I just couldn't do it - I didn't know what to do. That seems to be a recurring theme for me. It reminds me of something that happened with Ellie when we were in the hospital in Florida. She was nauseous from the chemo, and we had to give her an oral antibiotic. She had to take it, so so we worked with her, begged her, threatened her, encouraged her... Nothing was working. It had been hours of torture for all three of us. I will never forget the moment when she was sitting on the toilet. She started sobbing and put her head down in her hands and just kept saying "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do..." I think that our hearts broke into a thousand pieces at that point. But that's how I feel. I don't know what to do. I don't know who I am. I don't know how to make it better. I knew that I would never be the same person that I used to be, but I just didn't expect to have the old me replaced with a question mark.
I've also taken to hearing Ellie in my head. I've gone through periods of numbness, and then phases of severe pain over memories and pictures. Now I've taken to hearing her voice and seeing her expressions with such clarity. Sometimes it hurts, and other times it's almost comforting. Something will happen, and I'll hear Ellie's dry little sarcastic comeback in my head. It cracks me up sometimes. Other times I will see something that she would so appreciate and her reaction to it will play out in my head. Mostly I like it. But it just breaks my heart that I can't touch her. That's the part that I miss the most - the feel of her. It's the part of her that no pictures, videos, memories or thoughts of her can reach.
So... that's where we're at. It's not pretty. But it's not as bad as it's been. I guess that's the part of grief that I do have figured out - it's a process. Ever changing. Very individual. And there's no way out except through. I'm sorry, I don't want to go through. I want one of those convenient little exits like they have hidden throughout Ikea. But there aren't any exits out of this chaos. Still... there are the loving arms of my Father, God. And just now I heard His "I love you." It came in the form of a very energetic hug from a small cheetah named Duma.