If no Grief, then no Joy?

>> Thursday, April 16, 2009

In this rare moment of quiet, I am sitting here trying to think. While I am a pretty good multi-tasker, I am not that good at deep thinking or processing emotion in the midst of the chaos that normally ensues around here. I need these moments, these calm and peaceful moments, to think and be introspective and sort through the emotional jumble that is inside my head and heart.
This is the beginning of the hardest week of my year. And this year seems particularly hard. It is year #5 and it feels bigger, harder. A milestone.
In the past, I have struggled with feeling like I have to grieve as on-lookers would expect me to grieve. Appropriately emotional and yet able to keep it together and look at "the bright side." I am trying to let go of that and just be what I need to be, grieve how I need to grieve.
I recently had a conversation with someone I deeply love (and if you are reading this, know that I do deeply love you.) She asked me about our plans for remembering Micah this year. We have a couple things in the works and she wanted to know the status. During the conversation, I broke down, trying to open up to her and share my true self, I didn't hold back the tears. I could have. But I decided to let her see what I was truly feeling.
"I am having a bit of a hard time this year," I told her. "This year feels big, like it was so long ago but is still so raw. It just seems so unfixable. This hole I feel, it is so unfixable."

Instead of simply saying she missed him too or some other empathetic offering, she began to tell me how hard it has been to watch me grieve Micah- how she hoped that someday I would be able to "just remember" and not have it be such "raw grief." She went on to talk about how she often thinks about two babies that she lost to miscarriage and wonders if they had lived would she have had her youngest girl. "Would you not have had Lucas and Caden and known that joy had Micah lived?"
Now, to her credit, she is in NO WAY trying to say that having Lucas and Caden makes the loss of Micah any less significant or tragic. Her point, I think, was simply that moving on with my life may mean focusing more on the joy I have with my two boys than on the grief I have over losing one. And she is probably right. Probably.

I wrote recently about feeling angry that God did not answer my prayers and heal Micah. Family and friends and even some random people in bloggy-land have e-mailed me with concern that I am still so "angry" and that I am not focusing on the joy that God has given me. I don't think that is the whole picture. You are all right, that keeping my eye on my boys and the blessings they are to me is honoring Micah and his memory. Enjoying life and staying positive is the way to keep the grief from swallowing me whole. But, I truthfully don't know what to do with this premise that I am missing out on the experience of full joy by focusing too much on the experience of real grief. I have both. I hold both. And there are moments when one or the other mostly shuts the other out. But never completely. That is the nature of this grief, and this joy.
And maybe that premise is true to some extent. Maybe I will never know what it is like to have untainted joy. If Micah had lived, if that fateful ultrasound had been "normal" and uneventful,... What would my maternal joy feel like then? How many children would I have? How much joy would I know if I had never known grief?
I don't like to ask the question "would Lucas and Caden exist if Micah had lived?" It feels like having to choose between my three boys. God is bigger than that, to me. He has known from the inception of this world that someday I would lose my first son and then be blessed with two more. I don't have to figure that out. And I would never be able to.

This kind of goes both ways. My grief may taint my joy at times. But doesn't it also make it more rich? The depth to which I am grateful for my boys is deeper because I know the pain of losing one. I love them differently having lost than if I had never known this grief. I am not saying I love my kids any more than a mother who has not grieved. I just love them differently, with a bigger sense of appreciation and gratitude. And even a little bit of fear thrown in there since I know that my boys are a gift that I am not in complete control over. God holds those reins.

But the question still remains- If I had never known this grief, would I know this joy? What would it mean to know joy if I had never known grief? Would I experience joy more deeply without grief or does the grief make the joy more full?

And more fundamental... are grief and joy even really opposites or... What is the opposite of grief? One emotion certainly changes the experience of the other. But in what ways, I am not sure I really know. I thought by now I would know more. It is, after all, year 5. And yet, it is only year 5.
One thing I do know- I certainly know grief. Raw, intense, overwhelming, unfixable grief. But I also know joy. Vibrant, consuming, warms-you-from-the-inside joy. My grief is part of me. And maybe I am afraid to let it go for fear of what that would mean. But those who know me would hopefully also say that my joy is part of me too. My boys are truly the light of my life and I cherish my moments and my life with them.

Here I sit. Holding both the grief and the joy. This week will be a strange mix of both. Making time to grieve but also being with my boys and living life. It is like rain when the sun is shining, or standing on the beach in the midst of a storm. Grieving Micah, but also joy. Joy that he was here for even those three days. Joy that I have Lucas and Caden and can teach them about their brother. Grief and Joy. Together in my soul. Probably forever. But if not, at least for now. And I am o.k. with that.

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Suki April 19, 2009 at 9:49 AM  

After Mom died, it took around ten years for me to stop looking back at that and start looking forward. As write this now, I realize I need a moment to recall the day she died, or how long she's been gone. But that's only happened over this past year.
What I finally realized nearly eleven years into the bargain was that I was(am?) scared of facing life without this grief. I have been so used to looking back, that looking forward is something new, something scary. That all-consuming grief was also, in a way, my comfort, my excuse.. my everything.
It's been barely a few months since I started looking forward instead of back.. and in so many ways it's harder and so much more rewarding than life used to be.
I felt the turning-point was when I realized I'm happy being who I am now, and Mom's death is just a part of what made me that way. Yes I miss her, I miss having steady adult guidance in my life, but I also realize the wealth of things I can think, feel, understand and do because I lost her.

I hear you on not knowing how to grieve. I don't think I do, yet. Writing this is, for me, a part of resolving my own residual pain. But I know it's going to get better. Thinking of "what if"s will only keep me bogged down in the past longer, and that's what I want to avoid at all costs.

Just Me April 19, 2009 at 9:52 AM  

I have no way to say anything that would in anyway 'fix' this. You know what I have been through in terms of loss and grief.

I do not think that especially on anniversaries or other meaningful days that just remembering is a reasonable expectation at least not so soon.

5 years in context of our children's lives is a long time. But in the context of our lives not so long.

grieve how you need to. acute grief is completely normal (not to say to make anything better just maybe to make you feel a little less odd)

Please know that I am a phone call away...and heck if you need a change of scene you know where the key is.

Kim Moldofsky April 19, 2009 at 5:05 PM  

This was a beautiful, honest, heartfelt and brave post.

Grief is a deeply personal experience. No one can tell you how to do it; there is no one proper way to grieve.

Your love for all of your boys comes through on this blog. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts at this difficult time.

TwoSquareMeals April 19, 2009 at 8:05 PM  

I love you, friend, and am praying for you especially this week.

I think you are touching on something so true in this post, something that is at the heart of the Gospel. There is suffering and joy in life, and often one has to walk through some really hard suffering to experience the full depth of joy. That must be one of the lessons we learn at the cross.

I know that I would give anything to have my daddy back, and the grief of losing a parent is not nearly as deep as that of losing a child...at least I don't think what I went through was as difficult as the journey you have had to walk these five years. I don't know. But I do know that there are some areas of life that are more real and true and joyful, including my relationships with my family, than they would be if we hadn't been through my dad's illness and death.

Mostly I just now that I am ready for the promise of Easter to be fulfilled. Then we get the fullness of joy with the promise of no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Then all of these horrible things that we have to go through now will be made beautiful, and all six of our boys will get to hang out together.

I love you and wish we could be up there this week.

Atwood-Family of 4 April 20, 2009 at 7:15 AM  

One thing that has helped me get through times of grief-that seem unfair, wondering why God allowed it, is the story of Lazurus. When Jesus weeps, it spoke to me and reminded me that in those times of pain, our Lord is crying with us-so sorry that we have to go through the pain, yet having a plan and knowing it is the best course of action. And still, He is hurt that we are hurt. That has been a great comfort to me. I hope you can find some comfort in it too.

Heather @ Not a DIY Life April 20, 2009 at 2:38 PM  

Dear Farrah, I am praying for you this week. No words that I offer will be adequate, but I know that the comfort that comes from the Holy Spirit is exactly, precisely what you need. He will hold you in the midst of the joy and grief.

tiff April 21, 2009 at 6:16 AM  

hi, I found you through Heather's blog.
Five years ago, i had a son, who died at five days of age and I have to say I echo everything you write. Five years has been incredibly hard for me, harder than all but the first year. What's more is that I feel as though I have not been able to talk about it as much, the expectation that I will be over it overshadows everything.

I have twins, who are three, almost four. They came quickly after my son and I am often reminded that they may not be here, if William was. It makes me feel cranky. Why say that? Why do that to a grieving mother. I love Ivy and Noah more than life itself, they are in no way a replacement to William and I could never ever choose between them. I wish I had all of them.

I am so sorry that your sweet little guy isn't here and I feel for you. Grief doesn't just go away.

melanie April 21, 2009 at 1:42 PM  

i am sorry that people have been telling you what your grief should be like. i don't think that we can prescribe grief or joy. it seems like you can't make yourself feel one way or another. i wish people would just walk alongside of you instead of telling you how to feel. i'm sorry about that...

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