Tag Archives: mourning with those that mourn

The Grief Linebacker

Jack Lambert

He hits me blindside, like an unprotected quarterback.  Pinned to the floor by a 400-lb wall of angry flesh, I am cracked, broken, concussed.  Everything was going so well.  The day was progressing normally; I was functional, productive even.  As a final insult, he gives me one more push as he arises, sauntering off into the mist while lay there, awash in tears, my chest crushed from sobbing, my head reeling.  It takes me a day to recover.

In her book, “On Loss and Loving Onward,” Melissa Dalton-Bradford describes her Grief Beast:

“The Grief Beast is enormous – a hybrid of Jabba the Hutt, Sasquatch, and Grendel.  His head scratches any twenty-foot ceiling, and he doesn’t speak; he transudes.  He is warted and hairy and lumpy – a shaggy, slate-khaki thing with hair balls and sodden patches of a matted, grimy pelt from sitting for long stretches in pools of tears and mucus.”

Melissa is a dear friend of many years, and I can see her Grief Beast vividly.  As she has shared her experiences with me, and as we have wept together, I have imagined her with this “blubbery, slavering mass” following her around everywhere she goes.  I see her lying on the cold tile of her bathroom floor as he sits there next to her, a “hulking, stinking, unwelcome sidekick.”  In the years before Ethan passed, I knew his death was coming – his health was fragile and deteriorated year by year, and  I mourned this horrifying fact together with my dear friend.  She, mourning the loss of her beautiful son, Parker.  I, mourning the child that never was, that never would be, whom I would inevitably lose.  She, dragging around her Grief Beast, becoming accustomed to its presence while my Grief Linebacker stayed on the sidelines, waiting patiently to be called up by the coach.

And now, nearly six months after Ethan’s passing, my Grief Linebacker hits with semi-regularity.  Some days, he comes out of nowhere, but others, I see him coming, barreling down the field, gaining speed and momentum.  On the seventh of every month, the anniversary of Ethan’s death, I stand at midfield, my feet planted, my body relaxed and waiting for the hit.  I look him in the face, see the beads of sweat on his brow, smell the foul odor of pain and loss emanating from his hulking frame, and feel his powerful arms in a vise grip around my chest as we hit the turf together and I am crushed under his weight.  I lay there on my back, gasping, tears flowing into my ears, waiting for him to retreat to his regular position on the field so that I can roll over into a fetal position, a pulpy mass of mucus, tears, and pain.

The other day, I went to the science center with my two sons.  As we entered one of the exhibit areas, I spotted a woman sitting next to a little boy with spastic cerebral palsy in a wheelchair.  I smiled at her, and she smiled back, looking away.  Knowing all too well the smiles of well-meaning strangers as I have sat with my similarly disabled child in his wheelchair, I have used the same deflection technique.  Acknowledge, look away, engage in something else to avoid uncomfortable conversation.  Undaunted, I bravely walked up to her and said, “That’s a great wheelchair!  Is it a Quickie?  My son had a Quickie (brand) wheelchair.”  Instantly her face relaxed and she smiled, realizing that I spoke her language.  We chatted a bit about her grandson as I knelt down next to the wheelchair and smiled at him.  The grandmother was in town with this sweet boy and his two siblings while their parents were away on business.  An indoor activity away from the blistering Florida heat and humidity was the perfect way to pass the afternoon.  “What is your name, sweetheart?” I said to the little boy.

“Ethan,” his grandmother responded.

This time, the Grief Linebacker was kind.  He picked me up and carried me to the other side of the exhibit hall, as I managed to sputter out, “Oh!  My son was named Ethan too.  Have a fun day!”  It was only then, behind one of the brightly colored exhibits, in a quiet, private space that he threw me to the ground and pounced.

[Image of Jack Lambert courtesy of Best Athletes by the Numbers]

Kate and John

My heart won’t stop hurting. I’m sure you’ve all heard the news that Kate Kelly and John Dehlin have been summoned to church court for their activities related to the Ordain Women movement and the Mormon LGBT movement. I’m not upset because I’m an ardent supporter of either movement. I’m upset because I firmly believe that every Saint deserves to have a voice in our community. I’m upset because I am so grateful to people like Kate and John who are willing to say “dangerous” things out loud, when so many of us want to, but are too afraid to. I’m upset because of the atmosphere of fear that enters into our faith community when this sort of thing happens. What can I safely say? What causes dear to my heart will be “approved” by my respected church leaders? Do I trust my own spirit to hear and interpret the voice of the Holy Spirit, or do I leave that solely to my leaders, who I am sure listen to the same Spirit? What do I do when those spiritual interpretations collide? This sort of conundrum causes all sorts of self doubt. Some walk. Sometimes I wonder if the best of us walk, and if my choice to stay is foolish or faithful. I’ll say it right here at the start, though: despite all its man-made quirks and flaws, I love the Church and am convinced it holds the power of full salvation. So I stay. But right now, it just hurts. Continue reading

Mommy and E

Stand as Witnesses

Orlando is a great vacation destination, but its location at the lower east corner of the United States makes it difficult for the majority of my family and friends who live in the northwest U.S. and Canada to pop over for a quick visit.  My nearest and dearest knew about the difficult life of my son, Ethan, and although they knew and loved him from afar, very few had stepped inside my home.  In the nearly 10 years that we have lived in Orlando, my family has come to visit, but very few of my close friends.  In early 2013, all of that changed.  In January, to my delight, Justine and her family came to Orlando for her daughter’s 12th birthday.  We spent some time together at the temple, went to church, and had dinner in our home while they were here.  They stood at Ethan’s bedside, murmured loving phrases to him, and held his hand.

Andrea and Justine

Then in May, Julie came to visit on her way to Cuba via Miami.  She had known him in Sacramento when we lived there, but marveled at how he’d grown since she saw him last.

Andrea and Julie

A few weeks later, the delightfully saucy Kel messaged me and asked if she could spend a few days with us while on her whirlwind trip through the U.S. from Australia.  She brought the little boys gifts of boomerangs and Tim Tams and a kangaroo pelt for Ethan because he loved soft, fluffy things to touch.  Later, she told me this about meeting Ethan:

“I remember walking into his room behind you, checking out the equipment, and as I turned I saw your face as you straightened. I had yet to see you mother, to see you with your kids, and your face in that moment was so soft and fiery and devoted it choked me up. It was a moment of truth, and I realised again that just being in your house, being in Ethan’s room, was a gift, a vulnerability, and I loved you for it and felt honoured.

‘Hey, Ethan,’ you said, “this is my friend Kellie, she wants to meet you.’

My god, did I.”

Andrea and Kel 3

Heather was also able to make it down from South Carolina during Kel’s stay, and showered us with gifts and lively conversation.  I realized after they left that three of my beloved Segullah friends had met my son for the first time.

Andrea and Heather B

Later that year, as Ethan’s health began to decline, Heather and Nate, Brittney and Andy, and Aaron and Stina all were in Orlando and all visited my home.  These were dear friends, some of whom I had known since college, who stood at Ethan’s bedside, stroked his soft hair, held his hand, and kissed his cheek as he neared his last days on earth.

Andrea and Heather

Brit and Andy

Aaron and Stina

Mosiah 18:8 – 9 counsels us to “…bear one another’s burdens that they may be light…mourn with those that mourn…comfort those that stand in need of comfort… and stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places…”  It is not uncommon to feel helpless in the face of another person’s tragedy.  Death, divorce, disability – these things and more leave us groping for the right thing to say or do.  Our case was no exception.  Ethan’s disabilities were profound and his health was very fragile, and although my friends and ward members were willing, only a person with specialized training or a nursing degree could give me hands-on help with his day-to-day needs.  What meant more to me during that time in Ethan’s life were the people who came into my home, stood by his bedside, stroked his hair, held his hand, and bore witness to the life that he and our family lived.

Not all problems can be solved.  Not all hurts can be healed.  Not all losses can be restored.  Sometimes it is enough to stand as a witness.

When Life Is Burning Down

Less than seventy-two hours after my husband told me he didn’t believe in God anymore, and that he also wanted a divorce, I sat on a pew at church and waited for the combined Relief Society/Priesthood class to start. Turns out, the lesson was about celestial – eternal – marriage. I lasted just under three minutes before I picked up my bag, and carefully walked out to my car. It was a violently clear, sunny day in the tropics, my hands burning on the door’s edge while the sky’s breath and heartbreak boiled my tears.

A couple of minutes lost to sobbing, then a shadow, carrying a very hesitant and unsure “Hey… Kellie?” It was a woman freshly moved into the branch, newly called with me as a counselor in Relief Society, who only an hour before had sat astounded as I explained to her and the RS president how my world had crashed in the course of a few sentences just days previously. I didn’t even know her first name.

She crouched down next to my open door, in the glare of the sun and in the sauna humidity of the day, and let me cry. I bawled for a long time. She stayed for all of it. She didn’t say anything. No words, just a quiet, sweating, tissue-passing witness to my grief and desolation.

I pulled myself a little bit together five minutes before Primary and my sons would be released back into the wild. I smiled soggily, disastrously, at her and shrugged. “It was just that topic,” I tried to explain.

“I know,” she said, shrugging herself. “I saw you leave, and didn’t want you to feel alone.”

She texted me that night. Her name was Kim.

I realised later that the chapel had held people I’d known for years, people who knew some or none of my catastrophe – friends and vipers both – but only one person came looking, and she didn’t even know me. Later still I realised it wasn’t because of indifference that my friends didn’t come out, but because they were stalled, immobilised by doubt and indecision.

I’m afraid of the space where you suffer

Where you sit in the smoke and the burn

I can’t handle the choke or the danger

Of my own foolish, inadequate words

I’ll be right outside if you need me

Right outside

The thing is, when our lives are an inferno, someone being outside is useless. It’s like the oft-used and absolutely still-born “Let me know if I can do anything” – so full of potential, while also so tragically lifeless.

What can you do? What can any of us do? Maybe acknowledge that life, this moment, this cruel and carnivorous and devastating inferno is eating someone (ME! YOU!) alive. Recognise it, and maybe do something about THAT. Whatever ‘that’ is.

What can I bring to your fire?

Shall I sing while the roof is coming down

Can I hold you while the flames grow higher

Shall I brave the heat and come close with you now

Can I come close now?

I’ve had all sorts of fires in my life. I’ve wanted and needed different things at all sorts of times during each blaze. I’m incredibly blessed to have two friends who are trained, glorious singers, and there have been periods when I’ve wanted them to sing some gut-wrenching, Valkyrie inspired aria to accompany the disaster, burning out to sea. When I needed to tell someone about how much my Poppy Col loved me, and how loudly he blew his nose. There have been moments when my deepest, most sincerest heart’s wish is for someone to come to my fire hauling a Molotov cocktail or seven. And a Tazer. With a fire-breathing, PMS’ing dragon to add a little extra flourish to the proceedings. One night I wanted someone to venture close, sit beside me, and watch the sparks of my old love letters dancing up to meet the stars.

So we left you to fight your own battle

And you buried your hope with your faith

‘Cause you heard no song of deliverance

There on the nights that followed the wake

We never thought to go with you

Afraid to ask

Months – even years – after my marriage ended, people have approached me to say they wish they’d done things differently. I’ve approached people to apologise for not doing something, anything, even if it was a simple “I have no idea what to say – just I’m so sorry this has happened.” I have to wonder sometimes if with so much perfection and Pinterest enthusiasm and posed Ensign photographs we fetter ourselves from doing a tiny something because it’s not more… well, significant, well-prepared and amazing.

I wasn’t left to fight my own battle in the car-park that day. Kim was nervous, and obviously uncomfortable, yet still settled herself straight down in the middle of the mess regardless. At that moment I had faltering faith, there was no song of deliverance as I realised that cherished covenants were busted, and hope was a charred, broken thing without wings. We know of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being tossed into the furnace and being protected, unscathed. But life can savagely and enthusiastically remind us that sometimes it’s the innocent, the loved ones, the ordinary are thrown into the fire, and left there.

Lay down our plans

Lay down our sure-fire fix

Grief’s gonna stay a while

There is no cure for this

We watch for return

We speak what we’ve heard

We sit together

In the burn

Kim didn’t offer to fix anything. She gave me no platitudes, no promises, no scriptural recourse or plans. She was Christlike, as when Christ – just minutes from raising Lazarus from death – first mourned with Mary and Martha, recognising their world burning to ash and ruin. While Christ had the miraculous cure for Mary and Martha, we’re not expected to raise anything, phoenix or otherwise. We are simply asked to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those in need of comfort (interestingly enough, which are detailed as being two entirely separate times, not a onetime deal), to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light. We’re not asked or expected of the Lord to take all the pain and flames away – just to lighten the burden, to sit together, in the burn. Please, to be there; in the ash, within the blaze, amid the life burning down.

What can I bring to your fire?

Shall I sing while the roof is coming down

Can I hold you while the flames grow higher

Shall I brave the heat and come close with you now

Can I come close now?

The quoted sections are the lyrics to “Come Close Now,” by Christa Wells, a song which has given me a poetic guide alongside my own determination to not be “right outside”, but to brave the heat, bring something, or even sing, if that’s what someone needs of me.

How have you braved the heat, to be with someone in the fires of life? Has someone done something for you, which reminded you that you were loved, thought of, not forgotten or abandoned in the flames? What do you wish someone would bring to YOUR fire? What shall I sing, while your roof is coming down?

Creating Beauty From Ashes

Beauty-From-Ashes-original-art-by-Blue

A blogger I follow recently wrote for the first time about the abuse she experienced growing up. For 30 years she’s managed to shove it beneath the surface of her life without ever talking about it or addressing it. And she has done an amazing job of it. Despite those damaging experiences, she is a happily married mother, a successful medical doctor, and a witty and gifted writer. But the past finally caught up with her and through a series of unexpected events involving helping an exchange student, she recently found herself no longer able to avoid venturing into the murky, uncharted waters of her past.

Venturing in is terrifying. It’s painful. And it’s scary to let oneself be vulnerable, but it is absolutely requisite for healing.   I know, because I’ve been there myself.

I rarely comment on blog posts, but I felt like I should respond to her courageous post with some of my thoughts. Little did I know how much they’d resonate with her. That she’d print them out and highlight parts and carry them around with her. That when she wakes up in the night in a panic, she’d reread those words to calm herself down.  She shared how much she appreciated the support and insights as she embarks on this path.

She is not LDS, in fact I believe she’s an atheist, so my comments don’t get into the role the atonement plays in overcoming hard things, but I know there are countless people who’ve had similar struggles, who may be in need of a boost right now.  So it is with that premise that I share the comment I wrote to her that day. And I apologize for its length, but I felt impressed that this is a discussion that may benefit some readers of this blog, too.

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Dear DM,

You’ve been in my RSS feed for years and years, and I almost never comment. But these two posts merit it. I just didn’t have sufficient time when I read your first one.

I’m probably just a little bit ahead of you, on the same road.  I felt paranoid for years that if people knew about my past, that it would mean all the horribleness I had inside me would be actually true. That I was really just an impostor in my own life, faking being awesome (and doing a poor job of it mostly). 

I’d spent considerable energy growing up trying to be accepted, to figure out how to be popular, become someone else–anyone else–just as long as it wasn’t “that girl”, the one that had experienced those things. I was in huge denial about my reality. Experiencing these things resulted in me being one of those easy-targets at school and elsewhere, including my church. I didn’t know why my peers were so mean. They just were. One therapist explained that kids are like sharks…they smell blood in the water and sense an easy target; going in for the kill is almost instinctual. Maybe that’s it, but either way, between home, school and church I was neglected, abused, bullied, beat up, ridiculed and shunned as a kid. Early on I came to believe I was as ugly and worthless as “they” claimed.

But I survived, and once I left home I met a really wonderful guy and while he seemed to be aware of a lot of my loose ends, he truly loved me anyway (we’ve been together for 25 years now). For the first time I had a relationship that was “safe”, and thus I was able to stop expending energy trying to maintain my facade, and use it to start healing.

Over time, I have learned that not all therapists are created equal. It took seeing about ten of them over the past 25 years to realize that. I didn’t know how helpful a therapist could be til I found one that actually was, and that has made ALL the difference. I’m growing and healing so much faster now.  There is an end in sight to all of this.  In the past I talked for the 50 minutes, paid my $100 and left. There wasn’t a whole lot of insight or progress and I assumed I’d probably need help forever. Find a therapist who does more than listen and ask how does that make you feel?  A good girlfriend will do that for you for free :-)

Writing, especially in your case where you’ve been doing so anonymously all these years, should be really helpful not only to you, but to a number of your myriad readers.  And that feels REALLY great, to know that some good will come out of this by way of helping other people get through their own pain. You’ve already experienced a taste of that with the exchange student.  You are brave and strong and good and amazing and funny and talented and have an excellent support network, so I’m confident you will be able to go through this journey and emerge stronger and even more amazing, with wisdom and perspective to help others you encounter.  It won’t make the bad stuff good, but it creates beauty from ashes.

Life isn’t fair. Sometimes it’s sad. Not just for people who’ve been abused, but for every one of us.  Learning to take the sad moment and grieve the pain, but not let it become a cesspool you hang out in, is one of the keys.  What we dwell on, we dwell in. So give yourself the moment, cry the tears, allow the pain to vent, and carry on. It’s part of the grieving process…which is really what this is all about; acknowledging what happened, how it has made you feel and impacted your life, putting things in perspective, letting go and moving forward.

Sounds easy on paper. It’s actually a cyclical journey that takes time, with progress and setbacks all along the way. But meanwhile you are making the world a better place just by being in it and not perpetuating those things upon the next generation.

The thing that tipped me, that finally gave me the courage to address my own past, was Jeanette Wall’s best-selling memoir The Glass Castle.  It kind of gave me a map. Before reading it, I thought that if my past were true, (ie: if I acknowledged it), it would mean I really was damaged goods, worthless, and no one would want to be friends with me. I didn’t want to be labeled victim. I didn’t want to hang out with victims or be classified as in that “group”. I didn’t want that to become my identity.

But when I read her story, I closed the book wishing we were real life friends. I didn’t view her as a victim, or surviver, or anything other than one dang amazingly cool person that I’d really enjoy knowing and being friends with. And then it occurred to me that maybe that’s how others would feel about me. That I wouldn’t have to be known as a “surviver of abuse”.  So it changed my life, reading her story. I hope that I can share my own story someday, and if it helps even one other person heal the way Mrs. Wall’s book helped me, it’ll have been worth it.

Here are links to a few things I had never learned about that were complete surprises to me: Boundaries. Hadn’t really heard about them, nor were they in place in my life–that’s been a huge one. Co-dependence…which is when I allow someone else’s behavior to dictate my own…was also huge. The Drama Trianglelearning about it enabled me to stop playing the game.  And finally, Detachment, and forming healthy attachments.  These ideas are all connected, and there is an abundance of information about all of them a google-search away. The goal is to be a healthy, kind, loving person. There were some skills and information I needed to acquire to get there, and these are a few of the main ones.

Thanks for sharing your story, and for being beautiful and good and strong even though you had a crap hand dealt to you as a kid. That isn’t who you are and doesn’t have to define you. And this will be one of those things that, someday, is a mere blip in your life…just like high school was actually just one piece in the puzzle of your life. It probably seemed so HUGE! and SIGNIFICANT! when you were in it, but looking back, it’s now something you sum up in a sentence or two. It’s not who you are. All of these are just experiences that impacted you in various ways, but they don’t define you in the long run.

Thanks for the inspiration you’ve given me all these years, and hang in there.  The light will come!

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This is a big topic, and we can continue the discussion in future posts if there is interest. Do you have any thoughts or insights you’d like to share? Are there any ideas you’d like to delve into more? Have you or someone you know struggled with similar things?