This is one of the entries I hesitate to share. It’s not particularly…flattering. I am encouraged, however, by a few who claim they’d rather read what’s true. OK. (Ugh).
I could say I’ve never thought of myself as weak, and that wouldn’t be true because some situations turn me into pee-colored Jell-o™. I could say I’m a bit of a coward, one to shy away from conflict – and although that has been true at times, it is not always true; I’ve waded into some pretty terrible, dark places, to be with people I care about. I’m guessing most people would, in fact, describe me as “caring” and “strong” (especially since Mark’s death; I think the average person thinks the fact that bereaved parents can walk upright, ever, is phenomenal). I guess what I am saying is that – overall – I’ve thought myself to be reasonably sturdy and not given to dark extremes. So the fragility imparted by great grief has come as an unwelcome surprise, as has the rage.
Sarah loves the Marvel movie series (Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye) and is determined to re-watch all of them prior to the release of the next Avengers movie this summer (when ALL the characters are together). So we’ve been doing that over the last several weeks (yay for snuggling on our too-small couch again). The other night, we were watching Iron Man 3, and it made me think.
As time has passed, as I try to make some sense of this loss, as I try to understand the other-worldly things that sometimes happen, as I try so hard to find my way forward, I feel like this is me – pulling together all the pieces of my armor so I can function.
But then this is what can happen next. *crash*
It happened not too long ago. But in between there was also this:
After that awesome experience with Mark’s goggles at the pool, the clouds seemed to thicken: I got a feeling much like the one just before Mark died, when I’d had the dream about the murderous elephant chasing me (I know, I know – so ridiculous sounding. But it was a horrible, horrible dream).
The text came on Tuesday night: our neighbor, a good friend, was (back?!) in the ER with what was then believed to be a full body Stevens-Johnson reaction; he’s nearly died before because of this exact issue, so this is no small matter. And then my mom reported – when I contacted her to put him on her prayer chain – that my Dad was developing flu-like symptoms (and the flu is particularly deadly this year). He had a fever, was very weakened. I had dinner, in the midst of this, with 2 women who’d also lost their sons. One’s son died just a few months ago – and she seemed really strong, focused, well-supported, but I wanted to tell her, warn her how much harder it will get, this lesson we are being forced to learn. I was starting to feel wobbly again. But I didn’t. Maybe she’ll make it, God. Maybe she’ll be stronger than I am. In any case, what’s the point? Her path is her own. Does it make it better to hear from “old salts” that it can get harder? I’m thinking no.
My gut was roiling – fear and love all intertwined. Pray. Breathe. Get busy! Go buy stuff and make food. Walk the neighbor’s dog if needed. I am trembling inside my suit of armor (What You Believe is The Most Powerful Thing! God is with us! Jesus loves us!), clanking like the Tin Man as he confronts Oz – it feels like something is tugging at all those bits of metal covering my tender spots and I don’t have enough hands to hold it in place.
Then, the cat escaped. My one-eyed dork, my peeing-on-couches monster who is also a fuzzy saving grace, uninhibited in his adoration and affection; he got out because I’d forgotten to securely latch the (broken) porch door, and it was windy, so the door kept blowing open. It was also bitterly, bitterly cold. One moment he was inside, happily grooming himself in a pool of sunshine, and the next – probably 10 minutes had passed – I realized he was most certainly not inside.
I began to look, panic escalating into full-blown terror as I realized I could not see him anywhere…not in our yard, not in any neighbor’s yard. He was gone.
And I became completely, completely unhinged. The armor blown completely off.
Words actually fail me here.
All I can say is I lost it. Utterly, totally. Screaming out my rage and impotence, my bone-deep terror in the face of what felt like MORE impending losses. My dad, my neighbor, the cat, Mark, other struggling beloveds, EVERYTHING that had been bottled up inside (and I vaguely recognized the dust of decades coating some of it. What have we here?).
NO. NO. NO!!!
NO!!! NO, GOD, NO!!!
After the cat reappeared, and Beth O came over to hug me, and my dad and my neighbor began to recover, I realized several things.
1. I was physically and emotionally spent (for days afterward). I swear that 20 minute fit took years off my life. And yet it felt like that cork needed to come out of that bottle – what’s inside must be released.
2. I was reminded of a time, over 10 years ago, when I got mad at a friend over something trivial. I, the person who rarely gets mad AT anyone, was FURIOUS in a way that was completely inappropriate to what happened; it made me realize there was something more going on, something deeper than that one event (Therapy Time!). In a similar way, this absolute eruption of bone-deep resistance and sobbing, screaming fury arose from a place far, far below the surface…the Inner Child throwing a complete tantrum because I have no control at all (none) and yet I desperately need to be heard. In those terrible, terrible moments, God – because Who else, exactly, is In Charge here? Who is the Author of this pain?? – just felt like One Huge Jerk and I was not about to put on my Job-branded sackcloth (“Guaranteed to Itch!”) and mumble, piously, “God giveth and God taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21); what I wanted was to wrap my clutching, empty hands around God’s throat.
All the way back to Square One. To “How. Dare. You.” I thought I’d come farther.
Or is that the wrong way to think?
I…know I’ve said this before: I think God can handle honesty. I know I’ve said this before: Job started out with that humility ^^, and then the hits kept coming and he progressed to challenging God, daring Him to show up and explain Himself (and I remember how it ends, I really do!). Don’t each of us who mourn a great loss have to go through this process, though? Isn’t this a necessary part of walking through the valley?
3. I think of people I know and love who are struggling with chronic or fatal conditions or with anxiety over their own struggling children (some with Very Big Issues). We do not understand why any of this has happened.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3
It’s what happens next that matters.
Man…I don’t think a deranged howl is exactly what Jesus was describing. It is honest. But really, though, what I want to understand is how to change my perspective, how to change my knee-jerk reaction, how to change my heart? Maybe I need to exchange all my WHYs for HOWs. This feels like a puzzle I’m starting to put together yet I don’t have all the pieces. But I think I’m talking about resilience.