"but I got a girl in the war, paul, the only thing i know to do
s turn up the music, and pray that she makes it through"
josh ritter -- girl in the war
Grieving a significant loss is a platypus of a creature: a weird, nasty, vicious little animal who "delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain." The confusion is exhausting and the indefinite lack of normal is haunting. Or, wait. Realizing this is the new normal is haunting. For example, I am the sort of person who bcomes extremely distant when I feel pressured. I'm not a people-pleaser, and I am not organized. I'm not naturally administrative or great at following-up with people. So when I get e-mails or texts that require me to respond -- especially if the same person texts a few times because I didn't answer -- I feel pressure, and like I'm a failure, and like I want to ignore everything. Now, I'm literally talking about normal texts from my best friends. Or incredibly sweet e-mails from dear people who are voicing their support and care. That's what is confusing about grief. I don't know why I feel stress, but I do. It makes me nervous and I'm not (in my old-normal world, at least) like that.
But on the flip, if I don't hear from people? If I go a few days without any communication, "I'm thinking about you!," "Praying for you!," "You are loved!" messages, I feel depressingly alone. People are forgetting already. It's only been three months. It hasn't even been three months! Their lives have moved on. That is the exhausting part. Two complete opposite reactions. It's a lose-lose. Anxiety or loneliness? Pick your poison, Kristen. Life is a constant state of feeling green. Not eco-friendly but ill.
It's the small things that snap you in the butt. Rowdy laughing so hard at his toes. Wiggling them, 'chasing' them down, grabbing them like he just caught a jack-rabbit: hysterical laughter. Immediate thought: I have to show mom. Pulls out phone to take a video. Can't show mom. This sucks. Crying. Don't even take video since I can't show mom. Continue on. Regret not getting a video of my son. Guilty for being a dumb mom. Frustrated with myself. Really just want to call mom.
One day as I happily packing up the bikes for a day in the sun my phone rings once, twice, a text "Kristen, I really need to talk to you," a third time. I answer my weeping brother on the other line. Through moans he cries, nearly screams, "I can't do this anymore! I hate this!" "I'm so sorry. Where are you?" "At baseball! We're warming up. I have to play in a game. I can't do this!" "I'm so sorry. I hate this too." "I can't stand to hit one more ball and not hear her up there." [In the last year when she was too tired or sick to get all the way down the hill to the field mom would park up top and watch. When he would make a great play or score she'd honk-honk-honk the horn. It was pretty awesome.] "It's the worst. I wish she was there." "WHY did this have to happen? WHY is SHE gone? I'm SO angry. I just want to… I'm… I'm SO angry. I miss her, Kristen. It's only getting worse. WHY isn't she here? WHY would God do this?" "I honestly don't know. I can't answer 'why' questions." "Well what can you answer!" Apparently not much. I understand the belief that God takes the ashes and turns them into gems. I understand that we all have to die. No one escapes it. It's the curse of our land: frightened citizens scramble when the oppressive army rages the streets, guns in hand, out to kill. They'll find you. No one gets to hide. Death knows the trap doors, the secret bookcase rooms, the sewage pipes, the ditches. A bullet is coming for you and you're going to die and that's that. I understand that pain is hot on our tails, and will be for the rest of this life. And I understand that there will be a day when pain loses and happiness wins; when pain gets imprisoned and happiness prances through the streets like a firework-fairy dousing us in wonderful golden joy. I understand God moves in mysterious ways, that the answers to "why" will come, that there is a bird with feathers named "Hope."
But why did God take a mother from her seven children? Because it's good for us? Or because it will be good for us someday? Or because He is a plan? I don't know. I, again, understand those things are true but I sometimes wish we could be more real about the audacity of pain. And how much God hates it, too. Let's be clear: God hates death. He hates the separation of a child and a parent. That's why He came to trample it. That's why He is on the move and soon, very soon, death will be no more. God will never let anyone die ever again because death is horrible. It's hell. It's wicked. It's not of God. God is not death, He is life.
So while my little sister texts me the scores to her soccer games, I hate death all the more. I hate that mother's fuss to each other and to their internet crowd about the kid's schedules, and being a taxi cab, and being sick-and-tired of never getting a break. "My god, you're with them, though. You pull up and they jump in your minivan or SUV or car and you drive with them. And while you sit in humid Saturday sun, you watch, with your own eyes, as they burn calories on a lime green field. You get to see it! You're there! And when they look up, they see you. Even if they are snappy on the way home or don't thank-you for all your effort, it matters to their soul. Your physical presence matters. And my sister is on that same field, and she looks up to see a hole… a hole connected to her heart. And in the 19th minute of a middle school soccer match she's grieving death. No one is there snapping tiny iPhone pictures of her. She won't run off the field to a cold water bottle from mom. Tomorrow her mom won't do her laundry and clean her grass stains. No, she'll play her heart out today, and text her sister after the game, and fall asleep scrolling through all her favorite pictures from her last vacation with her whole family. You get to be there so, damnit, stop complaining." It comes out of nowhere, and it's 100% everywhere. Grief is a secret ninja and also a cloak of skin. It's always with me and it's jumping out from the shadows yelling "Boo!"
It's there when I want so badly to write but my brain just seems broken. It's there when I look in the mirror and see my mom's chin. It's there while a look at the marvelous face of a 20-week-old-baby-boy and cry with my friends who say "hello" and "goodbye" at the same time. It's there when I call and talk to my dad -- and we laugh and it's casual. It's there as Rowdy out-grows the last size of clothes she ever bought for him. It's there when I eat tacos. It's there when I lay in bed for hours, and it's there when I go out and watch kites in the sun. It's there when I watch Parenthood (Kristine's crazy cancer buddy is dying), it's there when I watch Shark Tank (it was a random show I last watched with her), it's there when I see previews for The Good Wife and I don't even watch that series (it was mom and dad's show to watch together), it's there when I see tabloid covers about Juan Pablo the Bachelor (she was alive when his season started and we've never watched a season without her). It's there when my husband tells me "your mom would love this cinnamon roll place!" and I don't even want to go inside because I know he's right. It's there like a heartbeat, like a hunger, like a nerve.
"You shall not lack a Rescuer when most you need Him. The Pilot, who has conducted you across the stormy main, will not resign the government just as the vessel enters the deepest haven. The Captain, who has conquered for and conquered in you, will not leave you when on the eve of the final conflict and the certain victory. Oh no! Jesus will be with you to the last." Octavius Winslow
Please don't be afraid to text me. Or don't be afraid to be still and say nothing. It's not you, it's me. God uses the piles of messages -- even ones I never answer -- and God uses the quiet days. I just miss my mom and am figuring out how to handle this new friend: ache. I'm trying to write and smell eucalyptus plants on Los Olivos Street and make eye-contact more often. I'm not pathetic but I'm also not very muscular. I think Jesus is baby-wearing me these days. I do most need Him and I know I'm strapped in. I know He's there more than grief is, even if it's only a head-knowledge. I know He's there when the phone rings, when my son laughs, when the platypus bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad. He's there when I beg Him to help me take some of my mama's sweet nectar love and give it her babies for her. He's there when I just need to stay up at 1 am and write a slew of crazy things down. I know He's here because I'm writing. It feels good. Maybe mom asked a particular special favor of Him on my behalf. Maybe she saw Rowdy laughing at his toes.
(Please pray, if you don't mind, that I'll be able to write. I try hard and want to so badly. I have so much to say, but it's a fight. Every day. It isn't "flowing," if you will. I want to do this -- I will do this. And I need help <3 Hashtag: vulnerable)