A year ago I wrote my first blog entry. Some days I think this grieving process has been so slow, that I haven't made it very far at all. But when I think back on that first blog, I remember I was in the deepest darkest place and I realize how far I have come. That step by step I have begun the healing process and that I have learned so much over the last year. Many times we learn from experience, but we can also learn a great deal from others who have traveled a journey that we might not have been given. So I thought I would write what I have learned this first year.
*Please know when reading this that I wrote this as what I have learned on my personal journey through grieving. Also, I did not write this with anyone in mind. *
What have I learned from Year 1...
1. There are good gifts and there are not-so-good gifts. Sorry to all of you who might feel offended by this, and I would've been in your same boat and given the same gifts had I not been here. After Quinn died we had so many cards and gifts pour in. All of which really were so thoughtful and I really do appreciate but when all was said and done, I was left with a storage room full of statues, figurines, and plaques that had some cutsie quote about losing loved ones. Those quotes are fine in cards, but having them around your house is a constant reminder that my child is dead and I was left not knowing what to do with them. Also, stuffed animals are not a gift you give to someone who lost their only child. Good gifts were more practical- stamps, food, and gift cards for restaurants. To tell you the truth, some of the most meaningful things we received were heartfelt notes and cards. In the end, it really is the thought that counts.
2. You will not survive something like this in isolation. It is good to surround yourself with good people as a general rule, but look at the people you spend time with. Would they drop everything to help you? Will they be sparse when life is not one big ball of fun? I have been a less than desirable person to hang around with this year. I hate surface conversations, avoid talking about kids, and trying to make me laugh... forget about it. But I had friends, family, and co-workers who went beyond the awkwardness to truly be with me, encourage me, and love me through this dark year.
3.You have to do the hard stuff. You have to let yourself grieve... EVERYTHING. If I had to title this year it might be titled "Trudging Through the Tough Stuff: All the Firsts." First time holding a baby, first time in Quinn's room, first time back at the hospital, first time someone asks you if you have kids... the list is so long the first year it is exhausting. The anxiety leading up to it is the worst, but I felt so relieved after it was done. That doesn't mean the 2nd time isn't hard, but it gets just a little better every time. Most people would tell me, "You don't have to do that." But I did. Because maybe today I don't have to, but at some point I will and then it might be harder or people won't be as supportive when you are breaking down doing something 10 years later. The longer you wait to do things that scare you, the more they take hold- they almost become an idol. Doing all this made the first year extremely hard, but it reminded me of Jerry Sittser's quote from one of my first entries, "The quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise." If I delay the hard stuff, I delay the grieving process.
4. Do not say you are praying for someone unless you really are. I am fully convinced prayers are what got me through this year, what got me out of bed each day. I didn't miss one day of school this year and I know it was because of prayer. I don't take it lightly. I heard, "I'm praying for you" so often that I cringed when I heard is sometimes because I thought, "Are your really praying for me or are you just saying that because it sounds nice?" If you say you are praying for someone, do it, because a lot of times they are counting on those prayers.
5. Do not be a fair weather friend to God. I am so thankful I grew up in a home that emphasized scripture because there were many days I couldn't open my Bible, but scripture I had learned as a child came to mind and got me through some really hard times. I can remember wanting nothing more, when I got home, than to spend time in the Word. My Bible is what got me through those times. This process would have been a lot slower had I not already had the foundation I did. It was like preparing me for the battle. Tim said the other day, "I have learned no matter how hard life gets, you will survive if you have a foundation in God." This is not to say that the pain isn't real, and that God makes you feel any better but he is our only hope. The only hope we have of eternal life, a life with no suffering, reuniting with Quinn. Without that comfort, life seems pretty dire.
6.You might think, "I don't know if I should say something to them about how they are doing or feeling. What if they are having a really good day?" I found (and I know not everyone is like this) that I appreciated people who said something more than people who ignored the elephant in the room. I'm already thinking about Quinn 24 hours a day so bringing her up isn't like you just reminded me of it. Ignoring it sometimes felt like people were belittling what I went through like life should just move on. Sometimes people didn't say the right thing, but my perspective was "where love abounds, grace abounds." I had to have a lot of grace for people because they were just saying it because they loved me and didn't know how to express it. Which brings me to my last lesson for this entry which I feel really strongly about:
7. Do not reduce holy mysteries to slogans. So many times people don't know what to say so they came up with something cliche. Most of the time I had grace for them. But I want you to know, there is nothing you can say that will fix this. There is nothing you can say that can solve this holy mystery. For example people would say, "God just needed another angel". How do you know that? I don't know why Quinn died. I don't know if God did it, or allowed it, or Satan won some battle. I won't ever know for sure. There are some things that are just a mystery.
Ecclesiastes 11:5 states:
"As you do not know the path of the wind, or how a body is formed in a mother's womb, so you can not understand the work of God, the maker of all things."
"Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the almighty? They are higher than the heavens- what can you do? They are deeper than the depth of the grave- what can you know?"
I like how the Message translates the following verses:
"Don't be flip with the sacred....Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege."
"I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a rock to make sure I wouldn't slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God."
I have learned that I don't have all the answers, none of us do. Sometimes we just have to accept that God is higher than us, that he knows the whole story. And we must "enter into the mystery, abandoning ourselves to God."