It was early in the morning. Light had yet to glow through the curtains when I heard Levi crying in his crib in the next room. Not just any cry; it was the sound of distress with a hint of fear. He is long passed waking up in the middle of the night, so I rolled out of bed, somewhat alarmed by the tone of his voice, and walked quickly down the dimly lit hallway to his room.
I opened the door slowly and greeted him with the softest voice so I didn’t scare him. He immediately sat up crying and said, “Me scared,” so I picked him up, sat in the worn recliner in his room, pressed him against my chest, and began to rock.
Usually, he calms down right away, but not that morning. He just kept sobbing against my chest with his eyes closed, holding on to me tightly.
I was starting to become a little concerned that he was SO upset, so as I was running my fingers through his hair, half convinced he might be having a night terror, I asked the question – “Levi, what’s wrong, Buddy? Why are you so sad?”
His response was something I wasn’t even remotely prepared for.
He got quiet for a moment, and then across his sweet little lips came a forceful blow to my soul – “No Daddy?” he said, or asked rather, with the obvious inflection at the end of his sentence.
I couldn’t respond. I wasn’t prepared to respond. I – I hadn’t thought this scenario through yet.
And in response to my silence, he repeated himself with the same question. “No Daddy?”
I just kept rocking and silently let the tears drop from my chin onto the mounds of thick blonde curls atop his head, unable to say anything.
No Son, you don’t have a Daddy.
A few nights later, this exact same scene repeated itself. I was awakened by a fearful cry. I went to comfort him. I was rocking him in the chair when he suddenly stopped crying and said, “Daddy died.”
No question this time. Just a statement; a fact that he somehow knew. I just responded, “Yes, Daddy died,” like I had to the other kids a million times over the last two years, but never to him.
Then he went back to crying, as though my confirmation was justification for the mysterious anguish he was feeling; emotions he didn’t quite understand, and words he understood even less.
Holding him in the dark, I could imagine what these questions looked like bouncing around behind his beautiful blue eyes – “Who is this person I’m missing? What even is a Daddy? What is died?” – big concepts for 2 years and 7 months.
2 years and 7 months… the exact age that Lilly was when her beloved Daddy suddenly died, and this realization felt like a sucker-punch at 4 am.
“How could she have been this small when he died? She seems so much bigger in my memories.“ How could she have processed any of this at 2 years and 7 months old?” No wonder she was a mess for a solid year.
“How has she already lived more than half her life without her Father?” That’s so brutally unfair.
The questions kept rolling through my mind as my heart broke for my daughter all over again, and truly shattered for my youngest son for the first time. My sweet miracle boy, born a mere 8 days after his father died, who, until this week, had given no indication that he was aware he was lacking anything. But now he knew, in the simplest terms, that someone should be here, but isn’t, and it crushed me.
Two days ago, I was lying in bed trying to will myself to get up and get ready for church when I looked over at my now 5 year old daughter lying on the pillow next to me, face up toward the ceiling, with this frown on her beautiful little face; eyes closed and eyebrows furrowed.
I asked her, “Lilly, what are you thinking about, Sweetheart? Why are you frowning?”
And she so easily said, “My Dad building stuff with me. I miss my Dad. Do you think I’ll ever have another Dad?”
“I don’t know, Baby,” I began, but before I could even say something to the affect of “I sure hope so”, my oldest son popped his head up on the other side of the bed and assertively blurted,” I don’t EVER want another Dad!!” Then he crawled over on top of me and started telling me all the things he missed about his Dad. I just laid there paralyzed by emotion, with tears sliding down the sides of my face soaking my hair, wondering just how long this season of my life is going to last. Crushed.
Grief is deceiving.
The early months after a loss are a time-warp of shock and disillusionment. After 2-3 months the shock wears off, and you begin to realize just how painfully different your existence will be as you experience life without your person. But something strange happened to me around the 3-month mark too, and that was when my “I’ve got this” mentality kicked into overdrive.
I’ve always been a doer; a go-getter; an achiever. My dad always told me growing up – “There are people who make excuses, and there are people who make things happen,” – and I’ve always tried to be the latter, sometimes to my detriment.
This mindset has pushed me to set high standards for myself. It’s been a big reason I’ve accomplished most of the major milestones that I have in my life, but it’s also become the reason I don’t do well mentally when I know I’m not measuring up. But instead of making excuses, I’ve always tried to own my failures and push harder.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work so well with grief.
After the fog of shock lifted, I felt that familiar unction to win at life compel me forward. I was determined that my kids would lack nothing, and that I’d take back every ounce of happiness that had been stolen from me. So I took off, sprinting ahead at full speed, convinced if I just ran harder and faster, maybe I’d get to the end of awful journey sooner.
But grief is deceiving, because what you envisioned as a 5K fun-run morphed into a 50k Ultramarathon where, shortly into your run, you have the sickening realization that you grossly underestimated the amount of endurance this would require.
You haven’t trained for this. How could you? It’s like having the course map and distance changed on you mid-race. Of course you didn’t train for this. You didn’t sign up for this.
You realize the finish line, if it does even exist, isn’t just around the next turn; it’s an infinite number of hills and valleys away; like chasing that elusive pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
“I’ve got this” only got me about 12 months into my grief journey before I realized I really didn’t “have it” at all.
I spent the next 6 months dialing back my speed, decommitting myself, reigning in my impulses to go and do and be apart of anything that might make me feel valued, and trying to find myself again, this time as a single 30-something with 3 small kids.
The second year of grief seemed even more deceptive than the first, because you automatically expect the first year after death to absolutely suck, which leads to a false conclusion that the next year will be easier, so then you’re even more surprised by how difficult the anniversaries and birthdays and family gatherings are the second time around. You’re surprised by your lack of anticipation of the pain in the second year, and the surprise leads to more pain.
“Why didn’t I see this coming?”
Year 2 was worse than Year 1 in a lot of ways, for that reason.
Now, I’m 7 months into Year 3, and quite honestly, I’m completely exhausted.
Trampled on by life; demoralized by my inability to excel at anything because, out of necessity, I’m doing too much of everything; and crushed by the weight of what feels like failure in so many areas of life.
I’m desperately clinging to the dwindling hope I have that someday our lives will consist of more than this – more than endless hours ignoring my kids while I work on my computer to provide for us; more than being cranky and completely stressed out 24/7 from all the responsibility and no one to share it with; more than a level of loneliness I didn’t know was possible before now – more than just barely existing from one day to the next, praying for something to change, but having no idea what would actually make this situation any less difficult.
I feel like I’m literally being crushed by life.
I’ve found myself using the tactics of surviving early loss, and telling myself, “You just have to make it through this hour… this afternoon… this day.” I can barely even think about tomorrow or the next day. I’m a planner by nature, and I can’t even plan because the thought of more days like today is overwhelming. It’s all I can do to get through today with enough hope to get out of bed tomorrow and tackle the unrealistic list of obligations I have.
I heard a snippet of a Christine Caine sermon once where she referenced an oil-press, and said that crushing must take place to bring forth new oil – a representation for anointing – and how most people aren’t willing to be crushed, for a lot of reasons, which mostly go back to the fact that we value ourselves, our identity, our security more than the calling or anointing that God wants to bring out of us.
We worship our giftings and the platforms our natural talents bring us and are unwilling to go into the dark place, the secret place, where the real anointing is crushed out of us; the place where the pure is separated from the impure and the holy from the worldly, because it’s painful.
The first evening after my husband died, I went to my bedroom, closed the door, and knelt down by my bedside to pray. There had been dozens of people in my house since 10:00 am that morning when I found him dead, and I just wanted to have a moment alone with God.
I leaned forward over my 9-month pregnant belly and pressed my forehead against the side of the bed and just began to weep in exhaustion and desperation. I couldn’t think of anything to say in that moment except this – “Use this, Lord. Do something with it. Make something good come of this. If this is my lot, then use this for your glory somehow.”
I thought I could easily throw bitter olives on the crushing stone and see pure oil flow from them. Little did I know, I’d have to lay myself down under the millstone with them.
The truth is that I have no idea what is going to come from this tragedy. I’m honestly weary in waiting to see change. I’m wondering what is left that hasn’t already been crushed to smithereens, and why God would leave me in what feels like the useless state between smashed olive paste and the pure oil that gets pressed out of it? At what point does something good begin to flow out of this? I wish I knew.
What I do know is that I’m tired. I’m more tired than I’ve ever been in my entire life. But I’m reminded of another sermon I heard recently where the Pastor pointed out that even Jesus himself got tired. He sat down by the well outside of Samaria because he was tired. (John 4:6)
"...faith doesn't prevent fatigue, it just gives you a place to sit when you're tired."
In his words, “Perfection got tired,” and something in that acknowledgement makes me feel less horrible, less of an excuse-maker, for wanting to stop running this race and sit down.
The Son of God got tired, and maybe I’m not failing God or losing my faith by needing to take a temporary seat and drink some water from the well of life.
The video clip ended with these words, and I think it’s a good place to end this too, because I don’t have a proverbial bow to tie on this post.
I’m emotionally crushed. I’m spiritually exhausted. I’m physically fatigued, but “faith doesn’t prevent fatigue. It just gives you a place to sit when you’re tired.”
If you’re tired, Friends, come have a seat at the well. I’ll draw you some water… and buy you a coffee.
I've never met Shannon. Yet, after reading this blog post, I felt as though we had been friends for years as she recounted some very vulnerable and emotionally raw events in her life. Honestly, I wept throughout this entire read. She graciously allowed me to guest post it here. I pray you're blessed by it, and that your faith gives you a place to find strength and rest.
Find more of Shannon's writing of Faith, Grief, Hope and Life at https://www.beautyandashes.com/blog/