We used to live near a cemetery.
I walked Mabel there many days, mile after mile. Sometimes in the sunshine and heat; me with sweat pouring and she in nothing but a diaper. And sometimes in the fall breeze, bundled tightly under a blanket while I pushed her with cold air rushing quickly to my lungs, scorching tears streaming down my face.
Every single step hurt, then, with anticipation of what was to come.
Nora and Braden would go with us sometimes and they would ride their bikes along the winding paths ahead of us. I had a Bluetooth speaker that I sat in the empty seat next to Mabel in the double stroller during those walks and as the music played, (sometimes worship and sometimes rap), I would set myself free as I pushed and pushed my baby, watching my other two familiarize themselves with the land of the non-living. I knew their sister would not be buried in this exact cemetery because at 2 years old when we received her diagnosis, I already knew where I wanted her body to rest and it happened to be 10 miles west of town in a sweet little country spot called "pleasant valley." I did, however, want her siblings to see this place as somewhere that they could always go, in the sunshine or the cold, in the heat or the rain...and feel peace. That it was not something to be afraid of but instead, something to honor. Something to hush about. Something to be at peace with.
They were so little then. It feels like a lifetime ago when their little voices would ask such deep questions. I remember purposing myself to always answer them honestly, no matter how hard it felt, knowing that one day they would appreciate the truth that was told to them along the way. So as her legs jerked and kicked and her body slid further and further down in the stroller, I pushed her.
And I pushed myself. And though some days it felt more like dragging, I know ultimately I pushed them too.
I haven't been back to the cemetery (for a walk) since we moved from the big white house on Webster street...
It was 54 degrees and the sun was brilliant. I ran close to 4 miles before deciding to head down that familiar road and walk the winding paths that I once walked with my baby in front of me. It was beautiful and it felt really good.
I miss her but there is just no doubt that she is near.
[a lit-up-just-right heart tree. no coincidences]
I love days when I can really be alone with myself and just appreciate the time for what it is. Not overthinking or even over-feeling. Just being present with myself and nature and God and letting it all just be. That is so important and so few of us really practice this concept.
Along the way today I was struck by many fleeting thoughts. All of which I let myself ponder for a few moments before moving on to the next; being careful not to obsess or fixate on the thought itself, but rather allowing it to come to me and then pass again.
I thought so much today (and most every day) about all of the people I have met on this journey of grief and how incredibly special they are. More than being courageous and strong and inspiring, these people are just truly authentic. They are raw-to-the-bone because they literally do not have time not to be.
Grievers crave realness. We crave genuine connections because we have literally stared into the face of death. And when you have seen it; when you have seen death's face...you don't ever want to look at anything less real than that ever again.
For me, unfortunately, it has become increasingly hard to live in a world that feels so trivial on most days. I crave deep connections so intensely and cringe at mediocre small talk. I long for interactions that feel like the ala-teen meetings of my youth. I literally yearn for a room full of people who could say any and everything that I'm feeling or, who don't have to say anything at all because they already just really get it.
But I also don't want that and hate the idea of it because that means that there would have to be an entire room full of mother's who's children have died and who are really sad, mad, lonely, and exhausted of feeling it all. But if it existed and if I could walk into that room just once every day, I know that a single nod or one very simple gesture would probably be more true than any other conversation that I find myself in (with actual humans) regularly.
My closest friends have expressed that they struggle with knowing this about me and that makes me really sad. Sad that they have to sit at a table and wonder if what they're saying matters to me at all. (Of course it does.)
Sad that at some point they may not even want to do that anymore because the tip toeing is all too frustrating for them. And I get that. I just don't know how to change it and am not sure that I want to. The depth of what I have felt, witnessed, experienced and continue to...you cannot be unchanged after you have walked through the life and death of your child. Nor would you want to be.
In the last six months I started focusing on true and intentional self care. Not the kind that is Instagram worthy. The kind that is soul-worthy. The kind that is necessary. Part of it is simply taking a hot bath at the end of every day. Some of it involves going back to bed in the morning and not connecting any shame to doing so. Another really critical thing for me was to make the decision (and stick to) getting a massage every 2 weeks. My body was so wrecked last winter from the physical effects of grief (and also that little genetic issue that I worked so hard to find) that I knew if I didn't start actively participating in my own healing I would never feel good again.
One of the greatest parts of this act (aside from the actual massages) is the sweet friend that I have made in my massage therapist. She has healing hands but also a really tender and healing heart. She listens and laughs and is kind and gentle and shows me such grace. Without a doubt, it was the best thing I have ever done for myself both mentally and physically. She is such a gift. And she uses her gift to continually pour into me. It has shown me that I can now identify my physical weaknesses and receive help in healing them but also that I can still make new connections and friendships. I can still form rich, deep, interesting relationships with people that will be lasting, even after the death of my child. I can still actively participate in the healing of my heart as I continue to forge ahead in life, without Mabel.
I also thought today, and actually I think about it probably once every single day-
About my relationship to it, my role in it, and how much greater my love for God has been without it. How it makes me sad that the kids aren't experiencing it but how grateful I am that they're being given this really great gift of learning about God in a way that isn't restricted or boxy. I think about the relationships that were made during my time in the church and how they failed so miserably in the worst years of my life. How those relationships could be sustained in the sludgy gutter of life.. I still feel so outraged by the hypocrisy of it all and by so many, many things surrounding 'the church' that it takes a lot of sorting through in my mind to get to a place of letting those thoughts go before they become really heavy and totally unhealthy. I will wade through them better another time and write them here because I do think it's important to do so.
I did conclude, once again, on my walk today through the cemetery that I am really grateful for where I am now. For the expansive and all-encompassing thinking that I have gained. For the really unhealthy relationships I bid farewell. For the strength to do so. For God's mercy while tending to my totally shattered and really damaged heart.
For His presence-outside of a building but so deeply rooted in me.
I have never felt more grateful to be alive than I do when I am alone with Him and can feel what it is like to feel Him so intimately connected to me. No distractions; just the Lord and I.
This Thanksgiving week I am thankful for just a little more courage than usual. The kind that led me through the cemetery on this perfect fall day. The kind that let me think about such beautiful and hard memories with total gratitude. The kind that will see me through August's surgery tomorrow and yet another Thanksgiving day with one missing seat at our table.
(A bouncy seat, but a seat nevertheless.)
That kind of courage isn't just there. That kind is born out of devastation and heartbreak and total wreckage. But after a horrifyingly painful labor involving all of those things, you really do see what you are made of. And there really is a light in all of that darkness.
I see it more these days than once before and I took notice of that today, too.
Sometimes that is all you have to do...