Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christmas Days: The Good, the Bad, The Worst

Facebook post, December 1, 2015:

We only got two Christmases with our Libby. I can't figure out if that makes it easier or harder than if we'd had more. Probably both. She was there in infancy and again as a toddler and now that's it. Last year she was fascinated as she took it all in. But there's no part of Christmas where we can look and know, that was Libby's favorite. No tradition, except putting things beyond her reach, that really feels like it belonged to her. It makes it easier to do Christmas as usual, maybe because it's just out of habit. But even though it hurts like crazy, I still want to feel like she's part of it somehow. Which maybe means we need new traditions, even if they are bittersweet.

I'm finding myself more in the Christmas spirit, at least most days, than what I would have expected. These are the good days. I'm into the hustle of shopping, the gatherings, and our family's Advent traditions. Because we only had the two Christmases with Libby, I'm finding it manageable to go about the routines of the season. It's easy to stay busy which is very helpful. But I'm definitely no Super Woman. Doing stuff is still hard, so I'm learning to prioritize. I've apparently given up cooking. This is not popular with the family, as their priorities seem to differ from mine. Around here, Progresso soups are the taste of the season. Our decorations this year are much simpler. Friends surprised us with gussying up our house while we were out of town over Thanksgiving. What an amazing gift that was to come home to! I had bins of decorations that I was still planning to put out, but after a couple days with no one asking for more I realized I didn't have to do more. How exciting! I'm realizing that the things I thought were essential are not necessarily important to the rest of my family. My mom was right again, simpler is often better. And I am giving myself the gift of peace (or something closer to it) by not running myself ragged trying to do more than I can.

I tend to question these good days. Early on they made no sense and for some reason I wanted a rational explanation for them. I certainly felt guilty about them, as if my misery was the only measure of my love for Libby. (Mind you, I also felt guilty when I had my bad days, because then I was making things so much harder for my family. So really, there was just no winning.) I have (mostly) learned to be grateful for my good days, to realize that they are a gift. If I had had to predict how I would react to the death of one of my children, it would not look like it has looked over the past five months. It would look like me not getting out of bed, watching Netflix, and eating ice cream. God gave me something else (most days at least). And yes, it's for my good and my family's, that they can have a mostly-functioning mom and wife, but it's also for His greater good, for something that goes beyond the little circle of our family, our friends, and even our community. We know that God works all things for good (Romans 8:28). Yes, even this. It doesn't mean that I need to come to a place where I can say, "Oh, I'm glad this happened." It doesn't even mean that I have to accept that all the good will outweigh the one really bad thing. I ache for my daughter daily. But Jesus is where my Hope is. I have Hope because I know I will see her again. And I have Hope because our God is a God of redemption, He is the only one who can bring good from this horrible thing. It doesn't make the horrible thing okay, but I need to see good come from something like this. I need to see beauty coming up from these ashes. 

And make no mistake. There are still bad days. Thankfully, I don't have too many of those. I do have lots of bad moments, minutes, and hours. And a good day is often filled with lots of emotional roller coasters. A memory, a sensation, a song, and suddenly there's an ache in my chest and the tears are threatening to spill. But I can handle the bad days. I can handle crying. I've gotten pretty good at controlling it, because while it's not good to shove our feelings away, who really wants to stand sobbing in a thrift store becasue "Shut Up and Dance With Me" came on the radio? Well, I've done it and I don't care to do it again, thank you very much. The good part about the bad minutes and hours, is that I still feel there's some semblance of control over my emotions which means there's still a chance of turning things around. All of this feels a tiny price to pay for having gotten to be Libby's momma. 

But then there are the Worst Days. These are the ones I dread. The thing with the Worst Days is you can't control the crying. It needs out and I'm not strong enough to stop it. I had a Worst Day last Thursday. It was a couple days after I'd written the Facebook post above, so I had in my mind that I needed to find ways of incorporating Libby into our Christmas. See, the thing is, she is there, she's all around. She's just sprinkled over everything, with no real Libby-concentration in a certain bite. I know if we'd had even one more Christmas she would have had a different presense in the season because we would know more about what she loved from the holiday. But Christmas is full of traditions, so I thought I needed one for Libby and I thought I needed it now. So I decide that I was going to buy a special stocking for Libby and have a friend embroider her name on it and we could write notes to her and put them in the stocking and you get the idea. Well, I started crying in the first store, and I kept trying to control it but was pretty much failing. Why? Well, I was probably short on sleep, and grief and exhaustion are a horrible combination. And then the obvious element of trying to buy a stocking for my Libby girl who won't be with us for any more Christmases. All good reasons for a melt down. The thing is, we do hard things every day and I don't have meltdowns every day. Grief is like walking through a mine field, never knowing when something is going to set me off.

I eventually gave up on the shopping. It was just too hard and I could feel myself falling apart. So I went home and I got in bed and I put on Netflix and ate chips. (No ice cream in the house. Rookie mistake.) We had learned very early on how important distractions were, anything to keep us not solely focused on the pain. I was in agony and I just wanted that feeling to go away. I cried until it became physically painful. And then I cried some more because I just couldn't make it stop. 

Unfortunately, a life of bed and Netflix isn't a great long-term grief plan. Especially since I still have these two great kids to take care of. So like a good mom, I pulled myself out of bed and went to pick them up from school. Luckily they had counseling right after school, because when I am having a Worst Day I like to share that with those closest to me. I'm snappy, irritable, impatient, and apathetic. During their sessions I colored, which I've found to be a quick, successful distraction for me. It always helps calm me down when things start getting churned up inside. But on Worst Days, the benefits don't last. Nothing but the bad mood lasts. So I went home and tried to make my husband as miserable as me. Poor guy. 

That evening I was supposed to go to a craft night a sweet friend had organized and he was basically insisting that I go. Smart man. Now normally this is something I wouldn't  miss for the world. Doing crafts (my favorite!) that I don't have to organize (even more my favorite!) with My People (no stranger danger: favorite!) would be a dream night on any other occasion. But as I dreaded the thought of having to go to this event, I knew I had reached a new low, one that concerned even me. I didn't want to go, but I know it's good to sometimes do the things I don't want to do. And once I've done them, I'm usually glad I did. I had some time on my hands and a wish to turn this day around, so I turned to my Bible. All day long, the refrain from "Hallelujah" by Heather Williams had been running through my head, mainly the lines, "Jesus, please come, please come today." And that's what I wanted. I wanted Him here. And not just in a help-me-get-through-this-day way, but in a hey-wouldn't-today-be-a-good-day-for-You-to-COME-and-bring-us-all-to-heaven way. (And I write that not as a cry for help or as anything super-dark. I was just feeling so low that only Heaven seemed big enough to take away that kind of pain.) I often journal song lyrics in my Bible and I'll try to match them to fitting verses. In this case the most fitting thing seemed to be to just turn to the end of my Bible and journal there. There was no planning or sketching. I just grabbed some markers and got my letters down. Then the chalks, because there's no better way to add lots of color fast. Another pen to scribble my thoughts at the moment. Here's a bit of what I wrote. "Today I don't want any calling. I don't want a purpose. Days like today I just want this world over. I just want Jesus to come back. I want away from this pain. I don't want to be responsible for anything. I want the burden lifted. Thank you, God, that not every day is like this. I couldn't handle it, my family couldn't handle it. Today has felt hopeless. I've been discouraged. I'm just praying I wake up better tomorrow." 

And that's the thing. As awful as a Worst Day is, I know the next day will be better. God knows how weak I truly am and He has never given me two Worst Days in a row. I went to the craft party. I was not good company, but I participated. Until I couldn't anymore, because I guess that's just too much to expect on a Worst Day. I left in tears mid-craft, because on Worst Days the tears just can't be contained, even if you're doing your favorite thing with some of your favorite people. On the Worst Days you just need the day to be over. So I went home and I took my first sleeping pill in over four months, because I just needed it to be tomorrow. "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5) Here's a Bible verse that has brought on new meaning. Grief is always hardest in the evenings, as our bodies, our emotions are depleted and there is nothing left to manage the burden of our sorrow. As I look on my Bible page I'm filled with Hope. I have Hope because I know He is with me, I know He grieves with me, and He understands my grieving heart better than anyone. I have Hope for myself, because even on my Worst Day I was able to color in some bright yellow on the corner of my page, my confidence that there was something better coming.


  1. Erika this is a beautiful telling of your grief. One that is eye opening to me as one who has not experienced what you're going through although I've experienced grief of loss in other ways. Thank you for sharing so openly. Your strong foundation of knowing who your God is inspires and encourages me. I read and hear you filtering all things through the sovereign hand of God. What a difference this makes. I thought of you often over Christmas and New Years. Praying for you in 2016 as well.

  2. Thank you so much, Meloday. I can't even imagine the despair that there would be going through something like this without our faith. I don't think I could survive.

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