fresh snow, fresh grief.

I was supposed to attend a funeral today. A memorial service for a family who lost their little girl last week. She was a beautiful 13-year-old, a hurting soul who just couldn’t do this life anymore, and left a broken-hearted family behind. I wanted to go to the service and stand with the rest of the community, stand and honor her life and her parents and her siblings. But it’s been snowing for two days now and I couldn’t make it to the church. So while a family is weeping with their fresh wrenching grief,  I’m snowed in at home with my little babies.

It was a strange morning. As the clocked turned to 11:00 a.m. and I knew the church was probably coming to a hush as someone stood in front to open their time together, I imagined preparing a funeral for one of my children. I shivered at the thought of our greatest nightmare as moms and dads. I cried and prayed for that hurting family. I sat on the floor and stared at my own kids, tearfully kissing their hair and their eyes and their feet and the middle of their chests where their precious hearts beat away. I am broken and thankful and afraid, all at once, in this warm glove of my house. Thankful for motherhood. Broken with fresh grief. Afraid in the vulnerability of parental love.

Bent in prayer for a family bent in pain.

The older I get, the more often tragedy seems to seep into my awareness. Am I just more conscious of it all? Am I simply paying more attention? Why is it all so bad all the time? How can we operate under all of this uncertainty, under the constant strain of inevitable catastrophes that threaten to consume us whole?  How can we go on like this? 

I don’t know. The world outside is covered in six inches of fresh snow, the reality of my neighborhood now cloaked as foreign shapes, softened edges. You could get lost in the frozen unknown of it all. The thing is, we are going on. I’m packing for a trip. My sister is preparing a Christmas song for children’s church. Sam is out buying a snow shovel. My friends, these sweet people who love their kids so much, are posting pictures of their families in squishy nylon coats, their cheeks pink and cold, playing happily outside. The world is turning and turning, and good things are still happening, and the snow is still falling too. We are going on. 

Truth: I don’t know how we can go on like this. How we keep breathing, despite the bad news, despite the funerals, despite the catastrophes. All I know for certain (this is it, this is truly it) is that I put my hope in a Savior. In the God of my heart and the God of everything I know to be true and pure. In the God who lets the snow fall and lets the sun shine and has never, ever, abandoned me or any of us. That’s it. That’s all I know. And that’s the only way I can go on.

Come heal this world, Jesus. It’s too much sometimes, it really really is.

In light of grief; I wrote this essay below after my friend Jimmy died last year. It seemed like the kind of day to share it again.

Thinking of your beautiful Camille today, Corey.

Love, Jessie

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THIS IS HOW YOU GRIEVE.

 

because motherhood will crack you wide open.

A few nights ago my parents had a Bible study at their house and one of their group members asked me,

“How is your visit to Boston going? Are you just here to relax, or did you come for some sort of business?”

It was 8:00 at night. Both of my kids were bathed and in jammies and still awake, full of whatever business they seem to get full of when it’s dark and they are late to bed. I was in my parents’ small home which was filled with adults I’d never met before, and I’d been travelling alone with a 2 year old and a 9 month old since 3:30 in the morning on Saturday.

So I wasn’t sure how to answer him. ‘Cause while I’m definitely not getting paid to do any business during my visit, I’m sure as hell not relaxing in any definition of the word. In fact, these last few weeks have hit me hard. Hit me like an airliner trundling down the runway, like a wind whipping through trees, like a bottle blunt over the head. Sam was on-call the week before we left which meant we didn’t see him for days at a time, and then I packed up a big suitcase full of my jeans and sweaters mingled with their smaller jeans and tiny sweaters, and left for a ten day trip with Clara and Sammy to see my family in Boston. I’ve been planning this trip since my birthday in April when I asked for airline tickets to see my parents, my brother Robert,  my sister-in-law Malia, and my baby niece Elsie. It’s good to be here. I am supposed to be here.

But hey, man. I’m tired.
I’m tired from worrying about our plane rides.
I’m tired from the actual plane rides.
I’m tired from parenting alone the last few weeks.
And tonight;
oh, gosh,
tonight?
I’m tired. Of. My. Kids.
Not of them, themselves, though they can be a little awful,
but of their never-ending need for me and my space and my time.

My friend lost her baby this week, 20 weeks into her pregnancy. Her little boy, she’ll never meet him. She’ll never hear his heartbeat again or get to shush and sway him to sleep, never get to cut his hair, never have to put him in time-out. It’s a heartbreak I’m familiar with, the searing, burning pain of losing a beloved baby. It’s a loss a mother does not forget. I’ve lost a baby and I’ve kissed the quiet face of another mother’s lost baby and I’ve prayed in anger over lost babies and there’s something that breaks in that empty mother that doesn’t get fixed. It does not repair. Like a crack in the earth that now contains a formidable rushing river, it is a break so violent that it can absolutely never be repaired.
It can grow a river.
It can produce beauty.
But it cannot be fixed.

Tonight, after another long day with my two year old, the one who never ever ever stops talking and the one who never ever ever stops pushing boundaries, I called my husband behind closed doors and whispered that I wanted to run away from his daughter. I don’t know what to do anymore, Sam, I said. She’s pushed me to the edge. I’m here. On the edge. I’m out of ideas. And I’m tired. I was calling him from thousands of miles away and two time zones ahead and I just really needed to hear his voice, to hear from someone else who knows the difficult loveliness of our Clara and her complicated, intelligent, manipulative brand of disobedience. I needed another soldier to remind me why we’re fighting this good fight at all.

My fellow warrior gave me some advice (he was irate, he is as stubborn as she is and doesn’t put up with nearly as much as I do) and then said with resolve,
Don’t let her break you, Jess! You know she’ll try to break you! 

It was funny, and we laughed, mostly because it’s true, but let’s be honest.
Motherhood breaks us.
There is no place on a man’s body that breaks open and produces life.
But a woman?
No matter what way a baby is born, through a cesarean cut or a birth canal,
a woman is broken open for her child.

These little people, these beating hearts, they break us open. They devastate our bodies and our lives in the most resplendent fashion, carving paths and valleys so deep that they hurt, changing our very landscape with every breath that they do or do not take. The pain of raising my children is carving away at me, with every argument and every defiance and every stumble away from my instruction, the pain of their pain is widening a crevice inside me. This relentless love for my children, the terrifying and determined love of a mother, it chisels in me walls steep with miles and miles of edges and cliffs. I cannot help but love them with a wonder awash in fear, cannot help but want the best for them with a need akin to desperation.
And so the valleys extend.

But then?
Then come the currents.
The river waters begin to swell, begin to swirl, begin tumbling over those dry and sparse grounds we thought we knew so well.
It’s all changing, it’s all hard, and it’s all so achingly beautiful.

It is the very essence of God, of a holy refreshing love, breaking and changing and making space for what will come.
In the suffering, may there be promise.
In the silence, may there be hope.
In the pain, may there be the scent of fresh water. May the rain be fruitful and may the land find healing.

I am in Boston on a dark and cold autumn night and I’m so glad my babies are asleep. Somewhere back home in the chill of an Idaho October, I imagine my friend would do anything to give her baby more time.
Motherhood breaks us open. It cracks us through and through. Tonight I’m praying for refreshment, and for new days. For rivers to come. For cliffs to be beautiful and not just dangerous. For Clara to listen and for more patience and wisdom, and most of all for a mom who is getting ready to tell her son goodbye.

May joy come in the morning. 

 

This is how you grieve.

Start with an empty room.

Open your arms, stretch them out in disbelief, tremble with a fear that cannot be breached, and gather your things. You’ll need some help, here, if you can find it. The room may be quite large, but also it could be impossibly

suffocating

shoulder-bending small.

If you find your sad self in this kind of a tiny room, stooped over, nagging kink in your neck, and fighting an eye spasm, hold someone’s hand and wait.

This room will grow.

Start with an empty room, and gather.

Drag in a table. Line it with dishes, or flowers, or scratched out angry letters, or bottles of booze, or chewed up plastic straws. Or nothing.

You need this table.
You need a surface.
You need a landing.
This may seem exhausting.

It will be exhausting.

Now find a lamp for your room. Maybe one with a dimmer switch? Because some days will be darker than others and you want to show the lamp that it is necessary and
yes, lamp, you are appreciated.

You may need more than one lamp. 

You will find all of this aggravating.

Pull an area rug to your room. Not wall-to-wall coverage, you need some distance between you and the floor and the walls and the oxygen. Your rug fibers ought to cushion your knees:

In prayer. In pleading. In the frenzy of your wild anger. In the quiet of your stuttered breaths.

Make sure it’s thick. 

Unfurl the rug, strand by strand, and feel the weight in the room.
Feel the world beneath your feet, ok?

Imperative: couch. bed. chair. instruments of quiet, feather-filled stops.

Your couch will be important.

Trust me on that.

For the sake of your tired body, trust me on that.
For the sake of aching ribs.
For the sake of solemn skin, stretched too far across hungry cheeks and dry lips.
For the sake of empty elbow crooks.
For the sake of wilted eyebrows.
For the sake of drowsy blood flow and cramping fists.

For the new iron casing around your chest and fingers,
the weight in your bone marrow that you cannot lift or shake or lose.

Please wearily accept the gift of respite:
when you sleep without dreams,
when your baby wakens and calls your name,
when the sun shines hot through your car window,
when you remember how to spice your spaghetti,
when hope pokes a tiny sprig in your direction,

Rest.
Find your couch,
Stretch across your bed,
and rest.

Live in your room.
As long as you need, stay in your room.

Welcome in guests, if the room will hold them. 

Explore it. Scrape the floor, crawl the corners, examine the bumps in the walls and the cracks in the ceiling. Trace every inch.
Fill a vase or a hundred old bathtubs with your tears.

The dead do not mean well. They come, they go, they leave us behind to tread the deep murky waters of in absentia. Heaven may hold them, but earth holds us, tether bound to the grocery store and decisions for tomorrow, which is terribly unfair when our hearts have recently begun a slow descent into our guts. Who needs grapes and milk at a time like this?

This is how you grieve. 

Start with an empty room.
Gather your things.
Settle in.
Move about.
Rest.
Rage.
Wonder.
‘Til you are left with one wooden chair.
Send the rug to the cleaners.
Haul the couch to the curb.
Stack your dishes and tidy your angry letters,
water your flowers and give them away.
Sit in the wooden chair.
Remember the room when it was crowded with sorrow.
And when you are ready,
And you’ll know when you are ready,

 

 

 

 

leave.