Thirteenth Month

The second year:

When I started this on-line journal, I didnít know if I would continue it beyond a year. Iím sure people donít want to read about everything I do for the rest of my life, and I really didnít know what it would be like at a year. I now know; itís not much different from what it was like at 11 months, nor from 13 months. There is something psychological associated with the first year. Now Iíve been through all of the anniversaries once; it has to get easier from here. And I think that subconsciously we think there will some difference after a year. I know that I definitely feel more awkward about my grief; that it will be even less accepted than before because now her death is REALLY old news. So for now, I will continue this journal. Maybe not every month, or maybe I will, just depending upon how much I have to share.

So here is Month 13:

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Why do I feel so awful? Iím either screaming or crying or just about. Yesterday wasnít that bad; we went to the building and Steve worked on the bench for Marie. And I thought the worst was over; I called N. yesterday and told her Wednesday, Abigailís birthday, was harder. Until today. Iím nearly in tears and am just overwhelmed with everything. I just want to get under the covers and hide.

Saturday at Idlewild Park was pretty fun overall. Itís so strange how I can be having fun and then suddenly be overtaken by sadness. Seeing Sarah and T. play together on the little ferris wheel made me sad for what she would have had with Abigail. I just started sobbing for a few minutes. Then it was over.

Although I tried to keep it from being 5 days of down time, I wasnít that successful. I wasnít down the whole time, but much more sad and affected throughout. Wednesday was hard. Thursday was hard. Friday was hard. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday werenít as hard, but today is hard again. It doesnít help that I am lacking sleep. I guess I expected to sail through this and get back to normal. Not. I am overwhelmed with everything and just want to give up on it all: work - especially computer stuff, the new web site, bills, everything just seems too hard. I just want to go cry, but I canít really let it out.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Why is the ďAfterĒ so hard? Yesterday was the anniversary of the day we buried Abigail, and I was aware of it but it wasnít awful. Today, though, I am so sad and just want to cry. It seems so surreal that all this happened, and that a year ago I was taking care of my c-section incision and trying to dry up my milk Ė worrying about physical things about ME when my baby just died. It just seems so wrong, and so sad and pathetic.

Pathetic is how I really feel this past week. On the verge of tears so often. Barely competent at work. Unable to cope with any stress. I just want to stop things and slow down and let myself focus on and feel the emotion. But thereís no time now. Have to work. Have to pay the bills. Have to work on the new site. I obviously donít have the same need to feel the emotion that I did a year ago; then I was in such a stupor, but everyone expected and allowed for that. But I have been doing so well; functioning well at work, and no one expects me (including me) to be struggling like this. I am not used to just pushing on. I need to deal with the emotion. But thereís no time.

I think it would feel very good to just break down and sob. But I canít. I need to figure out how to release it. I need to separate myself from the situation and just look at it from outside. It is a very sad thing, and if I can see it as that, maybe I can release it and cry.

I got a card from one of the nurses at the hospital, remembering Abigail, even a year later. What an incredible blessing to get that card and know that she remembers!  T. just had surgery, and I havenít even called or sent a card. I just canít focus on her right now. I am in my own crisis. I feel bad about it, and I think I should explain it sometime, but I canít even explain it to her yet. I waver between feeling like I should be supporting her more because of what Iíve been through and my ďroleĒ and feeling like I am within my rights to need more time for me. But I donít think people really understand that.

At times like this, I wonder if I really have come that far after all. Just when I was really feeling like I was on ďold-timerĒ able to do more helping than hurting, the tables turned and I feel so pathetic and needy. How many more flashbacks am I going to have? How many more dates and events and anniversaries are going to do this to me? How big is this valley?

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Today I took the kids to Tuscora Park. We had a terrific day Ė they were really good and we just enjoyed the time. Of course, I canít take my eyes off all the babies, especially those who are very small like Abigail was or who are about a year old like Abigail would be. I longed to ask some of the moms how old their babies were in the hope that they would say 12 months and I could say that my daughter had her birthday last week and she would have been one. But why would I tell them that, other than to say, ďI have a baby, too! Recognize and honor her, too! She should be here riding on the carousel and the train, too, but she isnít and I miss her so much.Ē No tears today, but some melancholy thoughts and a strong desire to let others know that things are not as they appear Ė I have THREE kids.

I am thinking a lot about A. and Marie lately. Marieís BD is approaching, and I have written a poem for Marie, and Steve has finished the bench. I am also working on a web page for Marie. I want to surprise A. on Marieís birthday. I think she will like it and it is something I can give her that she doesnít really do, just like the cards and bracelets and garden stones she made for me are things I donít really do.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Once again it is so hard today! Things are not good between Steve and me. I am just depressed. I think he is, too. We need to talk, but instead we just pick at each other. We never laugh together anymore. I called Kathy right after I got here, and she told me not to expect so much Ė itís only been a year and the anniversary is not just one day. She also said that Steveís daughter died a year ago, too. Steve and I just need to take some time to talk.

I am so irritable today. Is it because I have to work and I donít want to so instead of breaking down in tears I am getting angry? And I am just down and depressed. No question. I hate this whole thing.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

This has been a really hard week. Today was terrible. I hate Sundays. I was already stressed when we got to church, normal Sunday morning stuff, and realizing more and more this week that Steve and I are just not connecting. And it seems like he doesnít want to talk about it at all. Nor does he seem to have any more patience with my setback after Abigailís birthday.

Things seemed to get much harder after her birthday. I think itís because I somehow thought the one-year mark would change something, that things or I would be different. But it really makes no difference, other than having more rough memories than usual lately. And so it seems much harder, I guess. I was hanging on until her birthday, hoping to get through it ok. But now that I have, itís no better or different. Sheís still gone, nothing is easier. And I guess I, like Sarah, expected her to be here or something. But sheís not coming back.

Monday, September 15, 2003

I just got off the phone with K. This morning has really been awful, but just like lately. I am completely overwhelmed with life. I canít handle anything here at work, and this morning, trying to do a quality report (PQM job) my monitor died and I had to replace it (LISO job). Meantime, I got so totally frustrated that I lost it and started screaming, shouting, and throwing and hitting things. These are annoyances, yes, but I am TOTALLY overreacting to them.

I feel so helpless; I donít know what to do. As I talked to K. I realized that this still IS the grief, but it is showing up in being overwhelmed and stressed instead of in tears and sadness. And itís probably because I am trying to push through it and ignore it and continue to do everything. I am not doing my ďpreventive maintenanceĒ: journaling, emailing, calling, walking at lunch like I did months ago when I was struggling. It is so disappointing. I was doing so well and I guess I just thought I was off the mountain. But Iím not. And I stopped focusing on it and being aware of it, and it threw me for a loop and knocked me down again. And because I was doing so well, I increased my expectations of myself Ė mainly at work.

How humbling this is, to realize that I donít have it nearly as together as I thought I did. To see just how much farther I have to go. And to admit that all the anger and stress is really due to the grief. I didnít recognize it at first. It seemed to really be all the pressure, but I would be able to withstand it if it werenít for the grief. And itís hard to admit that I really was expecting something to happen at the one-year mark. I was holding on, working to get through it. And I guess I expected something to happen, to change. Maybe I thought it would get easier suddenly, or that it would feel different, or maybe even that she was coming back. But nothing is different. Itís not easier, it doesnít feel different, and sheís still not here. And that in itself makes it much harder, because the expected relief wasnít there. My burden wasnít lifted. When I used that last burst of energy for that last push to the finish line, I was surprised to find that it wasnít the finish line. The race isnít over. The relief I thought I would get upon crossing the line, the time to relax, didnít come. The race is still going and Iíve used up that burst of energy. Where am I going to find the energy to keep going now?

Iím trying to find the energy that isnít there, to get the motivation that isnít there, and not to admit to myself or anyone else that I was wrong about getting through that year. Iím denying that is the problem, ashamed to admit that I actually thought the year mark would be significant. Ashamed to admit that I am suffering a setback. This is not a shameful thing. I need to quit trying to hide it and fight it and just recognize the true source Ė grief and sadness. I need to let myself cry about Abigail to let it out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Iím feeling it coming on again. The anger. The sense of being overwhelmed. I guess itís better than it has been, since itís now noon already. I went to see J. yesterday after freaking out again in the morning. And I told her what I had figured out: that I need to focus more on Abigail and on my preventive stuff. She pointed out that itís like living on the edge of a circle and the least stress sends you over the edge. And if you use medication or other things to move you away from the edge, then you have some reserve to deal with the other stresses. But I am right on the edge right now. I stopped taking my ďmedicationĒ, doing my preventive things, so I donít have that buffer zone. I need to be sure to do those things. So I am journaling right now.

I felt really good after talking with her; I was feeling better anyway because I had gone to lunch with Steve. In the morning I had burst into tears about the ďpressureĒ of having to take Nathan to the bus on time.

When I got back from lunch, there was a wonderful voice mail from A. She was all excited about the web site and the pictures of the bench I had sent for Marieís birthday. It really made me feel good that she was that excited about those things; I had really wanted to do something special for her and it felt so good that they made her happy.

So by the time I was heading home from J. I was feeling good. Then the car overheated again. And I just lost it. I was so frustrated because I had been feeling good and then that.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

This morning I was depressed. No other description for it. Just donít care any more. Then I was asked about something in the morning meeting and I blew up again. I hate that I am so much on edge. I know I need to walk more and journal, too, but I donít want to take the time to do it. Whatís wrong with me? I just keep trying to push on. I need to take the time to do the things that I learned before.

Friday, September 19, 2003

I feel like I am just hanging by a thread. I am blowing up over the least little stress, and work is very stressful right now. I'm still not sure how things are going to fall out, but I am sure that I am in this new job whether I like it or not. Exactly what it will entail is still up for grabs. Yesterday my boss told me that a couple of months ago he had thought I had turned the corner and he asked if there was anything they could do to help me now. I have to learn how to function again - I'm getting to where people are afraid to ask me for things - and I hate that. I told him I thought I had turned the corner too and it is so frustrating to be here again, that the anniversaries hit me harder than I expected and that I need to pace myself more.

The weird thing, though, is that when I'm feeling it all start to build up, I don't feel the urge to journal or walk like I used to, I don't feel like I have time. My urge is just to push harder, which makes it worse. I'm not sure why - I used to look forward to both of those things. Maybe it's because this feels different: the sadness isn't on top, it's the stress and anger, so I don't recognize it. Or maybe it's because I'm so exhausted and don't think I have the energy to think or walk. J. also concluded that I am exhausted and I need a break. So I am taking Monday and Tuesday off work. My primary goal is to sleep. But Monday night I am going to look into going to this little retreat place nearby she told me about, just to completely get away for 24 hours alone. I am hoping 2 days will help, but in the back of my mind I am thinking I should make it longer and not come back until I feel ready. But there's that urgency again: keep pushing. Can't do that. We'll see.

I feel like such a failure - undoing all the progress I've made. I've also been observing how selfish I have been through all this. I really can't see how, other than during Abigail's life and death themselves, I have glorified God through this. Looking objectively, I can't see that I am influencing those who are watching at all except that I am so sad and removed from everyone: so selfish. No inspiration or "faith through the trial". No triumph over tragedy. No increased faith or closeness with God. I feel like I am sending just the opposite message. I have pulled myself back from everyone, and I am realizing just how far back that is and wonder if I'll ever come back. I don't like the example I have set at all. I have never been able to hide my emotions or put on a show. When I am down, everyone knows it. When I am really not happy to see someone, they know it. Shouldn't I be able to suck it up a little now and not be so down or crabby all the time? I feel like people think I am playing the excuse card, asking for pity, and I am wondering if that's what I am doing, too.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Well, I am away, by myself, overnight. I got a room in Cambridge with a whirlpool and am planning to go hike around Salt Fork tomorrow.

Brought the book ďHolding on to HopeĒ by Nancy Guthrie to reread. I had read it a couple months ago, but very quickly. So I took it with me to dinner and started it and then read it while in the whirlpool  -  aaaaahhhhh. And it is really striking me this time, along the lines of me realizing that I am not glorifying God through this. I think I am making excuses and bitter. No, I havenít lost my faith, but I have a chip on my shoulder: my suffering is worse than everyone elseís and so I should have special treatment. And that is certainly not honoring God.

Before Abigailís birth, trusting God that she was created just as He wanted her to be Ė I think we honored God. But when the awful pain hit, I just lost my rationality. I have kept my focus on eternity, and Nancy Guthrie, the author, points out that is part of the reason for suffering Ė to make us really long for heaven. Well, I can say that has happened. But I need to not be impatient with those who donít understand it or feel the same; it just means they havenít been blessed with the same experiences as I have: the suffering. Wow, if I look at it that way, I really have been blessed. How have I been so blind? Abigailís life is affecting others going through the same thing, but not so much others watching Ė yet. I can broaden her influence by changing my attitude and outlook. After reading the book, several truths jumped out at me.

Like her, I felt that I had an unspoken agreement with God: this is enough. No more. Donít expect anything else of me. Iíve met my quota. Losing Abigail was enough. Sure, I feel that way, but I donít really have a right to. Thereís no quota of suffering. I am treating Abigail as a gift, but not the rest of the blessings of my life. I also am willing to give her back, but nothing else. No, God, thatís just asking too much. Ask someone else. But my whole life isnít mine. Canít I realize that? I still believe, but I am certainly not turning to him, relying on him, trusting in him, looking to him for help, or glorifying him. I am dragging my feet and going along like I have to. And then I expect some great prize or credit for that! What, am I crazy? How can I even think God is pleased with this? I need to trust him with everything. He has carried me through the hardest thing of my life, even though I have been pushing him away. Why canít I give him my whole life?

I really do think I have continued to trust in God for the most part. Only Iím not acting like it. Iím acting like a spoiled teenager whoís mad at her parents, snotty and rebellious. Iím following the rules because I know itís right, but I donít really want to or feel any joy in doing it. Like I am drifting for a while, but not too far because I know I will want to come back again later. As she said, I need to search for the joy of pleasing God. Iíve lost sight of that. Iím going along grudgingly instead of joyfully and gladly. My goodness, Heís giving me eternal life, canít I find joy in that? Canít I look to him to be my refuge and strength Ė now, when I need it?

This is essentially the same thing Bernadette Keaggy said about trusting God and clinging to him through it all, even though we donít know why. I have done that; my faith and trust and belief have not wavered in eternity and heaven and Godís purpose. I just need to grow closer to God here and now. I need to see how the Spirit can work in me now to help me get there. And maybe this suffering is to teach me about the Spirit. And maybe this experience is to help me learn to rely on the Spirit and learn of the joy we can get by relying on the Spirit each day. I need to communicate daily with God, and turn to him. I havenít been casting my burden on him, and I need to. Maybe thatís why this setback, right now. To show me I need to rely on him every day. Now that I have been feeling stronger and getting back to normal, I have been thinking itís all me in how well I am doing. I have to go back and rely on God.

I felt Godís peace and strength in my life. Before Abigail was born, while she was here, and after she died. I felt Godís presence with us, giving us strength. Then, as time went on, I pulled away from God in my pain, instead of turning to him. I think my fundamental misunderstanding that my faith would shield me from the pain contributed to it. I guess it kind of made me mad at God and I stopped turning to him because I felt like he had left me. Is that another learning from this that I need to pass on to others Ė that the pain will still be there Ė God wonít take it away? So donít give up on God because it hurts. Can I help others understand that and make the church more supportive to those in pain. Can I help them realize that itís not a matter of lack of faith when we are hurting?

I have been given a huge gift: knowing Abigail and suffering her loss. I need to consider it a gift and speak of it that way. If I can begin to do that, I think the reliance on God, the showing others the priorities in prayer, the showing others that pain doesnít mean lack of faith, will come from that. I will be honoring God and giving him glory. I will continually be seeking the gifts and blessings from this suffering, and I will see them more and more.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Ruminations on Life, Death, and Faith

Having just gone through the first anniversary of Abigailís birth, death, and burial, I have been doing a lot of reflecting. It feels strange to remember things so clearly as if they were yesterday, yet all the while fully immersed in todayís responsibilities. I made the mistake of trying to fit the memories into my life, instead of stopping my life for a while to remember her. But that didnít last long; life quickly fell apart, demanding that I take the time I needed. And so I did, humbled at realizing Iím still in the mountains after all, and that Iím trudging through a valley like I havenít for some time.

How have I made it through this past year? Clearly it hasnít been alone. The board has been my lifeline Ė day by day, hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute. Many people there know me better than just about anyone else does. The notes, emails, and gifts they sent on Abigailís birthday were so wonderful, so touching. To know that she is loved and remembered by those who understand, who really appreciate who she is and what she means is priceless. I am overwhelmed to realize that in the midst of their own grief and healing they sought and found the perfect card, the perfect frame, the perfect flowers, and the perfect thoughts to share with me. The gift that really blew me away took hours and hours of thought, work, and love Ė and gave me a beautiful message from God for each day that Abigail was here with us. I thank God so much for A. for listening to God and her heart and sharing it with me.

My faith in God has made it possible to get up each day, knowing that there is hope for eternity in heaven. And it has carried me at times, though I was often crawling. But, like the grief, my feelings toward God have been varied and unpredictable. At first, I felt very close to God, how could I not? Holding Abigail was like being in His presence, and I was in awe of Him because of the incredible peace and joy I felt as I received her to myself and then gave her back to Him. I truly felt blessed to have experienced her love and to have received 5 days with her Ė an eternity! But as time went on and the pain and grief hit full force, I didnít feel the same peace. And I began to question: is this so hard because I donít have enough faith? Shouldnít I be able to stand up straight with full assurance and praise God that Abigail is in heaven? The scriptures speak of comforting one another with these words Ė so why was I hurting so much? Why wasnít I comforted? And I found it hard to worship God Ė I couldnít find the joy. I still believed, but there was little joy, little peace, little comfort. Where were they? What was wrong with my faith that I was hurting so much?

And so, without realizing it, I began backing away from God. God must have deserted me because my faith was lacking, I reasoned. I felt distant from Him, from the church. I knew they could see my lack of faith Ė look at how I was suffering! At times I would draw near to God, only to push Him away again. I got angry with God for making me do this alone Ė holding out the prize of heaven but making me get there on my own. So I have struggled on and off the past year, never doubting Godís promises but wondering where He has been.

And the nagging thought as I reflected on these things was that God HAS been here. Too many things; too many circumstances were clearly arranged just so I could be supported through this Ė at home, at church, at work. And I began to see how God has been with me. The support from my coworkers. Friendships made deeper and richer. New friendships that will last a lifetime. A more sensitive and understanding heart. A deeper love for my children and husband. Deeper understanding of some of Godís truths. And I realized that I had misunderstood what faith is and does Ė it doesnít shield us from pain and loss. I had truly thought my faith would lessen the pain Ė that it wouldnít hurt so much because I really believed. And now know I was wrong. The faith gives me hope Ė which I cling to - but it doesnít stop the pain. If only I had understood this from the first, maybe I wouldnít have pushed God away. But I understand it now.

And so now I resolve to move ahead, recognizing Godís hand in my life, trying to bring glory to Him. It wonít be easy; Iíve gotten used to pushing Him away. But He is still there, as He has been all along, helping and guiding me. Itís now time for me to recognize that and give Him the glory He deserves. And I hope that along the way, I can encourage and comfort others as well, as they also seek peace with God.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."
Eph 3:20-21

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Life in the Spiritual fishbowl

We place so much pressure on ourselves, thinking about what we SHOULD or SHOULDNíT do. And thatís all based upon our experience before our loss Ė how we thought it would be. The other thing that strikes me is that God HASNíT delivered us through the suffering, because weíre not finished suffering yet. There is a big misconception in the church that getting through the death and funeral is the hard part. And when we successfully do that without falling to pieces, the perception is that we have ďmade itĒ and we have been so faithful and such a great example, etc. No one (not even us) realized how much harder it was yet to become. So when it does get harder, we are afraid to express our true feelings Ė to others, to God, and even to ourselves.

Surely if anyone knew how we are really feeling, that we arenít victorious and joyful, they would question our faith. So we deny that feeling and get angry with God because he suddenly ďstoppedĒ helping us through this. But he didnít stop. We just werenít ready for the emotions of it. No one is. Those who havenít gone through a deep loss, spiritual or not, just donít understand the emotions of it. And to complicate things, they REALLY donít understand the emotions of losing a baby. Most just donít understand how deeply we love our child before ever meeting him or her. So they see the emotions and sadness and pain that go with losing our child and they donít understand them (and neither do we). And so they conclude that we must not be trusting God (and, after awhile, so do we). So they try to help us by giving spiritual advice, which makes us believe even more that there must be something wrong with our faith. So we stop telling people how we are really feeling and either fake it or just stop going to church altogether. And then everyone is REALLY convinced that we have a spiritual problem.

Talk about living in a fishbowl! We just need some time and space to work things out with God; we donít need to be doing it in front of an audience! But that is what we are doing. In their attempts to encourage us by telling us how strong we are or how we are honoring God, they are actually putting more pressure on us. ďOh, no,Ē we think, ďNow we have to continue to be strong and spiritual.Ē We are given the clear message that sad is bad and happy is good. Itís because people donít know how to deal with the emotions. Itís a shame that as we are learning about grief ourselves and stumbling and bumbling through it, we find that we must also teach nearly everyone around us about it, too, if we want any hope of being understood or comforted.

I know that I have learned so much about pain and anxiety and suffering through this, and that I will never place the same expectations on anyone else in the church that I placed on myself. And maybe I can help others to see the same thing, so when the church tries to be supportive and encouraging to others in the future, they will actually do helpful things instead of unintentionally hurtful things.

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