redeeming grief

In December of 2004, I lost a piece of myself that isn’t really retrievable. It was a week before Christmas and I found myself delivering my first child into a world he would never know. There will be no deep dive into the details of my pregnancy with Nathan and what determined our loss–if you want those, you can find them here.

This blog series is aimed at positivity so it seems odd I would bring this loss up at all, but I promise, it comes with good reason. You see, this year, Nathan, had he not been so sick, would be old enough to attend high school…and since I am a high school  principal and teacher, this weighs heavy. I walk around my school each day and I watch the antics of my freshmen–I hear the silly giggles, still tinged with junior high joy; I see the awkwardness settling as they begin to figure out high school; I reassure their parents that their kids will in fact mature and that they will find success. And I do all of this with a bit of an achey heart these days because I should be more deeply involved in this scenario than just the voice of principalian experience (and yes, I just made that word up…). I should be walking campus tickled by the laughter of my own son and his friends…I should be the parent in need of reassurance. In the midst of this realization, I felt my grief, which I have spent so long taming, rediscovering its roar.

Sadness was welling up and I was struggling to push it down.

This was so much harder than I thought it was going to be…and I spent the summer preparing for it!

But as we have wandered through these early weeks of school, I have learned to live my gratitude (which is what redeemed my grief all those years ago). These days, I walk around campus and instead of feeling betrayed by loss, I feel even closer to Nathan than usual. It is almost as if he is present with me just a little bit more each day. Instead of what ifs, I just feel grateful that I have the chance to work with, teach and help all of these kids who are as old as he should be. It is my gift back in some strange way.

I have spent the last 15 years of my life trying to figure out the purpose to my grief, and while I may spend the next 15 years trying to do the same, I have learned a few things. When I harness my grief to offer empathy to those who are suffering, the loss is less. When I view my students through the lens of “If this were Nathan, how would I want someone to treat him in this moment?”, I am a better teacher and human. When I transform grief into gratitude, my loss is vindicated. When Nathan feels alive in my heart, when I recognize that I am still his mom, his death doesn’t feel so vacant.

People question my sort of annoying optimism regularly. I feel like if they understood the loss and the illness and the sacrifices endured, those questions would dissolve. I have every reason to live angry with the world. I choose not to. That isn’t easy. It is a daily decision; it is an active lifestyle and it is imperfect. But optimism and seeking gratitude allow me to see greater purpose in the difficulty, in my life. It allows me to put myself on the side and to see beyond the periphery of the moment, of the wounds. It allows me to seek positivity each and everyday. It allows me to truly live.

And that is what Nathan would want most for his mom anyway. I can’t deny him that.

(and because I haven’t offered enough poems lately…here are a couple…“One Art” By Elizabeth Bishop“Lost” by David Waggoner (okay, for real, if you don’t click on this link you need to read this line–life changing! “…Wherever you are is called Here,/ And you must treat it as a  powerful stranger,”)

balance

Concentration: my inability, here, the issue I face most nights as I sit down in an attempt to write in fulfillment of the daily requirement of this challenge.

Evenings in my house are chaotic to say the least. Dinner needs cooking, kids have activities and events, homework demands supervision, and conversation amongst loved ones eager to share their days awaits. All a realization of the dreams I had during those agonizing years spent impatiently waiting for a child, thinking one may never arrive. I would trade none of it (even the nights where it feels like everything is a struggle…fights over which kid will bathe first…meltdowns over homework…frustration over the ever-growing mess). It is the warmth of my heart living outside of my body. It is what transformed this house into a sanctuary. It is the very vibrance of love and family. And it fills me with gratitude.

But it does make writing difficult.

In order not to relinquish some of the only time we are allotted each day together as a family, I attempt to write each night on the couch with the dog running across my lap, my kids and husband talking, and the tv on. Part of me loves that I am still able to think straight enough to write given these circumstances because for all of those months and years of vertigo, even a quiet space would have been an impossible writing environment. Just composing a single sentence that felt coherent in those days drained my energy supplies. So, I appreciate the challenge of these evenings of writing amid the ruckus. But I also know that the writing suffers because of it. I know that in a quiet room, when I am more awake and able to think clearly, my writing thrives and I am truly able to work on my craft.

That’s just not where I am in this moment, in this phase of my life. If I am going to write everyday, in this life that I have built with my family, this is how it is going to have to be. I will have to learn how elevate my writing despite being surrounded by movement and sound…all of the time…and not the movement and sound of a coffeeshop full of strangers–that is easy to tune out. Rather, the movement and sound of people I love intentionally vying for and deserving of my attention…anxiously waiting for me to wrap up the writing portion of my evening. I will have to learn to seek stillness in the madness, calm in the fury…a new discipline to strive toward. I will have to learn that while honoring this creative element of my self is vital and life-giving, I owe it to the people I love most to honor them as well.

Balance: still seeking this utopian quality for it will deliver me to a place of equal dedication to all that is important in sealing the shards of my spirit.

(Day 41! just under the wire!)

mindset

My 11 year old has had some rough mornings this week. He is stressed and tired and a bit under the weather…and, you know, as human beings tend to do, is taking it out on the rest of us. Yesterday, he texted me at work that he had been having a difficult time.

(I have to interrupt here to note that I am optimistic to a faulty degree. I can see a silver lining in just about any moment of difficulty and if you come to me hoping that I will get angry about something with you, chances are I will end up pointing out how we can make it better instead. People don’t always love this about me. I get it.)

So, when he texted, I immediately replied that his day would get better. Being the anxiety ridden realist that he is, he texted back “How do you know it will get better? It doesn’t feel like it will.” Ouch. It is hard enough making this transition to being at work and not at home in the mornings with my boys most days of the week. But on a day like this, when he really just needs a hug from his mom, and I’m not there to give him one, it is even tougher. All I could do was text back “I don’t know but I am hopeful that it will. You can make it better—just decide.”

His thoughts on that advice? “That doesn’t help.”

Double ouch.

Except not so much because I am a deep believer in that advice. I honestly trust that no matter how bad the day is, how we react to it is always within our control. Sure, some days are harder than others, but you know what makes that worse? Sinking in to the difficulty and suffering, languishing beneath the weight of it. I just can’t do that. It feels like a waste–of time, energy, life. Does that mean that all my days are glorious meadows of joy? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. It simply means that my mindset gazes above the negativity with a hopeful heart rather than one resigned to mere misery. This focus is a conscious effort and I often have to remind myself to see beyond the moment, but doing so allows me to more fully participate in the world around me, in my own life.

So, much to his dismay, I will continue to preach this message to him–that he can make it better if he just decides to–because I think it applies in this situation and in so many others. When we feel out of control in situations like this, we become victims of our own selves and our own mentality and anxiety. We become helpless. That is the last thing I want for him or for anyone, really. I want him to know that he has the power to improve his own frame of mind–his own heart, the power to improve the world around him. He needs to know that he can make a difference, but if he can’t make a difference in his own day, how will he ever be able to come to the aid of others?  He needs to own the power of a positive mindset, and he needs to fight for it.

Because all that negativity will only doom him to frustration and stagnation, and that is no way to truly live this life he has been given.

(Day 26!)