Friday, December 04, 2009

Suffering & choosing to be happy

I've been thinking a lot about suffering lately. I don't know what brought it on but I've been feeling some stirrings from God (which is refreshing since I haven't felt His closeness for several months now) and then I read Kristen's post.

To top off Kristen's post I got an email from a family member that was along the same lines and I finished reading Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, which was given to me by my cousin Luke after Carleigh's passing. Ok, God, I get the point.

Grief is an ugly, yet necessary word. A word I am all too familiar with. With grief there is suffering. I've experienced what I consider great suffering twice. First with Jordan and now with Carleigh. Now, it's a normal thing to grieve and I've done my share of it. I would say I've suffered with a pretty positive attitude (my sole opinion), but it's also taken a toll on me. There have been changes in me that I didn't anticipate, both good and bad. These changes are perhaps noticeable by the people who know me.

While I'll take the good any day, I'd rather not have to deal with the bad. What is the bad? Well, for starters my patience can run a lot thinner, especially when I'm dealing with a large group of people. I mentioned this when I had a not so good experience at an outing. I'm glad I've at least recognized some of these things so that I can work on them. I know there's no quick fix. It's gonna take some effort and time.

I'd like to share a portion of the email I received (mostly for my own purpose):
I am totally convinced we all have to accept who we are in life and accept the individual gifts given to us when we take that very first breath. God doesn’t ask us to do anything else. We are told to accept ourselves as being made in his likeness. If you accept the idea of a Supreme Being who created all things then it follows that you were put here as part of a greater design.
You have always been a crazy, fun loving nut. It is who you are. It is how he made you. To be anything else is denying yourself and the rest of the world the joy of one of God’s works. God didn’t give you Carleigh to hurt you. He brought her into your life so you could show others that the will to overcome is far greater than the desire to give up.
When I was growing up we were poor. The house was not insulated and the furnace was not that great so in the winter we were very cold in the bedrooms. It was cold enough that on many mornings in the winter we would wake up and scrape the ice off the windows so we could look out. After one particularly bad storm we found a window had leaked enough we had a mini snowdrift on the bedroom floor. Even today I shiver at the memory of how cold some nights were in that bedroom.
One day my Grandma and Grandpa visited and they were carrying dark black moving quilts for one reason or the other. If you are not familiar with moving quilts I need to explain they are very heavy blankets placed on and around furniture when households are relocated. That way when the furniture rattles around in the truck the moving quilt protects the furniture from scratches and dings associated with moving. Did I mention these suckers are heavy?
Well, we got the idea of crawling in under the moving quilts and it felt much warmer than the thin blankets we had on the beds. We loved those things. In the end our Grandpa left the moving quilts for us to use on the beds. I remember the moving quilt almost suffocated you it was so darn heavy but it was comfortable compared to what we had before. There were many mornings after waking up I would lie in bed as long as I possibly could before facing the cold and the seemingly freezing walk to the bathroom 8 steps away. Once I got moving I seemed to be OK. But oh how I hated leaving the quilt on these cold winter mornings.
Those heavy blankets were the only bedding I ever knew. It wasn’t until I started dating and went to my girlfriend’s house that I ever saw a quilt that was different. I remember thinking those lightweight, frilly things looked pretty enough but they would never keep a person warm. Once I got married I found out that I didn’t know a darn thing. The lightweight, pretty quilts were not only beautiful, they were far warmer than anything I had ever known. Today I can’t begin to imagine sleeping under one of those black quilts that comforted me in my youth. Bear with me, there is a reason for all this.
You know how much I hate to have discussions of a religious nature. I am not that religious at all. But I won’t hesitate to use teachings that are a part of any faith if it supports my argument. Yeah, I know if you are religious you are not supposed to do that but I have already explained I am not religious so in my mind that rule doesn’t apply to me. So here goes.
Depression, disappointment, and sadness are like those quilts I used to lay under as a young boy. If you don’t know anything else you can find great comfort in a dark, suffocating existence. Back then I didn’t really mind that I couldn’t easily roll over or shift positions in bed. The discomfort was worth it in my mind because at least I felt warmer than before. In fact, it was so much better than what I had before that I never even opened my mind to the possibility that anything could be better.
Those of a religious nature may draw a correlation between the heavy quilts of my youth and what happens when Satan starts taking charge of your life. If he can get you to bury yourself in a dark quilt of depression during a cold and lonely period of life he has a chance to turn you. Let’s face it, compared to the day you buried Carleigh, today is at least a little better. You have something around you, even if it is overwhelming sadness. But isn’t this just how Satan works? He gets you to embrace anything but the life God intended for you. Once you get used to darkness it just gets harder and harder to throw off the quilt that keeps you there. Eventually you can reach a point where it is easier to just stay under the quilt.
But the life God gave us is like the bright airy quilts I discovered after getting married. It took getting married to teach me that life isn’t meant to be restrictive, suffocating or heavy. Our lives are meant to be filled with laughter and joy and crazy nuts like the Holly we remember. It is his promise to us.
I am afraid you might be under a moving quilt, Holly. A place where thoughts of your loss overcome the joy of the gift. A place where not understanding why takes the place of accepting that a Supreme Being is in charge. A place where what might have been pushes aside what is. A place where staying in bed seems better than facing the dawn of a new day.
I don’t know how else to say it, Holly. You were chosen to do something many of us could never do. I don’t think it was fair or right. But it was. And if everything in the Bible is true then we-not just Holly, but everyone around her-have to accept that you were not given a burden greater than you can bear. You shouldn’t accept anything less of yourself, nor should those who love you. But here is the kicker. I think you are expected to bear that burden with the spirit and fire in your belly that God gave you. I don’t think you are allowed to bear that burden wrapped in the cloth of the dark prince.

I wasn't sure how to react to this email at first (remember I only posted a portion of it) because I thought I had been doing pretty good in my grief journey. While I don't necessarily think I am dwelling underneath a dark quilt, I see the love and concern behind the words so I had to take the time to evaluate where I was.

I have certainly asked the question 'why?' on this journey. I think it's human nature to want to understand why things happen the way they do. Do I feel God did this to me? No, but I do believe He knew the road that was ahead of me. He could of prevented it, yes, but He obviously saw the bigger picture and thought it was good. I trust that He is right.

I have learned quite a bit these last few days about suffering. In Man's Search For Meaning it says, "Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you."

I couldn't control that my daughter was diagnosed with anencephaly. I couldn't prevent my daughter from dying. I can't do anything but control how I choose to live my life without her here.

I think of how my daughter would want me to live my life. Would she want her mommy to be sad, angry, frustrated, or impatient? I don't believe that is what she would want for me and I don't believe it is what God wants for me either. So, I've taken a new resolve to change my attitude. While my outlook may have already been good, I know it could be better. I can be happier. I can live more fully.

I don't want the gift of Carleigh to be overshadowed by sadness. When I think of Carleigh I want there to be only joy. I won't stop missing her. I'll always miss her until we are together again. But I can keep my trust in God to take care of her until my purpose on this earth is filled and I can join her in Heaven. She really is in the best place she could possibly be. There's no greater place than being in Heaven with Jesus.

I know that it is possible to be pulled out of great suffering and back into life. I experienced this with Jordan. I was actually in a much darker place in dealing with my grief and guilt over Jordan than I have ever experienced with Carleigh. I managed, with the help of God and counseling, to live my life again and to live it with a greater joy and purpose than before. I can do it again.

Choosing to be happy in no way means that I will forget the pain and sadness that I have endured. Do I want to forget the pain? Absolutely not!! In a way, feeling the pain reminds me that my experience was real-that she was real. I am sure that there will still be moments when those emotions hit me out of the blue. I am sure there will be times that I want to cry. In these moments, I won't turn away from these feelings but will turn to God to comfort me. He will bring me back to where I need to be, where I want to be. Happy.

You are like the salt for everyone on earth. But if salt no longer tastes like salt, how can it make food salty? All it is good for is to thrown out and walked on. You are like the light for the whole world. A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot. A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house. Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16


Emily said...

Wow! That's an amazing post! How brave your email friend must have been to put that together for you, knowing how fragile we are and how easy it is for us to take things offered in love the wrong way. I love his transparency!

But I don't completely agree. Our experiences in life mold who we are. There will always be an element of sadness around us DBM's, because we experience something that is not "the norm". The fact that we get up every day, care for our other children, go out into the world and be responsible, productive human beings, is a testament to the love and comfort our God gives us. People have to learn to accept that WE HAVE CHANGED. Now, does that mean we live under the moving blankets? No. That would be robbing God of the glory He deserves. But will we ever go back to being the fun-loving, fire-in-our-belly selves? Maybe. Maybe not. Mostly I see that we become a slightly watered-down version of ourselves. Still there, but not quite as vibrant.

I've never been through what you went through with Jordan. But for the grace of God... I find it fascinating that Jordan and Carleigh are somewhat equal in grieving and suffering.

And, one final note. That line, "God doesn't give us more than we can handle." I HATE that people always forget to add the "without Him" to the end of that! :)

Love you, Holly. Thank you for putting this post out there!

HappyascanB said...

I don't even know where to start. What a post! YOU are amazing for posting such a transparent, real post. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

I'm not so sure I think you're caught under a dark, thick blanket of grief, but I get your family member's points and love. And I'm glad you do, too. I cannot imagine what you've been through, Holly, but this much I know is true: You've taken a horrific experience (more than one, actually) and turned to our Father, looked Him "full in His wonderful face" and brought glory to His name in your grief. And that? I think that's exactly what He desires.

Lifting you up in prayer, sweet one. Much love.

Lea said...

Holly - this is such an amazing post. Thank you for so openly sharing the email.... extremely profound.

"our will to overcome is far greater than the desire to give up."

I really like that. It hit home. I have often said that I do not want the sadness of Nicholas' death to overshadow the beautiful, precious, presence he is in our life.... sometimes that is very hard to live by, but I think it is such good advice.

Love to you.

Bree said...

This is so well said, Holly. I wrote a post yesterday (not nearly as well written as yours- I later deleted it) talking about the fact that I dint want Ella's death to ruin me. I want to be happy and honor her life in a positive manner. But, it is hard. I get sucked in and succumb to the sadness and anger.

You family member has a point. Though, I don't know how I'd feel receiving that letter. I've received a few letters from others telling me to be positive, happy, that sort of thing. And, it really upset me. I feel like my grief is my grief and it's so easy for others to tell us how it should be. Though, I know these types of things come out of love and concern for our well-being.

Holly, you do an incredible job honoring Carleigh here on your blog. You talk about her so beautifully and you reach out and support so many other moms. I really look up to you!

stitchndeb said...

On your blog you seem nothing less than positive and gracious, even with all you've been through. I like his analogy of the heavy black quilts, but I don't think you can just keep getting up out of them like there's nothing to it though, like he seems to be implying. It's hard.


Kristy said...

Like Emily said, I truly feel that things we experience in life change who we are, make us who we are. I don't think there is one mold that we fit in to from birth and stay that way through life. Happiness, grief, sorrow all make us who we are. I don't believe that death doesn't change us. I don't believe that life in itself doesn't change us.

I don't know what happened with Jordan, or who Jordan is (is this another child you lost?), but I wish you never had to endure any kind of pain to this magnitude. All you can do, and I feel that this is only thing any of us should do is deal with our feelings/emotions head on. You are allowed to be angry, to cry, to be bitter, to even be happy. Don't cover them up for the sake of being your old self. Your old self doesn't exist anymore. You are who you are now because of things you have been through. You are a different person now then you were before you ever met Carleigh. And you will be a different person in the future.

Lots of *hugs*

Lucy and Ethel said...

The post is beautifully done; however, I also don't believe (in my limited knowledge about you!) that you're 'stuck.'

Grief is miserable and miserably tedious. It takes LOTS of time, generally as long as it takes to pass all the significant 'firsts,' and patience... not just for you, but for others as well. While you may be shuffling along in a positive, healing direction at your own pace, others tend to become impatient - not only because they want the 'old' (fun) you to come back, but because of their genuine concern that it might be taking 'too long.'

They will just have to wait.

For those of us dealing with 'genetic' deaths of our children, the grieving begins with the diagnosis. The treatment (and all else that comes with a diagnosis of substantial proportions) often consumes so much of our time and attention, we put grief on pause until we can deal with it later. That often doesn't come until our children are GONE, so it's piled on top of the indescribable agony we feel when we find ourselves without our babies in our arms.

Like others have said all along, you are doing an amazing job channeling your grief into efforts to help others in some way. Many ways. That helps you just as much as it helps other.

In order to try to figure out why we had been blessed unexpectedly with Jeffrey only to see SMA enter our lives and whisk him away a few short months later, I came up with a brilliant rationalization :) I decided that God KNEW we would take the situation and use it to demonstrate the power of faith and prayer. He never said it would be easy or fun, but thinking that He thought we were up to the task was an amazingly helpful tool in propelling our grieving selves forward.

I apologize for the rambling; some day I hope to have uninterrupted time to compose more than a sentence at a time :)

Meanwhile, remind yourself that God knows exactly what you're up against and what you're doing in His name in memory of your tiny angels....


Just Breathe said...

That letter is amazing along with your words. I have to read it again so I am going to star it!

The story at the beginning is heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing it, they need so much prayer.

The Blue Sparrow said...

Holly, this was so inspitational! I loved this post. It really makes you think and analyze yourself. Im havent been following long enough to know how or what happened when you lost your son but I can tell you that reading your posts on Carliegh give me hope that I might one day be able to crawl out of this pit of grief and live again like you have done. *HUGS*

Jill said...

I never realized how precious life was till I lost my babies. I read Kristen's post and my heart sank. My thoughts are with that family.

That is such a powerful email that you shared. I can see that the words are written from someone who cares deeply about you and who wants the best for you.

Much love to you! xo

Franchesca Cox said...

That is pretty brave of your friend to email you that. I think your positive upbeat attitude is encouraging to all of us babyloss mamas. And we all tend to ask "why" at some point or another. This is such a beautiful reminder to take control of our outlook and perspective. I love how you mentioned that you think about how Carleigh would want you to be, and that same thought usually does it for me too. I have no doubt my Jenna wants me to be content and remember that she really is alright, and perfect today.

Thank you for sharing this.


Mary said...

Can I ask a question? Has this person been through the grief of a child? I am just wondering. I get lots of "advice" about how depressed I am and how I need to be over this and filled with joy. But remember, joy can be had during sorrow. And I think you have handled this situation with such Grace and Faith. You have loved God, turned to him in your sorrow and confusion, and trusted Him. What more can anyone ask of you?
I am so impressed that you took that letter so well, with so much introspection and grace. I think I would hav been offended.
Just know that from an outsiders perspective, I have seen God work in you, and you have been a light for Him in your suffering! He is working in you, and you have been inviting Him to do that. And that, my friend, will grow and change you to be more like Christ!

pixie2183 said...

I love reading your posts they are so uplifting for me, today marks the 3 month angelversary and although I've had sad, dark moments today this brought a bit of sunshine into my life. I wish I had an email buddy like that, his words were amazing. Thank you for sharing this...

Anonymous said...

this is a beautiful post. I love the analogy of the Blanket and Satan. It really opened my eyes.
Thank you for posting.

Missing Kasey said...

From what I know (read) you grieve normal and I think you are a great role model. That sounds very odd... I wouldn't hesitate coming to you for help in the grieving process for help on how to get over the hump. There will be days of bla and days where there is happiness. I defiantly would have been offended if I got that letter, that just shows that you are not under a blanket and you are taking one day at a time in stride.

croleyc69 said...

What a great post and wow it really makes you stop and think. I'm so glad you shared it. Grief is hard, it's tough and it never ends. Losing my babies is always there everyday and it hurts me more somedays now since I had Carly. I wonder what our home would be like with all those children. My Dad has been gone 23 yrs and it still hurts and others that I have lost. It changes you from the person you were before. I think you are doing really well with everything and I enjoy reading your posts. I look up to you so much. Thanx again for sharing and saying prayers for you.

Courtney said...

Wow thank you for sharing all of this.

I think you are an amazing woman who has shown a great deal of strength through all of this. I really do admire you and can relate to your writing in so many ways.


Nickel Pickle said...

hmmmm I am going to have to disagree with what this person sent you...As far as I can tell (and unless this person knows something I don't)you have been one of the most positive baby loss mothers I have ever known. I have wondered many times how you were able to be so upbeat and positive at time when I know my first year without Logan I was a total wreck! Maybe they are seeing something I am not. I think you have been handling everything extremely well, unless this entire blog is a lie & you just put on a positive front here for the world to see and in your real life you are this completely other person...but I don't think that is the case at all.

Also from the sounds of things I don't think this person has lost a child...I have told people before who didn't seem to get why I would be so upset about losing Logan to look at their children...then imagine if they died. How would they feel? Would they be sad and depressed about it? Most people would be devastated for a long time.

I personally feel that its ok to be sad and to be "under a dark quilt of grief" for some time...your child has died. You cant help the way you feel. I put on a happy face a lot of times when all I wanna do is curl up in ball and cry, I get up and go to work on days when I would much rather stay in bed all day & cry.

I don't think there is anything wrong with grieving, heck it hasn't even been a year since your daughter died...I cant help the fact that I am sad and depressed sometimes over my son dying in my arms. Like I said I put on a happy face most of the time & for the most part I am happy, but I still miss my son, I still cry over my son, I still feel the raw pain in my heart because he should be here....if I feel the need to be sad or cry about I don't want to feel bad about it. I want people to let me grieve..I am not going to hold it all in and pretend everything is ok when its not.

Anyways I didn't mean to ramble on..I guess I am saying I don't chose to suffer, there is no choice. My son is gone. There are going to be bad days where I am going to suffer & I just don't see where I have the choice on those days...

Again I think you have handled things so well, better than anyone else I know probably. You are a changed person, we all are. We can take our pain and turn it into something for the better which I think you have done so well!! The pain is still there and it still hurts even when good things come from the pain.

Kate said...

Thanks for just putting it all out there. I agree with the email, however, it has only been 8 months, you are still allowed to grieve, even in 8 years, you will still be grieving. So along with your Bible verse at the end, take everything with a grain of salt! Love you Holly!

Anonymous said...

I don't think you are under a heavy, dark quilt, Holly. Your baby has only been gone for a few months and there are some things you have to work out for yourself. I have always admired the way that you are so upbeat and I really thought that you have come quite a ways in your grief.You have helped me a lot, with your positive attitude.
As for myself, I have been depressed for so long that I do believe that I am under that heavy quilt.If I had been allowed to bond with my baby and then grieve her when she was gone, I would be in a totally different place today.
I was reading the Christmas traditions that Kelly was hosting yesterday. I was amazed that people actually gave Christmas ornaments to some parents for their 1st Christmas after the baby's loss. No one ever gave us anything for our daughter, in all these years.I take that back - my mom did put out flowers on her grave for me several times, and I did appreciate that so much. We were supposed to forget about her and go on, and I knew no better then.
I think I would have been upset to receive an email like this if I had received it a few months after loss,but,again, YOU took the high road and tried to learn from it. That is what I admire about you.You have taken the high road ever since you learned of Carleigh's anencephaly, and I do believe you deserve to grieve in your own time frame.
Blessings, Sarita

Christie said...

Wow. His words are so heartfelt. I am still amazed every day by your courage and strength and can only imagine the astounding impact you will continue to have with a renewed sense of what God and Carleigh would want for you. Wishing you all the best.

Kelly @ The Beauty of Sufficient Grace said...

Holly...I was visiting the Walking With You moms the last couple days...and I'm just now getting to this post. It really is amazing. The email is amazing, too...and very well written. My initial response to this is mixed. I do think that the analogy can be true...and that there is a time for someone to assess if they are wallowing or "staying under the black quilt" if you will. In my opinion, that DOES NOT describe you. You have been full of grace, joy, and peace as you've walked this path...more grace than most people. I can't think of a time when you have been negative, when you've chosen to hide, or when you've chosen darkness over light. It may be true to those who knew you before you walked this path, that you are not the same Holly they once knew. And, you maybe haven't been as peppy every moment as they are used to seeing from you. But, grieving takes time. I agree that we should embrace joy, but there is a time for sorrow...and there is also a difference between grief and depression. can be a fine line...yes, we as Christians should not grieve without hope. I know this email was written in love, and it was written very well. But, it does seem to be written from someone who hasn't walked this path. (I may be wrong...this is my assumption.) Please just give yourself grace...if the Lord is speaking to your heart that something needs to change, that is one thing. But, please do not think that grieving your daughter is the same as hiding under that dark quilt. You, my dear have not hidden from one moment of this. You have embraced what God has allowed in your life, and it has been used for bless many. You have a fierce heart of compassion. Every grieving mother's blog I visit, I see your name in the comments...faithfully encouraging them, walking with them in love. I am amazed by your capacity for grace and compassion. You, my dear, have inspired and encouraged me. And, I love you please...give yourself grace. You are free to embrace who you are...with this part of your journey weaved into the tapestry of your life. And, you are beautiful.

Love you,

Heather said...

This post is amazing. I loved Man's Search for Meaning - I read it for a class a few years back, and it really moved me. Maybe I should go back and pick it up.

Anyway, thank you for sharing this. I read something a while back in a newsletter I get from MEND - a lady had written in saying that as time went on, she slowly saw pieces of her old self re-emerging. There are pieces of ourselves that may be temporarily buried, but those that are the strongest and biggest part of who we are will remain.

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