I don’t know about you, but I have some serious grief brain right now. I am forgetful, less productive (that could also be the whole homeschooling two children thing), easily fatigued yet sleeping less, easily overwhelmed when I am generally resilient and anxious. I know the signs, because I have been here before. Maybe you have been here before too and if you have, I am so sorry you are here again my dear one. Or maybe these feelings are new to you and that’s ok too. It took me a year to realize that what I was experiencing was grief–because no one had died. My daughter had been in the pediatric cardiac ICU for fourteen days, but after three surgeries (one of which was planned) we brought her home to recover, return to school and church and playdates and dance. People told us we were “lucky” and that “it was so good everything’s fine now” and how “blessed” we were to have our daughter.
But it didn’t feel lucky or fine and it certainly didn’t feel like a blessing and it took us a year to figure out what it felt like was grief.
We grieved the life that had been so neatly cut in two–before and after. We grieved that our daughter, now fully dependent on a pacemaker, would never be allowed to play soccer or try gymnastics because the risk of impact could break her pacemaker and possibly end her life. Small dreams were suddenly gone, replaced with different expectations that we had to adopt as our new dreams.
When I talk about my research and writing around the intersections between parenting, pediatric medical trauma and grief I usually reactions that range from perplexed looks, to dismissive personal acknowledgements like “that must have been hard for you.” The implication being of course, that our experience must be contained to us not for our peace of mind but for the person for whom thinking about medical trauma, grief and parenthood is too much. I totally get it. No one wants to think about their baby being hooked up to a half dozen machines, sleeping long and endless nights in a chair in the pediatric ICU. But now, more than ever we need a conversation on how we care for one another in the face of medical trauma and grief. How do we wrestle with mortality? And what does trauma do to the brain? How might we grieve healthily and with grace for ourselves and one another. How do we bless and release the dreams we have lost or deferred and embrace a new reality?
My faith has been complicated by all these questions because often my own tradition, influenced by poor theology, American exceptionalism and optimism offer weak answers to these urgent questions about life and death and living a meaningful life. And yet, at the same time my faith tradition has deep wells of wisdom on what it means to be alive in the world in all its brokenness and beauty. The Psalmists wrestled in scripture with the joy and grief of life and so did the apostle Paul. The mystics and poets of the Christian faith (and other faith traditions) are able to give new words to ancient questions. And this week, Holy Week, if we are brave enough to depart from the simplistic substitutionary atonement, there is a wealth of complex and nuanced insights about God’s presence in suffering, death, grief and healing. There is comfort in a God that suffers with us, that wants life to triumph over the death dealing ways of the systems of power in our world, that comes to us in our grief so that we are not alone.
So my dear ones, I suppose all of this is to say, you are not alone. In the simpleness of your daily grief–of missing your old life, predictable and steady, of the grief of wondering how this will change us and if it will be for the better. It will change us, you and me and all of us. And our faith can shape that change in beautiful ways.
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