Friday, April 13, 2012

Thoughts on Five Years

Today is the anniversary of the worst day of my life and like all anniversaries good or bad I feel like I have to look back and reflect. Before I lost a child I admit that I had no idea about the devastation and emotional chaos that you are thrust into. I feel like most "normal" people are thinking, "Geez woman, it has been five years! Get over it already!" Still I feel that five years on this crappy road have yielded some wisdom.

Get a sense of humor because you never know when you will really need it.

Life is brutal. Need some examples? Turn on the news and hear about teenagers being gunned down because of the color of their skin, children starving around the world, mass murders and human trafficking. Examples are all around us. People cut you off in traffic, neighbors can be rude and family members can be the cruelest of all. Material for a comedy routine? Probably not, but if you can find even the smallest ways that life though brutal can be absolutely hilarious you will be far more psychologically healthy than most people you meet. People said some of the rudest things after we lost Leo. I choose to believe that they were being ignorant and not intentionally cruel, but if I hadn't found ways to chuckle at their stupidity then you probably would have read about a crazed grief stricken mother slapping someone into the next zip code. Life is hard. Bad things will happen and learning to laugh at the ridiculous that surrounds us can save you from doing 10-20 at the state penitentiary. That leads me to my next discovery...

If you think you might say something stupid just shut up and give a hug instead.

People say dumb things all the time. Normally this isn't too big of a deal, but if you are dealing with someone who just lost a child you could be inflicting serious damage.
   "I know just how you feel." Nope, not unless you also lost a child. The death of your 95 year old grandmother doesn't compare. Nor your third cousin, nor your next door neighbor, nor your goldfish. Parents will probably die before you. Spouses could possibly die before you, but a child??? This goes against everything normal and natural in the world. We have words like "orphan" and "widow", but is there a word in our enormous dictionary for parents who lose a child? None. It defies description.
"God took your child because they were too perfect/beautiful/sweet." Whoa, whoa whoa!!! The God that I believe in is not so cruel or heartless that he would kill off a child because they were apparently an awesome example of babyhood. Countless scholars and theologians have spent centuries debating the nature of God without firm answers, so unless you have a personal hotline where God gives you answers to questions that have puzzled man since the dawn of time then its best to just be quiet.

You aren't Houdini so don't pull a disappearing act.

One of the most amazing phenomena I have seen after the death of a child is how people who you thought would be there for you no matter what suddenly vanish from your lives after you lose a child. Or maybe they see you from a distance and they suddenly avoid contact or reverse direction. What is probably happening in their mind are thoughts like "I just don't know what to say." Perhaps they figure a phone call would be too intrusive or bothersome so they never dial your number again. I think deep down many feel like that level of sadness and despair could be catching so they avoid it at all costs.
Conversely, people that you barely knew, had little contact with or you suspected were schmucks will step up and show a depth of caring and compassion that you didn't know was possible. These sweethearts will genuinely restore your faith in humanity. Decide now before tragedy hits someone you know, are you going to be a schmuck or a sweetheart?

It doesn't get better, but it does change.

Let's pretend for a minute that you are driving down the road listening to some awesome tunes on the radio. The weather is perfect...nothing but clear skies ahead. In a split second without any warning a huge semi broadsides you and your life is changed forever. You wake up in the hospital surprised to be alive, but then discover that you have been permanently paralyzed and will spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. You spend months and years just learning how to navigate in a world that looks familiar but is now filled with challenges at every turn. Five years later is it better? Well, yes and no. At this point you have learned how to get around. You have learned how to integrate the pain into your life. You have accepted that your life will never be "normal" again.
Much like someone who suddenly loses the ability to walk, I have discovered how to get around, how to function and how to let the pain be a part of my life, but not consume my life. It certainly isn't better, but I am thankful that it is different.

My marriage is amazing!!!

One of the other things the schmucks liked to bring to my attention after Leo died was how often couples who lose a child wind up divorced. From personally getting to know hundreds of families whose marriages remained intact after the death of a child I find this statistic inaccurate. However, let's review what Darrin and I have been through in the past five years:

  • losing a child unexpectedly before we even celebrated our first anniversary
  • losing our business
  • subsequent extreme financial hardship
  • continued legal battles with my ex-husband
  • raising two teenage girls
  • all the inherent bumps, bruises and difficulties that go along with a second marriage.    
And through it all we have stood strong! Pardon me while I do a victory lap for that one. I am really proud of us!

God doesn't mind the tough questions.

Ok, here comes the big, ugly confession. Are you ready? After Leo died I was really angry at God. I don't mean slightly peeved. I am talking about deep down gutwrenchingly pissed. I had been through one of the worst divorces ever and had just managed to meet a decent guy and was all ready to enjoy a little of the good life. For what? To get the rug yanked out from under me in the cruelest possible way. Why would God do this? Haven't we all heard stories of people near death that were somehow saved in ways that could only be termed miraculous? OK, so where was my miracle? Wasn't Leo destined for great things? Give me one good reason why a seemingly healthy baby could go down for a nap and with no explanation just never wake up???
I spent quite awhile furious at the Almighty. I stopped reading my Bible and stopped going to church. There was however one thing I didn't stop doing. I never stopped talking to God. Often the conversations were pretty one sided with a lot of demanding on my part. ("How could you? Why did you? Explain yourself!") Sometimes they were pleading. ("Please, please, please give me back my son. I'll do anything, give you anything, be anything") Did I then or do I now think that I was being sacrilegious in any of these prayers? Not even a little. God understands my pain and I discovered that he loves me more than I can even grasp. For now that is enough. The final and most important thing I have learned is the answer to the request I asked of God the night that Leo died....

"Lord, where are you in all of this?"

I should have buckled my seat belt for the answer to this one. God answered me that night and has answered me continuously over the past five years. So where is God in all this?
He is in the people who rushed down to be with us in the ER that awful night. In the many practical good deeds that people did in the months after we were consumed with just trying to get from one day to the next. He is in all the friendships I have made with other "Angel Moms" who are always ready to listen and truly understand. He is in the sweethearts who have made Darrin and I feel surrounded by love on this awful day. Need proof? Take a peek at my Facebook wall today. See a glimpse of God, yet? How about the generosity of all the texts, voicemails, and prayers that we have been on the receiving end of today? And yes, my personal favorite....a box of cupcakes and cookies left by my front door. Is God in a cupcake? You bet He is when it is given out of love and compassion. God has shown me that I am blessed beyond comprehension because I am surrounded by people who want to make it just a tiny bit better.
Isn't that where God is for all of us? We can all agree that the world can be horrible, unfair and cruel, but if we allow God to use us to show His love and compassion we can help make the world a little less hard to get through. Really, that is the secret for us all whether we have lost a child or not. Healing from any pain can come, but only to the extent that we are willing to reach out and love others.


  1. Perfectly said Dear sweet Jenn! I <3 Leo you know he is dear to my heart, and so are you, the first friend I met in the journey your 9 weeks of previous experience seemed huge to me during those first few weeks and months, I saw you and I knew I could do this one day at a time.

  2. Have you ever read something that had you nodding your head as in 'I know what you mean,' bowing your head as in 'Lord, keep the tears from flowing,' and shaking your head as in 'Isn't it the truth,' and then wanting to write a reply that is appropriate?

    If you have then you know how I felt and feel after having read this blog entry. Jennifer, I can't imagine the pain you must have went through having lost a child. I'm so glad that you wrote what you did though because I believe it'll be extremely helpful to many of those (myself included) who read it.

    With your permission I'd like to include this blog entry in my book "Living Jesus Out Loud" because, personally, I think you've spoken volumes in the short number of lines I've just read. Even if your answer to my request is "NO," I can't tell you how much I appreciate you sharing your heart with all of us.

    Love you dearly!

    Pastor Lonnie (RevLon)

    1. Pastor Lonnie,
      The answer is YES!!! I had been twirling in my brain what to write for your book since I saw your post asking for submissions, but I wasn't sure what to write about. This kind of kills two birds with one stone, so please take all or part of it with my blessing and thanks.

  3. Your strength and courage amazes me! Thank you for sharing your heart and soul....

    Liz Garland

  4. "It doesn't get better, but it does change." Too true that is. So happy you started a blog mama. <3

  5. how are you doing