Grief Amnesia

Sabbath

Let me preface this post by saying – Grief Amnesia is my term. There is nothing official about it, except for that fact, that in my experience it exists. I had to call it something. I wanted to call it something.

Grief Amnesia.

My friend recounted this amazing three day trip we had shared together in detail. From where we ate, to where we shopped, to what our conversations were about.

I remembered… nothing about the visit.

I even took her back to the restaurant and store for shopping on a later trip excited to share a “new” place with her. Except, it wasn’t new to her. I just didn’t remember.

I was embarrassed. I felt horrible that I didn’t remember the experience in precise detail like she did. I worried that she would feel unappreciated, or worse, not one of my dearest friends in the world.

I tried and tried to remember along with her. But, I came up empty every time.

This has happened to me more than once. The memories of the first few years after my brother’s suicide are a piecemeal.

I remember the big things – like the pregnancies and births of my two boys. I remember the holidays right after my brother died – those details I can hardly forget. I remember our moves. And, I remember the trials of relocating to a new country.

But, there are many things I do not remember.

The good times with my husband. I know we had some – but, I can mostly recount the very difficult moments in our young and fragile marriage

{We married June 29, 2002. My brother took his life October 29, 2002 – 4 months later. The last time I saw him was at my wedding}.

I remember being angry at my young children for keeping me up at night when all I wanted to do was sleep. I remember listening to my mom cry on the telephone. I remember losing my temper at our new puppy.

However, there were moments that were joy-filled – watching my babies grow, friends’ visits, church events, celebrations with neighbors, and visits with family. I know they were there. But, I think, because of my filter – which was programmed for grief and sadness – I filtered out a lot of the fun, happy events.

Or, I just didn’t’ feel like having fun or being happy. Therefore, I couldn’t appreciate those moments when they came.

I look at photos from those early years after his suicide, and I see a smile on my face. However, my eyes are empty. I know inside I was not feeling the joy that “appeared” on my face. I was pretending.

I think in a way “grief amnesia” saved me. Protected me from completely losing it. From raging at people who were having fun and being happy when nothing in me wanted to or even could feel the same. I was numb.

Sometimes I wish I could get those memories back. I wish I could journey back with my sweet friend and remember her account of our visit like it was yesterday. But, those memories have vanished.

What is this “grief amnesia” all about? How is it that our bodies can go into a shock of sorts after losing someone we love and actually forget things that have happened?

…..

I write this post, not because I am still living in the fog of “grief amnesia”.

The fog has since lifted, I now feel joy once again, and remember fun adventures with my friends.

I write this post for you. For you who is grieving right now. Or, for you with several years under your belt wondering if you will ever get through to the other side.

Don’t worry, you are not crazy. It is okay that you do not remember.

You may feel disoriented by this realization of “grief amnesia”, but that is normal. Don’t worry, or fret, or feel like you are failing yourself and others.

You must press in. Press into the grief and the pain, let yourself feel it.

At the same time, press into Christ, the only salve Strong Enough and Big Enough to heal your wounds.

He is in the Pain.

He is in the Darkness.

He is there with you right now, holding you, loving you, living this with you. I promise. He loves you so much!

He wants to see you Heal, Mend, Be Made New. 

He promises a New Life for you In Christ. He promises that His Cup of Living Water will never run dry.

When the Light comes, the Light of Our Healer, Our Savior, Our Redeemer Jesus Christ…

When His Light shines on your fog…When You Let His Light Shine on your fog – Your Grief, Your Pain…

The fog will burn away. His Light will provide a clarity never before seen in your entire life.

For Jesus Christ makes all things new.

Jesus Christ can give you a new heart where yours is broken.

Jesus Christ can put a new song in your mouth, a new bounce in your step.

Jesus Christ can redeem you from the ashes and restore your faith in the beautiful, in the joyful, in the life surrounding you.

Only Jesus Christ can mend the wounds, and scars, and pain that threaten to consume you.

Only Jesus can.

He did it for me. And, I promise, He can do it for you.

Praying for you this day,

jana

 

 

 

It helps to have a Crisis Plan.

This feeling creeps in and before I know it I don’t recognize myself.

My thoughts are cloudy. Sounds are muffled. I feel as though I am trapped inside a bubble.

My thoughts turn negative, my perception skewed to see the bad and not the good in almost everything.

Tears come very easily; yet, it isn’t about the spilled milk, or the dirty paw prints across the clean floor.

It takes days for it to register what this is.

And, then it hits me. October. This month. I hate this month.

October 29th looms large. The anniversary of my brother’s suicide.

First day of school

IU

Let's Dance

My favorite photo

Every year I tell myself I am not going to fall into this downward spiral. Every single year I say it won’t happen again. The depression, the cloudy head, the negative outlook. Yet, every year it creeps in and surprises me.

My husband notes a difference in me, my kids looks at me with confusion in their eyes. I become the weak one in the family; the one who must be tip toed around; the one with a short fuse. I don’t have as much energy to spend time with friends. I look at my full calendar and just want it all to go away.

I withdraw like a snail who hovers in her shell until the rains stop.

In response, I spend more time in silence listening for His Still Small Voice (1 Kings 19:11,12). I meditate on God’s word. I remind myself to get exercise and more sleep. I pair down my responsibilities so that I only do what is absolutely essential – food on the table, clean clothes, clean house, love and presence with my husband and children. And, I intentionally do not make any major decisions or take on any new commitments during this time.

After 11 years, I am learning what my “crisis plan” looks like.

I wish I understood the mechanics of all of this. Does my psyche/mind/spirit just know to do this? Is is a protection mechanism? Was the shock and trauma I experienced so big that I experience a PTSD type reaction every year at this time? I want to understand. Because maybe if I understand I can avoid the pain of this part of my journey. Maybe I can protect my family from having to see me like this.

Will I live the rest of my lifetime wishing the month of October away? Will it ever get any easier?

As I write this, I visualize the questions and confusion, the request for understanding and answers swarming up towards heaven, like bees from an angry hive. I imagine Jesus sitting with palms open ready to receive whatever my thoughts dish out.

He is patient and kind; he does not envy or boast; he is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice at my wrongdoings, but rejoices with the truth. He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. He never ends. (1 Cor 13:4-7, paraphrased)

For now I see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor 13:12, paraphrased)

His Truth brings me comfort. Even as I don’t yet fully know or understand how this chapter of my story fits into His eternal story, He does. And, that brings me comfort.

So, for now, I will sit with Him. And when the questions and confusion swarm, I will choose to lift them up into His open palms confident that He will receive them. I will choose to wait patiently in silence for His response. {I am tempted to wallow. Therefore, I must choose.}

The month of October may never get easier for me. But, over the course of the last twelve years, God and I have worked out a “crisis plan”.

I now feel as though I am sitting comfortably with a dear friend open and exposed. He sees me, the real me. I am not hiding anymore, and that feels good.

purposed for authenticity,

jana

Holding the Memories

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” The Giver, Lois Lowry, 1993.

I want to share a secret with you. A secret that I have been holding some time now. This secret, if you cherish it and remember it when caring for others’ sorrows, has the power to heal. It has the power to give healing to others who have suffered the loss of a loved one.

Here is the Secret…

Ask them to share their memories of the person they are grieving.

Ask them to tell you one of their favorite things about their loved one.

What memory makes them laugh?

What memory makes them cry?

What memory do they cherish most?

You will bear witness.

Listening to their story as they share this memory with you, will bring light to places in their soul where darkness has gathered for far too long.

My loneliest experience since my brother’s death has been the realization that he took our shared memories with him. No one holds them with me now. I am the sole bearer of memories we shared in our childhood, of our parents, of our times together as a family of four.

This loneliness is unlike one I have ever felt before. I don’t ache for companionship, or a friendly telephone call, or someone to remember me in a special way. No, this loneliness is deep…deep in my core – an ache to be remembered as I was before.

An ache to be known as a child, a teenager, a sojourner in our life as missionaries. Corry was there for most of it. No one…no one…shares our memories but he and I. For that I am deeply sad, and at times the loneliness seeps in and paralyzes me.

It is so difficult to explain. Those of you who have been there, understand.

It wasn’t until I read the words above in Lois Lowry’s book The Giver that I found the words to capture what my heart was trying to say.

Memories are meant to be shared.

Why is that?

Why?

I think of the ancient Old Testament texts where Moses and the prophets recount the memories of generations past – evidence of God’s soveriegnty and presence through the ages. They recount and list the events that transpired from one generation to the next asking everyone to remember.

Rituals.

Celebrations.

Dates memorialized.

All in an attempt to remember and share those memories with one another. There is a reason for it.

Galatians 6:2 states, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”.

There is a greater purpose. We share memories because that is what we are called to do. Absence of shared memories produces loneliness. We fulfill the law of Christ when we share our burdens with one another.

And, for some, the burdens are memories of times past.

Blessings anew this day,

jana 

Layer Upon Layer

Laying in bed last night, as I was trying to fall asleep, I sensed a deep realization…in the pit of my stomach.

I will never be over the grief of losing my brother. This grief is permanent. Not going away, not in this life anyway.

My mind drifted to the promise of Revelation 21:4

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

To have this weight of sadness stripped from my soul, that is quite a promise.

I recently had lunch with a 76 year old woman. She has lived quite a life – one of sadness, loss, pain, and grief. Yet, she lives joyfully in all things and Scripture pours from her tongue. She stands on the promises.

As I spoke with her, it dawned on me that life’s circumstances mount on us. One on top of the other. Joys. Sorrows. Losses. Celebrations. Milestones. Layer upon Layer. Like an oil painting – layer upon layer of paint, varying colors, varying strokes. All necessary to complete the masterpiece.

tumblr_lzps34qAUj1qem6nto1_1280

 

photo credit

As I listened to her tell her story, I recognized that she lives with the pain that came in her 20’s, the suffering that mounted in her 30’s, the loss she grieved in her 40’s – layer upon layer. Joys, celebrations, blissful moments interwoven with the darker days.

I began to see my life that way. I will never escape this pain. It will always be a layer in my life. And, daily I add layers on top of the grief, but it remains. It cannot be squashed out, or removed. It will not disappear or blend in until it can no longer be recognized. This grief, this sorrow, this sadness is here to stay.

I keep thinking there is going to be this “thing” that overshadows it, that makes it seem less real, that somehow frees me from the pain, once and for all. But, there isn’t going to be.

I must admit, I feel saddened by this realization. Sad that I will continue to bear the feeling of grief. Sad that it will always be here, a part of me.

Sometimes the memories make me smile. Sometimes weep. Sometimes be still and reflect.

Bitter Joy.

That is the identifier that comes to my mind – I will name this juxtaposition of two opposing emotions. Joy and Sorrow.

The memories are joy-filled, yet bitter as they cross my mind. Of memories lost, of moments that will never be, of time passing day upon day when he is no longer a part of my life. I can and do feel joy as moments flash in my mind.

I see wrinkles crossing my face, feel pains in my joints and muscles that are no longer as nimble or flexible,  and cover the gray hairs regularly. All in attempt to fool myself into thinking that time is not passing. Yet, time is passing, and nothing can bring him back.

I guess I am having a hard time accepting that I will carry this sorrow with me to my grave. This sorrow and others as they come.

We don’t move from one moment to the next – wrapping up the last and leaving it behind. They become a part of us interweaving, layer upon layer.

I guess I have understood that in my head. But, now I am beginning to feel it in my heart. I can’t say that I like it. The ache remains. It will never go away.

I can and will experience joy. I have been promised that…

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. Psalm 126:5,6

However, I am beginning to understand that Joy doesn’t take away or overshadow the sorrow. Somehow, they coexist. God is teaching me how to live with both…at the same time.

newly purposed,

jana

Treasures Left Behind

Cupped in our hands.

Desperate to feel them lingering there.

We cling to the treasures our loved ones leave behind.

Before that fateful moment, a toothbrush, was just a toothbrush…yet now it sits holding their place in this life.

We caress the mug they once held, where their lips touched to take that warm sip of coffee.

We remember their gaze, their profile, as they sat silently looking out the window, the warmth of the sun coming in to rest on their cheek.

…..

That black, raggedy sweater. It wrapped him in warmth, comfort on a cold day. Now, it holds a sacred place in my closet wrapped tightly in a plastic bag so that I can come. Pause for a moment. Inhale in his scent. Even ten years later, his scent still lingers.

And I remember.

His hands. His touch.

His hair. His eyes.

His smile. His laughter.

His voice.

…..

It all comes back in a moment, in that single treasure – a flash of memory, reminding of us of our love for them. How our soul holds the tenderness of their spirit. Wrapped together as one.

The treasures left behind remind us that they never leave us. Their bodies may fade away, but they never leave us. Their spirit remains in the treasures left behind. They continue to share life with us.

…..

My brother, oh my sweet, gentle brother, left many treasures for us. We sort. Catalogue. Sift. Give away some things that hold meaning for others. Hold close those things we are not yet ready to part with.

The boxes of music stacked high. His writings – scratchings of pencil to paper remain etched in the margins of the sheets of music that allowed his soul to sing. Those marks on paper, uniquely his. A treasure to me, his mom, his dad – I am sure he did not know the gift he was leaving behind.

We do.

We cup those sheets of music, breathing him in, hearing the notes he played to make the music come alive.

A newly discovered treasure…Videos of him playing on youtube. Ten years later. There he is. Tall, handsome, his crop of curly blonde hair marking his place on the stage.

Oh, what a treasure that is to see him swaying to the music, his bow streaming from side to side, his hands blurred in motion. I see his eyes closed, deep in a trance allowing the music to take him to places only he can know. This treasure remains, long after he is gone.

To see him play once more. My heart aches at the memory of his song.

…..

An instrument left behind.

Made with His hands.

His Labor.

His Love.

Corry cello, 2 Corry cello, 1

An appraisal gives it a price tag. Yet, this appraisal holds additional meaning for me. It is confirmation of my brother’s life. The Value of his life. I celebrate that another person values this treasure, too. They do not know how deeply thankful I am to have someone else value his talent, his skill, his life.

With passion, he once detailed the story of crafting his cello. Bringing pieces together. Carefully mixing varnish in the dim light of the workshop. Cello hanging from the ceiling like a bunch of flowers hanging to dry. Workbenches lining the walls, stools scattered. Smells of wood and varnish wafting. Focus, intensity, passion, and deep respect palpable through his words.

I imagine Corry hovering over his craft, pouring his heart and soul into what would become evidence of his existence.

Corry’s cello remains, ten years after he has left this world. His cello remains.

I am deeply thankful he left his treasures behind. To hold for him. To be proud of him still. To remember him.

Corry, thank you for your treasures.

 

Newly purposed,

jana

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