Permission to Grieve

When a boyfriend in college broke up with me, I thought the Christian thing to do was to try to slap a smile on it and talk about how I was confident in God’s plan.  After an initial 48 hours of lots of ugly tears, I pushed down the rejection, inadequacy, and sadness.  Almost a year later, those feelings finally came pouring out.  It was ugly.  I felt them with the same intensity I should have originally.  In some ways, it felt like they came out with a vengeance because they were also mad about being locked in the closet of my heart for over a year.  When they did make their way to the surface, it was long past the time when it is socially acceptable to be grieving a break-up.  It was painful.

Stuffed down feelings come out, often at the most inopportune times.

One of my younger friends has been one of the most thoughtful people in my life since December.  Her wedding date was closely tied with when we had hoped baby #2 would arrive.  All of her wedding events were bittersweet for me.  Out of town events I “shouldn’t” have been able to attend due to proximity to my due date.  It was an honor to love and celebrate her this spring, but also a painful reminder of what might have been.

LauraWith each upcoming event, she would reach out and let me know that it was okay if I was sad while I was there and that part of her was sad with me.  It’s okay if you need to take breaks and get away.  It’s okay if you cry at an event for me.

In the season of engagement, when it’s easy to think “it’s all about me,” she choose the selfless path and still saw me.  She gave me permission to feel whatever I needed to, whenever I needed to.  It was one of the biggest and most gracious gifts I’ve ever been given.  What she essentially told me was, “Ali, you don’t need to perform here.”

In one conversation where she had been especially caring, I asked her how she was so good at this and so thoughtful (she’s wise beyond her years this newly 24-year-old former YL girl of mine).  She told me, “Ali, you made my high school mantra ‘When you’re a mess, be a mess.’  I’m doing for you, what you did for me.”  In the most lovable of ways, she’s a recovering people-pleaser-I’ve-got-it-all-together-all-the-time-gal too.

I like being a great friend.  I like having my act together. I like being productive.  I like being the girl you can count on.

One of the hardest parts of grief for me is the way it keeps knocking me down.  It’s been hard for me to give myself permission to be okay with being knocked down.

There have been several situations where I’ve heard the lies, “You need to get it together.  You need to act this way.  You are not meeting my expectations.  You need to get over this.”

There is no fast way through grief, no shortcuts.  If there was, I’m confident I would have found it already because I have been looking for them.  The only way to battle grief is to go through it.

Like my friend generously did for me, I’m trying to do for myself: You have permission to feel whatever you are feeling.  You have permission to let it out.  You do not have to hold it in or press it down.  It’s okay to admit that it’s hard.  It’s okay to acknowledge the pain.  It’s okay to still have waves of powerful sadness.

I’ve chosen to let myself be sad about everything I miss about never knowing Maizie outside of my womb.  I’ve let myself grieve the ways her pregnancy is different than this current way.  I’ve longed for the way she moved and felt in my body.  I’ve let myself feel anger towards God or others and then worked to reconcile.  I’ve allowed myself rest.

As I get through this, I want to be a deeper, more complete, more empathetic, more aware-of-others-and-their-story person.  I want to experience what it says in scripture that God transforms us from one degree of glory to another.  To go through this transformation, I’ve had to be willing to submit myself to the furnace of trial.  I am not going to attempt to control what this process looks like.

God is changing me.  He has been changing me.  I see the glimpses of it and I know I’ll see the markings of Maizie’s life on mine in bigger ways over the years to come.  I want that, more than I want to look like I have it all together.  It’s been one of the most terrifying experiences of my life to look grief in the face and say run your course.  But I have had all the comfort and strength in the world as I rest in God’s hands.

To my dear friend Laura, thank you for the gift of permission.  No words will ever be able to describe what you did for me in those first four months following our loss.  I want to be that type of friend for other people in the future.  Sometimes I had to take you up your permission and sometimes I was able to rise to the occasion.  Either way, knowing I had it made me feel safe and known in a way I can’t describe.  Love you forever dear one.

harness smith

 

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#3

Tomorrow I have my mid-pregnancy anatomy scan.  Yes, we’re pregnant again and have made it to the 19-week mark.

As I think about this appointment, the same four words keep running through my head.  “There is no heartbeat.”

It was six months ago I was in this exact same position.  Halfway through a pregnancy.  4 months of puking my brains out.  Visible bump.  A healthy sonogram at 8 weeks.  Two appointments with an audible heartbeat.  Everything looking great on the outside.

Yet last time everything was actually a mess on the inside.  We had no idea.

Over the past four months, I’ve battled more fear and anxiety than at any other point in my life.  We’re so thankful to be pregnant again.  Thankful to have spent 19-weeks with our third little love.  We’re hopeful for a future with this child.  At the same time, we’re scared to experience loss again.

People want to say things like, “Have faith it will all be fine” or “I’m sure everything will be fine this time, keep believing.”  But I don’t want to put my faith and trust in things that will fail.  It may not be fine.  This baby may not be healthy.  We may not hold this third child either.  If my faith had only been in these things last time, my entire foundation would have been dismantled.

What I do know is that what God has done over the past six months He is capable of doing again.  I want to put my faith in what won’t fail and what won’t let me down.  My situation may get worse, but my God will not.  God will be near.  God will pour love and grace out on me.  God will heal any broken part.  God will make all things new.  God will give me life eternal.  God will always work for the eternal good of those who love Him.

I am not owed a healthy baby this time.  I am not guaranteed a smooth sailing pregnancy.  I do not get to miss out suffering this go around simply because I took my turn last time.  I wish it worked that way.

I am hopeful that it will look different.  Yet at the same time, I am all too aware that it may not.

God has been asking me each day to simply trust Him.  To be with Him and to remember who He is.  I’ve been reminded to love Him for who He is and not just for what He can do for me.  He can give me a perfectly healthy baby.  He also cannot.

One of the things we are most thankful for with Maizie is that we had no idea something was wrong until after her life had ended.  I went through 21-weeks of pregnancy rejoicing in the miracle of a life inside my womb.  We opted to not perform any early genetic testing this time for the same reason.  We want to be truly thankful for each healthy day we have with this child.  The biggest difference this time is we feel afraid to have much hope for the future or to dream about days to come.

We held off on telling people for a number of reasons.  We needed to hold it close to our own hearts for awhile and to really wrestle some with God.  One of my biggest fears in beginning to share this news was to hear the word congratulations or to see other people only feel excitement for us.  I haven’t been able to get to excited or really joyful.  I have deeply tasted thankfulness though.  I was worried that I would feel like a bad mother if other people were more excited than me.  What kind of mom isn’t the most excited person about her child?  However as we’ve slowly released this news over the past couple weeks, I’ve ended up being thankful for people who can be excited for this child.  They are doing something for me that I can’t quite do for myself right now.  I think that’s ok.  It’s ok that they only taste the excitement, because they don’t know the pain.  It’s also ok that I’m not excited yet, because I am too deeply aware of what loss in this area may cost me.  My favorite response though is from people who acknowledge the tension of what we must be feeling.

I’m hopeful that tomorrow will look completely different than December 6th.  I’m desperate for it to look different.  But even if doesn’t, I know God will be with me.

Smith baby #3, We all love you and we really want to hold you.

family

 

 

 

April 18th

I remember the first time April 18th became a significant date.  I had just taken a positive pregnancy test and plugged in the date of my last period into an app.  Due date: April 18th.

I remember the second time April 18th became a significant date.  I sat in a sonogram room 8-weeks pregnant for my first OB appointment of that pregnancy.  After measuring the size of the baby with an already beating heart, “April 18th should be your due date,” confirmed the technician.

Then it was sometime on the afternoon of December 6th as I sat in our living room trying to grasp the fact that my baby’s heart had stopped beating that I realized April 18th would now be a day I would dread.  A day when something was supposed to be due, a something that would never arrive.

It felt so far away in December, as any woman 21-weeks into pregnancy can relate to, the due date feels so far away.  What a roller coaster the past 19 weeks have been.  There have been many sad days, several days where I just feel numb, and a sprinkling of joy-filled days that remind me it will be different one day.

It has been my empty belly that I have been mourning, but now it is my empty arms of which I am aware.

There are days where I feel crazy.  Crazy that it still hurts this bad.  Crazy that I can’t be the person I used to be.  Crazy that I can’t handle my old workload or pace of life.  Crazy that bellies and babies make me cry.  Crazy that I can miss someone so deeply whom I never met.

Some of the most comforting things over the past 19 weeks have been reading the words and listening to the stories of women who have been through something similar.  Though the stories are different, the sentiments seem to be the same.  In reading their words, I feel less crazy.  My grief seems more “normal.”

I thought by April 18th I’d be holding a newborn or headed to the hospital to deliver one.  Instead, I’m headed to the beach, thanks to the generosity of some friends.  As thankful as I am for this gift, I wish I was at Medical City hospital or home exhausted nursing my days away.

I thought I was crazy enough to have myself fully convinced this baby would come by April 4th and that this week wouldn’t be so bad.  But this week feels like a rude awakening.  40 weeks since conception.  No baby here.  No baby coming.

On December 6th, part of me died.  Since then, it feels like a lot of me has been dead.  I sat in church on Easter Sunday this past weekend and cried my eyes out.  He brings back life.  He brings new life.  He brings life to things that were dead.

I’m hoping with all I’ve got that my Maizie girl is alive, that God’s mercy and grace for the unborn and the infant is unparalleled.

I’m hoping that He will bring new life to the parts of me that are dead.  May flesh return to these dry bones.  May something pure and beautiful emerge from the ashes of this fire.

As I’ve thought about new life, I thought back to a summer in Colorado a few years ago.  Forest fires had swept through the area the year before.  A local explained to us that new vegetation was beginning to grow.  It wasn’t the same trees and plants that had been there before, but a new variety that was fit to grow in hostile ground.  This plant would change the soil and over time, different vegetation would return to the land.  It wasn’t the same as it was before, but it was new life beginning.

I’m hoping for the same.  I can’t go back to life before December 5th.  Maizie’s life and death will forever shape my existence.  But, new life, different life, can grow.  This is the promise of the resurrection: life after death.

Maizie bibleOn Friday as Jesus died, His people mourned.  On Saturday as He was gone, they waited.  On Sunday as He returned, they celebrated.  We live believing that the resurrection has happened but that many of the promises of new life will not be fulfilled until Jesus returns again.  In many ways, we’re living on Saturday.  We grieve.  We wait.  We hope for what is to come.