This is Grief

Fatherhood

I looked outside his window and saw the sky light up with hues of pink. The sun was setting, and I couldn’t help but bask in the irony of it all. The sunset that evening was breathtaking.  I was in awe. The world outside of his hospice room was filling with such radiant beauty.  But inside… these four walls contained just darkness.  A tangible darkness, if you will; one you could feel weighing on your chest. I sat at his bedside holding his lifeless hand in mine.  Tears were falling down my face as I realized that I was already mourning the loss of my dad, though his heart still beat. His body lay present, but his personhood–the dad I grew up knowing–the dad that I loved… he was gone.  I watched as his chest would rise and fall, and I listened as that deep rumble would leave his body with each breath. It was mechanical at this point; as if no intention were left in his soul. 

I squeezed his hand, and kissed his cheek for one last time.  I leaned over him, and whispered my final goodbyes.  “I’ll see you in the mountains, Daddy,” I remember saying. 

Growing up you assume that you will outlive your parents. You assume that one day you will have to lay your parents to rest.  But not now; not like this.  I always thought he would be older. Hell, I thought I would be older.  I thought it would be of old age, and that it would be this quiet and peaceful thing.  Isn’t that what we all long for?

I watched as cancer fiercely ripped my father’s life away from me.  I watched as he lay in anguish, because the drugs could not touch his pain. True Hell on Earth.  Countless nights were spent tossing and turning with my phone volume on high.  I was in this perpetual state of waiting.  Waiting for what the morning would hold.  What would my father’s new normal be?  What freedom would he lose tonight? What part of his body would give way to the turmoil the cancer was inflicting upon it? But just as ferociously as the cancer came, it so too went.  November 20th came with a great sense of relief for my dad, because he was finally free.  But that day also left behind such bitterness and anger in me.

One thing I learned from all of this is that time stops for no one.  Life is given, and life is taken away.  And the days?  They carry on, as if nothing ever happened; as if every fiber of my being wasn’t rocked to its very core.

I was changed.  How could I not be?

After bearing witness to such suffering, somehow I was supposed to return home to my old life.  I had a tiny human growing inside of me, two beautiful souls to raise, and a spouse to love. But that person I was, the things I used to find joy in, the life that once gave me such purpose…. it was gone. 

“Less Than” is what I utter to myself in the mirror, because I am less than the person I was, and less than the person I ought to be. Even harsher is the reality that the life I’m living is less than the life my dad would have desired for me to live.  There are nights I’ll allow myself to sit in the darkness, in the grief, and I think how sad?  How truly sad my dad would be if he knew where I was at.

I am so humbly aware of the fact that who I once was, is not who I am today.  There is an underlying sadness that I carry with me now every single day, because my dad is not here.  There is a darkness that beckons me to come, sit, let the anguish overtake me. It is overwhelming and debilitating at times.

I’m sure some of you are reading this, and are now worried for my wellbeing.  You’re crying out through your computer screens for me to be strong, to think of my family, to think of the little ones who call me ‘mom’.  Some of you are probably asking where is my faith?  Where is my God? There may even be some of you contemplating picking up the phone….don’t.

This is grief.

It is multifaceted, it is cyclical, and it is ongoing.  It is darkness, but it is also light.  Within it, grief contains memories of joy, laughter, and love.  But yet it also contains the heavy memories of anguish and terror.  Grief can bring moments of peace as I watch my son drum along to his Papaw’s music.  But it can also bring moments of despair as I flip through pictures of my older kids being held by their Papaw for the first time, and then realize that there are no pictures of him with my youngest.

There are days where grief is a raging river that overcomes every bit of my soul, and I am left gasping for air. I can hear my dad asking when I am due with the new baby, and I can feel the silence filling up the room as we all realize he will never meet his new grandson.  I can see him hunched over in his favorite recliner, tears rolling down his face, as he whispers to us that he is done; that there is no more fight left in him.  I can see his restless body thrashing around begging for peace.  I am left treading in these violent memories, feeling my body grow weak, and begin sinking deeper in it.

But then there are days where it comes as a gentle mist from an ocean shore.  It is something I choose to bask in, and choose to wallow in the sweet memories that it brings forth. I can see my dad sitting with his guitar in hand.  I can see my kids gathered around him; taking turns with his pick. I can see his smile.  I can hear his laugh. I can hear the awful, yet beautiful music he is creating with his grandkids. His memory is so real that I can almost reach out and touch his skin.

This, all of this…. The good the bad, the sorrow the joy, the dark the light.  All of it…

This is Grief. 

 

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My Husband, My Companion

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As a Christian feminist, I often feel conflicted regarding how to view my husband.  As a feminist, I’m told to view my husband as my equal.  I believe whole-heartedly in this and I do view my husband as my equal. But I have found that among feminists, it is sometimes unpopular to praise your husband simply because of his gender.  So, I find myself reserved in communicating my admiration of him. On the other hand, I’m told by conservative Christians that I am to view my husband as my authority, my “head,” the protector of my fragile/weaker frame, and the ruler of our home.  So, for me to communicate that my respect for my husband exists outside of this hierarchal and patriarchal framework, I am deemed “not a good Christian wife”.  Thus, I’m left perplexed in how I should view him.

When I look at my marriage, I try not to view it through the lens of gender.

It is hard for me to type that statement because I do not believe the answer to gender inequality is to eliminate gender identity.  I do understand that it is difficult to determine what is male and what is female simply by looking at the surface of a person.  Our society is slowly learning that gender is determined by more than a person’s anatomical make-up.  Even though this difficulty exists, I believe that we will do ourselves a disservice if we try to eliminate gender identity all-together.  Within our gender identity lies more opportunity for diversity.

For some, acknowledging the differences in one another is negative; because the belief is that we are predisposed to ranking that which is different, thus creating a hierarchal system.  The claim is that some differences are good, some are bad, and some are better than others.  But, I believe these differences should exist solely in-and-of themselves.  I should be able to acknowledge that my husband is male and that I am female, and just let that be.  The fact that my husband is male does not make him superior to me, just as I am not superior to him simply because I am female. The same can be said of all differences.

With that being said, in my marriage, I do not believe our gender to be pertinent.  While, yes, the fact that my husband is male makes up a part of who he is, the overall enjoyment I receive from his personhood goes so far beyond his gender identity.

I believe I should be able to verbally communicate my love and admiration for him with the understanding that this exists outside of his identity as a male.  For me to withhold my praise and admiration simply because of his gender would mean that I, myself, am partaking in gender injustice.  Not to mention that I would be missing out on celebrating the person my husband is.

In the same way, I should be able to communicate that my respect for my husband can and does exist outside of the fact that he is male.  This does not make me a less-than-ideal Christian wife.  I believe that this actually makes me a better Christian wife, because my respect for my husband is not out of obligation or solely founded upon his gender identity.  My respect for my husband stems from who he is on the inside, which I believe to be Christ-like.

When I look at my husband, I view him through the lens of companionship.  What I see in him is the friendship we have cultivated. I see the daughter we co-parent.  I see the son who will soon join our family.  I see what sets fire to his bones.  I see what causes a frown on his brow.  I see the memories he has shared with me from his childhood.  I see the family that has helped create the person he is today.  I see him, Jonathan; the entirety of his personhood.  Not simply Jonathan, who is male, but Jonathan who is my husband, and my companion.

Guest Post-How Many Lives Did I Come With?

Blog Photo- Sam 2

Our twenties aren’t the easiest period in our lives: we are grown-ups who still feel 18; we are new parents still scared of our own; and we are out of the plethora of friendships and relationships that college brings. We are trying to juggle life and all of its sharp turns and mountains through the screen of an Apple or Android, instead of looking up at the community around us. We are so scared of being alone that we would rather be glued to our iPhones than face the truth: we have boxed our community in a 4inch screen.

It is staggering how much I depend on my phone. I am in a constant state of communication between Facebook, Instagram, CandyCrush,  emails, texts etc. There isn’t a time where I am not aware of my phone. What if I get full lives on CandyCrush? What if Orange is the New Black comes back for season 2 on Netflix without me? It is my watch, my link to the world, my friend in time of need (lunch alone) and it is my crutch to the community and friendships around me. Going through this period of my life, I am becoming aware of the fact that I don’t have the community that I was used to during college. A few months ago I read a book called MWF seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche, and I realized that I am not alone with this feeling of friendship crisis. I am not in college anymore.

Truth be told, that college style of friendship isn’t what I want anymore. Call me old, but I can no longer handle late night coffee runs and all night extravaganza’s- I can barely stay up until 11 anymore. What I want is a community that is going through the same experiences and tribulations that I am. People to do life with. But, so often, we find out that life isn’t like college where your possible BFF is right next door, friends take a little bit more work to find. It is the talk in the grocery store to the person behind you. It is the mom who also brought their child to the park.  It’s the book-club down at the library.  It’s looking up from your phone for 1 minute to realize the possibilities around you. Set it down, my friends; embrace the eminent idea that life is happening all around you and take part of it, run with it, and for the love of all that is holy, get a life.

Redefining Conflict

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I’ve learned that couples enjoy sizing their relationships next to others, and a common comparison is who has the most conflict.  Obviously, you are not in a healthy relationship if fighting is constant, and your only way of speaking to each other is screaming.  Fighting like that shows an inability to communicate, and if that is the case there is a problem in your relationship.  But just because one couple has more conflict than another couple, does not make their relationship less healthy.  It is impossible to be in a relationship with another person without conflict.  In a friendship, marriage, or any relationship, two individuals are coming together having grown up with different families, different experiences, and different likes and dislikes. As these individuals begin to interact intimately with one another, they soon realize the differences in each other’s thoughts, opinions, and beliefs and conflict arises.  Somehow though, so many of us believe that if conflict is present it shows an incompatibility in our relationship.

When my husband and I first started dating, there wasn’t much conflict, if any at all.  We hardly ever fought, and we rarely disagreed with one another.  I would not make the mistake though, in believing that our lack of conflict meant our relationship was happier and healthier then than it is now.  In our case, the lack of conflict stemmed from our inability to be open and vulnerable with one another.  I was nervous to really speak my mind or outwardly disagree with my then boyfriend; not because he was controlling or aggressive, but because I thought that if we had conflict in our relationship it meant we weren’t meant to be together.  If our relationship was built to last, then conflict should not exist.  I now know I could not have been more wrong, so why did I view conflict so negatively?

Growing up, when I heard the word conflict it was always accompanied with war, battle, fights, and struggle.  Whenever we spoke about war and the Middle East, it was always referred to as the “Conflict in the Middle East.”  So conflict had this negative connotation in my mind.  The reversal of this was also true.  Because conflict was connected to violent words and events, I thought that an absence of conflict equated peace.  In my mind if there was a lack of conflict,  that meant there would also be a lack of fights and struggle.  So, if there was conflict in my relationship,  that meant we had a violent and aggressive relationship; but if we did not have conflict, then we had a peaceful relationship.

It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I began to form my own understanding of the word conflict.  I was taking a class with one of my favorite professors.  He started class one day by saying that an absence of conflict does not equate to peace.  Instantly, my mind was troubled because that was not what I’ve been taught.  He then began telling a story of a family whose father ran a tight ship.  The children were always quiet, the house was always clean, and everyone in the home made sure to do what the father said.  The father was a strong, aggressive, demanding person.  No one would dare speak out against him or challenge him.  So, if there was an absence of conflict because there were no disagreements, no arguments, no fights, does that mean their home was full of peace?

I soon realized that conflict was not this violent and negative word that I always deemed it to be.  Conflict for me became a representation of a truly intimate relationship; a relationship where trust, openness, and vulnerability exists.  There is no fear of judgment, because the two individuals have reached a point in their relationship where differences are acknowledged and embraced.

After that class I accepted that for me to be in a relationship, whether it was with a friend, a family member, or a significant other, I had to let go of my fear of conflict.  This fear was crippling me from truly experiencing relationships with others.  In my dating relationship with my husband, this fear was causing me to miss out on fully knowing him, and it was keeping him from fully knowing me.

Our love may not be perfect.  Through the course of our relationship, we have made each other angry, we’ve made each other cry, we have raised our voices to one another, and we’ve given each other the silent treatment.  There have been times that we have gone to bed angry, and there have been times that we were not slow to speak and quick to listen.  Our marriage is not in danger though, just because our love is not that of fairy tales.  The conflict in our relationship is simply a reminder that we are continuing this journey of getting to fully know one another.