Suffering

Talk about timely. I think God is probably trying to tell me something with this one, so I’ll share. The past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering. There are so many things that bring about suffering, but I think having your child buried in the ground is probably one of the top things. There are other things that are extremely painful, but that is the one I know about. So that is the one I discuss.

21192273_10214341841608084_2005664003613985787_n (1)

This theme of suffering has really been floating through my brain. I feel like I’m getting to a point in my grief where I know that there will always be grief, but I’ve decided it won’t ruin me. It’s taken a lot to get to this point- lots of suffering, lots of crying, AT LEAST two cemetery visits week, and 85+ entries in my journal (which I almost exclusively write in at the cemetery). The cemetery is where I do my best thinking. I cry too, but I think. I contemplate life, death, my family, and the future. I contemplate how to go about continuing to live with my firstborn son buried. I contemplate my friendships, my work, and whatever else comes to mind. It’s a quiet and fairly deserted place. I can work through my suffering there and not have to worry about what anyone else thinks about it. It’s usually pretty peaceful and except for the occasional black bear visit it’s safe!

37388551_10217070502102891_5414364201449684992_n

But back to suffering. As I said this has been on my mind, and this morning we had a visiting Priest- and it’s like he was talking directly to me. His name is Fr. Jay Biber, and he is a retired Priest from Lexington. His homily (aka sermon) was about suffering. He discussed how we all go through suffering in our lives. And God gets us through it. We suffer and we move forward. Now going through grief I know it’s not a linear process. Sometimes I may take one step forward and three back, but I can say that most days I don’t suffer the way I did even a few months ago.

The thing that Fr. Jay said that really jumped out at me, though, was something he said at the end. I had to dig for a pen to write it down so I probably did not remember the words correctly, but here is the gist:

“I don’t have the answer for you, but I’ll be here while you walk through it”

(edited to add the actual quote: Thanks to a friend who wrote it down!
“I don’t have an answer for you, but I’ll go there with you”)

He was speaking to the children in particular at that point- how even a child can put their arm around a suffering friend and say those words. But those words mean a great deal to me. Because over the past 2 ½ years I have had several friends who did that for me. They didn’t (and don’t) have the answers. They couldn’t (and can’t) take away that suffering. This journey is mine alone. But they have been here, walking with me, as I walk through my own suffering. By walking with me in MY suffering and acknowledging it, they eased my pain a bit. They couldn’t take it away or rush the process but they have helped me ENDURE it. And for that I will be forever thankful.

27657149_10215793796306044_5204123021156606895_n (1)

 

 

 

14925743_10211355587113588_1906403082085055936_n

 

 

Thank you notes

Thank you for being a bright light
during our darkest hours
as we said goodbye to Gabe.

We appreciate every prayer
and act of love shown by our friends.
We are very sad but we feel very loved.
Sincerely,
The Chester Family

Oh, these thank you notes. We ordered them a few weeks after Gabe died, and they sat. And sat. And sat. In their box, first in the dining room and then in Gabe’s room. I eventually mustered the strength to write a few, probably no more than 6, and sent a few of those. There are still a few upstairs, written in their envelopes. There are still MANY upstairs not even folded, still in their box. And that is where they will stay.

I’ve always been HORRIBLE about thank you notes. Truly horrible. Just ask my sister. She is always great about sending them, but she has probably never gotten one from me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what she has done, it’s that I’m horrible about the process of writing thank you notes.

After Gabe died it honestly didn’t even occur to me in the first day or two that some people would maybe expect thank you notes. My child had DIED after all. The death of a child isn’t a baby shower or party, it’s a horrible event. Horrible for many people but especially for the people living in the house with that child. The references to thank you notes came early- “you should write down everything you receive so you can thank people later”, “Have you written thank you notes yet?” “For weddings you have a few weeks but I guess you have more time for this”. Writing that out makes me want to use bad words. I may be doing that in my head right now, you can use your imagination to figure out what those words might be.

Once I learned of that expectation it created a new stress. One I did not need. I started keeping track of what people did as much as I could. I shouldn’t have been wasting my energy on that. I started to worry if people were waiting, hence the reason Doug and I carefully selected the card you see pictured above- with the tree with a heart, because of our son’s special heart. I realized soon that it would be almost impossible to get everybody. In those first 2 days alone people had cleaned our house, brought us meals, sorted the boys horribly messy playroom, and a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time dropped off a huge box full of disposable plates, silverware and other things that were such a huge help when dishes were the last thing on my mind. Others did landscaping out front, mowed our yard, came to visit, and of course my older sister immediately flew in from Hong Kong to help with whatever I needed. My younger sister came and brought my sweet nephew who provided comedic relief when we needed it. Over the next few days and weeks we received gifts, Rosary beads, cards, money flowers, plants, gift cards, surprises left on the porch, and honestly too many other things to write. But I remember it. Every bit of it. And Doug and I and the boys are thankful for every bit of it.

The problem here, though, is that each thank you note makes us relive horrible moments. The moments when I had watched attempts to revive my son that didn’t work. The moment when the doctor told me they tried but couldn’t save him. That moment when Doug and I left the hospital without our child. Planning the funeral (thankfully with a wonderful friend helping), writing the (very long) obituary, seeing my child in the casket. Those events are all mixed in with those wonderful things that people did for us. Because of that fact those thank you notes will probably never get written. Each one brings all of those painful things to the surface in a way most people can’t comprehend. Each wonderful, loving act of kindness is tied to a pain that can’t be described.

So if you didn’t get a thank you note (almost 100% of you), I’m sorry for that. If you feel you still need one even after reading what I just wrote, then it might be time to examine your conscience and motivation for reaching out to the grieving.

Now that I’ve said that, this is my thank you note. It’s a blanket one and it covers everything. If you did something, gave us something, visited, or any other thing that I didn’t mention- Thank you. Thank you for all of it. Know that we appreciate it and still remember, and probably always will.

And to anyone who ever loses a loved one- know that I will NEVER expect a thank you. In fact, I’d rather you not write one. I would much rather you focus on surviving and tending to your broken heart than writing a note just because someone, somewhere said it is the right thing to do.