Thursday, August 21, 2008

She's Not Coming Back (Dad, skip this)

Yesterday, I went with David as he registered for the tennis team, picked up his class schedule, sat for the photographer and paid for his ASB card and yearbook. We stood in lines and talked with the counselor about a change or two to David's class schedule. What a busy place that was!

I cannot recall anything about doing this last year...ANYTHING. I don't know if I went with David, or if Gregg did, or who we saw, or how it was. I do know that I felt more comfortable yesterday than I did at this time last year. I didn't like going out in public at that time; I wanted to run away from most everyone. This time, I stood with him and we listened and observed what was going around us. Some of my reactions to the quiet chaos were humorous, but there was an undertone of irritation that had been with me for a day or two.

I was sort of cranky, and feeling critical of a lot of what was going on around me. I was impatient with what I perceived as inefficiencies -- and I am not exactly efficient myself these days! I made a suggestion for improvement (honestly, a complaint), and then found that the error was MINE, not theirs. How very humbling. It revealed something to me, though. I am not feeling centered. That is about me, and not about everyone and everything around me. I am out of sorts.

We went to Seattle on Monday and Tuesday, and I know that, these days, when I am busy and away from home a lot, I don't feel centered. So it might be partly due to that. It might be that I am tired; it might be the "post-partum" feeling, after having survived the one-year anniversary of Katie's passing. It might be because I am not taking Katie to register for school, to buy supplies or new clothes that she would have loved to wear. Perhaps it is about the innocent double-take at our last name, and how I braced myself for the question about Katie, only to find that it was about my sister-in-law. Maybe I was rattled by the angry mother who was loudly berating her son, in line just behind us. It might be the fact that, after making reservations for the three of us to (finally!) celebrate David's great Spring Quarter report card, I had the following exchange with the hostess at the restaurant on Monday evening: She said, "Gerstenberger? We have you in our computer. For three or four?" They know us; we have been eating there for years. I explained, "It used to be four; our daughter passed away last summer." Ouch.

One of the things that was most difficult about our weekend in Winthrop was the dawning of the awareness that Katie is not coming back. Now, I know what death means; I was present when she passed. I heard her breathing cease; I was laying beside her, on her bed. I washed her body and changed her clothes afterward; I cut a lock of her hair. I saw the changes in her form in the hours that she lay on her bed after her passing; I saw her start to look less like Katie, I felt the warmth leaving her skin, and I knew that she wasn't in that body anymore. I know that that particular, gorgeous, smooth, golden, precious, budding form is not available for her to inhabit any longer. She most likely doesn't need it, and she cannot use it. I know that, because it's ashes now. I know that Katie's body was cremated (according to her wishes), and that her ashes are in beautiful, handmade boxes, up in her room, in her closet, waiting to be scattered in the water when all of us are ready.

If you've read Joan Didion's book, "The Year of Magical Thinking," you will recognize this thought, about the possibility of the loved one returning. Didion kept her husband's shoes, because he would need them if he returned. She knew that he had died; she was with him when it happened, suddenly, at their dinner table. She was not crazy, but she was in deep, intense grief - and withdrawal - from the longest, most intimate relationship she had.

I know that Katie isn't coming back, but that fact came over me in a new way in Winthrop, when we were with many people who we had seen at this time last summer, who had changed and grown. I saw then that she would never again do that, in this life. She won't join us for that trip (or any other) with shorter or longer hair, taller, in new clothes, with a boyfriend, with new skills and interests. She will always be remembered as 12 and-nearly-a-half, or younger. She isn't going to make new memories; we have only what she left us with. We have no future together, here; we have only the past. She isn't coming back. I know that, and now I know it at another level.

The conversations that we had about life after death were always initiated by Katie. I recall her asking me what I thought about it. I was truthful about it; I believe that there is life after death, but I do not know what it's like, because I haven't been there. I have read about it, and heard about it from those who have had near-death experiences, or who have been with those who have had them.

I told Katie, "I don't know, but I believe that you came from love, and that that's where you are going: back into the love that you came from." I drew upon my awareness, back when Gregg and I were hoping to have children, that it wasn't in our control. I remember asking God before I conceived, If it is Your will, and we are ready, will You please allow us to welcome children into our love? My words to Katie came from gut-feelings, and now that I have read more on the subject, I am glad that we had those conversations. To leave home, without your parents or brother, at 12, is a daunting step. Though I didn't want her to have to go, I did want her to be able to go without fear.

This morning, I was impelled to read in the Gospel of John, chapters 14-17. That is where Jesus is talking to his disciples about where he came from, what his connection to God is, where he is going and what he is asking of God for them (and for those who will come later, and love him). I think my answers to Katie's questions took something from this teaching, when I look back on those conversations.

Richard Rohr writes, in Enneagram II: Tool for Conversion:
"Your heart of hearts says, I know the foundation of reality is love.
You already know that! It's written in your soul! You came forth from it! It's what you can't forget! Religion reminds us what we've all forgotten and what our soul already knows.
When we see God, it will not be a new discovery. It will be a profound recognition of that heart and soul of yourself that is already in union with God. All contemplation, all true prayer, is an attempt to go back to that place."

If you know that you are fully and completely loved, and you believe that Love is the Source from which you came, maybe you can do even the most difficult things in the world without so much fear.


Dreamer girl said...

Such a beautiful expression of love, the realities of life, and what to walk toward. The verses really do just that but simply put it cannot totally defrost what happens in life. I know it has been tough for you lately. My prayers are with you.

suz said...

Karen, this is a beautiful post. I am more and more amazed at you the more I read.I think in your past life you may have been a poet...
Katie sounds like such a deep, loving soulful person for being
12 years old. The fact that you both spoke candidly about life after death just chokes me up.
I feel the same way as you do on the subject .
When my youngest was about 4 or 5 she would tell me pretty regularly that she wanted to go see Jesus. This would always take my breath away, because I of course being the selfish Mom wanted her HERE.
I hope your day is better.

Amy said...

Oh sweet friend! What a beautiful and raw post on your feelings...what a time to be going through. You've been in my prayers...I will be hugging my children a little closer today!

I loved the part about coming from love and she'll be going to love...perfectly stated!

HappyWifeHappyLife said...

You are an awesome mother. Katie was so very lucky to have you, and your love, while she was here. And yes, she did go back to that Perfect Eternal Love. And one day you'll go back to it too. Rest in that knowledge and be at peace.

Blessings to you.

amanda said...

Karen, I know that nothing I write here will make you feel better. I truly believe that although our loved ones cannot come back in their human forms, they are with every day. It does not help that we can't hold them or hear their voices. You write such beautiful tributes to Katie that we, the readers, get to know her beautiful spirit...

Kay said...

We used to eat at Chili's every Saturday with our son. I remember the first time we went out to eat there after we lost him, the hostess girl looked right at me and said "just three?". It broke my heart to hear her say that. We just looked at each other and said 'yep'. What can you say? Believe it or not, we STILL get 'just three?' just about every time we go out to eat, no matter where we are. We think that is the weirdest thing!

I'm sorry it's been so rough for you. I know it's hard. : (

Dawn~^i^Brandon^i^, Jordan, and Seth's mom said...


Keep sharing from your heart, even in the midst of it being broken. I continue to think and pray for your family, a family that we have never met, but are on the same journey. I'd like to think that Brandon and Katie have already met, and are discussing...."yeah...there are our mom's, and see how strong they are and sometimes pretend to be. keep going moms"!

Also, my prescious middle son Jordan is now in your area. He just moved to Renton on the 20th ~ another big change for this mom.

Thinking and praying for you in Delaware!

Jennifer Stumpf said...

Always, always, Karen, I am reminded when reading your posts how much good you are doing for other people, both going through losses of their own and just the grudge and pitfalls of daily living life. What a beautiful thing. After reading your posts, they stay with me all day and thereafter. Much love. xxoo

Jennifer Stumpf said...

from C.S. Lewis book The Last Battle:

And as Aslan spoke, writes Lewis, "the things that began to happen...were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."