“For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair.” -Anne Morrow Lindbergh
…and she would know. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s young son was kidnapped and murdered in 1932, when he was less than two years old.
"Happiness" is a good way to describe many of the years we enjoyed as a family, before Katie was diagnosed with cancer. Gregg, David, Katie and I were a foursome, and we were very happy with that. We had a kind of security, in our family life, our love for each other and our community.
I’ve been suffering from sadness more than usual, this month. It feels as if I've been scaling "the cliffs of despair." If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that we scattered some of Katie’s ashes near our family home recently. I was blindsided by how much this event depressed me.
We’ve been living without Katie for two years now. It’s fair to say that I have “made progress” in my grief during that time. By that, I mean that I am now able to function better in the world, two years later, than I was able to do immediately after her passing. I am not the same as I was before her passing, by any stretch of the imagination, but nowadays, I can put dinner together, get through the grocery store, go to a social function, write a letter to the school board and volunteer my services, all with some degree of competence. But after we scattered Katie’s ashes, I had trouble getting dressed and out of the house.
To give you a little perspective, my husband has his career outside of the home; my career is here, in the home. I have lost my job future. I am supposed to be raising Katie and David now. I am supposed to spend the three years after David leaves for college (next autumn) helping Katie move through high school and prepare for college. I have lost my female companion in our home, the feminine “take” on things, the person who could discuss “How do I look in this outfit?,” the girl who I wanted to support, from what to do when you get your first period to “Is this guy worth it?” to marriage and motherhood. I have lost every single day as a stay-at-home mother with her. It’s not just my broken heart we are talking about…it’s also my calling and career path.
During Katie's illness and shortly after her passing, my church imploded, and my closest girlfriend moved to another state. It's fair to say that my entire paradigm and much of my support system has been dismantled. What I have left is my marriage, our son & extended family, our home, a much smaller bank account, a few friends and God. It sounds like a lot to be thankful for, but lately I have been feeling deeply bereft. It's a good enough life, but it's not the life I had, and loved.
Scattering Katie's ashes made the grief for her, and for all that has been lost, fresh and sharp again. I thought it would bring the feeling that we had set her free, because it is the completion of a part of our promise to her. I thought I’d feel hope, because my ashes (and my parents’ ashes) will eventually be scattered in the same place, a place that Katie has loved and visited, literally from her birth, as I have. But it didn’t feel like freedom or hope; it felt like loss, letting go and tearing apart, and it took me back to a depth of sorrow that I haven’t suffered in over a year. I was devastated, almost as if I was watching her die again.
So I went to the funeral home and bought a new, small, heart-shaped urn. I will have some of Katie’s ashes put in it, and I will keep them. I am also going to buy a beautiful box for some of them. We will scatter most of her ashes at Camp Goodtimes, as she requested, but I now know that I have to prepare myself better for the event. It’s much bigger than I thought it would be, and it hurts more than I ever thought it would.
One of the things that helped me through this space was attending the funeral mass of our great-niece, Signe Katherine. Signe passed away on the day she was born, from a massive cerebral hemorrhage.
She was a beautiful and much-loved baby, and I was blessed to be able to hold her, kiss her and witness her baptism on the one day she lived in this world. Though I am not Catholic, Signe's mass gave me great comfort. It brought forth the tears that have been threatening to drown me; releasing those tears freed me, somehow. I wept for Signe, for her parents - Andrea & Mike, for our extended family, and for Katie. It hurt, but the hurt was held in comfort and prayer, and was presided over with tenderness by the priest who also held and blessed Signe before she passed away. He didn’t offer banalities; he acknowledged the presence of mystery, loss and pain. But he also prayed with us, and for us, and it brought solace to my heart. There was sharing of love and of sorrow. I can see why traditions like these are powerful, meaningful and worthwhile.
This morning, as I sat with delicious coffee in my cup, and the sound of the furnace blowing warm air through our home, I was able to feel thankful, instead of just sad.
Ps. 13: 6 Let me sing of the LORD, “He has been good to me.”
It’s a hard road, but I have hope. Joy is springing “from the cliffs of despair,” as Anne Morrow Lindbergh said. He has indeed been good to me, and I am grateful.
You can also read this over at Hopeful Parents today.