It’s raining today. Hard. Yesterday was warm and breezy and beautiful, a perfect day for going to the beach or the park (though, true to my hermity-climate-control-addicted self, I did neither); today is one of those days that’s only good for “ducks and newlyweds,” as a friend of mine used to say.
Summer is here, FINALLY, after a winter that did not want to let go. How do I know it’s summer? Because just a few days ago I was driving around town with the windows down (Caitlin LOVES having the windows down when we’re in the car) and I could smell honeysuckle. The scent of honeysuckle always means summer to me.
And, of course, I know it’s summer because we had an awesome thunderstorm the other day. And after the storm, a rainbow.
If you know the story of Noah, you know that supposedly the rainbow is a promise from God that he will never wipe out humanity again because of our sinfulness. Which is a nice promise, don’t get me wrong, but I’m a little bummed that it’s not a promise for something different. A promise like, “You will never ever have to put up with terrible things happening to your family and friends” would totally have me stoked.
But Jesus actually promised the opposite: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” Thanks for nothing, Jesus. He tries to soften the blow: “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.“
Yesterday, Jon and I attended a memorial service at CHKD, where Garrett was treated before he died. I cannot say enough how wonderful this hospital is, how comprehensive their caring is for each and every member of the family during the entire hospital stay, and afterwards, too, when the outcome is not what you prayed for. The memorial service was part of that care: an opportunity to remember and honor the children who passed away in the year prior, as well as a reunion of sorts between the families and their caregivers.
The social workers who were assigned to our case were incredibly gentle and kind, and seeing one of them as I walked in the door before the service immediately put me at ease. One of the Child Life workers (who, among other things, are tasked with helping the ill child’s younger family members deal with the many questions and confusing feelings that may crop up) recognized us immediately and commented on how much Caitlin looks like her brother.
That people see Garrett in Caitlin makes me very happy. She is her own little person and I learn more of her unique personality every day, but she is most definitely Garrett’s sister. That’s why I dressed her in her “little sister” onesie for the occasion: although she won’t have a chance to hug him and talk to him, I want her to know that Garrett loved his “baby seester.”
It was an evening filled with emotion and activity, but I didn’t feel rushed or overwhelmed. First, we gathered with two other families in the Tribute Garden, where a butterfly sculpture and brick pavers all around it honor the children who gave the gift of life through organ donation. Jon and I were invited to set the paver that acknowledged Garrett’s gift.
At this point I have to make a shameless plug: please, PLEASE, consider becoming an organ, eye, and tissue donor and making your wishes known to your family in case of an emergency. I know several people whose lives were saved and improved through the gift of organ donation, and Garrett’s life continues on in three different people (that I know of, there could possibly be more), one of whom is a three-year-old little girl. If your family is ever faced with the terrible reality of your untimely death, let them at least be able to take comfort in the fact that another family somewhere is being blessed with the gift of life.
After our time in the garden, we went upstairs for the memorial service. Prior to the service, the hospital had organized an arts-and-crafts event that I thought was sheer brilliance: all sorts of scrapbooking materials were laid out so we could make a page that represented our child’s life and personality. The pages were gathered together in a book for the hospital staff to look through so they could get to know the kids better, and share in the families’ good memories – not just the bad.
Jon and I left immediately after the service, even though it meant missing a reception featuring “light refreshments,” and I almost NEVER pass up cheese-and-fruit tray. But we were both ready to go home and relax with our little treasure. As I had told several people at the memorial, Caitlin has been an incredible gift during this difficult time. Even at my lowest-of-lows, I can look at her and appreciate the incredible person she is, unique and darling and full of joy.
The red blanket that Caitlin is sleeping with in this photo is one of Garrett’s security blankets.
He developed and unexplained and almost unhealthy attachement to this blanket,
so I cut it up into several smaller squares so we’d always have one clean and ready for him.
Someone – not sure who – once said that “a baby is God’s way of saying that life should go on.” And I do believe that this is true. Jesus himself told us that life would be hard, but he also promised that through him, we would overcome hardship. The rainbow is God’s promise that although rain will fall – on the righteous and unrighteous alike – it doesn’t have to wash our joy away.
One of my favorite moments during yesterday’s celebration was when the transplant coordinator shared the story of a ten-year-old girl who had received a new heart at CHKD. There was a rainbow in the sky the day of the girl’s surgery, and ever since she has believed that whenever she saw a rainbow it meant someone else was receiving the gift of life. This girl never had a chance to thank her donor family, so she asked the coordinator to thank us, to tell us that each recipient recognizes that their joy comes because of someone else’s sorrow, and that we should never think our child is lost or forgotten.
That is a promise I hold fast to.
Garrett, you will never be forgotten. You were a joy to us in life, and you continue to give joy to others even in death.
I want to get back to blogging regularly about regular topics.
This doesn’t mean that I’m not going to talk about Garrett or grief any more. Just that I don’t want that to be ALL I talk about. It’s certainly not all I talk about in real life. Even though losing Garrett is awful, and even though I’ve had days where I just wanted to lay down and give up, I can’t. I have a lot to live for. And I can’t stop doing things I enjoy. It’s not healthy and it’s not fair to myself or my family.
And one thing I enjoy is blogging.
Another thing I enjoy is cooking.
So welcome to the return of Munchies Monday.
I made up this recipe at 9:30 this morning because I wanted to use up some eggs and green healthy junk that was sitting in my fridge. I’ve made many a breakfast casserole/quiche/frittata (and honestly, I don’t know what the difference is so I just use those terms interchangably) and I’ve found that it’s a great go-to dish when you want to pack away lots of protein and veggies.
Green Breakfast Quiche
- Prep time: 25 minutes
- Cook time: 40 to 70 minutes
- Feeds: 8 to 10 people
(or, if you’re me, just one person over four or five days)
- 1 dozen eggs
- 3/4 cup half-and-half
- 1 lb. of bacon, cut into 1-inch strips
(Great tip from an old friend: use scissors)
- About 4 handfuls of kale, torn into bite-size chunks
(Super-accurate measurement skills, I has them.)
- 3/4 lb. of asparagus, woody ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
(This is all I had on hand because I made some asparagus for dinner last night. I’m sure you could use a whole pound.)
- 5 ounces of freshly-shredded Parmesan cheese
(Or you can buy it already shredded. Just don’t use that powdered crap in the green can. Because EW.)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a non-stick skillet over medium heat, brown bacon pieces until no more pink remains. Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.
- Pour MOST of the bacon grease out of your skillet and dispose of it however you prefer. (I actually prefer to SAVE it in a glass jar in the fridge to use for cooking veggies, but I understand some people aren’t as classy as I am.) Leave about two to three tablespoons of grease in the skillet, enough to coat the bottom.
- Saute the kale in the bacon grease until bright green and wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
- Saute asparagus in what’s left of the bacon grease (there may not be much at all and that’s okay) until bright green but still firm, 3 to 5 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and half-and-half until well combined, about 60 seconds.
- Pile the kale, bacon, asparagus, and half the cheese in a 2-quart casserole. Pour the egg mixture over the other ingredients and mix gently with a spoon, then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 70 minutes, until browned on the edges and top and firm in the center. (Baking time will depend on the size and shape of your casserole dish. I used a deep round dish so it took a full hour and ten minutes. A 9×13-inch dish would probably only take about 45 minutes. Just set your timer for 40 minutes initially and keep checking every five to ten minutes after.)
And voila! Healthy scrumpchy numminess!
In the event that you’re reading this recipe and saying, “Dear God, Emily, are you TRYING to give me a heart attack with all the eggs and bacon and cheese?”, I’d like to ask you to simmer down, tiger. There are various things you could do to make this dish “lighter” (like using less bacon, or subbing with turkey bacon or a non-meat-bacon-like-product, or sauteing the veggies with some sort of non-fat cooking spray or butter-imposter, et cetera) but I personally don’t recommend it. Some recent research shows that real food and real fats can actually be good for you, and let’s face it, they taste better. But of course do what feels right to you after consulting your doctor and your conscience.
Oh, and there’s also research that suggests fats don’t make you fat. Just sayin.
I’ve been a little (okay, a lot) behind on my blog reading lately, so I was a bit blindsided when I checked my Google reader at 11:30 last night and saw that Rachel Held Evans was going to speak in Chesapeake, VA this weekend. Correction: by the time I read her post, she already HAD spoken at a special Saturday night event, and I was super bummed that I missed it. Thankfully, she was scheduled to preach the Sunday service as well, so I still had an opportunity to see her in person and maybe even introduce myself. I already had plans to meet a friend for breakfast this morning, so I knew I’d be up early and have no excuse not to go. I also knew I’d be really disappointed if I didn’t go, so I just decided that no matter how I might feel Sunday morning about the prospect of going to church, I was going to get into my car at 10 a.m. and point it towards Centerville Baptist Church.
Caitlin was WAY more dressed up than I was.
I figured a fancy hat was the only logical choice for her first visit to the house of God.
I should be totally honest here and say that I haven’t been to church since long before Garrett died. Maybe it’s been a year? I’m not sure. I had a flashback during today’s service to the last time I WAS in church – taking Garrett with me into the sanctuary during the worship because I think it’s important for kids to experience “big people church,” then taking him to the nursery to play during the sermon because I also think it’s important for adults to have a chance to focus on God without distraction. Looking at Caitlin as I stood and sang during worship, I remembered holding Garrett, too, and missed the way he felt in my arms as a petite and well-behaved but very energetic, wriggly toddler. I wondered if, perhaps, some of what he heard and saw in church “stuck,” if it made an impression on him even at such a young age, even before I really talked to him about God.
As I try to sort through my knowledge/faith that God is good, even though what happened to our family is really bad, I wonder (and it breaks my heart to wonder) if Garrett was confused or conflicted by the good and bad things that happened to him, the different ways he was treated by people. It’s hard enough to make sense of abuse, violence, betrayal, and death as an adult. How much more so must it be for a toddler to come to terms with the world being such a scary place?
That is what I keep coming back to, not just that my son died, but that he died violently, that he learned as a very small child there is real evil in this world. Doesn’t every parent wish they could shield their child from that truth? Don’t we all try to delay the inevitable opening of their eyes? I thought that I had chosen to surround Garrett with people that would be loving and gentle toward him. I was so wrong.
Church used to be hard for me because I had been hurt by people who said they were followers of Jesus; now church is hard for me because my son was hurt by someone who claimed to be a Christian. I think nearly every week “maybe I should try going to church this Sunday” but I have a million different excuses and I never know what church I want to go to and I’m not exactly sure what I believe anymore and I’m scared of getting too emotional and not being able to hide but I’m also I’m scared of disappearing and I hate leaving Caitlin with Jon and I’m always nervous about taking her with me because what if she starts fussing in the middle of the service and blah blah et cetera ad infinitum blah. I know God is okay with me staying home on Sundays. I believe that God is much more tolerant of our quirks and fears and faults than we are. I know that faith is about God’s work inside of me but I also know that God works through communities of faith, and I want to be part of the church again. I want to give and I want to receive. But I just can’t get over the hump. I’ve been trying for years and now – now it’s even worse.
It took having one of my blogger-star-author-heroes coming to a small church one town over to get me to church. Rachel began her sermon on the wilderness by noting that we 21st century Americans are obsessed with fame, and the irony of my fangirly reasons for being there was NOT lost on me. Neither was the central message of her talk. In the desert, we may be tempted and tormented, we may wrestle with God and despair of ever finding a way out. (Yes, I think I am there.) But we may also receive manna from heaven and be ministered to by angels. We may drink water from a rock and see God face to face. (And I am there, too – only in my wilderness manna takes the form of well-timed text messages from friends and other words of encouragement. I know, I know, I know – God is with me.)
I try not to regard what happened to Garrett as a personal failure, though it’s hard. I try not to spend too much time on coulda-woulda-shoulda, because wandering around in that desert is both dangerous and pointless. Instead I remind myself of all the things we did right. I remind myself that although he had to know darkness and fear in his short life, he now knows only beauty and light and joy.
I remind myself that the wilderness exists to prepare us for the promised land.
Everything is harder without you.
When something bad would happen, some sorta-major-sorta-minor annoyance like an expensive car repair or a bad falling out with a friend, I used to say to my husband that, “It’s okay. No one is dead. No one has cancer. It’s just money.” (Or “it’s just a misunderstanding.” Or whatever was appropriate for the occasion.) I think it’s important to put things in perspective because otherwise I spend a lot of time crying over spilled milk, and first-world-problems will kill your joy. They can even give you a heart attack if you fret about them too much.
But now someone IS dead. Now it’s not just an annoying coworker or broken toilet that we’re dealing with, it’s the fact that six months ago our baby died. And it hurts every single day, it hurts so far down inside of me that sometimes I just have no cope for anything else. In the beginning, right after we lost Garrett, I literally did not have the ability to shop for groceries or prepare a meal. Now I can. But other things, things that I used to put into perspective by reminding myself that I and my loved ones are healthy and happy? Those things grind me into the floor now because I and my loved ones are NOT all healthy and happy.
I miss my little boy so very badly. And that makes every little annoyance all the worse.
And yet it makes things easier to bear, too. When I feel despondent over an unexpected bill or a particularly nasty disagreement with someone I love, I am fairly quick to realize that you know, this is not as big a deal as I’m making it out to be. I have mastered the art of non-transferrance. I no longer make mountains out of molehills in my daily life because I’m upset about something completely unrelated that I feel powerless to change. Instead, I am pulling mountains down because I realize how much control I DO have over my daily life, and how fruitless it is to spend time grumbling about washing the sheets again after the cat puked on the bed again. The sheets need washed, and so I wash them.
But I have no control over the fact that Garrett is gone. I have nothing but regret about the fact that I did not see the danger signs that I feel certain must have been there. (Even though no one else saw them either.) I know now more than ever that first-world-problems don’t deserve a passing glance, but I still find myself weighed to the ground by spoiled fruit in my crisper drawer even as I’m calmly viewing my daily life with a Zen-like detachment.
He’s gone. He’s never coming back. And that makes every other problem or worry laughable.
It also makes them unbearable.
Yesterday a friend asked me how I thought my husband and I may have reacted differently if I hadn’t been pregnant when Garrett died. Although I can’t say with certainty what would have happened in that alternate reality, I can make a few educated guesses. As I mentioned earlier, I think that being pregnant kept me from totally self-destructing after Garrett passed. Actually, I think it kept me from attempting suicide. I know, I know, that sounds simultaneously terrifying and melodramatic. But it’s true. I guess, in a way, Caitlin saved my life.
And even now, although my physical well-being is no longer literally tied to Caitlin’s, she is still dependent on me. She needs me to feed her and change her – but more than that, she needs me to love her. Long after she is able to make her own breakfast and put on her own clothes and pay her own mortgage, my choices during her childhood will be important. How I love her will now affect how she loves herself then. And that’s why, no matter how much life hurts, I can’t check out – not literally, not metaphorically.
But what if she wasn’t here? Would I still be as strong as everyone keeps telling me I am? Would Jon and I still be so determined to hold our marriage together, to comfort rather than blame each other? Well, we would still have Jon’s older son to think of, our nieces and nephew, our parents and siblings and cousins. I’m not sure that I am strong as much as I am conscious of the ripple effect of my choices, and unwilling to needlessly transfer my pain to another.
Honestly, I hadn’t yet considered the “what if?” scenario where I wasn’t already expecting when Garrett passed. But I’ve been through countless others. What if Jon and I hadn’t gotten married? There were plenty of times in our relationship when we could have called it quits. What if we had? Then Garrett wouldn’t have had the chance to die because he wouldn’t have lived. Would that be any better?
What if we weren’t living in this neighborhood? Jon and I looked at dozens of houses all over Hampton Roads before finally settling on this one. And then we spent months negotiating the terms of the sale. What if we’d just given up and decided to find a different home? Then it’s very unlikely Garrett would have been in that particular house on that particular day in the care of that particular woman. Would she have been watching another little child instead? Would it have been better for that child’s mother to get the phone call that I did? Would I want to wish that on someone else?
I’ve played this “what if?” game at other painful times in my life – most memorably, after leaving the church-cult and then divorcing the man I married while working there. I wondered how different life would have been for me if, when we moved to Virginia, my parents had chosen a home in a different school district. Then I probably wouldn’t have met the people who introduced me to my ex-husband or invited me to Christ Church. I honestly cannot imagine what my life would be like without the butterfly effect of those two encounters, but I am fairly certain it wouldn’t be any better – meaning, I wouldn’t jump at the chance to live in that alternate universe. I say that because even though the cult experience and divorce were painful and humbling, they were also enlightening and empowering. Besides, I met my current husband in the same social circle that my ex traveled in all those years ago, so avoiding my first ill-fated marriage means that I’d have also missed out on (mostly) happily-ever-after.
Does this mean, then, that “everything happens for a reason,” or some other equally trite phrase that people love to throw around when they can’t think of anything else to say? Well, as my mom likes to say, yes, things happen for a reason, and sometimes it’s a really shitty reason. Sometimes the reason is because we share this planet with some truly evil people and some not-really-evil-but-definitely-screwed-up people, and unfortunately we often have to bear the consequences of their bad decisions. Sometimes – I’m looking at you, cancer and earthquakes and lightning strikes – the reason is beyond our understanding, and that’s when we wonder what the hell God is thinking, or if God even exists.
This is why I try not to spend too much time thinking about the whys and what ifs. I can’t know what could’ve/should’ve/would’ve been. I only know what actually happened, and that’s what I have to live with – good or bad.
So instead of wasting time on “what if?” I try to think about the “what now?”
What do I do now? I wake up in the morning and I feed my baby and I smile at her and I cuddle her and I tell her she is so special to me. I tell my husband I love him, I thank him for taking the trash out and feeding the dogs, I do his laundry and I hug him and kiss him and watch stupid movies with him. I spend time with my friends, I listen to them, I laugh with them. I take long baths and I read good books. I go shopping with my mom and I drink a glass (or two) of wine. I cook. I clean. I blog (sometimes).
I just keep living. It’s all I can do. I love my boy, I want him back, I still bargain with God and wish for a time machine and hate hate hate the world that took Garrett away from me. But ultimately, I know that all of those things are dead ends that I’ll eventually have to come back from. And for the good of my family – for my own good – I have to turn around. I have to walk forward.
And so I do.
Don’t judge me. I created this banner as part of an assignment in college.
I was new to Photoshop and drunk with the power of filters
and layers and drop shadows. So I repeat: DON’T JUDGE ME.
One of the simultaneously difficult/confusing/helpful/hopeful parts of losing Garrett is that I was already pregnant with our daughter when we said good-bye to our son. In some ways I was glad that I was already pregnant, because we wouldn’t spend the next few years wondering when it would be “okay” to have another child, or whether we would be dishonoring or trying to replace Garrett by having another baby. Also (being brutally honest here) it helps that I am physically responsible for another human being because that keeps me from being self-destructive in the wake of this tragedy. And it’s not an option to go all drunk-and-disorderly after she gets here, either, because no matter how much I hurt, she’s not the one who hurt me and she doesn’t deserve to suffer for my pain. Full stop.
Still, Jon and I wonder if we’ll be bad parents to Caitlin because of the depth of our grief, if we’ll be overprotective or emotionally absent or some terribly dysfunctional combination of the two. I personally have wondered if I’ll be resentful of the baby because she’s here and Garrett’s not. I loved being mom to a boy and I wonder (as many women do, I think) if I’ll be any good at parenting the opposite sex. And it is truly bittersweet to welcome Garrett’s “baby seester” (as he called her) without him.
Yet I also desperately look forward to being able to mother again, to have a little person to hold and care for. I truly believe that it will restore a bit of my sanity and heal my heart to be able to feed and diaper and bathe and rock another little person to sleep.
And yes, we already have a named picked out: Caitlin Ruth. We debated names for a looooong time before Garrett was born and settled on something just a few weeks before he arrived, so I was surprised when I asked Jon about halfway through my pregnancy, “What do you think of Caitlin?” and he said, “Oh, I like that.” OH MY GOODNESS YAY THEN OF COURSE WE HAVE TO STICK WITH THAT NAME. Seriously, every name one of us suggested for Garrett was greeted with a lukewarm, “It’s okaaaaaaay, I gueeesssss…” from the other. I wasn’t even a fan of Garrett at first – I just okayed it because I could tell Jon really liked it and I was tired and I figured I could pick out a kickass middle name. (Which I did, it was Asher.)
I had a couple of ideas for Caitlin’s middle name, but when I suggested Ruth it just seemed to stick. I consider the meanings and history of names very important, and I liked that Ruth means “friendship.” I’m also a big fan of the story of Ruth in the Bible. And Ruth also happens to be my mother-in-law’s middle name, so it has family history as well.
(I promise that the importance of the last two paragraphs will become clear as we go on.)
Last night and this morning were difficult for me and my husband. We are both still missing Garrett acutely, missing his voice and his physical presence, mourning for all that we’ve lost, in utter shock and disbelief that our sweet, smart, funny, adorable little boy’s life ended so suddenly and violently. At one point this morning, as I started crying (again), I thought of Caitlin, of what she might bring to us, of how God might use her to heal our hearts. And suddenly I remembered a very important person from the Book of Ruth that I had somehow forgotten: Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi.
Let me give you a quick rundown of Ruth and Naomi’s story, which I know really well not because I am a Biblical scholar but because I’ve listened to the Adventures in Odyssey dramatization about five hundred times. Once upon a time, in ancient Israel, there was a woman named Naomi. Naomi’s husband Elimelech decided that since their sons were having a tough time finding wives in Israel, the family should move to Moab where Elimelech had found two eligible young ladies who were looking to get hitched. Naomi was HORRIFIED by her husband’s plan because it was a big no-no for Israelites to marry outside of their culture and religion, but Elimelech insisted that it was the best course of action.
Well, as it turned out the move to Moab sucked, Naomi’s husband AND her two sons died. She decided to cut her losses and go back to Israel, and she refused to let her daughters-in-law return with her. You see, the tradition in Israel was for a young, childless widow to marry a one of her husband’s relatives so she would have a chance to carry on her hubby’s family line. But Naomi didn’t have any immediate family left and she said it would be cruel to take these young ladies away from THEIR land where they might have a chance to be happy. That sounds kind of noble, but I think that she was pretty much doing what lots of people do when they are really hurt – pushing everybody away so she could wallow in her pain. I say this because oddly (or not so odd, I guess, if she were a modern-day pop star), Naomi also began insisting that people call her by a different name: Mara. You see, Naomi means “pleasant” but Mara means “bitter,” and Naomi felt that the Lord had left her bitter and alone. See? Total (justified) pity party.
Amazingly, one of Naomi/Mara’s daughters-in-law, Ruth, wasn’t put off by her bitterness. Ruth told Naomi, in no uncertain terms, that they were family now, and family sticks together:
Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!
This is why I always loved Ruth – because of her steadfast love and commitment to Naomi when Naomi needed it the most. I thought, “Wow, that is a good woman. That is a loyal and loving woman. That is someone who takes her commitments seriously, who doesn’t back off from a painful situation, who loves her family even when it is inconvenient and impractical. I want my daughter to be like that.”
It wasn’t until this morning that I thought about poor Naomi – about why she was so bitter and why she needed Ruth so badly. She lost not just one child but two. AND her husband. She was living in a strange land full of people who did not understand her religion or customs, and had no one with whom she could share the intimate pain of her loss. You see, one of the things that comforts me is knowing that Jon fully understands what I’m feeling because he’s also Garrett’s parent. We may approach parenting differently, since I’m a mom and he’s a dad and we are (duh) two different people, but we loved and knew Garrett in a way that no one else did, so we can comfort each other – imperfectly, yes, but there is comfort in knowing we are in this together. And Naomi didn’t even have that. Of course she was bitter – she felt truly, completely, alone.
But Ruth saw beyond Naomi’s bitterness and loved her anyway. She didn’t feel that her commitment to her husband’s family ended with his death. She went all-in.
Well, as she settled into life in Israel, Ruth met Boaz, a distant relative of Naomi’s who was super impressed by her commitment to her mother-in-law. He was all like, “Wow, that chick right there is pretty freaking awesome,” and honestly, who wouldn’t agree with him?
And Ruth was all like, “Heeeeey, you’re a nice guy and kind of cute. Let’s make babies.“
And he was all like, “SRSLY? But I’m like so old. It is impressive that you take your commitment to your dead husband’s family so seriously that you would marry an old dude like me instead of chasing after some young’un.“
And she was all like, “No, SRSLY, I am totally into you, this isn’t just about the weird customs of my newly chosen culture. But if you think that’s hot, we can totally pretend that I’m completely altruistic.“
Anyway. So Ruth and Boaz got married and they lived happily-ever-after. They had a son and Naomi got to do “the grandma thing” and spoil the dickens out of him, and all of Naomi’s girlfriends were thrilled for her. They said, “May this child restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you so much and who has been better to you than seven sons.”
I do not think that our Caitlin Ruth will replace Garrett.
She most certainly will not be “better” than him. Or “worse.” Or whatever.
But this morning as I identified with Naomi’s pain I realized that it is not a coincidence that we had named Caitlin Ruth BEFORE Garrett’s passing – that we gave her the blessing of a legacy of loyalty and friendship and redemption. In no way can another child take the place of the one we have lost. But in no way will she be unloved or unappreciated. No, she is already a vital part of our family and a comfort to us.
I sometimes wonder if people think that I am naive to cling to my faith at times like this. I could look objectively at all the scholarly, rational arguments for a real, powerful, good creator, but in emotional times objective arguments don’t help much. I believe, in my heart of hearts, that life is hard but God is good. And I hold on to that because I can’t imagine living a life based on the premise that there is no redemption in suffering.
Perhaps that does make me naive. But I don’t much care.
I believe that our dear Caitlin Ruth is one of many ways that God will heal our hearts. We will miss Garrett deeply, yes. We will mourn for all the things we were robbed of by his senseless death. We will always wish that he was here with us still. But we will rejoice in the new life that God has brought into our family, this lovely girl that God created and named before we knew how important she would be.
Or maybe they do but I never listened before because I had no idea I’d have to deal with losing a child. I thought that I’d experience “real” grief when my parents died – someday far off in the future when they were old and ill and it was okay for them to die. I would be very sad, yes, and deal with all sorts of emotional baggage from my childhood and read books about loving and losing and letting go, but I would be okay.
But I never thought that I would be devastated like this – that grief would stop being an abstract concept and become a member of my family.
This is what they don’t tell you – that after you’ve sat by your braindead child’s bedside for 48 hours, you come home to find out that the hospital will bill your insurance (or you, if you are not lucky enough to have insurance) tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege.
They don’t tell you that your insurance company will question the validity of the claim, wondering if perhaps your 2-year-old’s hospital stay should be covered by worker’s compensation or your auto insurance?
They don’t tell you that getting up and dressed in the morning is a major accomplishment. That you’ll find yourself watching television shows you hate or playing computer games for the first time in years because staring at flickering colored lights for hours on end is preferable to dealing with your thoughts and feelings.
They don’t tell you that putting in the effort to clean your toilet or sweep your floor will wear you out enough to require a two-hour nap.
They will say that you should get back into the swing of things, that work will be a good distraction, but they don’t tell you about hiding in the bathroom every day so you can have a breakdown in peace. They don’t mention that you’ll sit on the couch after you come home every night, unable to carry on a conversation or fill a plate for dinner or put your empty soda can in the trash.
They don’t tell you that every time you interact with someone you have to lock your grief in a room waaaaaay in the back of your mind just so you can speak coherently for a few minutes. You know, you think, that it’s GOOD to talk to people about the weather and the Super Bowl and how so-and-so just got over the flu, but at the same time you start to question your sanity because you find yourself pretending (and making it look convincing!) that the world you live in isn’t completely fucking wrecked.
They don’t tell you that AFTER you return from the real world, after all that pretending, you’ll find that you’ve so successfully stuffed your emotions into that back room that you don’t recognize them anymore. They don’t tell you that it takes hours or days sometimes to reacquaint yourself with who you are and what your life looks like now and how you are REALLY feeling and that when it all finally hits you again, it SUCKS. It really, REALLY sucks.
They don’t tell you that you will feel, quite literally, like a zombie – like a rotting, stinking dead thing that is stumbling around in a world that is too bright, and too loud, and fearfully hostile.
They don’t tell you that everyone else will just be going on with business as usual and wonder why you’re so damn touchy. Sure, your friends will make allowances for you, but they have their own shit going on and even if it’s not “as bad as” your shit, they still have to deal with it. They can’t really hold your hand 24/7, and it would creep you out if they did, and so it’s just easier for you and for them to do the pretending thing – yes, that thing that makes you lose track of reality and feel like a zombie and then have the crashing realization of your loss over and over again.
And the people that aren’t your friends? Sometimes they’ll be sensitive to what you’re dealing with, but sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they’ll be absolute jackasses about it, and give you a lecture about how it could be worse and thank goodness you had the time you did and he’s in a better place now and you’re not doing yourself any favors by wallowing in it.
They don’t tell you that you will be confronted with a very real conundrum on a regular basis: whether to punch the jackass in the face and feel the tiniest bit better or slink away muttering, “sure, thanks,” just to avoid assault charges.
They don’t tell you that living, just breathing in and out and in and out again, will become your full-time job. And that you’ll hate doing this job, even though you know, somewhere instinctively, somewhere very deep inside you, that you MUST do it.
They make being a “survivor” sound so hip and sexy. They don’t tell you – probably because they have no idea – that it’s a terrible thing to have to be, that it’s a million times harder than it looks on television, and that you wouldn’t wish it on anyone.