Fifty-two weeks ago this past Sunday, my daughter Rebekah attended church with me. She had recently been trying to find “her own” place of worship for her adult life but would occasionally go to service with me at our church. I’m glad she did go with me that Sunday. We took communion together, her two-year-old son receiving his blessing. We browsed in the bookstore after service commenting about the Advent candles and how we didn’t want Christmas to crowd out Thanksgiving. She was killed the next day. As I’ve plowed through this past year, raising my grandson without his mother, I’ve discovered a truth my doctor shared with me early in the year, early in the grief process.
“Every day you experience this year will be the first day without Rebekah in 23 years,” he explained. “This is the first January 7th without her. Tomorrow will be the first January 8th. This is going to take some time. Don’t try to rush it.”
I learned through my recent grief recovery class that research shows it takes about 3 years or more to work through grief. When one considers that Day One is experienced 365 times, then it takes about “three days.” That’s how long God grieved His Son’s death. It’s an interesting concept.
People going through the grief process need to give themselves “time to grieve.” That’s a cliché that we throw around rather flippantly in America, I think. Some cultures honor this necessary grieving time, but ours doesn’t. Most businesses will give the bereaved three days off with pay, and then it’s back to work and life goes on. But those three days are only spent planning and attending a funeral. The grieving process doesn’t really get a chance to begin until the dust settles (which, I know, is a horrible pun for those of us who have cremated our loved ones—or maybe it’s a really good one). It may be surprising and even uncomfortable for friends and extended family to discover the bereaved is only beginning to be distraught over the loss months and even years later—after everyone else has moved on.
But I discovered on Sunday, when I was reduced to an almost uncontrollable fountain of tears returning from the communion rail, that grief is sneaky and insidious. A woman I don’t know graciously comforted me behind the privacy of a dividing wall before we returned to our pews. I don’t know but she may have been surprised to realize that my anguish was not three days but three hundred and sixty-three days old.
I don’t go weeping through every day, nor have I plodded relentlessly through 365 days of sorrow. In fact, every morning I’ve been ready with a smile for the tousle-haired preschooler who tries to startle me with his carefully-timed “boo!” every morning. He succeeded in giving me a fright one morning many months ago and has delighted in trying to repeat the incident every morning since. But this Day One has had its moments throughout the year. Thanksgiving and Christmas were so close to the loss that I can’t even count them. It’s as if I were still emotionally anesthetized during that time to feel real sorrow. New Year’s was more real.
Day One 36: Midnight, New Year’s Day. Didn’t get to tell Rebekah “Happy New Year.”
Day One 81: Valentine’s Day. I was left trying to bake cupcakes for the preschool class and a cupcake contest at my work—a doubly frustrating task because Rebekah was a fantastic baker. Her sister thought a baker’s food truck would be a lucrative future for the young single mother.
Day One 145: Took my grandson to the Family Saturday Easter Celebration and discovered that I should either hula hoop every day for the rest of my life or never again. (I have chosen never again.) We flowered the cross with a bloom from the Easter lily we bought in honor of his mother. I’m sure she liked the flower, but she is probably still laughing at my thinking muscle memory would get me through showing my grandson how to hula hoop. (In case any other grandmothers need to know, save your back. No matter how advanced you think they are you can’t teach a two-year-old how to hula hoop.)
Day One 152: Finally finished watching the series Merlin on Netflix. I cried like a baby. Not because King Arthur actually died and Merlin was unable to save him, but because Merlin finally got rid of Morgana after we had to suffer through 5 seasons of her insidious character and increasingly bad bad-hair days, and I couldn’t celebrate the moment with Rebekah.
Day One 173: Mother’s Day. Following in his mother’s footsteps, my grandson donned a chef’s hat at his private day care and, along with other two-year-olds, made cookies for his mother. He presented them to her picture.
Day One 180: My oldest daughter’s wedding day. The butterfly release we did in honor of her sister was beautiful. The butterfly that lit and stayed on my finger was, for me, an assurance that somehow Rebekah was with us at this special occasion.
Day One 236: Rebekah’s 24th birthday. The hardest day of all. The pain of losing a child crystalizes on the day you gave birth to the child. But gluten-free “brown velvet” cupcakes at Unrefined Bakery in Frisco and shoe shopping to honor the girl who was “all about shoes” went a long way to ease the pain. Topped off with a Mylar butterfly balloon release and dinner with family and friends, I could check off day 236. First birthday in heaven. Check.
Day One 260: Tried three times to enter the code at our community swimming pool. Couldn’t text “what’s the code again?” to the daughter who would spend every available hot summer moment at the pool. Then she would have to text instructions on exactly how to enter the code. The two-year-old grandson claimed to know how to do it. I probably should have picked him up to give it a try. Nonetheless, we finally got in.
Day One 283: The day before my grandson’s third birthday. I took a day of vacation to make a cake from scratch and decorate it, hoping to create something that came close to the creativity of the Lorax cake that Rebekah made her son on his second birthday. Her leftover homemade marshmallow fondant was still in the freezer. I took it out and handled the brightly colored balls of sugar, knowing the last hands to touch them were my daughter’s. The cake turned out okay. The icing was a disaster and didn’t even make enough to frost the whole cake so I plopped it between the two layers and on top. I rolled out three colors of fondant and cut out “Handy Manny” tools. That was the extent of my creativity. But it was enough for the boy who watched this favorite Netflix show every day. (When I delivered the cake to the day care, I did caution his teacher not to let anyone eat the fondant. I don’t know what the freezer shelf life of marshmallow fondant is, but I think a year may be a little too long.)
Day One 306: My birthday. My daughter created this post on Facebook for me.
When I walked into the restaurant that night to meet my friends, ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” was playing. A friend took me to a movie. A midget had a starring role. He wasn’t in drag, but he was midget. Thank you for the happy birthday wishes, Beks.
Day One 365: Remembering our last day together. That afternoon we watched another episode of Merlin, wondering when Morgana was ever “going to get hers.” We talked about how much of the Scripture was “hidden in our hearts.” We recited Psalm 23. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me.” Rebekah had been talking to a friend earlier that day or weekend and had recited that psalm to her friend, who was impressed with her memory work. We talked about the song that had been playing in surgery the night her son was born by an emergency C-section—The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young.” We joked about the line “if I die young, bury me in satin.” I told her, “If you die and leave me with all this, I’m cremating your ass. You can save the satin for your wedding.” Little did I know that in 24 hours I’d be making arrangements to have her cremated. “The sharp knife of a short life.”
Working through grief takes some prerequisites. I’ve been careful to take care of myself by maintaining healthy eating and getting enough sleep. Writing in a journal has provided a helpful catharsis. But the greatest help and strength that has carried me through this year is the Word that I continue to study daily. Having made it through Day One, I can look back on this year and give thanks to my Lord for His healing. I can truly say with the psalmist, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Ps. 27:13).” And I have seen His goodness. I’m surrounded by love from my friends and family, and Rebekah lives on in her son. So I continue on.
November 26, 2014, Day Two.
If you, or someone you know, are experiencing grief, a grief recovery class or individual counseling may be necessary to come through the process successfully. When the body experiences an injury, such as a broken bone, all the body’s energy goes to heal that part. That’s why rest is such an important part of the healing process. The same thing happens with the soul. Loss creates a wounded soul. The physical body will send its energy to heal the wound. The person who carries that wound needs to understand what is happening to them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Grief work takes time, and it is work. If you would like information regarding finding help for the grief process, please contact me.