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Tis the Season for Leaks

Now that we've had a few posts to settle in with one another, let's get personal, shall we?  

It's almost an understatement to say that this has been a difficult year.  The last few weeks, especially, brought back a flood of memories.  This time last year, we were in the home stretch.   We were watching our daughter die.  I have spent the weeks since Thanksgiving thinking of our final days with her.  I miss her terribly.  I miss her laugh and her smile and her stories. 

I cry a lot.  

This is going to sound funny but I don't cry the way I used too.  In the past, if I got upset, you would KNOW that I was upset.  Now, it just kind of leaks out.  I'll be sitting somewhere: waiting in line at the store, working, driving in my car....and the tears just start to flow.  I don't even necessarily "break down" and sob.  I just leak.  

Anything can trigger the leak.  Usually it's a memory of Charlotte.  Sometimes I'm reminded of a child or a family in a similar situation and my heart just breaks for them.  Those St. Jude commercials are extremely painful to watch.  I mute them when they come on the TV and if I don't catch it in time, I'm a mess within 30 seconds.  Their tagline is so powerful: "Give thanks for the healthy kids in your life and give to those who are not." Oof.  That's a kick in the gut.  I saw the first commercial during the Macy's parade on Thanksgiving.  I was kind of ready for it but it still had me bawling.  The same day, we went after dinner to the Harry Potter movie and I was totally blindsided by the St. Jude commercial they decided to play during the trailers.  Who was expecting that?  And where was my mute button in that big dark theater?  What blows my mind is that I remember being touched by those commercials before cancer entered my life.  We were active St. Judes supporters even before Charlotte's cancer but actually experiencing that life gives you a whole new perspective. 
Sometimes the leak is triggered by a song on the radio.  Sometimes it's just the wandering of my mind to strange places.  I see families participating in the holiday revelry and I feel jealousy and sadness.  I miss the times that we spent with Charlotte in these activities and I am so sad that there will never be an opportunity to share them with her again. 

I have two ways of coping with the holidays: avoidance and acceptance.  It's a delicate balance. Sometimes it's easier to not attend the holiday party because you don't have to pretend to be happy.  I mean, really, nobody invites you to a seasonal festival so that you can be the Grinch-Scrooge-Negative Nancy of the party and it's really hard to put on a happy face when your insides are screaming.  It's just easier to say, "Thanks but we won't be able to make it."  We've attended (and will be attending) a few holiday get-togethers and it's all about moderation.  I'm learning where my comfort zone is and I'm getting used to being there, in the moment.  I have heard from other friends who have lost children and they say that the first year is the hardest.  I hope that is true. 

My friend Amy sent me a wonderful quote that really fits my mood on many days: "Anyone can slay a dragon...but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again.  That's what takes a real hero."  There are many days when I feel that I'm learning how to love the world again.  

My whole perspective on the holidays has shifted.  We all hear people talk about the commericialization of the season and various pundits will wax poetic about "The Real Reason for the Season" but losing a child amplifies those feelings exponentially.  One of my leaky moments happened last week on my drive home from work.  Here's a great example of where my crazy mind goes in an almost stream-of-consciousness downward spiral:

I drove past the CVS and saw a sign that said "Zhu Zhu pets: Buy one, get one 50% off".  The sign itself was innocent enough.  Don't ask me why, but it made me think of all the presents that people brought for Charlotte last year.  We literally had a room full of presents that had come to us throughout her illness and even more as the holidays drew near (and there wasn't a Zhu Zhu pet among them).  Boxes of toys that went unwrapped and unopened because it was all so unnecessary.  By the time we received so many of these gifts, she couldn't play with dolls or color a picture or share in a board game.  The only thing she could do was listen to stories and maybe watch a favorite movie.  At the time, it felt like such a waste.  Eventually, all of the toys were donated to ASK, Noah's Children, and a few other children's charities so I know that nothing was wasted and all was appreciated.

This year, our festive spirit is evident but minimalist.  We have a wreath on the door and Charlotte's pink and purple Christmas tree in the living room with a few of her favorite ornaments hanging on the tree.  That is all and that's enough. 

Last week, Elizabeth Edwards lost her battle with cancer.  I have thought a lot about her family in these last few days.  I have thought about how they are struggling to grieve in a season that puts so much emphasis on joy, happiness, and celebration.  Elizabeth was a wise woman whose life had given her plenty to ponder.  In Scott Simon's eloquent remembrance of Edwards on Saturday's Weekend Edition, he quoted Elizabeth's thoughts on faith, thoughts that grew out of the tragic death of her 16 year old son, her first battle with cancer, and the loss of her marriage.  She said, "I had to reconcile the God I thought I had with the facts I knew.  I couldn't pray anymore for God to intervene, which means I can't pray for him to intervene in my cancer. Instead, the God that I came to accept promises salvation and enlightenment, and that's the God I live with now. It's not entirely the God I want, but it is the God I believe I have."

Somehow I think that if Elizabeth Edwards and I had ever had a chance to sit at Starbucks and enjoy a cup of joe, we would have found many things to talk about.  

To end this on a positive note, I want to take an opportunity to thank so many people who have helped me this year. Special kudos to the professionals at Noah's Children, ASK, and MCV who continue to check in with us periodically and help when assistance is needed.  Thanks to the CJSTUF board who helped our vision to "pay it forward" become a reality in just one short year.  Thanks to our friends, both local and far away, who are there to lend an ear, lend a hand, or just let us know that they are there if (and when) we need them.  Thanks to our families who are grieving alongside us.  This has been a difficult year for all of us and sometimes I forget that Charlotte wasn't just my daughter.  She touched so many lives and everyone who knew her is mourning her passing from this earth. 

Most importantly, I'm grateful for Roger because he keeps my leaks from causing major flood damage.  In those old WWI and WWII stories you see the soldiers in the trenches.  They are so tired that to keep vigil, they hold each other up by sitting back to back.  It's the only thing that keeps them from falling down.  That's the vision that comes to mind when I think of Roger's and my relationship right now.  We're both hanging on for dear life but it's our collective strength that holds us together. 

I promise that not all of my posts will be sad and weepy.  This is just where my heart is today.  Whatever your faith, take some time to be thankful for the blessings in your life.  If you are grieving, be gentle with yourself. You can let the faucet drip for a little while but don't be afraid to call a plumber if you need to patch the leaks.  It's ok.  For everything, there is a time and purpose under heaven.  Let's see what tomorrow brings. 

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