When Love Helps Clear the Fog

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My feet shuffle across the kitchen floor as I reach for coffee and make my way to the table. It’s early Saturday morning, the neighborhood is lazy in bed, quietly holding reverence for the sacred weekend. He’s still sleeping—we sometimes laugh that our college selves would not believe that 9 AM is a glorious Saturday sleep-in.

It’s chilly—we left the A/C on too high last night, and now the windows have fogged up. June mornings were still bearable, but July mornings become too hot too quickly. Lucy, tail wagging as always, presses her nose against the glass door to the backyard, confused why she can’t see out the window. The fog obscures her sight, and she runs to the front window to check out the garbage truck. Her frustrated whine tells me that she can’t see out that window either.

The morning after a big fight leaves my mind foggy. My eyes are swollen from tears—fight tears, grief tears, fear tears—and my head hurts worse than an all-nighter. I let the steam rise from the mug, wafting into my nose as I gaze at the wet window, thinking about all the things we said to each other in the darkness of the night.

When it’s dark and late and your life was pummeled this year and all you see is one big moment of transition in the next, the fear is great, the hopeless panic a slick water slide to Despair Falls.

The sleep was short and fitful, my eyes angry and my nose blocked as the sun woke me up. I pretend for a moment, at the table with Lucy’s head on my lap, that I’m the only one that exists. That I have no contact with the outside world because I can’t see them and they can’t see me. The fog blocks our views, and I’m in the house by myself. I find a little comfort in thinking that I’m safe, if only for a moment.

Nothing has felt safe. People get divorced over fruitless baby attempts, but we have fought hard to hold onto each other. My body feels like a death trap, and my future as obscured as the backyard through the fog-filled window. What will become of us? I wondered through the night.

Some nights I scour the internet reading about my chances to deliver a healthy baby, and other nights I drown out my fear with one more episode. Every night, he waits for me, with me. He holds my hand and strokes my hair. If he’s scared, he doesn’t say anything.

This stretch of time in our lives feels like a leg of a trip, and we’re unsure when we’re taking off for the next leg. We’re just wandering around the airport, trying to find signs that we understand, dragging our bags behind us, trying to keep in good spirits, wondering if we’re going to be able to sit down and take a breath soon. But we’re holding hands. He won’t let go—there’s a fierce grip telling me that he’s not letting me get lost and we’re not going to get separated from each other, and even if we wander the airport for the rest of our lives, we’ll wander together.

I sip my coffee slowly as I consider this metaphor, stroking Lucy’s head as the fog begins to fade away on the windows. I can hear him stirring in the room, and when he opens the door, as I predicted, he walks the long way around the table so he can touch my arm on his way to the coffeepot. We are are going to be okay.

My Choices as a White Woman

I am a middle-class white woman, and I live a life of privilege because of the color of my skin. I have never been followed around in a store. I have never been called a hateful, derogatory name pertaining to my skin color and culture. And I have never, ever feared that a police officer would kill me.

Because of something I have no control over, I am afforded with choices:

1. I can choose to protect vehemently my privilege and imaginary superiority. By doing this, by claiming that all those black men killed were disobeying the law, or that none of the police officers were at fault, or that we don’t know the whole story, or that everyone in prison deserves to be there, or that those black people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, I am no better than the screaming bouffant-haired women in the photos from Little Rock Central High School on the day of desegregation. I am no better than the many people who put their kids into white-flight schools when black children integrated with white children. I am no better than the supporters of the policemen who used dogs and fire hoses to shoot down protests and enforce ungodly laws of segregation and prejudice and hate. I am no better than the cross burners and face-spitters of the bell-bottomed era (and if we’re honest, the current era in some parts of the country).

If I choose this option of vitriol, I am choosing ignorance and hate and violence. I am cultivating a culture that pulls the trigger in the face of innocent black men. I am supporting a justice system that puts black men in jail for offenses that white kids commit as rites of passage with impunity. I am supporting death rows with innocent and/or unlawfully charged men and women. These are the consequences of my choices.

2. I can choose to be silent in the wake of racially-motivated violence because it doesn’t affect me or my closest friends or most of my neighborhood. By doing this, by scrolling quickly over the videos and hashtags, by keeping my mouth shut and my mind closed to discourse, I am no better than the many white folks who tell their kids to stay close because there’s a black man nearby. I am no better than the Christian schools who provided safe haven to the white children during desegregation and who barred people of color from admission to their universities. I am no better than the people who sat in the diners and averted their eyes when sneering men and women spit and shoved the black men and women at the counters. I am no better than those who remained silent when the policemen used brutality and cruel, inhumane methods to remove black men, women, and children off properties. I am no better than the people who saw the cross burnings and never said a word of comfort or sympathy or solidarity to their black neighbors.

If I choose this option of passive silence, I am choosing ignorance and cowardice and injustice. I am cultivating a culture that ignores the many, many videos detailing unlawful police action. I am supporting segregation, unbalanced scales, and oppression. I am supporting the status quo of racial profiling and thickly drawn lines of hate and prejudice. These are the consequences of my passive choices.

3. Or in my place of privilege, I can choose to use my voice to call out from the wilderness for justice and protection for my black friends. By doing this, by claiming that black lives matter just as much as my life matters, just as much as police lives matter, I can join others to help tip the scales of justice back to even keel. I can stand, hand-in-hand, face-to-face, side-by-side with those who are routinely profiled, systematically imprisoned, and tragically killed. I can say, “This is not right. I condemn these racially-biased actions. I call out these prejudicial words and laws and court judgments for what they are.” I can open my eyes to see that when we advocate for the the lives of minorities–Hispanic, Black, Muslim, Asian—we change all lives.  I can proclaim the hard message that we suffer when we’re oppressed, but we also suffer when we are oppressors.  We were not made to be tyrants, to live lives of privilege over others, of prejudice and hatred and fear.  When we wield our privilege around like a weapon or a shield, the poison spills onto us, too.

If I choose this option, I am choosing solidarity, unity, love, justice, equal pay, equal rights, equal enforcement of laws, courage, community, life, etc. I am cultivating a culture of accountability for all and justice for all. I am supporting racial integration and reconciliation. I am knocking down the status quo of racism and painting over the lines of hate with a sign that says, “You are my friend.” These are the consequences of my choices. But I have to actively make a choice.

And how cowardly I am if I choose not to defend my neighbor.  How shameful it is not to care that my neighbor is suffering and dying and living in fear at the hands of others.  How ungodly it is of me to not step in front of my neighbor and say to the oppressor, “No more.”

Communion Thoughts: This

Yesterday, JD and I shared meditations one last time at our beloved church. We move on Thursday, and we wanted to be able to say goodbye to the collective church. I mean, there’s a reason we drove 30 minutes downtown each Sunday to see people that live on the other side of Austin. Here’s what we said.

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On our first day at church, it took us 30 minutes to get out of the auditorium—not because this place was so crowded that we were elbowing our way through a mob, but rather because so many people made a beeline for us to introduce themselves because we were new.

Over the course of our time here, we studied what it meant to be an apprentice to Jesus, and we shared our stories and our doubts with one another in the ever-changing balcony class.

We experienced hospitality from many members, whether it was a shared bowl of edamame at Pei Wei, or it was the exquisite cuisine and company of famed cooks in the congregation.

They celebrated with us in our great joys of new jobs and pregnancies. And then they mourned with us when we lost our babies, and they held sacred space for us to grieve by showing up at the hospital to hold our hand, coming over to bring us dinner, texting us every day to check in.

In a similar way, as Jesus reclined at the Table with his friends, they celebrated Passover, they reminisced about their adventures together, and Jesus prepared for the most difficult part of his journey. It was that night that he held up the bread and the wine and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

He took these common sacraments from the Table to symbolize a broader moment. When he said, “Remember this,” he wasn’t just talking about the taste of the wine.

He was saying remember how we cared for one another…

remember how we shared meals together…

how we walked miles together…

how we live side by side, hand in hand together.

Remember this moment where we are all here together.

Today, we raise our glasses in celebration of what the Table of God has looked like to us here.

As we leave our sweet church, and share this meal with other members of God’s family, we will remember this.

A Conscionable Prayer for an Unconscionable Act

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God of All People, we scream and cry and rage in horror. We sit gape-mouthed in shock, no sound coming out, only breaths of disbelief.

We pray for our brothers and sisters in Orlando—for comfort to show up in shared meals, extended hands, and joint tears. For space to cry, for safety to express fears, for a surrounding of community, hands locked in solidarity.

We pray for the candles of vigils to light up the dark of the night, and we pray for the love of your people to light up the dark of the world.

Give us courage to say, “I’m scared, too.” Give us boldness to say, “I stand with you.”

Give us eyes to see that those men and women could have been ours—our people, our family, our friends. May this fresh sight shut our mouths of political rhetoric and defensive rights-protection. May the only words we can possibly utter be, “Dear God, this is horrible, evil violence against our own, and we condemn it fully.”

May we be silent in the things our fear tells us to shout, and may we be loud in our love and call for justice.

Bleeding God of Life and Death, help us speak up now, finally, in this very moment for the oppressed. May we not be able to sleep until we’ve told our people we love them and realize that there are many who cannot say that anymore.

Give us memory to remember the horror, and may we not forget the senseless evil by trivializing this event down to a battlecry for self-protection.

Dear God, give us empathy. Give us sensitivity. Give us love for another. Tape our mouths shut unless they are crying out in shared lament.

May we see that the hand we are clutching white-knuckled is our brother’s. May we realize that the tears swimming down our cheeks are our sister’s.

May we feel deep in our hearts that we belong to each other, that we are each other’s. May we feel the holy, righteous conviction that there is no other response but “I love you. This was awful, evil violence, and I see it. I cry with you. I stand with you. You are not alone.”

What I’ve Learned about Grief: Part Four

It’s been nearly 8 months since my first miscarriage, and during those 8 months of crying and watching the entire series of Grey’s Anatomy, I’ve journeyed through the grief like a hobbit. Lots of people have been the Sam to my Frodo: my husband, my Monday night dinner girls, a therapist, blog writers, dead writers (I teach British Literature, remember), and others.

I want to preface this post by saying that at the same time, all grief is different and all grief is the same. If you haven’t had a miscarriage, some of these things may still ring true in your life. If you have had a miscarriage, none of these things may ring true, too.

Click here for my first post on what grief looks like.  Click here for my second post on the experiencing others during a time of grief. Click here for my third post about when grief becomes too much. Here is what I’ve learned about finding meaning in grief:

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10. Grief makes you scared and brave at the same time. On one hand, now that I know how quickly I can lose something, I’m terrified of losing something else. My knees shake when I think of one day being pregnant again. My heart pounds at the thought of having any hope or making any plans. On the other hand, I feel brave enough to talk about my feelings sometimes even though what I say can make me scared. I feel brave enough to be honest with others. I feel brave enough to visit my dying grandmother after being told to “prepare myself” before I walk into her hospital room. I feel brave enough to move away from a job that I love with no real plan for my next step. At the very least, I have been confronted with the unknown that is my future, and I don’t always cower in fear anymore.

11. Grief stirs the creativity stew inside of you. Perhaps it’s because I try to find so many ways to describe how I’m feeling that my life begins to feel like a pot of metaphors. Or perhaps because grief is at once fog and crisp air that clears the fog (see what I mean?). Maybe it’s because grief gives perspective and I’ve stopped caring for awhile about some things (whether my hair is fixed or if I teach the perfect lesson or if Meredith Grey will ever find love again) that I can actually approach some of the big, scary, meta things in my life—will I ever have a family? Will JD and I be okay? What does my life mean if I can’t be a mom to living children? How do I summon the courage to try again? Do I really believe something awaits us at death? Thinking about these questions has me jotting down notes on napkins and church bulletins, and every time I sit in therapy, I have a new metaphor for my grief.

12. Grief can bring out some beautiful things in friendships. I have great friends. I read about the sisterhood of pregnancy losses in a Shauna Niequist book, and even though some of my friends have never had a miscarriage, they are still just as present. My friends have prayed for and with me. They have listened to my aimless conversation about the whole thing. They have invited me to a weekend away. They have brought dinner. They have asked me how I’m really doing every time they see me. They have sent me sweet emails and texts on days like Mother’s Day. They have sent me gifts and cards and chocolate. They have sat with me as I recover from a D&C at home. The most important quality about them is that they have been there. They didn’t shrink away at the first sight of heavy, dark feelings. They didn’t smile and slowly back away as I cried. They didn’t avoid me because they were pregnant and I wasn’t anymore. They were there. They held the space for me to grieve.

13. Grief is not about finding a reason or learning a lesson; it’s about feeling and mourning and grappling with loss. I hate the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason,” because it’s not supported anywhere except Hallmark cards, and it’s so clearly offensive. How can a person say, “Your baby died for a reason…God needed another angel…so our babies can play together in heaven…God is trying to bring you closer to Him…so you can appreciate the next baby more…” All of these make God out to be sadistic, and I don’t believe He is.

Loss happens because it can be a tragic, sad world and death is a ruler of sorts. Babies die. Friends get divorced. Spouses leave. Family moves away. Companies let you go. Just as loss doesn’t have a reason, neither should we go looking for lessons to be learned. Trying to learn or grow before feeling all the feelings is a numbing mechanism—it’s a counterproductive and unhealthy psychosis. I have to feel my feelings before I try to find meaning in them.

These things I’ve learned about grief are not the reason my babies died.

They are not lessons I’ve been dutifully learning at Grief Academy in Loss: 101. Part of me wishes I didn’t know any of this, but there is a sense that now that I know, I cannot un-know. Now that I’ve written all this down, I’m not magically brave now or pregnant or shielded against tears and dark feelings. I still have a very real and clear-cut fear that if I have another miscarriage, I will lose myself, even though I know I have to feel and lean on others and let myself grieve the way my mind and body need to because loss sucks and it’s scary and overwhelming.  I am at once a different person and the same person I was before the miscarriages.

But now I know that if I do lose another baby, the loss and pain won’t be so crippling that I die. I have walked this path before, and I have learned how to swim.

What I’ve Learned about Grief: Part Three

It’s been nearly 8 months since my first miscarriage, and during those 8 months of crying and watching the entire series of Grey’s Anatomy, I’ve journeyed through the grief like a hobbit. Lots of people have been the Sam to my Frodo: my husband, my Monday night dinner girls, a therapist, blog writers, dead writers (I teach British Literature, remember), and others.

I want to preface this post by saying that at the same time, all grief is different and all grief is the same. If you haven’t had a miscarriage, some of these things may still ring true in your life. If you have had a miscarriage, none of these things may ring true, too. Click here for my first post on what grief looks like. Click here for my second post on interacting with others during a time of grief. Here is what I’ve learned about when grief becomes too much:

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8. Grief does not care that you have to go to work. Grief is like a two-year-old in this way—it throws tantrums in the middle of the grocery store, clings to your leg as you’re trying to start your day, and makes your life messy in four-seconds flat. I’m fairly certain I ran out of sick days months ago, but I have to keep taking time off for doctors’ appointments and thus cannot take time off because I woke up incredibly sad.

I have to go and smile at my students and listen patiently as they tell me why they didn’t finish their homework and respond to emails with grace and politeness and go to meetings and talk about the Spanish Civil War and make copies of papers that I will inevitably have to grade at some point. I have to keep doing all of these things even though my heart feels sore from wading in the Sadness Sea. In some ways, work is nice because it can be very distracting, and I like my students and colleagues a lot. But when the kids shuffle out of the room, backpacks hitting the bookshelf and the door slamming behind them, out of nowhere, that two-year-old tackles me to the ground.

9. Sometimes grief makes things so dark that you need someone else to hold out the light for you. This light-holder can be many people: therapists, friends, spiritual directors, mentors, spouses, students, writers, etc. I have found I need someone to say, “That is completely valid” to my crazy feelings and “That’s unhealthy thinking” to my damaging feelings. I need someone to ask questions beyond, “When do you think you’ll try again?” I need someone to not wonder when I’ll get over this when I’m still talking about it months later. I’ve needed help from professionals and friends—people who are trained to walk through murky thinking and people who care enough about me to walk with me through it.

Even though I’ve been to therapy before, I felt really self-conscious going, like something was wrong with me and if certain people found out, I’d be labeled crazy. Now that I’m going regularly, I can’t imagine not going. It’s like I get a breath of fresh air every time I go because I have a space and time and person specifically set aside to say all my darkness–my fears and anxieties and anger and sadness.  I can say it all, and no one ducks away or shifts uncomfortably.  It is a similar experience when I share with my Monday night dinner girls or a close friend about my grief—there is a sense that I’m not alone in this. I think some of the darkness comes from feeling alone and feeling like you’ll never get out of this moment, and that’s why we need someone to hold out a light for us, calling us home.

My next and final post in this series will be about finding meaning in grief.

What I’ve Learned about Grief: Part Two

It’s been nearly 8 months since my first miscarriage, and during those 8 months of crying and watching the entire series of Grey’s Anatomy, I’ve journeyed through the grief like a hobbit. Lots of people have been the Sam to my Frodo: my husband, my Monday night dinner girls, a therapist, blog writers, dead writers (I teach British Literature, remember), and others. I want to preface this post by saying that at the same time, all grief is different and all grief is the same. If you haven’t had a miscarriage, some of these things may still ring true in your life. If you have had a miscarriage, none of these things may ring true, too. Click here for my first post on what experiencing grief looks like. Here is what I’ve learned about my experience with others:

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5. People can say really inane things to you in times of grief, but it’s not because they are cold-hearted or stupid; it’s because they’re uncomfortable. There have been several moments in which someone is trying to give words of condolence to me, and they begin crying or saying cliche phrases, practically begging me to say something hopeful, so they can feel better. I’m not talking about crying with me—I mean a person begins to cry and breathes a sigh of relief when I say something like “I’ll be okay.” It was really annoying at first. (Mini-lesson #2: do not make the grieving comfort you. If you don’t know what to say, the best phrase is “I don’t know what to say, but I’m sorry.”) But after saying out loud in a therapy session that I have had to comfort people because they are uncomfortable with my grief, it was like the fog cleared a little. I understand that people are doing the best they can in a situation that our culture does not really have protocol for.  Miscarriages are felt differently by women, and we don’t have any kind of marker (such a funeral, memorial service, wake, etc.) for this kind of grief.  Thus, people are unsure what to say.  I can think of inane things that I have said to people in crisis and mourning—things I wish I could forget because they were so stupid.

I read somewhere (let’s be honest, probably Brene Brown) that we have a guttural need to make someone stop crying. We want them to feel better and frankly, to stop making us feel uncomfortable. But the best thing you can do for someone wiping snot and tears from their face is just to hold that space for them. Sit with them. Don’t tell them to “Cheer up, ol’ chap, there’ll be sunnier days!” Probably the best thing is not to say anything. Or say that it’s okay to cry in the middle of the hallway. Or say that this experience really sucks.  Just don’t say, “Everything happens for a reason.”

6. In an effort to keep people from saying inane things to me, I have tried to beat them to the punch, and thus minimized my own experience. I fear that we will never be able to have kids. That is a legitimate fear. But when I have said that out loud to people, many have responded, “Oh, you’ll have kids one day! You can always adopt! I’m sure you’ll be pregnant again! I/someone I knew/my best friend’s dog/etc. had 304923840329 miscarriages and now I have 300 healthy children!” I know that this is coming from a well-meaning place and perhaps from that “Please stop making me feel uncomfortable” place I mentioned before, but in reality, I do not, cannot know that I will have children one day. I can hope. I can plan. I can pray. But I don’t know. And truly, neither do you.

Of course, it may feel like you’re rubbing dirty salt into a wound if you reply, “Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t.” In your mind, it may seem like you’re being so cruel and hard-hearted, but don’t you think I’ve already had the thought you’re saying? Don’t you think I’ve realized that there is no way for me to know if I will ever have a successful pregnancy? You’re not bringing something up that I haven’t considered. You aren’t reminding me that I’m a passenger on the Grief Bus. I know this already. Don’t worry about reminding me of the uncertainty—I reside there.

So, in an effort to keep people from saying these things to me and thus sparking irritation in my brain and a twitch in my eye, I’ve prefaced every feeling or fear I’ve had with, “I know we’ll probably have kids one day, but I still feel…” Or worse, I’ve laughed at my feelings! All because I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable! This is ludicrous.

I don’t want to be the bummer friend in my circles, so I’ve said things like, “I’m still sad and I can’t get over it, ha ha, and don’t stop praying for me because I think need therapy, ha ha, and I want to know what the doctor has to say, but I’m afraid it won’t bring comfort, ha ha…” I sound like a maniac. I’ve learned that by trying to say the cliche, unknowable thing first and by laughing when I say heavy things, I’ve been trivializing my grief and trying to downplay my own experience to myself. Which, of course, means I haven’t been able to really feel anything because I won’t let myself. It just comes out in awkward water gun tears and thinly veiled feelings slips.

There are times when you need to speak logic to your emotions. But there are also times that the logic part of your brain won’t let your emotion section do anything. I need to let my emotion section say its piece first.

7. Not everyone wants to talk about grief, but it’s not because they don’t care about you. I swim around in the Sadness Sea pretty much 24/7, even when I’m laughing (at appropriate times) or enjoying myself. JD and I have had hard conversations. I have thought lots of dark thoughts, and this loss and what it could mean consumes my life. I mean, it’s always there looming and because of that, I feel comfortable (word choice?) bringing it up. It’s what I think about and journal about and so it’s something I want to talk about.

Many of my friends will listen or engage in the conversation, some will even cry with me (in a solidarity way, not a “Please make me feel better” way). But some try to change the subject. Some listen and never say a word. Some never, ever ask about it. At first, I thought it was because they didn’t care or that they were scared my miscarriages or sadness would rub off on them (mini-lesson #3: loss is not contagious). Maybe I do represent what they fear, and to be honest, I’ve felt that way about others.

But I think some people don’t want to talk about it because they’re afraid they’ll say something stupid or remind me of my grief (trust me, nothing you say will make me say, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that whole sadness thing until you reminded me of it! Thanks a lot, jerk!”). Or perhaps they don’t have the vocabulary of feelings and experiences to talk about it. Maybe they don’t talk about grief when they feel it, and so they’re not sure how to talk about it with me. Maybe they are so caring that they want to distract me and allow me to have some positive experiences. Or maybe they don’t realize how big of a deal it is for me (these people probably don’t read my blog). There are lots of reasons people don’t want to talk about it, but those reasons are rarely that they don’t care about me.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what happens when the grief feels like too much.