Last week was a whirlwind. In fact the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of joy, and grief and everything in between. It’s strange to experience holidays and celebrations when you have experienced significant loss, when someone is missing in the celebration, when you lose someone so close to the holidays. Our first daughter passed away September 1. Our second daughter passed away November 13. It’s been 3 and 2 years respectively since we’ve said hello and goodbye and though the grief changes it still is present, often in ways that catch me off guard as time goes on and life begins to encompass things that don’t relate to our losses.
This past Thanksgiving was so different then 2 years ago, when the loss of our 2nd daughter was so raw and deep and painful. When I wrote a blog about “Being Thankful for nothing on this stupid planet”, it was written from a heart that was in deep pain. Grief is different now, and entering into this Thanksgiving held so much greater joy and thankfulness and anticipation then previous ones. I think that’s why I was so caught off guard with the grief that seemed to come crashing like a tidal wave right after Dasah’s birthday. For me, I know that it is the week leading up to significant dates that tend to be the hardest. The anticipation of the emotions to come leave me paralyzed at times, small tasks and details seem fantastically large. But this time the wave of grief that left me paralyzed came after her birthday. I filled my schedule that week, not realizing I would still need emotional space to be aware of where I was at in grief, in the anticipation of Thanksgiving and the anticipation of my brothers wedding. So many joyful things that also carried an ache that was ever bubbling under the surface of my heart.
That’s the place I was at as we headed to my sisters house in Savannah, GA for an epic week of feasting on turkey and wedding food, and celebrating the joys of the holidays and marriage. I was not doing well. The ache bubbling under the surface had no place to go and so was spilling over into anxiety, shortness with others, and a general prickliness in my spirit.
Fortunately, my husband noticed and knew, as I began to see, that I desperately needed space to process. He enabled me to pull away and take the following afternoon, holed up in a corner of a coffee shop, to just process where I was at. I read and wrote a letter to Dasah, expressing my ache, my hopes, my disappointment to the Lord, to her. It was not only a missing of my girls for Thanksgiving but an ache of them not being there for their Uncles wedding. As I had shopped for some things I needed for the wedding the week before, I couldn’t help but notice the pretty little girl dresses, imagining them as flower girls, watching them twirl on the dance floor. All new and unexpected things to grieve the loss of.
I so wanted to experience the sweet joy that in the midst of all I felt I was missing, there was a son, our son in our arms to celebrate Thanksgiving, and a wedding with. The joy of watching my brother get married, the joy of being with family. I simply could not embrace the celebration without also embracing the ache that existed too. Why was that so hard this time? Life was full and I kept feeling as though there was no time to go to those hard places emotionally. I didn’t realize how necessary it was for me to create space to go there to be able to to go to the sweet places too. That Tuesday before Thanksgiving I sat and embraced the ache. And in allowing the ache and tears to flow when they came instead of trying to suppress them I noticed throughout the week the joy was able to flow more freely too.
It’s amazing how being, as my counselor puts it “present in your grief” enables you to be present in your joy. It is when we are not aware of what we are feeling, when we haven’t stopped to sit and think of the disappointments the holidays and celebrations bring when someone is missing, when we don’t share those disappointments with other safe people that we can fail to experience the fullness of the joy in those moments too.
As the week unfolded, my heart became more full of joy. There was joy as we wrote of the things we were thankful for. A fresh hopefulness flowed through my heart as we wrote Sophie and Dasah’s Thankful tree, a new tradition that began out of the “stupid planet” post, where we imagine what those we have lost, who now sit with Jesus are thankful for, our eyes and hearts lifted to eternity.
There was joy as we celebrated with my sister-in-aw at her bachelorette party, joy as we gathered together at the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, celebrating the becoming of one of my brother and his now wife. And there was joy at the wedding, as I saw my little son dressed in a suit, and watched as his daddy put on his first bowtie. Moments of tears as the precious little flower girl walked down the aisle throwing her petals, wondering if I’ll get to see my girls do that at the great wedding feast? Joyful tears as I watched the face of my brother take such delight in the bride we all have prayed would come into his life, walk down the aisle and the two became one. Tears as I saw that they had adorned the basket of flowers for the flower girl with butterflies in honor of Sophie and Dasah, and tears as we held Jaden and watched him giggle with joy on the dance floor. Our thankful hearts so full that we were getting to celebrate this special occasion with him.
So there is joy and there is ache this holiday season, and somehow I had forgotten that even though it’s now our 3rd holiday season without our girls, the grief still rises afresh and I need space to be present in what I’m feeling to be able to fully be present in this season with my family and friends.
So are you in grief, is someone missing this holiday season? Oh I pray that you would not forget to be still before the Lord, before others when you see those grief emotions rising. Remember and speak of those you’ve lost and recognize the ache so that you can more fully recognize the joy this season brings. For the hope of Christmas is of the One who broke through our world, through our pain to restore and renew. How sweet it is for the one who has lost to celebrate the One who has come to make all things new?
And just in case you don’t follow me on instagram and missed my obnoxious instagram wedding week take over (of which I am not sorry) here are some favorite photos from the week!
GETTING WEDDING READY
THE DAY MY LITTLE BROTHER GOT HITCHED