A few weeks ago, after speaking at A Reason to Stand, a sweet lady came up and shared that she too had lost a child, 25 years ago. She made the comment that I was still so fresh and new to the grieving process. Her words surprised me, because being six years out, and constantly learning of so many kids who pass away, I often feel like I’m an old timer. Her comment has changed the way I react to my grief, and I’m thankful.
This past Sunday, Pat and I were scrambling to get everyone ready for 9:00 am church. I slept in, due to being up most of the night with Oaklee, and it was a struggle to get everyone up and going. I went to Oaklee’s closet and realized her dress was nowhere to be found, and instead of looking for it, I just grabbed a little white dress that had belonged to Preslee. Oaklee has worn a handful of Preslee’s outfits, so I didn’t think twice about it. Before I ran downstairs to jump in the car, I reached for a blanket in Oaklee’s closet, not paying much attention to which one I grabbed, and made it to the car just as Pat had finished buckling everyone in.
We walked into church with just one minute to spare. Pat sat down holding Oaklee, and a little later handed her to me. I immediately laid her on my lap and when I glanced down at her, my grief immediately pounced, and tears began to fall. As I looked at Oaklee, everything screamed Preslee. From her dress, to her face that is rounding out more and more like Preslee’s, she was even chewing on two little fingers like Preslee did. I could have sworn I was back attending church in Philadelphia with Preslee on my lap. The only thing missing was a big gerber daisy bow.
The harder I tried to stop the tears, the faster they fell. That’s when I noticed the blanket… it had been given to Preslee in the hospital right before she passed away, and the mix of the two was just too much for me to handle at the moment. Seconds later, Pat reached across the bench to tap me on the shoulder and ask me what was wrong. I just shook my head, feeling embarrassed, and said I was fine. I hated that I couldn’t shake an old memory that had resurfaced, and it left a consuming ache in my chest to hold Preslee again.
I often feel embarrassed in situations like this. I’m usually so tired of grieving that I wonder when these moments will ever come to an end. I tend to get a little hard on myself, and sternly tell myself to stop crying. But as I was nursing Oaklee in the mother’s lounge during the second hour of church, the comment made by that sweet lady came to mind and changed my way of thinking. With an entire life left to live, I really am in the beginning stages of grief. Though I don’t grieve on a daily basis anymore, there are still moments that take my breath away and leave me trying to figure out the best way to handle the new situation I’ve been presented with.
I now vow to be softer on myself. If you’re anything like me, and have moments you feel like you should be further along in your grief, I hope you’ll join me and try to change the way you think. No matter where we are in our journey, there will be moments that unexpectedly arise, and as painful as they might be, I hope we can learn to embrace them. Because if I’ve learned anything over the past six years, it’s how holy grief truly is. Though it is overwhelming, grief stems from the love we have for those we’ve lost, and I wouldn’t trade that love for anything.
After Sunday’s experience, I think I’ll hold on to that little white dress, even after Oaklee outgrows it. It will serve as a reminder to be a little softer on myself. Grief will continually be teaching me new lessons, and instead of fighting it, someday, I hope I can learn to fully embrace it.