Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Embrace My Suffering?




Romans 8:28 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
~
There is a war raging within me...a war between my heart and my mind. And while my heart has held the lead for what seems like an eternity, my mind is quickly closing the gap...and I don't like it. I don't want my mind to win. I want it to be left in the dusty trail of my broken heart. But my heart remains weak and weary...and afraid. Afraid that my mind will someday win this war, thus leaving my heart in its wake instead. You see, for 89 months now my mind has been screaming at my shattered heart that Brittany's absence from my life is real. It's permanent. She's not coming back. But my heart, despite its fragility and brokenness, is still fighting with all its might against accepting such a cruel and painful reality. Even after all this time.

I recently began reading a daily devotional book. I'm ashamed to admit It's been a long time since I've actually submerged myself in one. I'm a bit behind on my "days," but that's par for the course in my little world. I'm always late. Sometimes, I sarcastically  quip that whenever my time comes to depart this world, I'll be late for that, too. Thankfully, this particular devotional is one you can jump into at any time. And I jumped in right when it started to speak of suffering. Why was I experiencing such a sense of deja vu? I've read about this before. But where? Then, there it was. On my Facebook timeline. Staring me right in the eyes. I had written about this back in 2011, right before Christmas, just 17 months into my quest. Now, in the six years that have passed since then, I realized I have dragged myself kicking and screaming to today, December 13, 2017. 
89-months. Had anything changed? I normally don't revisit old posts. I don't want to remember what I was feeling or experiencing at that time. Time. I strongly dislike that four letter word. But, for whatever reason, I read it. And, while other aspects of my journey to my new normal have become different (another dirty word), as I read it, I sadly realized that this part of my quest hasn't really changed. Honestly, no matter how much time passes, I don't think it ever will - regardless of the time of year. 


Suffering. More specifically, finding the strength to embrace suffering. Embrace suffering? Why on earth would I want to embrace my suffering when my heart has declared an all out war against my mind to avoid that very thing? Clearly, I hadn't embraced my suffering then, nor have I now. I mean, does anyone actually wake up in the morning and announce to the world, "Today I shall embrace my suffering! Bring on the pain!" Well, oddly enough, yes. There really are people like that. Maybe not shouting it in the overly zealous tone I just implied, but people whose faith is strong enough to give them the confidence and strength to make such a bold proclamation. People in pain...just like me. People so overwhelmed and crippled by their suffering...just like me. But unlike me, these people have found the strength and courage in God to do the unthinkable...embrace their suffering. Truth be told, I'm pretty sure most, if not all of these individuals would prefer not to be faced with the whole "to embrace or not to embrace their suffering" dilemma in the first place. And like them, my choices are limited. I can either attempt to embrace it, or I can choose to let it destroy me. Neither seems ideal.

Webster's Dictionary defines suffering as: "to submit to or forced to endure"...usually some kind of pain or unwanted circumstance. Meanwhile, Webster's defines embrace as: "to clasp in arms; hug; cherish; love; take up readily or gladly." Really? So does that mean I'm supposed to cherish my suffering? Love my pain? Take up readily or gladly my anguish? What's more, is it just me or does the very phrase itself, "embrace your suffering," seem like a callous contradiction? Here's what 'unwanted circumstances' I'm still being forced to endure: Brittany's constant absence from my life. Her smile...her laughter...her sparkling blue eyes...the intimate mother/daughter conversations and secrets we shared like best friends. And now, I'm being forced to endure yet another Christmas without her. How am I supposed to embrace that 'readily' and with 'love?' If anything, my pain continues to mercilessly seize me, and it's bound and determined to suffocate me to death. 

But even I, in the midst of all my brokenness, have to admit that there is really only one way in which to embrace my suffering. Accept it...even if I can't do it easily...because choosing to let it destroy me isn't an option. Surrendering to my grief would be mindless and effortless. Without a doubt, I could quietly succumb to the darkness and let my pain consume me until I completely disappear. The easiest route? Probably.The acceptable route? Absolutely not. Not for me, anyway. Like then, I'm still struggling to make a conscience effort to focus on God and attempt to let Him use my pain for His good. How do I plan to do that? I'll get back to you. 

Romans 5:3-5 says, "but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." Am I currently rejoicing in my suffering? Not hardly. But if I continue to drown in my suffering, will I ever truly see its benefits? (Another apparent contradiction, I know). Or, what if I try to focus on God through my pain? Will I then finally realize its purpose? My purpose? God's purpose? I'm still trying with all of my strength to trust that God intends to use this tragedy, my pain, my suffering, Brittany's death, for His good. I just wish I knew what it is. Perhaps I would have known by now had I not lost my focus on Him. But I'm back. Fighting. And maybe...just maybe...as my faith and trust in God grow, He will finally reveal it all to me...but only in His time...not mine. I need to be patient. I guess I'd better work on that. 



I'll hold you in my heart until I can hold you in Heaven

I love you Brittany Erin...timelessly <3









                                      

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Abandoned


~Each day that passes brings me one day closer to seeing you in Heaven~


I've been having quiet, private conversations lately with an extremely troubled mother, a mother I know very well. Sometimes, we don't even speak at all, but when we do, I usually just listen to her, trying hard not to crumble beneath her weak structure of merciless anguish. I want to pull her out, keep her from suffocating, but I don't know how.  

"My daughter died," she weeps. "My beautiful, 21-year old little girl...gone. Why? I feel like Brittany is slipping away from me! Sometimes she feels like an ethereal dream. A distant memory I can't quite grasp. Was she real?" 

I say nothing. I just continue listening.

"In my heart," she sobs, "of course I know she's real. Her life began inside me long before I even knew she was there. The very second her heart took its first beat in my womb, my own heart began beating in perfect rhythm with hers. Besides my son, Brittany is the only person who has heard my heartbeat from the inside, to feel my love from the inside. We were two hearts made from one...two halves of a whole." 

My eyes filled with countless tears. It was like her pain and emptiness were mine, too. It was tangible. Palpable.  

I watched this heartbroken mother. She was curled up on the floor, surrounded by 21-years of precious memories captured in photos, time that will forever stand still. There will be no new memories made of this mother and daughter again...ever. 

"Our bond grew stronger with each passing day. She was my best friend. But now I feel her slipping further and further away. The sound of her laughter, the feel of her embrace, the sound of her voice, the brightness of her blue eyes, her captivating smile...even the way she smells. It's beginning to fade. I'm losing her all over again. I don't know what's more crippling: the fear of me forgetting, or the fear of me remembering it all like it was yesterday. How am I supposed to live the rest of my life in such a debilitating and grim manner? I gasp for air when I panic at the thought of forgetting, and I gasp for air when I'm sucker punched by the invasion of voices, cruelly taunting me, constantly reminding me Brittany is no longer a part of my daily life. Do you know how exhausting that is? I'm so tired." 

I do know.

"Do you ever wish you could just disappear for awhile? Detach yourself from you? Seek silence? Nothingness?"

Yes. Quite often.

"I used to be witty and quick on my toes. I was smart and articulate. I had a career. Today, I'm lucky if I can complete a full sentence without getting lost in my own little world. I simply drift away, totally forgetting what I was talking about to begin with. My cognitive skills have taken a direct and permanent hit. I suffer from severe PTSD. I've struggled with Anorexia for six years. I also suffer from something my psychiatrist calls Dissociative Amnesia. One common factor between the two? Flashbacks. I've started to remember random events and conversations; images of things I didn't even realize I had, all trapped in the deepest, darkest corners of my confused and eviscerated brain; things I don't want to remember and wish to remain oblivious to." She screams, "I just want it to stop!"

I wish it would, too. 

And then, her mind flits to another memory. No! Not that one! My hands begin to tremble and my breathing becomes more rapid. My heart is racing. I'm sobbing. I'm beginning to panic. I feel my throat closing in. Please don't go there...because if she goes there, I have no choice but to go there, too...Please don't. I can't. My resolve to try and stay strong for her is quickly imploding. She continues, anyway. And I am dragged down the dark rabbit hole with her.

The mother stares into the darkness. She's somewhere far away, and then she turns to me and begins to tell me a story. A distant memory, perhaps? 

"A couple of years go," she said, "a very troubled and disturbed woman called me right before Mother's Day. She accused me of abandoning my little girl when we moved to Florida. She said I left Brittany alone and homeless, left to fend for herself. Brittany and I had never been away from each other in the 19-years before we moved. I begged and bribed her to come with us, but she wanted to stay up north with her friends and boyfriend. I thought she could use some distance. Get some perspective. But she was very stubborn and ready to spread her wings, even though I wasn't. Do you know how it feels when someone accuses you of abandoning your own child?"

I do.

"Do you know how tormented I've been since that conversation? Foggy memories flood my mind. They haunt my very soul," she weeps. "Is it true?" 

She's becoming more panicked. More agitated and erratic.  

"Did I leave her behind? Toss her aside? My baby! My little girl! My life! Is that what I did?!?'

I decide to speak.

"No," I tell her. Despite the ugly accusations and cruel words you were attacked with, Brittany was always taken care of. By you. Who did she call and/or text all hours of the day and night?"

"Me," the mother replied. 

"Who did she always turn to for help and guidance?"  

"Me," she said again.

"Who had a connection so bizarre you were like the same person?"

She slightly smiles. "We did. And in some mystifying way, we still are."

"Who did she love...then and now...unconditionally?"

"Me."

"And who will you forever love unconditionally?"

"My precious little girl. My Brittany."

She sits silently for a bit, lost in her own mind.

I look at her familiar, broken, and aged face. My face. A weary, worn and sometimes vacant face. A face we keep masked most of the time. Why? We do it to protect others from the discomfort and awkwardness they feel when they find out who we really are: Two broken mothers sharing one body, trying to straddle two very different worlds: the past and the present. We're protecting you...and us. That's why we've let so many of you walk out of our lives. We want to save you from our anguish, because behind our smiles, there's a story you could never understand.

"Will it always be this hard? This painful?" she asks. 

I sigh."For us, I believe it will. This isn't something we can coach ourselves into overcoming. Look at the amount of time that has already passed...75-months. I mean, let's be honest. How far have we actually come? All we can do is live with it and deal with all the emotional chaos in whatever way that comforts us. Unfortunately, it is what it is, and we are who we are now. But you know what? I think we're the ones who feel abandoned. We're the ones who were left behind to suffer the unimaginable. To face a world where Brittany no longer exists. To remind ourselves each morning that this is our reality now. I'm angry! We're angry!"

"I am angry. Very angry. I never fathomed a life without her. Why would I? I took it all for granted. Now I have to try and function in a world without her in it. A world without Brittany. It sounds and feels so foreign." 

She bows her head, defeated. 

"I didn't want this," she laments.

Me, either.

"I'd give anything to have her back...even for a day, an hour..."

Me, too.

"Hey." I cradle her face in my hands. "We will see her again. And whenever you begin to feel overwhelmed with those feelings of abandonment, remember this: God never abandoned Brittany...or us. This isn't our home, April. We're just passing through on our quest to reunite with our little girl and the One who now holds her safely in His arms."



"He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.
Revelations 21:4 (NLT)


I love you, Brittany Erin...eternally <3

























"














Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Celebrating Brittany (Amended)


What a wonderful God we have...who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us...
2 Corinthians 1: 3, 4 (TLB)


I had really hoped to have posted this much earlier today...October 19, because that number plays an extremely pivotal role in this story. And while I'm technically still writing it on the 19th, it won't post until after midnight. What's one more day, you may wonder? You'll see. Regardless, the most important thing of all about this story is not when it posts, but when the event happened...on July 19, 2015. Please just keep in mind that this story is a very personal and life-changing experience for me and no matter how long I sit at my computer writing, deleting, rewriting, deleting...I will never find the words to describe to you, to help you actually feel the grandeur and splendor of the miracle I am about to recount. I think that's why I've been struggling with this particular post for three months. Yes...three months! I won't even default to writer's block on this one. Honestly, I've been held back by my own fear of inadequacy to do this story justice. To breathe life into it. You see, it isn't just any story; it is a miraculous event that only God, Himself, could orchestrate...and it happened earlier this summer, July 19th...five years to the day I buried my beautiful Brittany...and was forced to choke out my final earthly goodbye. 

What makes this story even more special is being blessed beyond measure to have shared it with someone who has grown very dear to me. In fact, had it not been for my beautiful friend, I never would have experienced this priceless gift from God...at all.  

Dear readers, I'd like to introduce you to a person God placed in my life a couple of years ago...not just for a season...but for life. Someone who has become extremely special to me. Please meet Amanda Mergen...

~A Life Changing Road Trip~

I can’t say I’ve ever taken any trips that have changed my life and I really didn’t think this trip would be any different. We planned a simple road trip to find peace and relaxation on the beach and little did I know, I’d find so much more.  I left with no expectations and I was excited to spend time with my daughter, Liberty, and a good friend, April, on an adventure to feel close to her dear angel daughter.  I came home changed.
It was early on a July morning and we set out on a 700 mile road trip to a place none of us had been, Biloxi, Mississippi.  It took us about 12 hours to get there, but it was an adventure and it was fun.  We didn’t have much planned and sometimes that’s the best plan.  We arrived late in the evening at our hotel and settled in.  The next morning we took a tour of a mammal’s museum and enjoyed touching sea life, and seeing a dolphin and sea lion show.  This was the moment my daughter became obsessed with dolphins.  It was a great experience, followed by a drive along the beach.  The following day we indulged in donuts and iced coffee, hung out on the beach and did some shopping. On previous trips to beaches, my daughter was scared of the sand and water, but this experience was different.  She loved every moment of splashing in the water and digging in the sand and didn’t want to leave. We spent the evening in the pool and got a good nights sleep.  On our final day, we planned to relax by the pool in the morning and catch a sunset on the beach in the evening to feel peace and send a special message to Brittany, our angel.  You see, I was not blessed to meet Brittany before God called her home, but somehow I feel like I know her, and someday I will.  I, however, am very blessed to have her mom as my friend.
We woke up for our last day in Biloxi and it was perfect weather for relaxing by the pool.  It was quiet and peaceful and we soaked up some sun and some swim time.  After napping, we awoke to gray skies and rain.  This was not part of our plan.  I knew April would be brought down by the weather, but I couldn’t help but feel an urge to still go to the beach.  I needed to grab a few things at the store and was hoping we could stop to try a snowball along the beach.  We had been talking about trying the snowballs since we saw the first truck with the rainbow icy treat on the side on our first day.  Liberty was excited to have one. After convincing ourselves that we should give it a try, we grabbed coffee, stopped at the store to get a few things, including flowers, and we headed for the beach.  It rained the whole way there.  As we pulled into the parking lot, we parked, and as we got out of the car I turned to look at the sky, and there it was.  A faint rainbow.  I yelled out loud, “Brittany!" April turned and saw it too and we smiled and cried and hugged.  I had chills over my whole body (in fact, I get them every time I think about this).  The rain stopped, the sky lightened, and as we watched, the rainbow got brighter and then a second rainbow formed.  I took Liberty out of the car to soak up the moment with us.  A smile appeared on her face and our excitement spread to her.  It was the first rainbow she has ever really seen. What an incredible moment!  We walked down the beach, to the spot we had hung out before.  We wrote Brittany’s name in the sand and took pictures.  All the while, Liberty ran up and down the beach squealing with happiness.  We took our flowers and spent time tossing them in the water.  The flowers blew in the breeze and floated on the waves.  This was an experience I never expected having.  I felt an extreme closeness to God and was very thankful for the sign of peace and comfort He sent April.  There are moments in life where you question where God is, or maybe you doubt He even exists.  I can honestly say that this experience caused me to believe deeper than I ever have.  There is light even in darkness.  There are rainbows after the rain.  As we got back in the car to head to the hotel and pack up, the rain started again.  This time it wasn’t so gray though, because out spirits were much brighter. We were given a special time that was priceless.
As I look back on the trip, I realize that we may not have had much of a plan, but God sure did.  We may not have realized it, but He led us to Biloxi, He planned our days, and He gave us exactly what we were looking for, especially for April.  It was perfect.  You see, God was showing me the rainbow snowball, not because we needed to have a snowball, but because He was going to show us a rainbow.  I also believe that Liberty’s new found love for the beach was because God sent Brittany’s spirit to live in her at that moment.  Brittany loved the beach and it warmed my heart to see Liberty run up and down the beach and splash in the water.  What a blessing! We had a special angel with us and although physically she wasn’t there, she was in our hearts, on our minds and watching over us.
It was a long drive back home, but I felt our trip was complete.  I am very thankful for the time I had with April, Liberty, God and Brittany.  Special bonds were formed and memories were made.  I can only hope that April knows how important the trip was to me and how grateful I am that I got to experience the wonders of God with her.  It was beautiful and breathtaking, just like Brittany.  It may have been our first trip, but I’m certain it won’t be our last.

~

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to top that!  But I can honestly say that I have never shared an experience like this with anyone. Ever. I have also never had someone share something so profound with me from their perspective. My writings are always first person. But reading this...reliving this...through the eyes of someone else? Like Amanda, it gives me chills. 

I'd like to share with you what happened before we made our gloomy trip to find a snowball treat for Liberty. After spending some time together at the pool the afternoon of July 19th, Amanda and Liberty decided to go up to the room for a nap. I had the pool to myself and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so I opted to stay for a bit longer and just 'float.' I talked to God off and on during my time in the pool. I didn't ask for anything. I remember thanking Him for allowing us to take this trip, providing us with beautiful weather, no pressure, no agendas...we just were. And that's what I was looking for - just a little peace and quiet away from my everyday life. An escape from all the white noise that's constantly in my head. I just wanted to be. I wanted to be near the ocean, a place that makes me feel so close to God. A place that makes me feel close to Brittany. A place without all the tourism and chaos. I believe that's why God navigated us to Biloxi: beautiful, pristine beaches...and sweet serenity. Little did I know that much, much more was in His grand plan.

A couple of hours later, I made my way back to the room. It was still very sunny outside, but I'd been out long enough. Manders (as I affectionately call her) and Liberty were fast asleep. Soon, I was too, waiting for a beautiful sunset so we could drop flowers in the waves for my little girl. When I opened my eyes though, it was cloudy and raining...hard. I just lied in bed and cried. The most important part of this trip for me was ruined. It had been five years and I was finally strong enough to celebrate my little girl's life by tossing flower petals in the water and watch as the waves carried them away into the sunset. I was devastated. That's why the 19th was so important to me. It was five years ago that day when my husband had to peel me off Brittany's casket because I refused to put my baby girl in the ground. 

Amanda had to all but drag me out of the room. What was the point? But God had other plans. If I remember correctly, I think Manders might have bribed me with the promise of Starbucks, too.  (She followed through, by the way). 

Amanda recounted everything beautifully and accurately...but most importantly, from her perspective...not mine. And that's what's been my challenge. How can I, in any copacetic manner, whatsoever, convey to you a 'something you had to see to believe,' moment? I can't. All I know is that when I saw that rainbow, I looked up to the sky and shouted, "Thank you, Jesus!" "I love you Brittany Erin!" And that's when the second rainbow started to appear. I shouted and cried some more, completely oblivious and uncaring about the stares I'm sure we were getting. If they only knew. 

I walked out to the water and just stared at the sky, picturing God holding Brittany's hand, letting her see the events that were unfolding, and smiling.  "This is what your mother needed, my sweet child. This is My gift to her, to give your mom something she has been in search of since I called you home. She needs to know, once and for all, that her little girl is safe in My arms...waiting until your reunion day." It was such a tangible, palpable image; I could almost feel myself standing next to them, embracing me. I watched Liberty with utter delight, listening to her joyous squeals and laughter, running and splashing without abandon. I closed my eyes as I listened, and for just a brief moment, I was transported back in time to a place where my own little girl was running up  and down the shoreline, her wavy, blonde hair blowing gently in the ocean breeze, digging for shells and writing her name in the sand shouting, "Mommy! Loooook!" I smiled at that priceless memory from once upon a time, so thankful for her life, her laughter, her love...and thankful that God blessed me with not only being Brittany's mom, but giving me 21-years full of thousands of memories and moments in time that only she and I shared...memories and moments that can never be taken away. He blessed me beyond measure that evening, July 19, 2015, five years to the day I buried my sweet angel. He calmed my fears, quieted the noise in my head, held my broken heart and kissed my wounded soul. Who, among us, deserves such a gift? Who, among us, is worthy of something so grand and rare? I'm certainly not. Yet, for whatever reason, God granted me something I didn't even know I was looking for. Something I never thought I'd ever find. Something I never really understood until that night: inner peace. Not about my life, in general. Goodness! There are plenty of aspects of my life that are anything but peaceful! No, what I'm talking about is an extraordinary kind of peace He showered upon me as I stood in His presence on that beach. The peace of knowing...really knowing...that Brittany is safe in God's arms! I have always believed that Brittany is in Heaven. Okay, that's not quite true. There have been times I have wondered...worried. I suppose that's normal, though. Despite my past pleas and other, more subtle signs from God that Brittany is safe, I still worried. I no longer do. And that, my friends, is peace beyond all understanding! 

I did not leave my grief behind. I am not...nor will I ever be... 'over it.' That's not what this trip was about. Amanda, Liberty and I set out dubbing this our "Celebrating Brittany" trip. And celebrate we did! We even took a little framed picture of Brittany with us everywhere we went...and 'selfied'' a lot! Brittany drank a watermelon margarita, got stuck in a palm tree with sand blinding us, helped navigate (me, anyway. Manders didn't need any help!), lounged in a beach chair by the ocean, and so much more. Brittany, Liberty and Bryson even got matching stuffed dolphins from the aquarium. Care to guess what Miss Liberty named them all? Biloxi! Perfect! 

Thank you, Amanda and Liberty, for being by my side for this incredible journey. I don't deserve the miracle God gave me, but I am completely humbled and overwhelmed by His gift to me...a gift I never would have experienced without you. I love you both dearly <3  


God is with us, and even in the midst of life's storms and troubles, we can turn to Him for the comfort and strength we need. (Billy Graham)



I love you Brittany Erin...eternally <3 

















Thursday, February 5, 2015

Grieve Hard...Love Stronger



~Grief is the price we pay for love~
Queen Elizabeth the Second



I'm driving, but it isn't my car. It's her car. Has she been waiting for me to bring it to her? But why? She can't drive it anymore. She died. I have the windows down because it's so sunny and warm. It's sandy, not like a beach, but more like a desert. I'm lost. Where am I? Where is she? I know she's waiting for me. And then I hear it, a voice as familiar to me as my own. "Moooom! Over here!" she yells with excitement. Brittany? Brittany!! She's here! I see her! Long, blond hair shining in the sunlight, brilliant blue eyes sparkling with palpable vivacity...sparkling with LIFE. She's smiling and laughing. I jump out of her car and she runs into my arms, encompassing me with one of her lanky, bony hugs that I've missed so much. I don't know how this is happening, and I don't care...because she's here. Alive. And we're together again...somewhere. "Mom! I want to show you my new house! It's awesome!" I'm so confused. She can't have a house. She died. And then it hits me like a sledgehammer. It guts me like a fish. She doesn't know. She doesn't know she died. She doesn't KNOW! And I can't tell her. I can't tell her...because she thinks she's still alive. She's happy, talking a mile a minute like nothing has changed. But everything has changed! She has no clue what's happened. I don't understand. My mind is reeling. I'm lost somewhere between excruciating agony and ignorant bliss. She grabs my hand and hugs me again. She kisses my cheek. "I've missed you so much, Mom!" "Oh my gosh!! Brittany! I've missed you too, little girl!" I'm crying. I'm crying because I can touch her, embrace her, smell her, laugh with her. I'm crying. I'm crying because I'm heartbroken. I'm crying because she doesn't know she died. And I'm crying because I know she did...and I can't tell her. I won't tell her. So, I play along, quickly succumbing to this wonderful fantasy; a fantasy that she believes is her reality...beautiful and ALIVE. A reality I'm beginning to forget is really a nightmare. My nightmare. But she doesn't know. She doesn't know she died...and I can't tell her. I can't tell her...because I don't want her to go away again. So, I pretend. I pretend she's not dead...because she doesn't know...and I won't tell her. 

Then she sees it...my 'Brittany Bloom.' It's a special pink and white rosebush I planted in her memory...because she died. Why is it here...at 'her house?' Wait. Now it's my house. How did we get back here? "What's this, Mom?" "It's my Brittany Bloom," I tell her. "Then why is it dead? Where are the pretty flowers?" I'm crying. "Mom? MOM! Why is it getting so dark?" She's remembering. "MOM! Where's Chason? What happened?!?" I'm crying harder... and Brittany is crying, too. She knows. She knows she died. "MOM! PLEASE! DON'T LET ME GO! I WANT TO COME HOME!" I'm clinging so tightly to her now. "I'm so sorry, little girl! I love you so much! I don't want you to go! Please don't leave me again, Brittany!" I'm screaming. I'm crying. Brittany's screaming and crying...and fading. Her eyes are so sad...because she knows. She knows she died. 

And then I'm awake, drenched with sweat, and crying...because I remember. I remember she died...even though I never forgot. I never forget. Of course I don't. Sometimes, though, I wish I could forget. Especially after that cruel dream.

My daughter is gone.That thought is a constant. It never takes a hiatus. It's in every particle I breathe...every second of every day. Sometimes, I feel like my own life is just a microcosm that's being swallowed up in a whole different world of grief. "It will change," they say. "It will become different." Well, if I had a dollar for each time I've heard or read that, I'd be a very rich girl...probably writing this from my secluded mansion somewhere along the Greek Isles!

Which brings me to this... 

Does grief ever truly 'change' over time, as it is so often touted to do? Does it really become 'different?' Define 'change.' Define 'different.' Maybe then I'll be more intellectually enlightened to answer that question. 

On February 13...at 5:10pm...it will be 55 months since my beautiful Brittany left me. I  can count the days and hours too, if you'd like. Has my grief changed or become different? No! That's ridiculous! How could it? My child died, for crying out loud! My pain, agony, emptiness, and a litany of other adjectives I could insert here, remain the same. It's still a sick game of cat and mouse, never knowing when its claws will slash me or incapacitate me. Time hasn't changed my grief, nor has it become different. Let me say that again: My grief has not changed! 

However...

What it has done is strengthen me. It has given me purpose. And it continues to do so on a daily basis. For example, my faith in God is stronger (as hard as that is for many to believe, even among Believers), and I strive daily to live my life in a way that honors Him, hoping that others will see Him in me. Let me be clear, though. I still get angry. I still throw occasional tantrums. I often demand her return...you get the picture. But I have never turned my back on God, nor will I ever, just as He will never turn His back on me. He's patient with me. That cannot be easy. Trust me.

I love my son stronger. I cherish my son stronger. I love him more every day...but I also love him stronger. There's a big difference. He is my life. He is my light when my days are dark. 

I love my husband stronger. The death of a child is beyond challenging for a marriage. It hasn't always been easy. It still isn't, but we are conquering those challenges...as a team. As a family. We are stronger!

My Aunt Janice, who influenced and helped strengthen my faith in ways I will never be able to express, especially after Brittany left, always said, "Life is a journey Home,"...a journey she completed proudly and safely just three years after Brittany died. And that, my dear friends, is the real change, the only change that truly matters: the path I'm walking today. The road that's leading me on my own journey Home...to Jesus...to Brittany...to my Forever Home...to Heaven. Only then will my grief be different. Only then will it be changed. Because, only then, will my grief be no more.


John 13:7 (NLT) Jesus replied, "You don't understand now what I am doing, but someday you will." 


I love you Brittany Erin...eternally <3



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Defined


"Grief is like a long valley,
a winding valley where any bend
may reveal a totally new landscape."
C.S. Lewis




We've all seen it circulating around Facebook, Pintrest, etc., countless times, probably on a daily basis: "You are not defined by your past." I tend to disagree. I think our past does, indeed, define who we are today...and tomorrow...and each day, thereafter. "The choices that we've made in the past don't define who we are today." Again, I disagree. Everything we did yesterday or ten years ago; everything we did or will do today, tomorrow, or ten years from now, defines us. It doesn't mean we're the same people, making the same mistakes over and over again. Whatever actions we take, positive or negative, define us...and they change us. And in many circumstances, at least for some of us, we are defined and redefined on a daily basis...sometimes even multiple times throughout the course of any given day. But I can't speak for you or your circumstances. I speak only for myself and how my life is constantly being defined, redefined, and changed by grief. Daily. 

I open my eyes each morning, and the first thought I'm greeted with is the reality of Brittany's absence. Defined...by the nightmare that is. I drive my son to school, passing Brittany's old Jr. High, painfully remembering all the times I dropped her off or picked her up, images of her laughing with her group of friends. Defined...by what was. Then there are days those same memories make me smile. Defined...by the sound of her laugh and how much I miss it. I drive past our old house and remember how excited she was to have her very first brand new bedroom in our newly built home. Sadness encroaches. Defined again...by days long past, yet seem like only yesterday. Sometimes, a smile may cross my face, as I slow down and gaze up into the window of the bedroom that was once hers. Defined...by nostalgia. I remember how she insisted on it being painted purple. Defined...by the comical memory of painting it...and us...purple. I remember the "For Sale" sign that was placed in our yard because of an unexpected move. Defined...by anger. And all this 'defining' I just described...that's just a fraction of what can happen to me at any time...on any day...all before noon. 

I have days when I stare at her pictures and simply can't wrap my brain around it all. Defined...by confusion. I still have days when I cry out to God, begging Him to explain it all to me. Defined...by why. Why her? So many of Brittany's friends are engaged or have already married and have children. Defined...by jealousy. I truly do not begrudge them in any way. I'm happy for them. But I cannot lie and say I don't feel robbed of the chance to ever see my husband walk my little girl down the aisle, all dressed in white. Her "Cinderella" moment. Defined...by what will never be: No shopping for wedding dresses. No wedding. No "little Brittany, golden-haired, blue-eyed grandchildren." Defined...by emptiness. Scrolling through the names and numbers on my phone and seeing hers. Defined...by silence. 

Friends...both hers and mine...who have quietly slipped out of my life. Defined...by loneliness and confusion. My predilection for reclusiveness. Defined...by safety. The fear of my ongoing grief, irrevocably harming personal and/or family relationships. Defined...by the anxiety of the unknown. My inability to control everything in my life. Defined...by helplessness. The seemingly ungratefulness of her organ recipients (51 months, and still not a simple "Thank You")...the lives she saved. Defined...by acrimony. The heart of my daughter, my heart, because I helped create it...our DNA...and the fact that it now beats in someone else. Defined...by my inability to let it go and accept the harrowing reality that it is no longer Brittany's...or mine. I have no claim. 

Of course the death of my baby girl changed me. Forever. No parent can deny that. For me though, the fact that Brittany is permanently absent from my daily life also defines me, and continues to redefine me, practically all the time. My mental and emotional characterization, my struggle to find out who I am in this world...sans Brittany, my very identity...they're all subconsciously reanalyzed, reassessed, revisited, and emended. Every. Single. Day. Perhaps it's just the nature of this nightmare that is. But that little, optimistic quote that, undoubtedly, makes its rounds somewhere in our daily lives? It doesn't apply to me...because my past does, in fact, define me. Because my past is also my present and future. They all include a world...my earthly life...without Brittany. 

But all this ongoing and exhausting defining and redefining of April Schuette? Well, it will finally be made perfect when Brittany and I are reunited in Heaven. That will be the final...and consummate definition of all. 

Philippians 1:6 "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns."


(Have patience, God isn't finished yet).



I love you Brittany Erin <3

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sleeping Giant






After all, when a stone is dropped into a pond,
the water continues quivering, even after 
the stone has sunk to the bottom.

Arthur Golden


Dissociative Amnesia. PTSD. I've been diagnosed with both. Call it what you will. I call it hell.
~

I knew they were there...silently lurking in the deepest, darkest crevices of my mind. I mean, where else would they have gone? After all, I was there, wasn't I...even if I don't remember most of it? It's like a portion of my brain was totally erased. But I was there. Of course I was there...apparently creating unwanted and unknown memories. Details I have suppressed for nearly fifty months now...(Saturday, the 13th, to be exact). A baleful giant, patiently waiting for its opportunity to ambush me. And it did...leaving me with memories I know are real... leaving me crushed beneath a mound of debilitating images I will never be able to erase. Ever. 

I haven't shared this particular story with anyone but my husband. I'm not even sure why I'm telling it now. I guess I just need to let it out. I also feel the need to let you know that, on my side of the computer, there is a mother who is not always the epitome of strength her words make her out to be. There is a mother who still stumbles and falls. There is a mother who still shuts herself away in the darkness of her room, refusing to get out of bed. There is a mother who still grievesThroughout this journey, despite some of my most painful posts, my faith has always been the foundation of my entries, even if it isn't always blatantly obvious. And, rest assured, after reading what you are about to read, my faith is still the foundation of this journey...the foundation of my life. But sometimes, the enemy invades...

Over the past fifty months, I've learned that...in my world, anyway...grief is not mappable; its progress, or lack thereof, not trackable or chartable. It is elusive and surreptitious. It is an unstable beast. Sometimes it seems quiet and tame...until it's not. Sometimes it lets you catch your breath...until it decides to choke you. It isn't 'one step forward, two steps back.' It's a slippery slope that you're constantly struggling to conquer. I was forced to embark upon this journey just over four years ago, and it has been anything but consistent. Yes, I take steps. Maybe they're forward, maybe they're not, or maybe I'm simply running in circles, chasing my own tail. And then, sometimes, I simply find myself sitting still, watching the world go by, quickly and carelessly. And now, I've reached a point in my Quest For a New Normal that I hoped would never come. The emergence of memories I've blacked out for over four years. 

What I'm about to share with you is extremely painful and raw. I could barely type the words through my flood of tears. You also need to know that some of the following may be unpleasant for you to read due to the acute details of my flashbacks.

It happened in a dream not long ago. But it wasn't a dream. It was real...to the point of near tangibility. It was a flashback of events I had hoped I would remain oblivious to forever. And now that I've been thrust back in time, the sleeping giant having reared its ugly head, I, too, have been awakened to things I'll never be able to forget...because I remembered. I saw. I was there.

I was sitting in my high back chair at Brittany's visitation, positioned so closely to her that my hand was constantly touching her, or I was draped over her like a blanket. I do remember bits and pieces of that. But in this flashback, I SAW her. I mean, really SAW her. Her outfit that I purchased. I had forgotten what I bought. It was wrong. They dressed her all wrong. Her face. It was all wrong.That wasn't my daughter's face, was it? Her hair was wrong. Her makeup was wrong. But I saw her. Not the gregarious girl who always had a smile on her face, her stunning ocean blue eyes, framed by butterfly lashes, glittering like the sun on a bright summer's day. This couldn't be Brittany. She wasn't moving. She wasn't smiling. She wasn't laughing. But I saw her. And what I saw was not the way I have always remembered her...animated...full of such vigor...and life. But now I remember being there. I remember how she really looked that day. And now that image of my beautiful baby girl haunts me day and night. Even when I pore over the thousands of pictures I have of her, trying desperately to erase those horrific images, all I see is my little girl, who doesn't look like my little girl, lying in that shiny, white casket...trimmed in pink. "THAT ISN'T MY BEAUTIFUL BRITTANY!" I wanted to scream. But it was. 

And now I'm afraid some kind of portal has been opened. I'm scared to close my eyes at night. I'm like a child, afraid of what scary monster might be hiding underneath my bed, because other small memories have since emerged. And just so you know, I haven't shared the following with anyone. Absolutely no one. Not even my family. And as painful as it is for me to do so, I think it's important. That's what this blog is all about, after all. My grief journey. And this is part of it.

I remember most of my time at the hospital, practically glued to Brittany's bedside. Some things are a bit hazy, but, for the most part, I remember it. But after that horrific flashback, another followed. This one came to me in broad daylight...out of nowhere. This wasn't a sucker punch. This was an outright emotional assault.

I remember sitting on her hospital bed, kissing her beautiful face, whispering to her and stroking her hair. And then I felt them. Knots and tangles and tiny shards of glass. Why hadn't they cleaned her? Was it because they knew she was going to die and they thought it pointless? Anyone who knew Brittany knows that her hair was always perfect...even when she'd get up in the morning...or afternoon. (She's like me. We're so not morning people!). It made me sick. So, I summoned a nurse and asked if they had a portable salon-like basin so I could wash her hair. Not long after that request, the kind nurse appeared with an inflatable basin that she carefully placed under Brittany's neck. I gently washed my baby's hair...something I hadn't done since she was a little girl. And then I remembered. I saw it so clearly, it could have been sitting right in front of me. The color of the water. It was all wrong. I remembered it going from clear to a rust-like hue. The stench of dried blood was almost palpable. And the glass. The tiny shards of glass they left to dry in her tangled hair. The more I washed, the worse it became...the blood, the glass, the smell. My hands, stained with her blood. And with that, I ran to the bathroom and got sick. This flashback was different. I was fully awake. I could feel it. I could smell it. And I remember doing it. 

Like mine, Brittany's hair was extremely thick. Think horse tail, only soft and shiny. Her knots and tangles were horrendous, almost to the point of being unmanageable. But, if you know anything about horses, the trick is to start at the bottom of the tail and slowly work your way up. So I did. It took hours. And despite my effort to wash her hair...to make it clean and shiny...the more I worked my way up, the more I found myself still picking out shards of glass, my hands still stained with her blood. I mentally cursed those responsible for neglecting Brittany's beautiful hair. Sometimes, I would simply sit in silence as I went about grooming my baby girl, and sometimes I would jokingly scold Brittany for letting her hair get into such a frightful state. I played her music and sang along...much to her dismay, I'm sure. A gentle memory like that? I think I am strong enough now to manage. But being blindsided by the other details...the blood, the glass, the odor...that, I'm definitely not strong enough to bear...nor will I ever be. In fact, at times, I swear I can still smell the blood when I'm washing my own hair. I wash and rewash. I painfully scrub my scalp just to make it go away. It doesn't. 

So where does that leave me? To be honest with you, I don't know. This, however, is what I do know:


For I am the Lord your God Who holds your right hand, and Who says to you, 'Do not be afraid. I will help you.'
Isaiah 41:13 (NLV)


I love you Brittany Erin <3