Hope

Again today I sat in a room with the woman who killed my son.  We set a date for the jury trial later this summer.

With every cell in my body, I hate this place life has taken us.  When I think about her life, I know she has miserable consequences out of this too.  She has to live with the guilt of Samuel’s death and Jana’s injuries.  She will probably spend 6 months in jail.  Only 6 months, a tiny price for taking my beautiful Samuel’s life, but still…6 months in jail.  I’d be terrified if it was me.  She’ll be away from her family for all that time.  What a hard thing to process with your children.  “Mommy did something awful, and mommy has to go to jail.”  They will be scared too.  I spent 6 days away from my family last week and I missed them a lot.  Six months is a short time, but 6 months is a long time.  I don’t get the impression she has a great support system.  Instead I see her with her schmuck attorney, and with her family that sits slouched next to her but doesn’t reach out to touch her.

Somehow I talked with her this morning after we walked out of the courtroom.  I know how desperately I need people to speak hope and peace into my life right now, so I found myself speaking hope into hers.  And I surprised myself.  I took off the kintsugi necklace I wear for Samuel and gave it to her.  Kintsugi is a Japanese art that finds beauty in damaged things.  The artist takes something broken…china or jewelry or pottery…and repairs it with gold, so that the restored piece is more beautiful and valuable than it was before it was broken.   My life is not repaired with gold, it’s not repaired at all, but I wear it in hope.  Hope that I don’t feel.  And I gave it to her.

I don’t regret it, although now it seems like a dumb thing to do.  It doesn’t matter what she does with it, that’s on her.   But I already miss my necklace.  As soon as I got home I wrote the lady who made it, and she’s sending me another one right away.

Unhappy Becoming

How is it that life can change so completely in a fraction of a second?

There was no warning that things were about to change, there were no screeching brakes. Just impact. And suddenly there were ambulances and helicopters, and we were frantic because all three kids needed help but there were only two of us, and we couldn’t even get them out of the car. And a week later we carried Jana out of the hospital because she could hardly walk. Her eye was swollen shut and she had surgery scars along with the injuries from the accident. We couldn’t hug her close because we were afraid to hurt her fractured skull, and besides, she was so mad she pushed us away. We comforted Michael, whose only visible injury was a scratch on his chin. Somehow that little scratch scarred into a thin red line, and he is proud of it. He doesn’t want it to go away. He can sense how deeply the accident has changed the identity of our family, and it helps him be a part of it. It says “see, I was in the accident too, I was there.” And I stood next to a casket that was way too small, staring at blue bunny tucked next to Samuel’s still face. His face looked funny, they didn’t do a good job with his funeral make up. I could see it in streaks on his cheek. I should have touched him, mother’s touch their children, but I couldn’t. And my world fell apart.

God was gone in an instant. The last thing I prayed was for God to heal Samuel, and I really, really believed he would. There was nothing the doctors could do? That won’t stop us, God has brought this child through so much, it can’t possibly end here. God is bigger than any doctor, we aren’t worried. But nothing happened. He never woke up. And God had nothing to say about it. In three months I can count the times I’ve prayed on one hand. I’ve started to pray a few times, and stopped myself. Why am I engaging God about this, when it doesn’t make any difference, when he clearly doesn’t care? I’ve yelled at God, doubted His goodness, and given him the silent treatment. I’ve pulled out my Bible to read it, and ended up more mad than when I started. The words are hollow, the reassurances are clearly meant for someone else. Or maybe they are empty for everyone, and I’ve been fooled for all these years.

I’m angry that I’m stretched so thin I can’t manage the little bumps that happen in every day. That I cry when I see mothers with wiggling kids at the store. That I get annoyed with my children for normal things, and that I can’t seem to put away laundry. That simple decisions overwhelm me and bring me to tears. That I can’t remember what shampoo we use. I wonder which awkwardness I’d rather face, to wear sunglasses in the store so I can hide my eyes, or cry in the shampoo aisle.

But mostly, it’s about God. Where is he, why has he left us? And I’m ashamed, because I would have told you last year that suffering is part of this sinful world, and it’s only pampered American Christians who think that God protects us from ever suffering (and of course, I was not pampered). But now that I’m in the middle of it, I doubt. And rage. And hate what I’ve become. A empty-armed mother who cries when I drop just two kids off at school every morning. Hyper-sensitive to every questionable driver on the road, sometimes screaming and cursing at them in my car. Angry at the people who have sacrificed and cared for us the most. How small of me, how selfish. I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know if the accident has exposed ugliness in my heart or helped create it, but it’s there.

And where, where is God? If God is there…no…if God cares, then He will be there again some day, right? Maybe? How long do I have to wait? I need Him now. Why would he disappear when we need him most? I’m told, kindly, by several people I respect, that in the end I have to choose to trust God in this. If answers don’t come, I still have a choice. Acceptance. Surrender. Trust. And I think they mean I have to trust God about the accident and Samuel. But I know in my heart it’s bigger than that. If I trust, it’s everything. If God was right and just and loving to take Samuel, then he is right and just and loving no matter what he does the next time. He can take Michael and Jana, he can take Jeremy. He can wound us, take anything we have. He can teach us any lesson. And I’m fearful, I see ways every day that God could take the rest of my family. What if that’s his plan, will I submit to that? What if he hides his face forever? Can I surrender everything, absolutely everything? This is dying all over again. I’m frightened and I can’t let go of what I have left.

I try to remember Samuel’s face smiling and warm, instead of his face motionless in the casket. I try to remember his name as he would write it proudly and crooked on his paper, instead of carved perfectly onto a stone. I try to remember the firetrucks he loved to draw with red crayon instead of the ones that responded to his dying. But the unyielding face in the casket and the unyielding name in the stone are most often with me. I sit in the wet grass in front of his grave and trace my finger over his name and weep at the coldness and hardness of it. Samuel, the name that means he belongs to God. Yuanxiong, the name that shows he belongs to China. Legg, the name that proves he belongs to us. Oh my little boy, I miss you so much. I’m so sorry this happened, that we couldn’t protect you. How do I move on without you?

Countdown

I’ve developed a habit, like a mental tic.  Every time I see a photo of Samuel, I calculate how much time he had left before he died.  He was so happy in his turkey hat at the school Thanksgiving celebration, but he only had one week to live.  Just 7 more mornings to wake up and get out of bed.  At the beach last summer, as he dived in the water like a dolphin, he had less than 6 months.  Our spring break trip to visit grandparents, 8 months.  And the photos of our adoption trip are the saddest.  In some of them he is happy, his round face smiling.  Other pictures capture the confusion and sorrow that he was experiencing, even though he wasn’t two years old yet.  He didn’t know, we didn’t know either, that we would be bringing him to the country where four short years later he would be buried in a frozen field. 

Lurking behind the countdown is a horrible thought.  He would have been so scared if he had known what was coming.  He would have cried, his eyes frightened, fought against it, asked me to stop it somehow.  And I would have been powerless to change anything, or even to comfort him on this journey he would have to take all by himself.  He couldn’t even tie his own shoes, but he had to face death all by himself.  And I have to push these thoughts away because if I think about them I will break.

Second-guessing the past is torture.  Should we have adopted him?  If we had known, would we have chosen differently?  Not for ourselves, but for his sake.  His adoption didn’t give him life, it lead to his death.  Would he still be alive if he had stayed, if he had never met us? 

I sit in the dark in the early morning and cry.  I hold my coffee cup close to my cheek, getting a little comfort out of it’s warmth.  But it soon chills on my face, as cold as the rest of the house.  I can’t muster the energy to get off the couch and warm it up again. 

Scars

Jana and her friend were talking about a classmate that did something mean to her.

Her friend offered an interpretation, “Maybe he’s mean because he thinks you’re ugly from the accident, but I don’t think you are.” 

It was meant kindly.  I died inside. 

I couldn’t tell if Jana caught what was said or not.  She’s good at hiding things (a skill she unfortunately gets from me).

Do I mention it to her, bring it up and tell her about it if she didn’t hear it?  Risk letting it go unaddressed if she did notice?

Her friends were understandably shocked when they first saw her after the accident.  Her face was swollen, her eye closed, fresh surgery scars on her cheek and eyelid, and one massive yellow and purple bruise covering her face and neck.  She was unsteady on her feet and was exhausted by everything.  But she’s healed so much.  She hasn’t regained full movement in one eye, but most people can’t tell.  I only see it because the ophthalmologist showed me.  The bruising and swelling are gone.  The only obvious physical evidence left of the accident is a round pink scar on her cheek.  Surely her friends are used to her scar by now.

Jana isn’t bothered much by her scar, but mostly because she forgets, not because she’s actually OK with it.  She gets annoyed if I draw attention to it.  I hope she comes to peace with it, or maybe it will fade away.  I imagine when she’s a teenager, she won’t be happy with a constant reminder on her face of the accident and her brother’s death. 

Sighting Day

“I see da Keeng,” said Little Child.

“Do you really think he saw the King?”  said Hero.

Mercie looked at him in surprise, then slowly answered, “Yes!”

Hero’s face had a frown.  His happiness was fading into disappointment.  “Well, why can my brother see the King when I can’t?”

Mercie looked at the young man with a question in her eyes.

Quietly, he bent and tousled Hero’s hair.  “Your brother can see the King because he is a little child, and little children play the game best of all.  The others see the King because they believe and have been given the gift of seeing.  Here in the park, believing comes before seeing.”

“But will I ever see the King?” asked Hero.

“Do you believe in the King?” asked the young man.

“I don’t know.  I think maybe, but if I could only see…”

“Well, someday, you just might.”

from Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains

Fighting for Control

I’m far enough into this that I know it’s real. Samuel is not coming back and we cannot change what’s happened. But I still find myself resisting it. As if fighting against it will somehow reduce the consequences or the pain.

It does for a little.

I still want control.

Apparently the control I had over my life was a delusion, but it was a comfortable one. It gave me security. Looking back I realize it was a shaky security. I must have known, deep inside, that it was pretense, otherwise why would I have been afraid? I worked diligently to keep my family safe, but still worried about something bad happening. I’d tell the kids things like, “don’t play at the top of the stairs” and “don’t jump on the top bunk, you could fall and break your neck.” Through proactive mothering I tried to increase my control and ensure the safety of my family.

I also used faith to protect our lives. I knew that God didn’t protect us from all bad things, but I still prayed that way. Keep us safe, guard us from this or that calamity, heal our illnesses, bring peace to our stressful situations. Maybe God would protect us from most bad things, even if he didn’t protect us from all of them. And when those moderate bad things came, it was simple to trust God. Food allergies, celiac disease, complete overhaul of how we cook and eat…a burden for sure, but God is sovereign, and we trust him. The stress of raising young children, including one with some attachment issues…God is in control and will give us what we need. Even when the tree fell on our house and destroyed half of it, we praised God for protecting us and were eager to see his faithfulness. The whole top half of our house was rebuilt and remodeled and paid for by insurance. See, it was really a blessing in disguise. I had faith. “All things work together for the good of those who love him…” God was in control, so I felt in control.

I’ve lost that now.

God might still be in control, but he has absolutely and completely taken the last little bit of control away from me. And yet I keep trying to get it back by not giving in. This is not something I can accept, and I don’t want to find the silver lining. It isn’t fair that Samuel died. He won’t grow up, fall in love, have kids. He won’t even graduate from kindergarten. Not even that. And it’s so wrong I can’t stand it.

My life is all wrong now too. I don’t want to be a grieving mother. I don’t want to go to a grief group. I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t want to be sad and disheveled or for anyone to see that my house is becoming a cluttered mess. I know it’s normal in my situation, and that’s the problem. I don’t want to get flustered and red-eyed when someone asks how many kids I have, and I don’t want to be the woman, 20 years from now, that blurts out to strangers something about having a kid in heaven. I am so tired of crying. I’m tired of being so tired. This is not my life. I reject it all. I want control back.

I’m like a child, refusing to get in the car. I’m going to kick and scream as I’m dragged to the car and snapped into my car seat. And even as we drive down the road, I’m glaring, arms crossed, furious, refusing to go. I’m aware that it’s futile. I can’t stop.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I didn’t expect it, but this afternoon I met “one of them.” I met another mother who lost a child. Her son died years ago, when he was 26. Today this mother was laying on her couch, recovering from knee surgery. She didn’t spill out the story of her son in an awkward way. She told me to let me know that she’s on the same road, she understands. And she seemed lovely to me, with a beautiful heart. She spoke with joy and contentment. I didn’t want to leave. It gave me a piece of hope.

Broken Feet

Samuel hated for anyone to touch his feet.

When we first got him, he wouldn’t take off his shoes. He wore them for days, even to bed, before he let us take them off. The rest of us wear socks at most in the house, but Samuel put shoes on first thing in the morning. Run barefoot on the back porch or in the grass? Never. Boots were even better than shoes. He loved weight on his feet.

Cutting his toenails was torture, no exaggeration. We tried different approaches, but it always ended the same way. Samuel screaming and fighting, Jeremy and I both holding him down while I rushed to trim off the overgrown nails. They would get so long. I know they were painful, but he didn’t care. Anything was better than having someone near his feet.  And the ordeal of trimming them was bad enough that I put it off as long as possible.

Right before his second birthday he had surgery to repair his cleft palate, and was in the hospital for 3 days. They put an IV in his foot. He hated it, but he was too little to move it to his arm or hand. I had to keep his feet covered with a blanket at all times because he grew hysterical if he saw it. It was a relief when it finally came out.

Feet are a minor thing when compared to a fatal brain injury. But the doctors were pretty sure that both of Samuel’s feet were broken in the accident. They didn’t do x-rays. I guess when you’re dying of head trauma they don’t care what happened to your feet. I didn’t see any bruising, but both of them swelled in the few days he was in a coma. (If it was a coma, no one used that word…too many things we don’t know.) They kept his body temperature low in the hospital. It was an attempt to help his brain swelling go down. But it also meant that he wasn’t covered with a blanket, and he didn’t have socks on. His cold, swollen feet were there for everyone to see. He would have hated that. I know it’s a little thing, but it is heavy on my heart. Why did he have to break his feet?

Time

I’ve always thought time was a good thing when it came to pain. I tell my kids this often. If you bear it, it will stop hurting. Your scrapes and bumps will heal, and in a few days you will forget all about it. Even pain that doesn’t heal eventually dulls with the passing of time.

Until now. Time doesn’t fix this one. Time is unmerciful, because time adds to the pain. Today is a whole day without Samuel, one more day than yesterday was. Each new day is a new hurt. It only gets worse.

Changing the Calendar

Some days have a particular sadness.

Today I changed the calendar from February to March.  It is the 6th, after all.  It’s such a simple thing to do, flip the glossy paper up, hook it over the nail.  But it is hard to turn.  The calendar pages feel like they are chained down.  February, gone without Samuel.  He didn’t get to dig through a Valentine goodie bag with his classmates, and he missed Michael’s birthday.  March, now moving on without Samuel.  He won’t get to explore the arrival of spring outside, he won’t shriek and run to me when he sees the first bee of the season.   And I am so sad.

There are reminders of Samuel everywhere.  I hope that someday these bring me a happy remembering, but now they declare his loss, over and over.  His backpack is still by the back door.  I haven’t even looked inside.  It’s in the way, but I can’t bring myself to move it.  Somehow that would be an acceptance that he won’t use it again.  He loved his backpack.  I don’t just grieve the loss of Samuel’s life, but I grieve every little piece of loss that goes with it.  I grieve every meal he doesn’t eat with us, every morning that we don’t rush around the house trying to find his shoes, every evening that I don’t read him a story and tuck him into bed.

His toys and clothes sit unmoving, untouched.  I don’t hear his little feet thumping down the hallway.  And the table isn’t covered with his papers and drawings.  I normally think of the presence of something being overwhelming.  But this is absence, and it’s overwhelming too.  How does the absence of something feel so heavy, like a landslide has buried our home and our lives?  A landslide of emptiness that feels as crushing as solid rocks.