Thursday, August 15, 2013

Choices



 
I have no control over what happened to Jack. I can only control my reaction to it. I used to whine to my mom about my sister, “Mom, Liz makes me so mad!” Mom’s annoying response was always the same, “No one can make you mad. You choose how to react.” I knew it was true, and I’m sure she did to, but that calm philosophy didn’t always work for me, and it didn’t keep Mom herself from crying in the car when the three of us kids pushed her right over the edge. “I’m just so upset! I’m sorry I yelled at you kids. I know I don’t have a u-ter-us anymore, but if I did have a u-ter-us”-- weep, gasp, snuffle—“I think maybe I’d be men-stru-a-ting right now.”

Not sure what was worse, seeing my mom cry, or having her discuss lady parts in front of my brother.  Another day we sat lined up 1-2-3 on the brown tweed couch in the living room. “I want to talk to you about something very natural called “nocturnal emissions.” They are a normal part of getting older and are nothing to be ashamed of.” I’m sure my brother wanted to crawl under the couch and die. I was confused and would spend a few years wondering if I was ever going to get what mom had told us could also be called, “A Wet Dream.”

I read a quote from a blogger Jennifer Boykin: “I am responsible for everything that stays in my life.” It reminds me of my mother telling me I can choose how to react. But to the death of my son? Hmmm. I don’t feel like there are a lot of choices here.  Sure, I chose to stay positive after my mom died when I was a teenager. I  had pushed through as “brave,” and “strong,” and "positive." I dealt with the painful secondary losses of other important relationships that followed. Sometimes I felt very much alone.

I yearned for big family reunions and multi-generational beach trips, and someone to watch my babies so I could take a class, get my hair colored, or sleep. But I knew that my ultimate goal was to have a family and be a mom, the kind of imperfectly wonderful my mom was to me. And I got that. Jack and Margaret helped redeem that early, painful loss.

It hasn’t really felt like I’ve had much of a choice in how to react since Jack’s death. It’s been more like a “hang the hell on and don’t get sucked so far into the depths that I can’t get out” kind of thing.

But I guess there always is a choice, and this path, whatever it is I’m choosing-- whether it’s called being positive, clinging to joy, or whatever-- beats the alternative.
I think of our traditional Christmas Eve movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and I’m taken aback by Old Mrs. Bailey who has lost her only son to an accident. She has always seemed scary, bitter, shriveled and a bit wild to me. And I know that's an option.
But I do not choose that. Not today at least.

What do you choose today?

57 comments:

Jennifer said...

I am so very sorry for your loss. Truly.

Lisa said...

Hanging on is indeed a brave, brave choice, friend. And I also think it beats the alternative. Much, much love.

Laura Perry said...

Beautifully written, as always. And something I really needed to hear today. I think in times of desperate pain, hanging on by your fingernails- when the easiest thing in the world would be to let go and let the grief take you away- is an act of astounding courage. xo

Laura said...

Near the beginning of what turned out to be a few years of heartache, worry, and uncertainty when my kids were toddlers, I was out one evening and glanced down at the coaster that had been placed under my drink. Each one at the table had a random bit of wisdom to offer. Mine? "Even if life deals you a crummy hand, you can still choose how to play it." 17 years later, I still have the coaster ~ and I still choose joy, even though some days it can be terribly hard to find. It's there, though ~ and focusing on whatever little bit it may be always gets you through. xoxo

Wendi said...

Lovely, poignant and painful.

Anonymous said...

I think it's one of those things where you just have to deal with it minute by minute. I have 3 son's and one of my youngest son's friends disappeared after being kicked out of a bar while attending ASU last year. They searched for him for days.

His mom came on the news and her pain was palpable, she said I have to find him, he's my baby. Like me, she had 3 boys, the 2 younger being identical twins. Anyway, they did find his body in the water. His name was also Jack. It just broke my heart...one day he was this strapping young man, over 6 feet tall, an avid surfer...then he was gone. I think about his mom all the time and his 2 brothers, one of whom now has to adjust to life without his twin by his side. He got a tattoo of 2 identical roses to honor him.

Your story of your Jack hit me the same way, how it can just happen in an instant and everything is changed forever. But I also believe in Angels...I worked in a hospital for several years and there wasn't a nurse there who didn't believe the same!

Hugs to you and keep on keeping on!

Lori G. said...

I will try to choose joy even when my child's challenges scare the daylights out of me. This is a wonderful reminder that we can take some control and move to a better place even when it is hard. Thank you.

Adrienne Kerman said...

I choose to hang the hell on, too! ... And enjoy the ride when I can; and pray for a stronger grip when I can't. xo

starnes family said...

I try to choose happiness every day. I've had a few rough trials in life.....nothing compared to what you have endured, but I've had reason to break down and leave life and wallow. I was tempted many times. But, I try every day. Your posts inspire me to do the same.

Loukia said...

Thank you for this. Believe me when I tell you you pop into my head so many times when I'm angry, feeling hopeless, etc. Thank you.

Ann Imig said...

That picture is breathtaking and says it all. The loss is everywhere. But so is the love.

Chimmy said...

find beauty. try to understand. survive.

that is my life motto. i had to hold onto it after life handed me a terrifying event too.

you are living this motto too. i marvel and am humbled by your grace. the resilience and nobility of your soul shines through, sister. this is how i feel connected to you and so many others who choose joy despite life's many undeserved moments of suffering, pain and loss. we choose life. choose, "yes, and...", improvise... i'll explain with this quote i recently read,that i feel i might need to add to my life motto (improvise):

"We are made in the image of God, and God is a master of improv. This I believe. I don’t know what that means when stacked up against sturdy preacherly words like eternal, immutable, absolute, all-knowing, perfect. I just know that when I look at the sacred texts I see a God who iterates. Who pivots. Who encounters the world as it is, not as God planned it to be. Who yes-ands all over the place."

Namaste, Anna. (translation: The Holy Spirt, the Divine in me, recognizes and honors the Holy Spirit, the Divine in you. Amen.)

(umm... sorry for the long post and thank you for sharing your soul with us. much love)

tacykay said...

Often when I read your posts, I'm reminded of some family friends who lost their son/brother to suicide back in the seventies. The mom is a writer too, and she wrote her way through her grief, as you are doing. When my me and my friend were old enough, she shared some of her essays with us. (I shudder to think of some of the insensitive comments my immature kid-self made and thank God for the grace and understanding of this woman). Anyway, I remember her telling us that when people would make a definite statement like "I would never be able to handle a tragedy like that! I don't know how you got through it.", she always felt a sarcastic urge to say "You mean there was a choice? I could've CHOSEN not to do this? Well shoot. I wish someone had told me." She's funny like that. :) You remind me of her. I hope you keep making the choice to write your way through this. You have such a talent in helping people understand.

Peg said...

lovely post. I love when you write about your mom. It makes me think that the girls are going to be okay after losing their parents so young.

I like your choice too :)

thinking of you...

purejoy said...

There are days, sweet Anna, that I let bitterness and sadness shrivel my soul. Perspective is a wonderful thing, and once again, you've shifted mine.
No, my life is far from perfect, but rather than be morose over the ifs, woulda, coulda, shoulda's, I need to stop… count my blessings and choose joy. It makes me want to punch myself when I forget that.
With the school year starting and "that day" looming, my heart aches and remembers. Loving you, friend. Keep up this awesome work you are doing. You continue to bless…

tracy@sellabitmum said...

Beautiful and painful..and we all have so much to love and learn. Love you .xoxo

Mama Mary said...

Oh how I love this post. You certainly have had a choice and you have chosen to share love and light with the world even in your darkest times, through your writing and beautiful spirit. You continually inspire me and countless others in ways you may not even know. I thank you for always sharing your soul and Jack's memory with all of us. And these quotes you shared today I believe in wholeheartedly and were what I needed to be reminded of today. xo

Christy said...

I'm so glad I happened upon this today. I needed it. I was in a funk and a half, and now I can feel myself pulling out of it! YAY!

I love you and admire you and think of you every single day! xoxo

Debby@Just Breathe said...

The strength it takes to move forward and live life is not easy. I admire you so much. I find it hard to move forward and I haven't faced what your living through. You always teach me important life lesson and I thank you for sharing your heart. ((HUGS))

Michelle DeRusha said...

I choose to applaud you for choosing not only to write about your loss, but to include us on your journey as well.

Sybil@PeaceitallTogether said...

It feels good to read that you are choosing this today! It seems that we always do have the choice to change our own reactions. Last week in Bible study we talked about responding to fear by using an "if/then" statement. Although the "if" always changes, the "then" is always God. God is able. God will sustain. Etc. It's been working for me this week, so I thought I would share it with you. :)

Anonymous said...

Laughing and crying - you really do have a gift. You live right down the road (I have a feeling you're moving even closer if you're heading up the toll road at all) and etween all of us who know your story here and love you from afar if your fingertips ever slipped we'd be here to catch you.

Kathy at kissing the frog said...

Choices are hard. It's certainly easier to be the bitter, mad-eyed old Mrs. Bailey than it is to be the person who soldiers on with grace and strength. I thought about this just today on my way home from the funeral of a blogging friend's husband who was taken by cancer, leaving her a 33 year old widow. It's unfair. We can't control these things and sometimes we really can't control our anger and despair. It takes a lot of work to make a conscious, positive choice. Thank you for reminding us of that.

Kim said...

Your pictures clearly show just what you are choosing and that smile of your beautiful girl is a reflection of that. Joy.

Sarah Ochoa said...

Yes- I heard a quote in a movie once, a friend says to another friend who is going through a horrible divorce: I am worried about you. I think you are going to turn into one of those people. one of those people who just gave up and became bitter and angry and just lived in that bitter, angry place forever.
It hurts like hell, and I don't know how you do it, but you are choosing to hang on, and even to experience joy. I think that's awesome- as in, awe-inspiring, full of awe.

Noah's Mom said...

So happy you are "hanging the hell on and not letting yourself get sucked so far in that you lose yourself (and we lose you, too)!" You are doing it, 1 day at a time, and maybe 1 hour at a time some days. Thank-you for sharing such real and true feelings with us. You are a wonderful person and Mom and such an inspiration for so many people. Always and forever praying for you and your dear little family, Anna.
Hugs,
Lee Anne

Amy said...

This existence after the death of a child is definitely not for the faint of heart!

Recovering Church Lady said...

Wow your mom sounds like she was a hoot and VERY honest about the "unmentionables"!
You may think that you have not intentionally made any choices when it comes to responding to your tragedy, but you have. You have refused to hide and you have been as open and honest with yourself and all of us as your mom was in her day.
Two very brave and courageous women!

Kim said...

It is a choice and sometimes those choices are easier than others. Next week marks 10 years since I've held my baby girl. It is impossible to me that it has been 10 years. She has 5 siblings that don't know her other than in videos and pictures. She has a brand new brother who looks just like her and right now, I am in that hanging on by the skin of my teeth phase again. That part that I thought I was done with...it's back. That's the thing that is the hardest. You think you're doing okay for a while and then it just hits you like a ton of bricks.
I wanted to tell you to hang on, it gets easier with time...and it does, I promise. But, sometimes it is just hard and you have no choice but to just keep swimming.

Gigi said...

Your mother was so very wise. Still sending many hugs and prayers.

Anonymous said...

Because you choose joy, you give Margaret the chance to choose joy. I imagine she will grow up to be a mother who loves her kids as much as you love yours and will have at least two kids so she can give them that sibling relationship she loved. There are a lot of wonderful reasons to choose joy.

dusty earth mother said...

I loved this.

Anonymous said...

You are SO awesome.

Anonymous said...

You're calling it "being positive", but it sounds a bit more like the thing that helps you get through life is being real.

And it sounds like you got that from your wonderful mom, who was so open, even if it was confusing or mortifying for you, at times.

Sure, you would have enjoyed a lavish kind of parenting with lots of personal time, but you accepted motherhood with all its frustrations-- just like her.

You haven't let life shrivel up that wonderful openness, even if losing Jack is bringing up memories of a young, vulnerable, lonely time, when you had other losses after you lost your mom, as if that wasn't already unbearable.

From that great photo of Margaret, I see that she has a loving and brave spirit that she gets from the women of the family--no offense to Tim, of course.

Rach said...

I can so relate to this. We chose to LIVE. To really live, not just merely be alive. Does that make sense? We chose to continue to look for and find the joy in life that Hannah sought and constantly found.

I attended a few Compassionate Friends meetings and was struck by the women who were 10+ years out from the loss of their children and were still so bitter and angry. They terrified me because I didn't want to be that.

It really is all about what we chose, isn't it?

Kat Biggie said...

I love that quote: “I am responsible for everything that stays in my life.” It's so true. Our losses will never leave us, but we can decide how the rest of our lives will go. Hugs!

Lisa said...

We definitely have a choice. I love the one you made...and I love how Margaret's picture exemplifies it.

Lisa C said...

Sometimes hanging on is the solution, until a joyful moment comes along.

Love her joy.

SouthMainMuse said...

Brilliant again. I have s dear friend who lost her husband at 44 -- she was 45. She told me that each day when she wakes, she thinks the Lord must have something for me to accomplish this day. There is always someone to reach out and touch.

GrahamForeverInMyHeart said...

We have a choice, but it's very painful. In one sense, I think I could easily crawl into a dark hole and stay there for the rest of my life. But, I had a cousin whose son was murdered, and he basically stopped living after that. I don't want to be like that, so I have to keep trying. However, I am sad every day, I cry constantly and I think of my son all the time. But I try to present a pleasant face to the outside world and I save the sorrow for my private time.

Heidi said...

Some days this...“hang the hell on and don’t get sucked so far into the depths that I can’t get out” kind of thing...is the best we can do. Not every day can be about choosing joy. Joy overall, over our lives? Yes. But some days, sometimes it's just about getting through and hanging on.
Love you.

Kathryn said...

Hi Dear Anna, I have been following your blog for a while, but have rarely commented. I am today, because I just addressed the same subject on my blog. I too lost a child, in very different circumstances. When I gave birth to her at 37 weeks (full term), and she was placed in my arms, she was already dead. She never took a breath in this life. She was my first, and I cannot express the hellish heartbreak and darkness I went through over the next 9 years, even though God gave me two more babies.

I'm struggling with the choice to continue to trust, and be positive this year because she would be a senior in high school. Of all of the milestones I have passed without her...and it was all of them because she was stillborn, this one is the most difficult. I should be planning senior pictures on our beloved beach, looking forward to graduation and open house, and none of it was ever to be. I miss her SO MUCH, and I truly never had her. I miss her for her brother and sister who would have LOVED to know her. I miss her for the people that got to meet her and hold her and love on her for 2 precious hours. I miss her because I wanted a little girl first SO badly, and I LOVED her name. For one split second I almost saved the name, but it was hers. Madison Elisabeth.

I am so thankful for the people in your life who remember Jack to you, and I hope that always happens. I have a few friends who do that for me, but NO family. It's as if she never existed, and that is sometimes so heartbreaking and maddening. I have the pictures that provd she was here, and I have a little gravestone that I go sit by from time to time, just to let her know that her mom remembers...and will never forget (even though I know she's not there).

I posted a little video montage of Madison, as her 17th birthday is coming on August 26th. The song I used has brought comfort to my heart, and maybe it will pour grace on your heart as well. I'd be honored if you would visit, and watch it. :)

From one momma who has been there...though in a much different way, I will never forget Jack. I think of him often as I remember the children of my many "sisters in suffering".

I pray for peace, I pray for comfort, and I pray for grace to make it through this grief journey we are both on. It will last until we are reunited with these beautiful people. Jack is amazing, and I'm so thankful you have shared him with us...

Grace to you,

Kathryn

Lady Jennie said...

Oh Anna.

I don't know.

But it seems like my miscarriage was what pushed me over the edge. I had a lot to grieve about before, but there was always something to look forward to. I can relate to what you say about your mom and how having children - that beauty and innocence - can take the edge off of grief.

But then you lose your child. Sometimes it's like we keep getting cut down until there's nothing left to hang onto - but God. We get to the point where there's nothing tangible left to make us say "I have THIS to live for" (or at least that's how it feels to me).

And then grace proves an even stronger cord than I imagined.

Anonymous said...

today I am just lost, unable to choose anything except coffee. yes, I will definitely choose coffee. E.

Seeing Each Day said...

I think you've made some incredible choices - like sharing your emotions but choosing to always do so in an eloquent, respectful, considered, but deeply honest way, this choice alone has as the comments indicate, helped so many people. I know that a blog does not simulate everyday life and the times you are frozen in pain, but the elements you show through your words would still be you. therefore I'm sure there must be plenty of good (with probably the ache of the not so sweet bittersweet) choices you've made, however slight, in the real of your world too. Renee

San Diego Momma said...

It's such a simple thing - but so hard to remember: we do choose.

That thought is empowering.

Laura CA said...

Anna,

Have been following you since that rainy afternoon when my children played and delighted like yours in the rain just a few miles west, and woke up in horror the next morning when I learned how things had gone so terribly wrong in an instant. I have since learned firsthand how your life can go from normal, routine, superficial trivial, to chaos in a matter of seconds. Your blog means more to me now than ever. I am so grateful to have read as much as I did before "my" tragedy. Your story prepared me somehow, even if it was subconsciously. I'm so grateful that you continue to write with honesty, humor, and Grace and truly believe that you are doing what God means for you to do. Thank you and bless you.

Anna See said...

@Laura CA: I tried to message you privately, but wasn't able to. Just wanted to express my sincere sympathy to you and to all of the other readers who are dealing with such deep losses. Also, I want to thank you for letting me know your kids were in the rain that day. Each time a mom does that, it eases my burden just a little. xo, Anna

Kara said...

Today I choose to count my blessings, rather than my mistakes. Thanks for this post.

We moved to a new town a few weeks ago, and my kids are lonely. I told them to pray for just one friend. Last night a neighbor brought her grandson by, who has been also eagerly awaiting a friend to ride bikes with. He is a lanky boy, with dark hair, dark eyes, and an olive complexion, and his name is Jack. For some reason, I teared up when he introduced himself because he, of course, made me think of your Jack. Also, the boys spent an hour poring over a container of Legos, which also made me think of your Jack. Just wanted you to know. xo

Maggie May said...

I find so much honesty in your writing...that is such a gift to us, and to yourself.

I know when I think ' i couldn't handle it ', meaning the death of one of my children, I am referring to my brain. I have struggled profoundly with PTSD from an abusive childhood, and mental illness runs in my family. When I have thought on it, like when I miscarried a baby at 13 weeks, the 'couldn't handle it' part for me is that my brain would just collapse. I have been through a lot of trauma in my life, nothing like your loss of Jack. THe trauma I have been through has left me, at times, on the brink of 'losing it', and it has been those moments that give me the greatest compassion for those who suffer deep wounds and cannot recover. I consider myself 'lucky' to have had, for some reason, the ability to pull myself out of hell enough to recover, even during an also very challenging adult life that has never been easy, either. Therapy, Buddhism, prayer, yoga, books, music, love- those things are choices I have made, but I am grateful that I was able to choose them. At times this has made me, not gonna lie, really fucking furious at other people. I get very angry at the level of pain I have endured to be told ' oh you are the strong one, i knew you could handle xyz. ' while somehow, other people 'get to' fall apart and not handle anything. But then I step back, every time, and think, ' Well, I could choose that. I could fall apart and just let go of it all.' But I know I'd be letting go of my daughter's chubby legs, my oldest son's hands on his bass guitar, the way music in my car on a summer day can make me feel fourteen, dancing in bare feet, champagne, mountains, rivers...all this world. And I realize, I don't want to let go.

I'm so sorry for your loss, Anna. I just began reading you right before Jack died, and have found everything you've written about him to be... touching because of the way you loved him for who he was. I am that way with my kids... I see them for who they are, 'faults' and all, and I'm not afraid of it, the way some people are for their kids. I see you parenting that same way. Jack must have just had such a deep contentment living like that. Just knowing he could be Jack. xo

Arnebya said...

Oh, Anna. I feel like my choices recently do not resonate good things to come. And the blogger's quote says it perfectly. I need to make better, different choices.

I wish there were a way to give you an entirely different set of circumstances, that the choice you make daily to be brave or simpy not feed into the darkness didn't have to be. How I wish it.

sue said...

I have been grieving the loss of my brother for over 8 years. Your posts always ring so true to how I feel and have felt over the years. You are an amazing person and I appreciate your blog and your perspective so much. It is good to know I am not alone in my thoughts and feelings.

Stumbling Towards Perfect said...

All the 5th graders are going back to school as 6th graders except for one. I am hanging on as tight as I possibly can. I choose joy. I will get down on my hand and knees, sift through the dirt with my bare hands, in order to find it.

jacob paulus said...

I thought of this song when I first heard of what happened to jack "just give me a reason pink" cause not to long ago a friend of my step mom passed away she had 3 children Kylie Kayla and tommy. Tommy being very much like jack. After prior to her funeral I cried evey day to sleep and after the funeral I cried too. Even if your not realated too someone they still mean a lot to a person I hardly no her and I cried at her funeral it hit my family hard. The more I think about her the more I think about jack.

Anonymous said...

I choose to pray for you and lift you up! Your posted always touch my heart. Thank you for sharing.

The Hebbs said...

Anna, your writing is captivating and you express your feelings in a lovely way and raw way too. sorry sweet Jack an not be there to live your dreams with you..so sorry. just not fair. but you are staying positive. This last week I have been trying to focus on what I "do" have instead of what I "Dont" have. Its very difficult to do especially when you lose a child, its no small task. I choose to be okay today. just okay.
xoxo
TIff

Anonymous said...

I read your blog for years now. This post is so touching and I have worried for you and your family(silly as we have never met). I haven't had or lost a child so I know I cannot say I understand this type of sorrow. But you seem like an amazing person with a wonderful husband and daughter. I think Jacks spirit will be with you forever, but I know he would have chosen happiness over mourning for you. I also know you have to believe God saw a more important role for him or saved him from something here on Earth. God spoke to you through and he sounded wise beyond his years. I wish you love, peace and comfort. Look for signs and I bet he will stay with your family through your lives... All the best to you