18 June 2009

Losing My Child: Living In and Through Grief (Pt 2)

In beginning to continue to deal with the issue of grief, and this little book I mentioned in part one, called Good Grief I wish to start by being transparent, to a degree that might be somewhat embarrassing to me, but hopefully somewhat therapeutic in the end (according to the book).

The past four-plus weeks since my son's death have been pretty horrible emotionally, as would be expected, but the oddest thing has been the struggle between the mental me and the emotional me. This was an aspect of grieving I never expected to be this way. I have been through deaths in the past, with my mother who I was very close with, passed unexpectedly a bit over six years ago, and all four of my grandparents have passed in the last twenty years or so (one grandmother just last year).

I occasionally wonder about the true spiritual estate of those relatives that have passed, especially my mother, who talked-the-talk of Christianity, and was regularly in attendance at a local, though fairly liberal church. She was loving, kind, caring and helpful to just about everyone she met, and spoke often of the things of God. It is just that she spoke of things that were outside the realm of orthodox, biblical Christianity, such as odd spiritual events and happenings, and ways God would "speak" or communicate with her, guardian angels, things like that. Her knowledge of biblical Christianity seemed shallow, and I often wondered if her faith was "true" enough to get her to heaven.

With Jonathan, my mind and heart play different games with me. My greatest fear is, did I do enough...did I live as a good enough witness to the faith to pass a true faith to my son? Did I teach him enough for his salvation? Did I instill enough truth in him to get him into God's loving arms? In looking back, I see how with each new child that came along, the older ones got a bit less of my attention. Jonathan being the oldest, had I lost connection with him? Did he know just how much I truly loved him? Did I say/display it enough? Was I close enough to him in his later teens years as I should have been?

Many weeks before his death, I had been giving serious thought to how best to begin a one-on-two Bible study with the two oldest boys, with the intent of giving them more attention for the struggles they were to meet in these teen years, and the coming young adult years; some "man" time and discussions to prepare them. Not getting to do this just leads to more "did I do enough" thoughts in my mind. This is what my emotions were (and still are) yelling at me.

My intellectual, theological mind was fighting in an opposite direction. Salvation and faith come from the Lord, and not from my works directly. Jonathan professed a faith in Christ; he spoke openly about his faith. He lived based on his faith, and was a very good son. His medical condition came with an aspect of anti-social behavior, so it was harder for him to make friends. Therefore, he wasn't very active outside the house with other young boys, or out and about getting into who-knows-what possible trouble when outside my sight. His condition kept him home and with the family more than usual, which is where he was actually more comfortable it seemed. So, I knew he wasn't out living a scandalous lifestyle. Every time my wife or I would try to instruct him on things to not do or stay away from, his most common response was, "why would I even think about doing that?" as if the very idea was too stupid to consider. All this to say, externally, I am pretty confident he was not involved in any grievous sinful living. So mentally, I recognize he lived an externally faithful life; but emotionally the thought was, had I taught him enough.

The other aspect of the emotional verses the intellectual struggle, was over the realm of his actual death. Intellectually, I know God is sovereign, and every aspect surrounding my son's death was in his hands and controlled...there were no accidents or way to have prevented this. Yet, my emotional side keeps throwing out the "what if" thoughts. What if I had checked his oxygen level when I came home at 3AM...was something noticeably wrong then that I could have corrected? What if we had pushed to start the latest IV treatments a month earlier? What if we had taken him to the hospital Saturday? Should I have stayed home Saturday night to monitor him myself instead of leaving? Would I have been able to do something? What if...what if...what if....!

Then there is the constant search for an answer behind why he passed unexpectedly. Was the last IV treatment somehow responsible? Was it the oxygen, or a malfunction in the machine? Was the diet right; did we miss some other important food allergy that could have caused this? Was there anything in the last few meals he ate that could have caused it? With all aspects of Saturday night being so positive (his oxygen level, pulse, good sleep, etc.), how could this have happened? Why...why...WHY?!?

These questions plague me, yet I know mentally that no matter what the answer to any of these is, no answer will bring him back to me. In trying to relay the emotional feelings in this to others, I have told others it feels like one of my kids is wounded, and I need to go find help and bring it back to rescue them. Yet with each and everyday that passes, I get further and further away from my wounded child, and the hope of getting back to him in time to save him become less likely each day. This of course makes me not want to go on another day longer (let it be known, I have a melancholy temperament, so depression can set in easily); even though I know I have five more little ones (and a wife) that need me even more now (I keep having to tell myself what Spock said...the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the one). Mentally, my mind says "what the heck are you talking about...stop it!" but that is kind of what the feeling is like. I tell myself no matter what the answer, no matter any of the "what if" responses, he is gone and nothing will bring him back to me. Yet this mental knowledge gets overshadowed by the emotional day after day.

Then there is the aspect of the physical versus the spiritual. My mental, theological mind knows all of the standard biblical answers: he is with God...he is in a better place...he is no longer weak or limited...he is happier now than ever...he awaits me on the other side...etc. etc. etc.. My emotional side though, has that little voice saying...is he? What if I am wrong about my religious beliefs? Is there really hope? These thoughts make me wonder if I am having a crisis of faith? Has this tragedy pushed me over the edge, away from God?

Well, that is one aspect of this little book "Good Grief" has been helpful. It turns out that pretty much every one of these feelings, questions, and crisis issues are discussed in the book as being typical to varying degrees. While that doesn't take away the pain or the struggle, it does give me hope that I can survive this with mentally and emotionally as many other before me have. I will share more specifics on what the book says, in upcoming posts.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7