My trip to Guatemala less than two weeks after my son’s memorial service was not a sign of strength; it was a sign of weakness.
I went because I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t want to let myself down. I told myself people were counting on me, but I was counting on myself. That I could go, didn’t mean I should go. By getting on that plane, I let myself down—and I knew it once I was there. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I talk a good game that “it’s okay to not be okay,” but in truth? I don’t live like that. I expect way too much from myself. Guatemala was evidence of that. I smiled in the photos because that’s what you do when you have an iPhone aimed at you, even if it’s a selfie and you’re the aimer. What are you going to do, cry?
As Tom Hanks said, “There’s no crying in baseball.”
There was crying in Guatemala. Quite a bit of crying.
I was in white hot pain.
I’m in white hot pain.
I’m setting the record straight about Guatemala because I don’t want to be the poster child for “the show must go on.” That message is not only a disservice, it’s dangerous. I want to be the person that makes it okay to cancel or postpone the show.
Today I went on a mountain bike ride and the trail I took is called, “Waterworks.” When I hear that name, I always think of my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Burns (who fit her name). When one of her students cried, she’d actually mock the six-year-old in a chuckling, snarky tone and say, “Don’t turn on the waterworks.” She’d also hit her students with a ruler, myself included. I don’t remember if cried in front of her. I think I probably didn’t because I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. I do know I peed my pants in her class at least twice. I was terrified of her.
Mrs. Burns didn’t make it okay to cry. She intimidated and shamed children for “weakness.”
I just finished reading/listening to It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine.
Do I agree with everything she espouses? No. Some things don’t fit for me—but not very many. It’s the best thing I’ve read so far on grief. It helped me feel less alone, more understood, and less crazy. I hope you will read the book. If not for me, for someone else, if not for someone else, for you. If you haven’t already needed it, I think you will. Take what you like and leave the rest.
I’ll tell you what I can leave: Platitudes. I loathe them. Christianese grates on me. That said, I know what it’s like to fumble with my own words when I’ve tried to comfort someone in pain, and so I try to offer grace as much as possible when someone says something unhelpful to me. I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth when all I wanted to do was help.
The other night I read Lisa Marie Presley’s essay on grief. I could identify with so much of what she wrote. No one wants to be a member of this club and yet, here we are.
Yesterday, I signed up for a couple of online “grief groups.” Today I got an email from one of the platforms—an invitation for a Zoom meeting to be held today at 5. The subject line read: New Member Orientation Today.
I guess this makes me officially a member of the club I never wanted to join.
My worst fear has come true. I lost my child. I have experienced unrelenting, incomparable, I-can’t-breathe-pain and I need some help.
I am weak.
That’s who and what I am right now.
I spoke at Joey’s memorial service 3+ weeks ago where two versions of the song, “It is Well With My Soul” was played. I stood at the lectern and said, “It is not well with my soul. I don’t like this at all. This is not how I planned for things to go.”
It hasn’t even been two months since Joey died. People ask me if I’m doing better yet.
I’m providing that answer even though I know I’m letting people down.
I may just let them down for a long, long time.
But: I will continue to hit play on both the audiobooks that make me feel less alone and my iTunes’ hours-long-loops of “It is Well With My Soul.” Because it’s not.