Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How are we?

Terri asked, so I'll tell you.

How am I doing?
I always picture myself on a road. I tend to look forward, not back. And with Annie, I tend to look forward to seeing her again. That's my focus. But, as with everyone, there are triggers to grief that catch one unawares, and when that happens, I can go from fine to mush in nothing flat.

Usual conversation with any new acquaintance:
"How many children do you have?"
"Oh, and what are their ages?"
"29, 26, 23, 20, 18, 16."
Eyes begin to tear...
"...And our youngest, Annie, who died in March. She was almost 8."

Or when I go to the store to buy flowers for her grave:
"Is this for a special occasion?"
"Uh, not exactly. I'm putting them on my daughter's grave."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. What happened? How old was she?"
"Well, she had a brain injury when she was three...and adrenal insufficiency...and then she got the flu, and died from complications of that...she was almost eight."
"Oh, I'm so sorry."
Clerk's eyes mist over as mine do, too.

In many ways, we have been grieving for five years.
We grieved the loss of the Annie we had before her brain injury, and we grieved the post-brain-injured Annie when she died. So grief is almost a familiar friend who goes away for a few days and then comes back in and sits down for awhile. Many people describe it as waves of grief. And that has certainly been our experience. For five years.

What surprised me when she died was how much of our grief was of Annie before as well as Annie after. With severe brain injury, it's almost taboo to say how much you miss who they used to be, because after all---aren't they still alive? Aren't they right in front of you? Well, yes, their body may be. But their mind--who they were in expression and conversation--the essence of who they were--that's gone. And in Annie's case--she went from a precocious 3 1/2 year old to a 6 month old overnight. It was incredible loss. So when she died in March, it was like we lost her again.

How's Bill?
Well, right before Christmas, a client came into Bill's office and saw the picture of me holding Annie in our backyard.
"Is that your wife and little girl?"
"Oh, yes."
"Bet she's excited for Christmas to come."
"Ah, no...actually, she died in March."
Client's face falls off. Bill struggles to compose himself and move on to the business at hand.

We go to church. The pastor describes taking his blond eight year old daughter to see Cinderella. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Bill wiping his face.

Fortunately, these types of situations aren't the whole story. They are just waves that come and go.

How are the kids?
I won't identify them by name, but one still has dreams about Annie a lot:
"In my dream, I was holding her so tight and she was fighting against me 'cause she'd never let us hold her tight you know, and when I woke up, I just wanted to go back to sleep, so I could hold her again."

Another one continues to visit her grave each week.

Another one always bought Annie a stuffed toy at the Disney store every Christmas. But this Christmas, he wandered in there, looked around at all the toys he wasn't buying, and then hurried out when the tears started creeping down his face. He mentioned that again when Christmas came, how sad he was that he wasn't able to give her a Disney toy as in years past.

When talking to a friend who's experienced loss, what helps and what doesn't?
What I have found in my own family is the full range of personalities: introverts, extroverts and some in between. Some want to talk about Annie with everyone, (that would be me), and some are more private, (everyone else). So this is a common exchange with my kids:
"Mom--you didn't have to tell that clerk that Annie died."
"Yes, but she lost a child, too, and we had a heartfelt (read: teary) conversation about it."

Or from their perspective:
"So did you tell the people at Little Bit that your sister used to ride here?"
"Why don't you tell them? It'll help them know you better and why you're volunteering."
"I don't want to tell them."

Here's the deal: People grieve differently. Some want to talk about it, some don't. Just so you know, I do. I love talking about Annie, and anytime she comes up in conversation, I try to model to my kids that it is absolutely fine and appropriate to talk about her, even if there are tears involved. Because, honestly, I think some of their reluctance to talk about her is this fear of tears, and of this western phobia of showing sad emotion. But we are people who feel--Jesus wept, for crying out loud, so why can't we?

Anyway--that is the very long version of the answer to the question. We are working through it, and we appreciate your prayers to help us continue to work through it. And my hope is that this blog helps others who are working through grief and loss, too. But ultimately, my hope is in seeing Annie again. Because Jesus died for my sin, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and is coming again, I have the assurance that I will see her again. So I'm on that road--looking forward.


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you. 1 Peter 1:3-4


Cari Rehms said...

Jean, you are amazing!

Gretchen said...

I love you. That is all.

Andrea S said...

I get it. Love you guys xo

Cindy said...

Thank you for sharing! I get it too! Much love to you!

Marilyn said...

I keep thinking about the anniversary of Annie's episode coming up in a few days. I guess this is the first year I remember exactly what the date was because it is mentioned at the beginning of this blog.

Praying for an EXTRA dose of grace for the Sullivans on that day!

And, thanking God for all He's doing through Annie's life~

Jean said...

Cari--thanks for stopping by!

Gretchen--Love U2.

Andrea--Having lost Tim to ALS and seeing him go downhill for 5 years, you would relate to this a lot. Thank God for the hope of seeing our loved ones again...even if they're wearing gold lamé. ;-)

Cindy--You DO get it, too. Looking forward to seeing Mike's big smile again. :-]

Marilyn--Thank you for your does bring up a lot of sad memories...we should do something that day to make it a happy memory. Hmmm...

Peter Sullivan said...


I was having a meeting with a new customer to discuss her winter pruning, and she casually walked me around the yard discussing how she would like things to look. She paused at a pink magnolia tree in her backyard, and mentioned that we need to be extra careful when pruning this tree...she asked if I could do it myself. When I asked the significance of the tree, she said her granddaughter (her daughter's daughter) passed away this year and she planted it for her lost granddaughter. ...I quickly piped up and told her our story, and about the similar tree growing in your backyard!


Jean said...

Thanks for sharing that story, Peter. Reminds me that God blesses each of you with daily remembrances of your little sister.

For those of you who don't know: the magnolia in our backyard was given to us by Bill's family, planted by Peter, its botanical name is "Magnolia 'Ann,'" and its common name is "Little Girl" hybrid magnolia. And the shrub itself was 8 years old when Peter planted it last April.

naomi said...

Hey Mom, Thanks for once again sharing your wisdom and your heart. Your honesty and insight is so impacting. You made me tear up at my desk as I thought about this dear family the Lord has given me. I love you and am praying for our family. Looking forward to seeing everyone soon!

Jean said...

Thank you, Naomi, for your prayers and for your kind words--you are a gift both to Andy and us. See you soon! Love--Mom

Anonymous said...

Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (KJV) What a picture of that there is here with all these situations and God's sweet people. Thank you, Jean for sharing so much. And thank you Peter. I am certain that woman was blessed by you talking with her. You bore each others burdens of love and loss. And how perfect about the magnolia bush. What a picture!

Continuing love and prayer, and tears,

Terri W

Gretchen said...

I'm glad you aren't bothered by tears, Jean. (wipes cheek). Yes, Peter, thanks for sharing. Re: pruning, this gives me a beautiful vision of how God pauses and prunes in our lives--so carefully, doing just enough to help us grow. xo

Luke's Mom said...

I'm so blessed to have you in my life you are a true inspiration. I'm sure you've heard that before but it's true. Thank you for taking time out for me this past week. I love talking with you about Annie, about your family, about the difference you are making in other's lives.

Thank you for your honesty, you're a gifted writer and I for one am so glad that you have given so many of us the privelege to share your grief and your joys along the way.

May God continue to bless you as you continue to bless others!