Monday, November 23, 2015

Living Without: Navigating a Season of Loss

I am living without a complete family, without answers, and without the future I imagined. My son, who was the light of my world and my dad, who was the rock I could depend on, both passed away without me knowing why.

Living without a complete family. I thought my family was complete when my son was born two and half years ago. Two daughters and a little boy but then that little boy died and my family was torn apart. We pulled together, rebuilt, and pushed forward. It didn't mean the pain was gone or that we were over it because no one ever gets over the loss of a child but we managed to start living again. We prayed about our future and felt God was leading us to move closer to family. Then, four short months of living near my parents, my dad died. The results: I have two gaping holes where my son and father should be. Their absence is felt in everything, not only in my heart, but in my every day life. Emotionally, the pain is incredible; sometimes debilitating, often relentless and always present. I look around the dinner table and both my son and dad are missing. Family dinners aren't the same and never will be again. Two empty seats remain where they should be. I don't get to see my son stuff his face full of turkey this Thanksgiving or open Christmas gifts this year. I will never see him graduate kindergarten, high school or college. My dad will never see my 5-month-old daughter turn one or see my oldest daughter get baptized. He will never get to retire and start traveling again with my mom. I feel robbed of the time we should have had with both of them. People ask how I am doing and because it easier, I've learned to automatically say, "I'm doing ok." Then they ask how my mom is doing, and its even more difficult because how do I answer for someone else when I can't even answer for myself. There is no true "ok" when someone dies suddenly and out of sequence. I have had this happen, not once but twice, and within a year and half of each other. Both healthy just having check-ups weeks before: my son at 8 months, 26 days old, and my dad at 57-years-old passed away for no known reason, leaving us with only questions.
Living without answers. I think not knowing how or why makes their deaths even more complicated. I was na├»ve before, believing that life and especially death, was made up in black and white and that answers were always at the end of a medical examination or doctors diagnosis. But now as I live without, in a world void of many of the answers I so desperately wish I had, I realize that life is really made up in a world of infinite shades of grey and often there are no answers. SIDS by its very definition is the ruling when a baby dies for no known reason. My dad died the same way but there isn't even a name for what happened to him. I know this now, however, making peace with it is the most difficult thing I've ever done. I was told by my grief counselor it was going to take twice as long as others to get through the bargaining part of grief because accepting the fact I will never know what happened to them compounds the process. Often, I'm flooded with questions and replays of the days when they died. I've tried to deal with it on my own, by pushing the questions away or distracting myself by staying busy, but I've come to realize that the only way I can survive this viscous cycle of questioning what happened is by giving the questions to God, day by day, sometimes minute by minute. Faith is the only thing that combats fear and when I am overwhelmed by the fear manifested by the losses in my life, my faith is what sustains me. We must choose not to give into our fear. Fear can have two meanings: Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. I want to rise up and change my future for the better, not despite my losses, but in honor of them.
Living without the future I imagined. I thought I knew where I was going, where my projectory for life was taking me. I was one month away from being a self-publishing novelist and realizing a life-long dream. I had three wonderful children, a good husband, a supportive family and a strong relationship with God. Life was what I imagined for myself. With one sentence from a doctor, "We tried everything we could, but we just couldn't bring him back," my future was shattered. How was I supposed to live in a world without my son, let alone plan a future without him. I found myself drifting aimlessly around, going through the motions of what was required of me but not really living. I definitely wasn't looking towards the future because it looked bleak and empty. But ever-so-slowly, without me even noticing, the days got a little easier, I started to find myself thinking about living in a world with a new future, different from the one I imagined. It prepared me for when my dad died because I have adjusted with the changes happening around me and I've learned that its possible to have an alternate future other than what you expected. Second choice doesn't mean second best, sometimes, it just means different. God often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad for our greatest calling. I find myself in a place where I can help others in ways I never knew possible and my family is much stronger than we were before.
Living without will profoundly alter a person, how it alters that person is up to them. Living without has taught me not to judge people because we really don't know what others are going through. Everyone has a story just below the surface, from the coffee barista to the office assistant, and each of our stories, change us in different ways. My story has shaped me into a kinder, more compassionate person who doesn't take anything for granted. As the holidays approach and I live in as season without, I am consciously making a choice to turn outward: to give to the needy, support those who are in pain and help anyone struggling with loss.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The tow truck driver: saying goodbye to my father

Tom Brandt 10-2-58 to 10-30-15

Our dad was the tow truck driver. This was the title he jokingly gave himself because he was the person in our family who was always cleaning up and fixing any kind of mess. From buying and taking shoes to one of the grandkids at school when their shoe broke to one of us locking ourselves out of the house three times in a period of an hour, yes that really did happen, he was the one person we all could depend on to come any time, any wear to help. Now, to most people, this could become daunting or even down-right annoying, but not to our dad. It was just who he was. Not only to us but to all those who knew him. He was a servant to everyone and would help anyone. From giving candy to a little girl in the laundromat whose mom couldn't afford it to adopting two children who were fatherless when he married their mother 20 years ago, he made everyone feel wanted and special. He truly was the kindness person in the world. Since his passing, hundreds of stories of generosity, selflessness and compassion have been told to us. Not surprising since his goal in life was to always demonstrate God’s love in everything he did and he never got tired of doing the right thing, no matter the cost. He changed our lives when he chose to be our dad. He showed us what to look for in a spouse and how to treat them once we got them by how wonderfully he treated our mother. We feel so privileged that God blessed us with him for as long as he did. He was the best husband, father and grandfather anyone could ever have.  And although we now must find a way to live without our tow truck driver, we can rest in the knowledge that we will see him again one day when we are reunited in Heaven. Until then, we will do our best to live up to the legacy he leaves behind by loving others, helping strangers and trusting God.