I am currently recovering from a month-long sinus infection, which caused me to leave the office early on Friday and head home to rest. While at home, I took my convalescence as an opportunity to re-watch Disney’s 2015 animated feature Inside Out. (**Spoilers ahead; just stop here and go watch it. You won’t regret it.**)
Inside Out is one of those movies you can watch a dozen times, and each time you will realize something new. This time, I particularly related to the incidents when Sadness touches old memories and core memories, and they change color from yellow (Joy), to blue (Sadness). At the end of the movie, all the core memories have changed from solid, bright yellow, to a swirl of colors. Memories which were once pure joy, have now become more complicated and contain many layers of meaningful feelings.
Looking back at 2018, nothing has ever seemed so real to me. The year was not pure sadness, depression, or anger. I shared countless laugh-filled days with my family and particularly my ever-learning and growing son. We heard Theodore’s first words, saw his first steps, and celebrated his first birthday. Our house became a home in this, our first year there, as we improved, decorated, renovated, pruned, and grew its beauty. The photo files on my camera are stocked with shot after shot of smiles and love and also meaningless moments that nonetheless were part of my year, and represented the good parts, at that.
The year was not pure joy, either. I’ll admit, to prepare to write this post, I looked through my photo folder and tried to remember what happened the first quarter of the year. The year before April 13 seems like a lifetime ago, and certainly lived by entirely different people.
But I looked, and sure enough there were pictures of things: playing games with family, petting dogs, upgrading and decorating our home, feeding Theo his first foods, planting seeds, and clearing many feet of snow. These things all happened, but even these memories have a different color over them. They are no longer what they were, they have been tainted. Not just yellow, they are colored in a swirl of yellow, blue, and purple.
I have been putting it off as long as I can. I usually try to use a word or two to describe the year’s events, the overall feeling I have of the past 365 days. I have been searching and pushing down this word, trying to find another. But the word isn’t going anywhere, so I’ll just admit it so we can move on.
To describe 2018 in one word – the word that will not leave me – I have to say death. Death was everywhere this year. Other years have been stressful, or challenging, but this year the inhuman Death seemed to be waiting around every corner.
[Note: I was considering whether Death was a male or female, and I realized I did not imagine Death as a person at all. After all, how can Death, the end of physical life itself, be alive? It would have to be a god, and you know I’m not okay with that. So I think Death is a force, or a characteristic. It is like light or shadows or sleep or gravity. It is something non-human. Calling it a person would give it too much power, I think. And it does not need any more power than it already has.]
I attended more funerals this year than I ever have (six). I can provide a list to you of six drug-related deaths that impacted me this year. And I can name four other people I knew of who died sudden, unexpected deaths, though I was not able to attend their funerals.
Of course, the deaths of my Grandmother, brother-in-law, and Grandfather stand out among the rest. I think if this whole year was just all the other deaths and funerals, it would not have impacted me the way this year has. After losing these family members, the pain of other losses only magnified. When I heard of another family burying their loved one, my heart broke – again. I was instantly in their shoes, carrying the same lump in their throat, wiping the same tears from their eyes. I knew the pain they were going through, and it made the other losses all the more difficult to hear.
Although I have been riding the wheels of grief, sometimes, I am right back at anger again. I wrongly accuse God of doing something we didn’t deserve this year. I get jealous that God gets to spend his days with Johnny and we don’t. I think, “How on earth could this be a good thing? Who would ever, ever write this into the Plan?”
And it’s all wrong, I know. I know the answers. The answers are that we don’t deserve anything, not even one single day. The answer is God is always with all of us, and we’ll see Johnny again someday. The answer is that the only Good thing is God sacrificing His own son so that we could be saved from eternal death. The answer is that God does not love to watch us suffer, but He’s bigger and how dare we expect to have the inside scoop on all his plans?
I know the answers. But my feelings are still there and they take some time to work through and a whole lot of Grace.
I was thinking on Sunday, as our Church members were sharing things God has taught them or brought them through this year, that maybe one reason for all this is empathy and compassion. If I never went through what we have gone through, we wouldn’t have the empathy to help someone else going through it. I know this is important because every time I meet another person who is affected by an addict or has lost an addict, I feel a small sense of peace and understanding. We don’t even have to say anything to each other, we just kind of feel a little safer knowing the other person gets it, in a small way. Now, with this chapter in my story, I know Death a lot better than I ever have. I also know Grief and Denial and Anger and Faith. We have all spent a lot of time together, and have swirled some new colors into my memories and thoughts.
I am almost done with this long post, I promise. But I want you to know that there is a second word for 2018. It is not all Death. The other word is hope.
After Johnny died, people asked me how to pray for me. I told them to pray that I would have hope. At the time, I felt completely hopeless in the fight against drugs. I felt like no one could survive being an addict for long, and I should be considered a fool for even being surprised at Johnny’s overdose death. The bird inside my soul stopped singing. It even seemed to have left altogether.
And slowly, Hope began to make her way into my heart. It started small at first. But there were several moments I can think of when it distinctly grew. One was when I read a sorrowful story about a fellow IUGR mom who lost her baby. It was a heart-breaking story to read, but somehow, in the midst of it, I had an overwhelming (certainly not from me) sense of peace and hope. I remember thinking perfectly clearly, “This woman is going to be okay. She and her husband will be very upset for a while, and that’s fine. And then someday they will try again and have a healthy baby and this pain will get a little less over time. She’s going to live.” I used to hear stories like her’s and think, “How could anyone survive something like that? I don’t know what I would do!” But now I know. I had been through previously unimaginable things, and yet I have survived. I know what the next day will feel like, and then weeks later, and months later, and I know she will survive. I have hope.
Another moment was when a very good friend at church told us that our bad dreams and inability to sleep was a spiritual issue. He rebuked it and we prayed against it, and suddenly we could sleep again. After months of bad sleep and fear of going to bed, we had hope in a good night’s rest again.
Another was in church listening to a sermon about the Lord’s prayer, when I heard very clearly that the Lord wants to pull us from our sin (deliver us from evil), but that we have to be willing to accept the help and stay away from the temptations. I was strongly convicted that I needed to allow myself to get through the sadness and anger and resist the temptation to wallow in these dark places. I resolved to allow myself to get close to God and that I could cry in church. After months of feeling distant and distracted at church, I could finally hear and feel again. I had hope in feeling close to God once more.
I could tell you countless stories like this, stories of moments in the last eight months where I started to breath again, and hear singing again, and smile again. I will simply tell you that in the desert, in the middle of the mad midnight moment, there is only one thing that remained. God gave me Hope. After that, the other two things could flow: Faith, and Love. And from these three things, all else is built.
I hope you have a very happy new year, and that 2019 brings you these three things and more. God bless you.
***By the way, this post happens to be my 100th on this blog and that is pretty crazy to me! I want to say thank you to everyone who has looked at this little blog, read the posts, and left comments and likes. It means so, so much to me that you guys care to spend a few minutes of your day listening to my ramblings. I look forward to 100 more posts in the future!***