Change. It finds us where we are, whether we want it or not. We may not even realize it, but we adapt when change comes. We may tell ourselves that we can't change, that we are stuck, but we are not stuck. We have changed, like it or not.
Some bereaved parents describe their lives in terms that reference the day their lives forever changed (e.g., before Stephanie, after Stephanie), meaning before our child died and after. That reference point will always be there and will always be painful.
My son Sean, my only living child, was up here for a visit this weekend. His visit came right between Mother's Day and my birthday, so we celebrated both together. During this visit, it seemed as though Stephanie scattered reminders all around us, all weekend. We were in Cracker Barrel and came across a stained glass coloring book full of butterflies. We laughed while we were waiting for our breakfast, giggling over a shared joke that she would have gotten. Paul and Sean watched a trailer for a zombie movie the evening before, and they were in agreement that Stephanie would have laughed her butt off at the humor tucked into the subtext of the movie. I wore the turtle necklace Stephanie gave me - almost all weekend. Little reminders just kept popping up, including a book I came across and finally opened up.
I had just finished reading Jodi Picoult's Sing Me Home, about a lesbian couple who have to fight for the right to use frozen embryos from one partner's previous heterosexual marriage. I then finished reading Bringing Adam Home, about the way the Adam Walsh case was finally solved. It was a hard book to read, especially because I know all too well what it's like to be the parent who has the nightmares over and over, who wakes up in a sweat, thinking about what death must have been like for my child. I could commiserate with John and Reve Walsh and their decades long battle with grief. It brought tears to my eyes, made me nauseated, and made me angry by turns. It was an important book, but it was a difficult read. It was after I finished the book about Adam that I picked up this hardback I had purchased ages ago (before the iPad that I now do all my reading on) and had come across again during the move. It was another Jodi Picoult book called Handle with Care.
I thought, Okay. I'll clear my palate with this one.
It's another book about a parent and child, and for the life of me, I can't remember what prompted me to buy it. Chances are good that it was an impulse purchase during one of my frequent trips to Borders.
The receipt that fell out of the book confirmed that. I had purchased it, along with a magazine and a bookmark, at Borders the Saturday before Stephanie died. Six days before she died, to be precise. The bookmark that fell out was a Christian bookmark with a 2009 calendar on one side and the following verse on the front, superimposed over a photograph of a waterfall:
"He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress,
I shall never be shaken." - Psalms 62:2
The fact that I had selected a Christian bookmark emphasized the fact that I was not yet angry at God. I was not yet rejected by my church. I was not yet disillusioned with my faith, feeling let down by God and all his representatives on earth. Shaken, I was. I was shaken to my core when Stephanie died. Whether God was my rock or not, I was shaken almost to pieces.
With these two reminders -- the bookmark and the dated receipt -- in my lap last night, I was overwhelmed with my feelings of then and now, before Stephanie and after Stephanie, 2009 versus 2011. Two years of tears and anguish separate the reality of my life when I purchased that book and the reality of my life now. But what I've realized this weekend is that I'm okay. I've experienced so much healing and forgiveness lately that I find I am no longer begging God to let me die. I am no longer thinking that I can't go on, that I must find a way to die. I now have some healing in my soul.
When I think about Stephanie, I think about her laughter, her smile, her generous nature. I reach up to touch the jade turtle that hangs from my neck and I can almost feel her soft hand putting it in mine. I laugh with Sean and I can almost hear her laughing with us. I watch a movie and I can feel her next to me, laughing or crying or reveling in it with me. I've finally stopped feeling the guilt and the "if only's" and the "why's" that have plagued me for the last two years. I no longer feel that it was my failures that caused her death. I know that it was simply time for her to go.
So I will begin to read this book, as I had planned to do two years ago before the rug of my life was pulled out from under me, before I lost one of the most precious people in my life. I will twirl the bookmark in my fingers as I read, remembering that 2009 was crudely ripped in half, right at the Easter holiday. Easter, when Christ died and rose again, will forever be tied to the date on which my daughter died and did not rise again, the date on which my life forever changed, on which it was rent along a new fault line -- before Stephanie and after Stephanie.
That Easter was the beginning of a new chapter for me and was the end of Stephanie's unrelenting pain. Whether I wanted it or not, change came to me. I had no choice but to adapt and accept the change.
Someday far in the future, it will be my time to go, too, and in the wake of my death, other lives will be affected. Friends, family, people I have yet to meet. But change is the way of things. Change is our only constant. And as the song (embedded below) says, "Everything ... everything ends...". The beauty of it is that when things end, other things begin. My daughter will always be with me. Little reminders will always seek me out, but I'm okay. She's okay, too. And Sean is more than okay. He is wonderful, and we have many, many more memories to make -- after Stephanie.
Peace - D