The Navigation of Grief

So many things come to mind when someone asks me how my summer is going. I want to say it’s good. We have spent some time relaxing, which we actually stink at, and some time doing our normal summer ‘list of things you can’t get accomplished during the school year’. I also want to say that it has been enlightening. My boys are growing up. I am their cruise director, their camp counselor, their principal, their mechanic, and sometimes we are friends. There is an important balance there with teens and a 10 year old. They are amazing humans and they are my purpose. They are learning to live again with no reservation and they are reaching high for goals that even the most traditional of family units would think were lofty. They complete me.
I have had a few things on my mind. The unthinkable happened and another precious man left the Earth too soon. This is the second of Tate’s teammates who has lost their dad since we lost Shane. I had the pleasure of teaching 2/3 of this sweet man’s children and getting to visit occasionally with he and his wife at soccer games. He was like this rare jewel full of compliments toward his children’s teachers and coaches. Always put a smile on my face. After attending the service with my oldest, and standing off to the side with him when it was over, I realized what he was doing. He was watching his teammate and just waiting. Waiting to see if he would need him. When the crowd began to clear, I could see his friend slowly eyeing Tate to make sure he was still there. There were no words exchanged until he waded through the last few people and just came to Tate and gave him a hug and then it was time to go. It was a long time. Longer than I know my son realized. So long, that the funeral director who is a friend of mine and the same person who handled Shane’s service, came and whispered, ‘you know it’s over, right?’ He’s a joker. You would somewhat have to be in that business.
I have since reached out to the grieving widow. I have been able to help with things that other people would not talk about over coffee. Death certificates, etc. It has been both therapeutic and awful. It was the moment that I told her that nothing would seem strange to me if it helped her to heal, that I knew I was healing as well. You want to go sleep by your man at the cemetery? I will bring the blankets and stand watch. You want to scream and cry and tell me it’s not fair? I will agree and bring you some boxing gloves. You want to relive your first date? I will set the table. You want to type a blog post at 5am in his softest, most favorite green t-shirt that has been cried into many, many times when you can’t sleep? Let’s do this! Most importantly, I will pray for your family. Every single day.
Tate added the song that they played at the service to one of our playlists. I listen to it every time I go for a walk and pray. Often times through tears, I ask the Lord to protect that family as he has my own. To surround them with people who truly care and have no expectations for their process. To allow them to embrace life in a way that their man would have wanted them to. I usually realize that my prayers are for my family as well. We don’t know how to celebrate anymore. We struggle through birthdays and some holidays. Everything could just be so much funnier, happier, sillier, more carefree…if he were here. Games would be more exciting, trophies and medals more appreciated. Easier. Yes, easier for me and for my boys. Sunsets would be more beautiful, flowers would smell better…you get my point?! We are still learning.
Part of my learning to cope has been to write when my thoughts get too loud. I was gifted a new traveler’s notebook from my school this last year as my Teacher of the Year gift. Some people choose jewelry, and I chose more school supplies. Ha! I’m super fancy like that. I kid…it is deliciously leather and beautiful! I am in love with the way it opens and the paper inside. I am a total nerd and proud. It has helped me through some rough times to write with a purpose. To list troubles and then see just how troublesome they are once written. Most of the time, they are minor. If something that seems so small can help me, maybe it can help you too. I have also tried to take opportunities as they come to me with my friends. I went to a Christmas party this year for the first time in probably 5 years. Yes, I had 4 events in a row this week on my ‘social’ calendar. I only made one of them and I was late, but hey, I went to one! I didn’t skip because I wanted to, it took two other adults for me to make the one that I did. Three kids in sports is no joke, and I would rather be with them. Someone said that you only get 18 summers with your kids, so make them count! ugh! Sad!
Part of navigating grief is to make some split second decisions that you would never think were important before this journey. Things that seem simple to some people. Introductions. The one event I made it to this week was our new Book Club!! Super fun and right up nerd alley for me. An exciting new tribe of readers!! But how do I introduce myself to a group of ladies, half of whom I do not yet know? Is it better to say: Hi, I’m Jen. I have 3 fabulous boys, I lost my husband suddenly 3 years ago, I enjoy gardening and decoupage, travel and long walks. OR Hi, I’m Jen and I have 3 fabulous boys who are the light of my life and now let me ramble on about how amazing they are because I am super good at that!
I chose option 2. The trouble with that option is that at our next meeting, someone will casually ask where my husband works or something equivalent. I will then have to make them feel uncomfortable by saying that he passed away. There will then be the side eyes as that person tells her friend who she is closest to and so on so that they won’t be in her same position. It is all very understandable, yet I am unsure which is worse for those around me.
There are problems with option 1 as well. Talk about putting a damper on the evening. Some people just can’t. It basically negates anything that anyone else says in an introduction. It’s oddly show stopping. I just can’t.
This is not reserved for only book clubs. This is every new season of sports, every new school year and new teachers, every new class that I teach, every new friend that I make. I am happy to say that I did fill out some forms recently without tears. I can now check boxes and complete enrollments without breaking down. I almost have talking about it down with my students. Seventh graders want to know your life story, so it’s going to come up!

I want to make it a meaningful topic and that’s hard to do on the spot. So maybe introductions come with time as well? For now, I will just do my best with making that choice on the spot and depending on the circumstance. I will keep journaling and keep praying! I read a book this summer by Rachel Hollis and my take away from her is that you can only really control two things: Your attitude and Your effort. So I will continue to try and keep both of those things positive and centered in Christ.

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