Sorrow, Shrapnel, & +A.D.+
“Without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.” – Thornton Wilder, The Angel that Troubled the Waters
Yesterday, September 16th, 2015 marked the 4th anniversary of the miscarriage and loss of our son, Aidan Daniel. His death at 12 weeks was a devastating blow to my wife and I, for many reasons. First and foremost, his was the first and only pregnancy for us, after, at the time, 9 years of marriage, and trying for children, fertility testing with the diagnosis that nothing was wrong, and no idea why “this isn’t happening for us.” Second, we had just said goodbye 1 year prior to 3 of our Godchildren who’d lived with us for 3 years and brought us joy beyond measure or understanding, making us a family that we will never forget, and bringing out some of the best parts of us as individuals and as a married couple. Finally, with his conception being an unexpected and seeming “miracle” for us, his loss seemed like an immeasurable cruelty, and caused us both to question our faith and belief in the Divine, especially for me more than my dear wife, whose faith runs deep and wide, and I often found myself crying out in both sorrow and anger, raging against the injustice of it all.
The days that followed the loss of our son added to an already often physically and emotionally crippling grief that we had been going through since letting go of some of our deepest dreams of a warm home in the country, surrounded by beautiful Indiana countryside, filled with children, and open to family, friends, and strangers alike. Our marriage went through its greatest test to date, and I further descended into a depression and sorrow that I had previously begun to rebound from, with the hope of our own child. This post title is in recognition of something my dear friend Fr. David R. said to me during a conversation after our Godchildren moved home, as well as a memoriam to my son whom I desperately look forward to meeting one day. It also serves as a marker for the anxiety and depression that I struggled with following all of these events, at levels that were previously unknown to me, and gave me a new compassion for others who struggled and continue to struggle with the same things.
After Aidan passed away, we were left reeling, trying to take everything in, and process what had happened and who we were now as individuals, as a couple, as confessing Christians, and simply, as human beings walking this dry and dusty fallen road. For lack of a better or maybe more flattering way of putting it, I “lost it” in a number of ways. I believe, in retrospect, that I was able to put on a very good, brave, and convincing face for public display, most likely fooling the mass of friends and family, to whom I confessed that I was “fine” and “doing ok” with everything. However, as with most people who struggle with depression and melancholy, on the inside I was a hot mess, not even aware myself of the levels of sorrow and grief to which I had descended. I went to work, did my job, came home, had several bourbons, and fell asleep – day after day, night after night – just going through the motions and convincing myself that all was well, and I was fine. It wasn’t until I had a few episodes of heart palpitations that led to EKGs and testing with little result, a few weeks where the Godchildren who’d lived with us several years ago moved back into our 2 bedroom condo for a short time while their family was sorting some things out only to move out again after 3 weeks, that I ended up in the Emergency Room, wracked with pain on my right side, heart racing, and in true hypochondriatic anxious behavior, convinced that my liver and subsequently my body was dying. Long story short, after much testing of my blood and bowels, all of which came back normal and healthy, the eventual prognosis was that I had suffered a panic attack and was most likely suffering from anxiety and depression, as well as stress from these things, all of which had caused my shingles to flair and triggered irritable bowel syndrome, which was causing my physical pain. Stress? Depression? Anxiety? This was news to me as much as anyone, as I thought I had “moved on” and was “doing fine” after all that we had been through. As it turns out, I was not a good judge of my own feelings and condition, as truly, most of us are not. (Hence why we NEED one another desperately to help show us our true selves…live together, die alone.)
It is now 2015, and I can honestly say that I am in a much healthier place, but it took some medication for a time, some counseling, and some time to heal. There are still days and seasons that I struggle with A&D, mostly triggered by old things, which brings me to the “Sorrow & Shrapnel” piece of this post. As I mentioned above, my dear friend, Fr. David R. once said something to me during a conversation about the losses my wife and I had experienced that has stuck with me ever since, and inspired part of the title of this piece. He said,
“When we suffer great loss, our sorrow is like a grenade having gone off in our hearts, blowing shrapnel everywhere, leaving wounds that cannot be healed all at one time. To try and remove all of the shrapnel at one time would kill you, so you remove one piece at a time, and then wait for another to slowly make its way to the surface, where you then must deal with it and remove it in turn. Sometimes, this takes a lifetime and never fully heals, and your heart will never be the same, but healing does occur nonetheless, if you are willing to deal with the shrapnel as is surfaces.” -Fr. David Rucker
This is perhaps the best way I have ever heard of describing the feeling of dealing with great loss and grief, as well as recurring bouts of depression and/or anxiety. We humans are, as the Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals puts it, “walking paradoxes; specks of dust AND Divine Image-bearers.” We are made of stern stuff, but also frailer than can be imagined. When hard things befall us, we are often left reeling, wondering what to do next, which road to take, and sometimes even blindly attempting to numb ourselves from the overwhelming pain of walking this mortal coil. However, if we are ever to be healthy again, we must deal with the grief, sorrow, and loss in turn, as each piece presents itself.
The initial quote at the top of this post is one of my most favorite, and one I have referred to often in the past years. While I would never choose to go through all that pain again, I know it is inevitable that life will change and more loss will come – even if it is the expected loss of loved ones as they age. The only constant in this life is change, and any attempt at staving it off or “keeping things the same” will never allow a person to truly live life to its fullest, nor would it deal with the reality that all things are passing. Most of all, as someone who has spent the last 17+ years working to guide, grow, and inspire youth and young adults, I’ve come to know precisely that which Thornton Wilder refers to when he says, “In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.” In my youth I ashamedly served out of a prideful desire to be liked, loved, and thought well of by those whom I admired and seemed so well “grown” and wise. As I’ve grown myself and gotten older, I’ve found that I serve much more from a place of deep sorrow, but a place that, if I allow it to, makes me much more compassionate towards others, especially those who suffer and struggle with sadness, depression, anxiety, fear, and simply try to deal with their own brokenness in all kinds of ways, both good and bad. In doing so, I have also discovered that most of the people I have looked to for my own inspiration are deeply flawed and hurt individuals themselves, but more importantly, those who allowed their pain to help shape them by dealing with the sorrow shrapnel as it surfaced, and letting Grace, as U2 says so well, “…make beauty out of ugly things.”
I miss the son I have not yet known, as odd as that sounds, and I grieve at the loss of so many things I had hoped for in my lifetime, but I also realize that there is power in pain, and much like another who suffered so poignantly, rejected and killed by the very people who praised Him one week prior, I have come to realize that the only way up is down, and the cross that marks the stone on my unborn child, the cross that I wear on my chest and even have tattooed into my skin, is also the cross I have been asked to bear to the best of my ability, especially if I am to have any chance of experiencing true Joy this side of Paradise, and being of any help to those who also are in need of great love and mercy, because there is no other way. Life is both cruel and kind, filled with love and loss, but also with joy and beauty if one is willing to be broken open and poured out. The example has already been set…
In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve… Let the shrapnel surface and love and mercy win out in your life, in order to bring solidarity with others who suffer and seek peace themselves, and thus making your own love so much more poignant. If you find yourself spinning downward, shrapnel working its way out, and feeling lost – know that you are not alone. Peace and joy are attainable and if nothing else, you have at least one friend who has already walked this difficult road and brought it Resurrection, and there are others here as well to hold you and sing songs of hope in your ears and hold you while you grieve. Paradise awaits, and therein lies our true Hope – where all sickness, sorrow, and sighing have fled away, and those who have gone before us wait in a place of Light, a place of rest, awaiting our reunion with them on that final day.