Words aren’t coming easy for me this morning.
Maybe my head is still a little cloudy from the cold medicine I’m taking. Maybe it’s because I’m still recovering from what has been one of the most difficult and heavy weeks in a while. Maybe it’s because there are so many things that I want to write and so many things that I need to write that I am having trouble focusing on any one thing.
The last week has been so long and so hard. It has been, for sure, the longest and hardest week in a long time. I can’t believe it’s been over a week since we celebrated confirmation and Reformation Sunday at church. Halloween feels like it was a year ago. The Renew Retreat feels like a distant memory. Even our road trip to Cleveland feels like it was more than just a couple days ago. In a lot of ways, the past week has felt like years. It has been long and hard and so heavy with grief. It left me with a head cold and exhaustion and a real need for the personal health day that I’m taking today from work. (I would call it a “mental health day,” but I think I need it to recover as much physically and emotionally as I do mentally.)
We spent a good chunk of our weekend up in Cleveland visiting family and celebrating Scott’s cousin SB’s wedding. Saturday was an emotionally complicated day for everyone. I recognize that. After Scott’s uncle JZ (SB’s dad) passed away back May, we knew that the day of the wedding would be hard–so full of joy and grief juxtaposed against one another. What we didn’t know back in May, was that Saturday would have the extra layer of grief of Alexander’s absence.
Saturday morning, as Scott and I drove to the ceremony around 11:30am, I was having flashbacks to July 5–exactly four months to the day–as we were driving home from the doctors office, having just found out that our son had died. I cried on the way to the wedding ceremony. I felt the weight of the 5th of the month. I wanted so badly to just be at home curled up on the couch with our Alexander bear. I was so sad and afraid and my emotions around the day were so complicated. But I showed up. I did the next right thing, and showed up on a very hard day. Because it was important to Scott and I and to the family that we be there. Because it was the next right thing to do. Because I can do hard things. Because most of the time, just showing up, is the hardest part.
I spent most of the day keeping to myself. It took every ounce of my energy to just show up. To try to be present on a day that was supposed to be joyful and happy and celebratory. To get my physical being from point A to point B to point C. There were so many difficult moments throughout the day. We knew it was going to be that way. It had already been a really hard week, and we knew the difficulty of the week wasn’t going to end there.
Scott and I had decided several weeks ago for a variety of reasons that we would return to Dayton Saturday night after the wedding. Among those reasons:
- We knew that it would be the end of a very long and difficult week, and that we would need to just be home.
- Sunday, November 6 is All Saints Sunday and with Alexander’s name being included in the prayers of the church on Sunday, it was important to us to be with our church family on Sunday morning.
- As a youth director, I work on Sundays. I have taken a lot of Sundays away this year, and I just needed to be at work.
It wasn’t a decision we took lightly, and there was a lot of conversation about it. We knew that it would be hard to leave family a little early on such an important day, but we also knew that in this season of our lives we need to take care of ourselves and do what we need to do. Unapologetically.
So, knowing that we had a three and a half hour drive ahead of us, and one more emotionally charged day, we started saying our goodbyes to family and friends at the wedding around 9:00pm so that we could get on the road and head home. It had been a long and emotional day for both of us. We were exhausted and sad. (Not to mention that I had also come down with a head cold over the weekend, and was really in need of some physical rest as well.)
As we were saying our goodbyes, we had some really insensitive things said to us by family members. Honestly, I’ve struggled about whether or not to even write about this, but for the sake of educating people on what not to say to grieving parents, I need to put it out there and face the potential consequences. Because we didn’t want to get into long conversations about the many complicated reasons we were cutting out early, we used the simplest reasoning that I have to work on Sundays. It’s one of the things that comes with working in a church. Sunday is my most important work day. Nevermind the fact that this Sunday, our son who died this year was being remembered in worship and it was really important for us to be there. We were splitting our time in the only way we knew how.
Anyways, someone said to us as we were saying our goodbyes, “You’re seriously leaving? Your cousin only gets married once. Don’t you think the church should have made an exception?” And while that simple interaction left both Scott and I hurt and angry and feeling so many other emotions as we left that day. While I burst into tears the second we got into the car and were alone. While I dropped f-bombs and yelled and had lots of other visceral reactions to this interaction that left me relieved to be going home. While I am still today recovering and trying to make sense of a family member saying something so insensitive and hurtful, I am trying to hold onto some shred of hope that it wasn’t intended to be hurtful. While all of those things are true, the reason I am sharing it openly on the blog is because people need to know what not to say.
Here’s the deal: Saturday was a hard day at the end of a hard week. Yes, I work on Sunday mornings, but that wasn’t the only reason we left early on Saturday. Weddings are hard for us these days. Even family weddings. The fifth of the month is exhausting and heavy and full of so many complex emotions. Even in the midst of all those complex emotions, we showed up. We did the hardest and most impossible thing and we showed up. And then we were chastised for doing the next thing that we needed to do.
And that is not okay.
It’s not okay that at the end of a very difficult the week, the people who we expect to be the most supportive of us left us feeling hurt and upset.
It’s not okay that showing up on a very difficult day didn’t seem to be enough for some people.
It’s not okay that “the church” took the blame for a very difficult decision that we made for ourselves.
So, for everyone’s sake, here are a few reminders: Grief is a long and complicated process, and even though we do have good days, we still have bad days and even bad weeks. We are doing the best we can, but we made a commitment a while back to unapologetically take care of ourselves, and we are going to continue doing that even when it means making hard choices that other people aren’t happy with or don’t approve of. Every decision we make these days is complex, and we’re in a season of our lives where we need to take care of ourselves first. Sorry not sorry.