on the wall in my kitchen (which doubles as our homeschool room) there is a progression of first day of school pictures. 5 years. back to when ella was in kindergarten, all the kids together, mason with moose ears, griffin as a baby… all kinds of memories.
the first day of school for us is about pictures, donuts, and making a new “all about me” book.
one of my favorite pages of mason’s “all about me” book last year was what he wanted to do when he grew up:
(“give my son spankings” with a picture of him spanking his son)
even if i wanted to, i don’t possess enough imagination to make this stuff up. mason was a unique little bundle of sassiness and laughter.
the first day of school is also usually about hope and excitement and the anticipation of a new year.
the first day of school for me this year was not easy. yet another milestone day captured in photographs, missing a huge chunk of my heart.
i felt a lot like griffin.
he wanted donuts.
i wanted mason.
we don’t always get what we want.
september was full of incredibly difficult moments. starting a whole new school year without mason is a debilitating kind of pain.
and then the start of a new soccer season… every time i drive past the park where mason practiced, i fight back tears. every saturday when we drive past the fields where mason would be playing his games, i can’t help but long for those crazy, overwhelming days when we’d have to juggle 3 games and figure out how to be in 3 places at once.
so… september was enough to knock me off my feet.
as was october.
and now november.
and really, every month and every day of this past year.
i aint gonna lie. grief is hard, hard stuff, people.
i really, really miss him.
on occasion, a friend will open up to me about her experience when mason died. as odd as it may sound, this is incredibly helpful to me. it helps me process. and it helps me feel much less alone. when a friend tells me that mason’s death caused her to collapse on her floor, or cry out in pain, or hide in the kitchen at church and cry for hours, it puts identity to my own shock. my own disbelief. because while mason’s death would obviously be horrific to me, hearing of how those dear to us suffered also helps me realize that the magnitude of the loss was big, and so painful, so wide-reaching it affected others too. i feel validated. i feel like my son mattered. i feel less alone.
one friend told me how for weeks, and even months after mason died, she would wake up and this pit would form in her stomach. this sickening feeling of dread that just wouldn’t go away. she felt like she could barely meet the needs of her family as she processed mason’s death constantly. in her words, “it was so unreal. i just couldn’t believe it and i felt physically ill.”
this is how i still feel.
every single day.
i generally wake up when it is still dark. (i haven’t slept well in a really long time). and every sunrise reminds me of the sunrise outside that hospital room when my son was dying. when i looked one direction, my son was receiving chest compressions… when i looked the other direction, the sun was rising through the clouds over los angeles. i relive that weekend, that sunday morning, every day of my life.
now, a year later, there are many times, each and every day, that i still feel the shock of losing mason. i feel for a moment that i can’t breathe and shock seizes my mind and i look around and think, “wait. is he really gone? did this really happen to me?” and the grief will crash over me all over again, and my breath will get stuck in my throat and my heart will physically hurt.
i think a very compelling effect in movies is when a scene is completely chaotic… a crash, a battle, an explosion… and after the initial intense noise, it is suddenly and completely silent. the character is watching the horror of everything around him, almost as though it’s in slow motion. it’s too much to see, too much to take in all at once. all the senses can’t absorb the horror and so the silence captures very well the shock of the whole thing.
i find this technique very powerful because it is much how i view the last year. most of the last year felt a little numb. overwhelming. i was watching what was going on, believing it to be real, but sometimes, unable to absorb it completely.
we were very fortunately surrounded by many gracious friends and family who created a safe bubble for us to grieve. there were fewer expectations, generous financial help with bills, family trips and experiences… some amazing people did all they could to protect any sense they could from being completely overtaken by grief. so in many ways, the scene of my life was a terrifying accident but it was completely silent.
but eventually, the sound does return. and its loud. and the senses are overwhelmed. and reality sinks in a little deeper.
and its scary and its painful and there is no escaping.
through this last year, as the pain hasn’t lessened and reality hasn’t gotten easier, and the loss of mason is still massive, i have learned to be in constant conversation with God.
i have read the verse in 2 thessalonians before, “pray without ceasing.” but i used to always wonder… practically, how does this happen?
but when life became overwhelming (which it has been, virtually every moment of every day), i began to pray constantly. when i am overwhelmed by making a decision or simply the thought of getting out of bed, i turn it over to God. when i can’t figure out my kids emotions or when i can’t think clearly through conversations, i pray one word, “help.”
how should i teach this math concept?
i don’t feel like i can leave the house.
give me grace for a day of meaningless conversations.
what can i possibly feed my family for dinner tonight?
i don’t have the energy for this.
should i let my child go to this playdate?
it would really mean a lot to this child to score a goal today.
how should i respond to this text?
help me understand my kids today.
i miss him. so, so much.
this discipline, born from desperation, has done more than help me to just get through the day. it has transformed my life.
feeling overwhelmed is nothing new. i dealt with trying to figure out life when everything was pretty fantastic, back before mason died. but it wasn’t until my own strength was completely stripped away that i truly understood the need to rely on Jesus every moment of every day.
one of my favorite stories of Jesus is his first miracle, when he turned water into wine. it represents and points to many beautiful things about God. but the reason i like it so much is because it shows how Jesus delights in us.
i love to use this miracle to remind my kids that Jesus cares about the “little” things in our lives. He cares about our celebrations. He cares about the things that are important to us. He cares if there is enough wine at our wedding and our opportunity to feed dolphins on our birthday. He delights in our soccer games and our days at the beach.
He delights in us. He delights in the celebrations of our life. He delights in all that is special to us.
and so, i have learned to go to him with everything. the hard and painful, the mundane and exhausting, and the happy and joyful.
this habit, this constant pleading with God, has done so much more than providing an outlet for what is overwhelming me. it has opened conversation. its not just me listing my woes and worries, the best part is that he answers.
i hear the whispers of the Almighty God all throughout the day.
“it’s not important.”
“your kids need rest.”
“i am with you.”
“math doesn’t matter right now. your kids need hot chocolate and a good book.”
“stop. delight in this moment.”
“i will fill you today. just breathe.”
“they don’t understand. just love them.”
“i’m here. i’m never leaving.”
“this sunrise is for you. a glimpse of my beauty.”
and i see His answers, i see Him providing in the little things in life. anthony texting that he’ll pick up dinner on the way home. a soccer goal. a friend offering to take my kids on a field trip the day i need it most.
and when i miss him so much it hurts and i long to hold him and hear him laugh, i hear Jesus say over and over, “he’s with me.”
and when the memories overwhelm me and the hospital images won’t go away, i hear him remind me, “what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.”
and when the sweet memories break my heart… like the expression on his face when he would shrug his shoulders or the way he would run or how he’d say my name… or when i can still see that little gleam his eyes would have when he was hiding something naughty from me, i hear God say, “i gave him to you for his six years because i knew you’d notice those things. i knew you would appreciate the unique way i created him. those memories, although at times unbearably painful, are my gift to you.”
the Lord’s presence has been a blanket of comfort, a security from the searing pain of grief. just as the coziness of a blanket is felt so much more distinctly on a cold winter day, so the Lord’s goodness has been so much more powerful in the face of pain.
the God i have known all my life has become more real to me this past year than I ever thought possible. and that is a sacred, beautiful gift.
“my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” job 42:5
so when i look at the future laid out before me… days upon days without mason, years of holidays and birthdays and new seasons of school and soccer, it feels daunting. losing mason is nothing that i will overcome. and while the pain doesn’t ease and the future feels lonely and scary, i know i will continue on, one day, one moment, one whispered prayer at a time.
because He will never leave me and He will never forsake me.
mason, i will always miss you.
3 thoughts on “without ceasing”
Stephanie, thank you for your beautiful expression of grief. My heart is with you and I have felt so many of the same things. My son Ryan has been gone 21 years now. There’s light, I promise. You’re doing the right things and believe it or not, the pain is a treasure that God is allowing you. Continue to draw on HIs strength because it will sustain you for your whole life. He is truly good and He loves you so much…
Thank you, Stephanie, for being real…for being vulnerable enough to write these words. They are exactly what I needed to read tonight. As I process through the grief in my own awful situation, I am daily confronted by these same thoughts, fears, and emotions. Over the last few weeks, I have been feeling guilty for not have a “real prayer time” every day. Reading your thoughts about unceasing prayer has reminded me that Jesus cares about my heart more than my schedule, and that the days when prayer feels more like a series of sprints than a marathon are still valid.
I’m almost three years into this journey, and I agree with Gayle…while the pain may not ever truly dissipate, there is light…and hope…and joy.
I am so sorry.
We lost our daughter, Taylor, in July of 2014 to a drunk driver. It isn’t right. This isn’t natural.
A friend send me a link to your blog and I said ‘yes’ to every single word.
Only moments before I received her text, I had said to my husband, “I don’t want to get used to life without Sis here.” I struggle with acceptance, still. Seems like all of the first year we just marked by getting out of bed, getting dressed and loving our son. This second year we have to stare grief in the face every day. Even in the joyful moments, grief waits silently around the corner, just as you described, in our lives.
I want you to know what your words meant to me tonight driving home under a chilly star-filled sky. I needed to hear the words God shared with you – “he is with me”. I needed that because I just desperately look for Taylor sometimes -even though I know she’s in heaven. For a long time, heaven felt like a thief. I can’t say that I have found peace, but I do find God’s promises.
When Taylor was with us, I would write about her and then tag the post #golighttheworld because her verse is Matthew 5:14. She was all things light and life and music and joy and laughter and love. Now I write like you do, to remember, and to name the spaces God’s grace lets me see so that I don’t drown. So please know that when I tag this note to you, that you have been a light to me tonight when I was in a dark place.
I am so sorry you know this pain.