Just when I thought I was beginning to experience a bit of calm after the storm, my kids began walking through their own storms, and because I am their mother, there was no way to avoid getting sucked back into the new tsunamis that were striking each one of them at staggering intervals. Just as tsunamis rise up from beneath with life threatening force and without warning, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can suddenly rise up from the deep causing you to hold on to your life with every ounce of strength you have just to stay on your feet and to continue breathing. You don’t see it coming until it smacks you in the face and takes your breath away.
When I wrote about Tears of a Different Kind the first year after Michael died, I was not referring to the tears associated with grief but the tears associated with the gravity of parenting as a suddenly single parent. Every detail of parenting gained weight as I moved forward and carried this responsibility as a lone parent. If I had no longer felt the weight, it would have been a bad sign that I was giving up on life, but I had no intention of giving up. I chose to “fight the good fight of faith.“ - I began to understand this quote from Paul better. It is a fight and we must battle for our children daily.
There is pain and the shedding of tears in most every fight.
Now, over four years later, the daily fight is for the healing and protection of their hearts and minds as I stand before them and help them wield strength and faith against the frequent attacks of PTSD.
This verse continues to remind me that God really is with me, fighting for me, fighting for us.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you." Isaiah 43:2-3
Tears are much easier to handle when you know someone is taking care of you. The tears and pain are hard no matter what. God doesn’t always take them away, but He walks with me through the circumstances. He walks the children through their circumstances.
I am banking on that fact this morning.
I returned late last night from a five day trip to Nashville with Julia for a family wedding and two college visits. While we were there, Mia and her best friend Anna Maria met up with us as they are in the middle of a two week road trip from Boston to Mississippi as a reward for their recent college graduation. Julia and I did the college visits alone for two of the days then spent time with family for Frankie Barranco’s wedding. This makes the second family wedding in three weeks and we have two more to go over the next two weekends…and crammed in between the first two weddings was Mia’s graduation weekend.
I sat quietly, alone, in the back of a crowded chapel for her baccalaureate service. I looked around and saw families and couples everywhere. I felt pride swelling in my heart as I thought of the strength that Mia found to go to college just 5 months after losing her father. Her strength to not only go, but to also finish. She did it. We did it. She was homeschooled K-12 and supported by Michael and me every step of the way…and here she was, finished. The music played and a weight began to sink in my chest. My eyes brimmed with tears – the tears of a different kind - my throat bloated with a huge lump, and so I sat motionless, absorbed in the moment. Dear Jesus, keep holding this angel in your hand! Call her Angel, just like her dad use to do. Give her steady, warm encouragement, just like her dad always did. Restore her heart. Give her supernatural rest and restoration. You gave her such abundant grace for this! You did it! Guide her in Your way. Keep her heart tender to You. Reward her for her faithfulness. Don’t take Your eyes off of her God…she still needs you more than ever!
Just when I thought the “firsts” were over since Michael’s death, a steady succession of waves has pounded me. My first family wedding to attend without Michael by my side. (I was encouraged to even stand in line with the other “single” women to catch the bouquet at my sister Julie’s wedding – which I did – and I caught it. Another first.) My first child to graduate from college without their father present. My first official college campus visits as a single parent navigating the winding path to college for Julia without Michael’s insight and support. Each first these past three weeks seems to hit me a little harder than the previous one.
After Frankie’s wedding ceremony, I hugged Johnny, my brother-in-law who had just given his oldest daughter away in marriage. I could not stop the hug. This was Johnny’s first of two daughters to give away to marriage. His “first” – and six years after Theresa’s death. His wife had died of breast cancer two years before Michael died. As I stood there embracing him, my heart ached. I felt my insides melting. I knew he felt my void just as I felt his on this special day. My heart ached for him. It ached for his girls. It ached for me. It ached for my kids as they begin to test their wings into young adulthood while still battling PTSD. My heart ached for the uncertainties ahead. These were more tears of a different kind running down my cheeks.
These children seem to be slipping through my fingers like sand as they quickly approach adulthood. Have I done all I can do? Did I let them down? Was I there when they needed me most? How is their heart doing in all of this? Can we go back in time? Is this easier for them and harder for me? God, why has everything been so hard? When will the journey lighten up a little more? I am just beginning to feel my heart heal from letting Michael go but now I am feeling a similar pain and void as I let my children go and watch them leave my nest…. my safe little protected nest. God, I feel more alone again as I watch them venture ahead without me. But I want them to live, love, learn, and explore all that You have for them, Lord. Don’t let go of us God…
This morning I said good-bye to Julia as she left our home with every available inch of her car crammed full with her belongings. My mom is her travel companion and they are driving from New York to Mississippi, a two-day trip, for Julia to work this summer and compete with her swimming again, after a three year break. When we hugged in the kitchen, it was like my hug with Johnny – I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to let her go. We both felt the ache in our hearts. Her roller coaster ride with PTSD this last year, as well as her 11 month battle against the Lyme disease that she contracted last summer, has been an emotionally exhausting, physically taxing, heart wrenching, faith stretching journey. We held one another tightly. She rubbed my ponytail and gently patted the back of my head. Lord protect her! Heal her. Hold her. Come to her. Lead her. Guide her way. Keep her surrounded on every side. I am trusting you God…her heart and body are in Your hands.
…When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.
Parenting - what a beautiful and heartbreaking journey.