I’ve been avoiding church and our church home group since Andrew died. At first it was a bit of survival. I could barely gather the energy to get dressed in the morning, let alone go anywhere or talk to anyone. Then it was simply that I didn’t know what to say. I watched my brother die. How do you explain that? How can anyone understand what that feels like? It then morphed into a sense of protection for my brother. I didn’t want him to be judged based on the way he died. He was so much more than his worst decisions. We have all made terrible choices in our lives, would we want people to forever judge us and remember us by them? By that one horrible time in our lives or that one choice we made? No. We wouldn’t, and I don’t want that for him. The only difference between him and us is that he didn’t have the chance to move past his bad choices and we did.
And so I would only talk to people who knew him. People who knew the real him, before he lost his way. Because that is who my brother is. His kind heart and the depth of his heart was what made him Andrew. Sadly, I think that sensitivity and his ability to feel so deeply was probably also what made life feel so painful for him. So I kept my circle incredibly small. My immediate family, my husband, a close friend. I shrunk down and turned in so I could cope and make it through each day.
I was also afraid. I knew that if I went to church, if I saw my church family and those we hold close, that I would break down. Our church family has become a safe haven for us and it’s a place of vulnerability which is amazing and supportive. But, you see, when you feel as if you are barely keeping it together the thought of losing control is terrifying. What if I can’t stop crying? What if that sea of pain takes me to an even darker place? I need to be strong for my family. I need to have it together well enough to manage our home, have something left to give my husband, care for our kids, and be productive at work. The act of bringing all those emotions to the surface immensely difficult.
But I also know that I need them. I need our church and church family. They have become a part of our lives and they have always given us strength and have helped us to continue growing in positive ways. So, we went back. And everyone was an wonderful as I knew they would be. As they prayed over me, I felt their love and strength course through my veins. I had missed them and it was another reminder that we need to stay connected. But, it did also result in what I had feared. It reopened areas that I’ve been trying to close. It brought back images that I want to forget.
As I laid in bed last night, I curled up next to Bryan and I sobbed until I no longer had strength to keep my eyes open. At first I thought – This is why I didn’t want to go! This is why I’m not ready! But, I heard an instant rebuttal – This is why you need them. This is why you must go back. I laid crying and my soul screamed in pain while my mind raced through images of past years and moments. It started with my pleading for the pain to stop but then morphed into a deeper understanding – that these tears are cleansing. That with time the intensity of this pain will wane and that this is a journey I cannot hide from or speed up. I know that I need to ride these waves of grief, but that I don’t need to ride them alone. I can’t rely on my own strength to get me through this because it will never be enough. My strength alone will never be enough to combat this grief and loss. I need others in this journey and I need to lean on them to get through the hard days.
Today I am exhausted from the little bit of restless sleep I received. I feel emotionally drained, but I also know that I am on the right path. It’s horrible and it won’t get easy anytime soon, but if I stay the course one day I will be able to see how far I have come. I will be able to look at pictures with a smile instead of a tear and I will be able to share with the world all that Andrew was to so many of us. Little by little by circle is re-opening. It’s scary, painful and I don’t feel ready, but I know it’s time.
In so many ways I have shared my heart on this journey but there is so much that I keep hidden and close. I have built very strict boundaries about what I feel comfortable sharing as this is such a private journey for my family. But I thank you all for the support I’ve been given in these glimpses I have shown. I hope that by opening a bit of myself and this grief to the world that it helps to bring more understanding to this process. It’s hard to know what to say when someone losses a loved one and I know it’s hard to understand their journey. I surely didn’t understand how to truly support someone on this path until I found myself here. I only hope that my story can bring light to an often silent suffering of so many.