Monday, March 24, 2008

Remember, But Not Experience

A few more thoughts from Nicholas Wolterstorff's Lament For A Son...

"Photographs that once evoked the laughter of delighted reminiscence now cause only pain."

"Something is over. In the deepest levels of my existence something is finished, done. My life is divided into before and after."

"...instead of lines of memory leading up to (their lives) in the present, they all enter a place of cold, inky blackness and never come out. The book slams shut. The story stops, it doesn't finish. The future closes, the hopes get crushed. And now instead of those shiny moments being things we can share together in delighted memory, I, the survivor, have to bear them alone. So it is with all memories of (them). They all lead into that blackness. It's all over, over, over. All I can do is remember (them). I can't experience (them). The (people) to whom those memories are attached are no longer here with me. (They're) only in my memory now, not in my life. Nothing new can happen between us. Everything is sealed tight, shut in the past."

The statements above are so true. All I can do is remember them. I can't experience them. But I will take what I can get at this point. I want to remember them...all the time. Even though looking at photographs causes pain, I want to do it often. It is all I can have of them now. So if you are out there wondering how you can talk to me or how you can bless me then this is what I have to say. Don't hold back. I want you to share with me your memories of Midi and Nathan. Your memories are like the photographs that I want to look at. They may cause me some pain, but I want them because it is all that I can have of Midi and Nathan now. I know that you do not want to make me cry, but I'm asking you to not hold your memories to yourself because you are afraid of hurting me. If you can record your memories in some way (a letter, a collage, a recording, or even on this blog) then that's even better as I (and Lucas) will be able to see/hear it again and again at our choosing. Those of you who have already done so, thank you, thank you, thank you. Andrea, thank you for sharing with me a few weeks ago at Life Group about your memory of Midi when she and I first started dating. That memory blessed me beyond measure. And Fina, thank you also for sharing with me at the wedding reception how my love made a difference in Midi's life. To have made a difference in the life of such an amazing woman of God fills my heart with gladness.

I miss them so much. But I miss loving them, not just the love that they gave to me. It is in the giving of love that I felt so fulfilled. It is the giving of love that made me feel like a man. Midi was my true love. She loved so freely and I loved her so very much. She was so special that I felt that I had to share her with others so that others would be blessed. Her love wasn't meant for just me. That is why I always encouraged her to visit her friends or a former coworker and reach out to people who needed love. She was extremely generous with her love. And Nathan was the apple of my eye. I know that my judgment is biased but I think anyone that knew him will tell you that Nathan was truly special. He was so gifted. And he was such a giver, which you don't see very often in a 4 year old. I remember how he would so freely share a toy he was enjoying with Lucas. This may not be saying much 'cause I'm not exactly a genius, but I think Nathan was way smarter than me. He scared me sometimes. But it was his empathetic nature that truly amazed me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I'm Stronger Now

"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." -Romans 5.1-5

I've always thought that this was a cool passage. But now that I am going through this horrible tragedy in my life, I feel the truth of it deeply. It's only been about 75 days since Midi and Nathan died. But I can already feel that I am growing. I'm stronger now. Even in my weakness, I am strong. My faith is stronger than it has ever been, even when I first came to faith in Jesus. My capacity to love has grown. I am a better father to Lucas than I ever was. I am a better son, a better son-in-law, a better brother, a better cousin, a better friend, a better follower of Jesus. I have perceived this growth from the earliest of days after the accident. And I perceived that others around me would grow in their faith as well. My first response to this growth out of the ashes was anguish and guilt. I felt that the cost was too high. Midi and Nathan dying was an unspeakable cost to get myself and others to wake up and consider the course of our own lives.

But I quickly realized that my thinking was incorrect and a perversion of the truth. For to think this way means that I would have to believe that God caused the accident to happen. It would mean that God actually did it. But this is not true. God did not cause the accident, but rather I believe that He allowed it to happen. I am not sophisticated enough to dive into deep theological thoughts about the sovereignty of God. What I know is that God is good. I believe this. I am content with this (for now at least) and do not feel that I need to understand everything about God's sovereignty in order to have faith. My experience has been that God is grieving alongside me. The accident happened specifically because a broken man committed an irresponsible act. He drank himself to intoxication, drove someone else's truck, and sped through a red light, killing my wife and son. Then he ran. The accident happened more generally because we live in a fallen world where sinners sin and rebel against God. And there are consequences to our rebellion. Namely, we live in a world that is cursed with death. Now don't get me wrong. I believe that this man is solely responsible for what he did and that he should be punished. But whether he is caught and punished or not will not change things for me. My wife and son are dead. But it isn't as though some harsh punishment is going to make me feel good about the justice system. What I do and how I live does not in any way depend on whether or not this man is brought to justice.

I'm stronger now. And others are starting to seek God in their lives - some for the first time and some are coming back to Him. And we shouldn't feel guilty about it because God did not cause the accident to happen so that we would grow. He is not some disgusting cosmic manipulator. The truth and the beauty of God is that He is the Great Redeemer. He only can make something good out of something so awful. He doesn't leave me to just suffer for no reason. I am grateful to God for my relationship with Him. It is because of this that my suffering will lead to endurance, endurance to character, character to hope. I only wish that Midi and Nathan could experience this new and improved Mark that is being formed.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lucas Update

Lucas is adjusting to his new normal. The first week after coming home from the hospital, he slept in my bed with me. When I transitioned him back to his bed, he adjusted very well. He started going to his new preschool on Feb. 4. While he had some initial apprehension, he has adjusted well. I am so proud of him.

We have developed a weekly schedule for him that I think helps him to feel a sense of order and predictability, which likely leads to some sense of safety. He goes to Bethany Preschool in Long Beach Monday through Friday. On Monday and Thursday evenings we join Midi's parents at their house for dinner. On Wednesdays I drop him off at his grandparents' house and he sleeps over. Fridays we have dubbed "Fun Friday". So far Fun Friday has included having the Hongs sleep over and video and popcorn night. Future Fun Fridays could include going to the Aquarium of the Pacific, driving out to Corona to spend the night at my sister's house, going to the Hong's house to sleep over, and going out to a movie. On Saturday mornings he has pancakes. In the afternoon we go to Baachan's house and he gets to play with his cousins and see the extended family. Sunday we go to church. He has also been seeing a counselor once a week. Joe Gevas, a friend and sometimes teacher of his Sunday school, usually comes to play with him once a week as well. Soon, he will start Tee-Ball and will have games Saturday mornings.

Grief for Lucas looks very different than it does for me. He does not often cry. There are times when he gets upset about something unrelated and starts to cry which then leads him to say "I miss mommy." So I think sadness in general is a trigger to thinking about his loss. When he sees me grieving, he does not enter into it with me. I think feeling the sadness is scary for him so he steers clear of it. It is times when I share happy memories with him that he jumps right in. For example, if I say, "Do you remember when you and Nathan used to wrestle?" or "Do you remember when Oh-ma used to lay down next to you and scratch your back?" then he will enter into the moment eagerly and share his own recollections. We have a special memory corner where we sometimes go to look at pictures or read books that the boys used to enjoy together.

There is one major change in the way he plays. There have been times when he has played with cars and made them crash into each other, almost recreating the scene of the tragedy. He also uses the word "die" or "dead" frequently in his play. I have learned that this is normal processing for a four year old. But at the same time, I have noticed that he has a very strong defense mechanism when he is asked specifically about how he feels - avoidance. Part of it is that he doesn't have the words to describe what he is feeling. But part of it is also a defense. As his parent, I hope that I can help him learn to deal with his problems well. Avoidance is such a common unhealthy defense mechanism. For some it leads to alcohol, for others video games, for others complete isolation and withdrawal from relationships. While Lucas' use of avoidance is completely understandable and maybe in some ways necessary, I hope I can help him so that it doesn't cripple his ability to deal with adversity throughout his life.

Though I am in no way a mental health professional, I would say that he is doing very well under the circumstances. His prognosis is very good.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Missing Nathan

"It's so wrong, so profoundly wrong, for a child to die before its parents. It's hard enough to bury our parents. But that we expect. Our parents belong to our past, our children belong to our future. We do not visualize our future without them. How can I bury my son, my future, one of the next in line? He was meant to bury me!" - from Lament For A Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff.

I miss Nathan. I miss him so deeply. I miss his laughter. I miss his smile. I miss his sweetness. I miss his intelligence. I miss picking him up after work and talking to him about his day. I miss his strong grip. I miss his healthy appetite for all foods. I miss his deference to his brother. I miss seeing him play with Lucas. I miss his sweet voice. I miss hearing him sing to Rafi songs in the car. I miss his Curious George dance. I miss how he used to line up his cars in a row so neatly. I miss him coming into my bed Saturday mornings to wake me up and watch cartoons while I continued to snooze. I miss bathing him and putting his puppyhead towel on him. I miss tickling him. I miss pushing him on the swing set and making him laugh. I miss his funny, inquisitive nature. I miss his love for brown socks and shirts. I miss seeing him take his puppy with him everywhere. I miss watching him sleep. I miss teaching him stuff. I miss letting him crawl all over me or get up on my shoulders. I miss reading to him. I miss the funny way that he would hit a golf ball. I miss hugging and kissing him. Oh how I miss my Nathan!

Though losing Midi has been devastating, losing Nathan has been excruciating. It is harder to lose a child than to lose a spouse. As his daddy, I was supposed to protect him. I was supposed to guide him through childhood. I was supposed to go to his games and school events. I was supposed to talk to him about girls and relationships. I was supposed to take him on long summer road trips across the country and camping trips. I was supposed to send him to college. I was supposed to meet his friends. I was supposed to spoil his children. Losing Nathan is a horrible injustice. Four year olds are not supposed to die!!!

I wish that my grandmother (Obachama) was still alive. She lost her husband and her four year old daughter back in 1945 or 1946 to cholera. She was the only one who I personally knew who could possibly relate to what I'm going through. Until the day she died at 85 in 1998, she could not talk about that horrible time in her life - at least not for long. But, I suppose I can take some comfort in knowing that Obachama was one of the most profoundly joyful people I knew. She was a woman of deep character, faith, and compassion for others. I hope I can be like her. I hope I can live my life well even through my suffering. I hope I can experience the joys of life again as she learned to after her tragedy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Back to Work

I returned to work at Gabrielino High on Thursday, February 28th. I was a bit nervous and I didn't really know what to say to my students and colleagues. So I just told my kids the truth - that it felt awkward to be back. But I figured that as much as I didn't know what to say, others probably didn't know what to say to me either. So I just told my students that we should just acknowledge the awkwardness and be OK with it. Physically, work has felt exhausting. I went back on a Thursday because I felt that two days in a row was about as much as I could stand. I felt that I would need a weekend to rest, reflect, and regroup before tackling a full week. Now two days into my first full week, I feel that my legs are under me a bit more. I feel that I can do the job of teaching my students and guiding them through the last 3.5 months of the school year.

When I returned, many came to see me and gave me a hug. Some tried talking to me, others did not. The words didn't really matter. I can scarcely remember anything that anyone said those first couple of days anyway. But I remember their presence and the love that was communicated through those visits. My friend Scott came and had lunch with me, kindly bringing a salad for me. That was nice. Thank you to all of you at GHS who have reached out with your heart to me. I'm extremely grateful.

Though work is a bit of a distraction, I find myself wanting to think about my wife and my son. Every chance I get, I think about them. I look at the collages on my wall that capture so many happy moments. I can look at them for hours. Though it hurts, I don't want to move on. It feels so very wrong to even consider moving on. I don't even know what moving on really means anyway. I can only live in the present and right now, the only thing that feels right is to think of Midi and Nathan as much as I can. I don't even have a choice right now. Between sentences during a math lesson I think of them. During a bite of my sandwich I think of them. I can't stop my heart from yearning for them and I don't want to no matter how much the yearning hurts. Every book I've read by people who have suffered tragic loss indicates that someday I will be able to move forward. They indicate that this intense grief is a phase that will pass. As I am in it now, it is difficult for me to imagine a day when I will live without this pain that, in some ways, gives me comfort. Pain and a broken heart is where I am supposed to be right now. There is no rush to get out.