"Then Job's friends sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was." (Job 2:13)
It's hard to believe it's almost been a week since Copeland left us. We've moved back home... we're trying to settle into life as best as we can without her. It sounds strange, I'm sure, to some degree, the idea that there's much to adjust to in her absence, considering her time with us was so short. But I assure you: something happens when a breath is taken, a soul is present, even for a moment, and we are changed. Nothing will feel the same again. Her void will always be. Even in the grocery store, choosing foods for Sellers's lunchbox, I wondered: what would Copeland have liked to eat? What would she have been persistently "fussy" about? I long to know the silly details of my daughter's being that, had she lived, I'm sure I would have thought nothing about.
I sat at the top of the stairs this weekend, after Copeland's memorial, and felt a pressure on my chest I confess all the months prior to this hadn't handed me. The grief I feel now is different than the grief from back then; in fact, their separateness is so immense I find it hard to understand myself from a few months ago. I cannot connect them, despite the fact that they are, of course, inextricably linked. One spawned the other. Everything in my sense of space and time for now has the mark of Copeland on it: was she alive when such-and-such happened? Or had she not been yet born? When I heard that song last week on the radio, she was in my car... Yet how is that even possible? I know she was here and yet I find it difficult to believe. Her memory is almost ethereal, like a vapor or a mist. Not to sound cliche or supernatural. I, for one, don't believe we become floating spirits in heaven. The Bible seems to support the idea that we'll get new bodies. So I envision Copeland in the same precious little body she was in, tiny arms and pink cheeks, but healed and whole. No, it's just the thought of her that's ethereal, like a dream or even deja vu.
I find it's hard to preserve the sensation of her presence. All of her things are cluttered about the house. I can't put them away. It's not really because I'm sad, although, of course, I am. It's just that I fear in "cleaning up," organizing everything and tucking it all into neat little spaces that won't permit me to see them as consistently, I'll forget her. Everything in life beckons me to move forward, to step out into the sunlight and embrace the reality of her death as an event that not only occurred but that I knew was going to occur. And yet I can't.
Back to the stairs. When I sat there that afternoon, my husband was outside playing soccer in the front yard. At first I was mad: what does this mean, that he can play a stupid sport when our child is gone? I realized then, when the Lord spoke to my heart, that we'll grieve Copeland's loss in much the same way, but often at different junctures along the path. Sometimes grief looks like moving. Sometimes it looks like sitting still. Life requires both of us. Sanity requires both of us. For now, I, like Job, am sitting in my sorrow.
I've thought a lot about the Old Testament, how it describes the Israelites in times of suffering. They ripped their robes and rubbed ashes on their faces. It's a strange, graphic way to grieve, a way we don't totally embrace anymore. A friend told Conor and I about his trip to Africa once. He mentioned the death of an older woman, and how, amongst her people, there was great wailing. I thought of the Biblical phrase, "gnashing of teeth." I've read it a thousand times, but I suppose this would be the first season in my life that it feels relevant. The images are uncomfortable - ashes and ripped clothing and screaming aloud. And yet, from where I sit. there's a solace in them. The physical manifestation of a broken heart.
And so I sit. And it's extraordinarily difficult. I find a compulsive need to do something, to fix the pain - to rise above it, to hash it out, to move forward, move on, get some closure. The Lord knew that when He said, "Be still and know that I am God," we'd struggle with both commands - the being still and the knowing. When your baby daughter dies after eight days and there's nothing you can do to even touch her hand for a moment longer, the knowing He's God isn't necessarily the tough part. Being still is. Sitting in the sorrow means embracing all the emotions, all the incredibly painful stabs of disappointment and anger and frustration and agony that jab at the heart almost every single second of the day. Sitting in the sorrow means refusing to self-medicate. It means finally, finally, embracing the fact that He has created nothing that will give us as much joy and peace and fulfillment as Himself.
I've been to Target. I'll go again. I'll go to the mall and to the post office and I'll take Sellers to school and externally, my life will look nothing like the stillness I'm choosing in my soul. I don't know why I share all of this other than to tell you that there's freedom in it. Freedom in telling people you aren't doing great or that you can't make it for a night out on the town. Perhaps there's healing in the authenticity of the ashes.