I told Conor the other morning that I feel like I'm standing at the edge of the ocean with my feet in the water and, while I can feel the gentle tug of the tide at my ankles, I'm still too shallow to be completely swept away. That's what the first few weeks of grieving have been like for me: standing at the edge of all the immense emotions you know are beckoning you, pulling you, and yet feeling the grit of the sand beneath your toes and determining to stand still, firmly, resolutely, until you're ready for a good, hard swim.
Perhaps part of me doesn't feel like swimming just yet. And perhaps the Father's keeping me here, grounded, until the waves won't get the best of me. I'm not sure. I went into Copeland's nursery this afternoon and held her things for a few minutes - the silver cups friends had sent, her little hospital booties, the pacifier we'd toted around with us those few, short hours - and tried to cry. Sellers was in the next room, playing, and Conor stood only a few feet away downstairs. The sun shone through Copeland's bedroom window. It was 1:00 in the afternoon. It was safe. I could take a dip into the water, if I wanted to, and let myself get pulled out a bit. There was no reason I shouldn't. My heart longed to dive beneath the waves. And yet my feet wouldn't move. And so I stood before her crib and cradled her things and felt absolutely nothing but the my own compulsion to feel.
This, apparently, is common, the emotionlessness. The numbness. I've heard people talk about grief having stages - one of which is shock - but I find it hard to place myself into them, at least not tidily. How can I be shocked? I knew this was coming. It's like watching a loved one with a fatal disease, I suspect. You know the final outcome is on its way. We pray for miracles, but there's a reason we use the phrase, "don't get your hopes up." At our best, we're all realists desperately longing to believe in what our eyes can't see and our minds can't grasp. Wanting to believe and yet not wanting to appear like the village idiot. So do I think I'm in shock? No. I don't know what I am. I suppose people who run into me think I'm almost nonchalant, amiable - downright chatty, even. I try to show myself for what I feel on the inside, mostly, but, like I said, I don't feel much of anything. Part of me wants the feelings back. And part of me knows that today, they'd drown me.
Shortly after Sellers was born, Conor and I went to see Mel Gibson's much-critiqued film, "The Passion." I have to confess I dreaded it. Something in me felt afraid of what it would do to me. How would I possibly handle the graphic scenes everyone was going on and on about? Looking back, I realize the real fear was in not feeling at all. In being jaded and unaffected. Sure, it's a movie. Sure, it's makeup and lighting and a lot of camera men "working an angle." But it might be the closest you and I ever get to watching what happened to Jesus all those thousands of years ago. What happened for us.
Tonight, I came upon the scene where Jesus is being crucified. The cinematography is, ironically, best described as excruciating - gritty and gruesome and incredibly up-close. I had heard people say that watching the Mary character was difficult for mothers. I tried to imagine what she must have felt, watching her only son up there. But when the lens turned its focus to Christ, I saw something I hadn't expected - something I couldn't have recognized three years ago. Copeland. As Jesus hung there, his eyes lifted heavenward, His mouth parted slightly like a man struggling for breath, I saw my daughter in her last moments, as well. How did they know the face of death? How could they capture so accurately something so few witness?
I have found great solace in the thought that many, many mothers have gone before me bereaved. The ground I walk is hallowed. What I saw that night, when Copeland let out her last, sweet breath against my cheek, was something I would never trade. And yet, something I suspect most would choose to never see. I have been changed by it. I will never look at dying the same. Not death. Dying. The lapse of life in the human form, the parting of soul from sinew. Jesus was fully God. But also, fully man. His death would have looked like my precious girl's. Did He think of her as He gasped for breath? In cradling my darling eight day-old baby, in watching her in her own fight, I did not realize I was watching the face of Christ. How precious those final moments are now to me. Neither gruesome or graphic, though somewhat sorrowful and sad - but moreso: beautiful and tender. Truly, "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints..." (Psalm 116:14-16). His saints... His children.
I don't know how long I will stand in Copeland's room before He will carry me out into the waves. But I do know He will do the carrying. And when I go under, when the fullness of my emotion and the heaviness of my heartache wraps itself around me like the water, I will see His face beside hers. I will see the rise and fall of His chest with hers. Because of His struggle, hers is now over. Because of His suffering, she is free.