There’s a home in our neighborhood that suffered fire damage awhile back. Luckily, it was not a total loss, as the fire department contained it to just the master bedroom and bath. While the home suffered smoke damage, it could’ve been much worse. It happened during the day and nobody was injured. Really, as far as a house fire is concerned it was one of those “best case scenarios.”
I’m sure the family living there doesn’t feel the same though. Their life has been turned upside down the past few months, having to move out on a moment’s notice and juggle all the things that come with tragedy or disaster. While the world continues to move forward, their life has been paused. They are living out of boxes in a temporary house while working to rebuild their home. I’m sure they’ve had a multitude of decisions to make in the midst of the chaos.
As the home is directly behind ours, I watched their progress through this transition. What’s amazed me the most is the overwhelming support system they have. The majority of the work completed, it seems, has been done by family and friends. Those friends have worked all hours of the day and night, with the first whacks of the hammer always coming by daylight and the whir of the generator humming through the midnight hour.
One weekend, while I was on the deck letting the dogs play in the yard, I continued to watch their work. It hit me how symbolic it was of what they were doing, rebuilding after loss. While their work was physical and you could visually see the progress, it reminded me of our own home and the “rebuilding” we’ve done since losing our oldest son.
Rebuilding after child loss is no comparison to that of a fire. A home is material and everything under a roof can be replaced. Your child cannot. There will forever be a void where that child was and should now be. But the damages – spiritually, emotionally and even physically a family suffers from that loss exist, and without an effort made to “rebuild,” it can tear a family apart.
I think back to those first few days, weeks and months after the loss and how broken we were. I’ve often described it as a cracked windshield. It still functions and to an unknown observer may look the same, even normal. Yet, through the eyes of the family, there are pieces, fragments of what once remained. You can’t do anything without seeing and feeling the loss. At points you feel as if your family is floating, forever paused in the pain and chaos, and yet everyone else goes on.
There were so many times I wanted to scream, “We are still hurting. It has not gone away. It never will,” in hopes that time would just stop.
I retreated. For months I didn’t want to leave the house any more than necessary. Shopping trips were scheduled for 2 am so I could avoid running into someone. As emotions would overtake me, I couldn’t even talk on the phone because I’d end up a sobbing mess. The only way I could speak of our loss was through online support. Being a writer helped me survive. My husband was the opposite, he sought out company. He welcomed work, extra hours, anything to avoid coming home and having constant reminders of the emptiness.
I prayed for my husband, our marriage, our youngest son, all in the same breath of being angry with God. As much as I wanted to push Him away in those early days, God clung on evermore. He let me yell, scream, cry, question, and attempt to ignore Him. And then He’d hug me with gentle whispers of scripture, of peace that transcended understanding when we needed it most, and ensured I felt His love.
Over time, I guess you learn move forward ; maybe you just learn to fake it better each day, because in reality the loss never goes away. Days do get easier, sometimes. Perhaps you just get busier with life again and find ways to fill the space so you don’t think. That’s how I felt a couple of years in. The pain would come slamming back into me just as if it were that first night all over again. Now, more time has passed. And pain happens less often with each year. I know now what triggers it, for the most part, and I expect it on certain days. Sometimes sadness comes unexpectedly though and you have to let it ride it’s course. Sometimes you just have to cry.
However, I can look back and see tremendous progress. Even though the pain is still there, the loss is still felt, and our son will be forever missed, I do see where we’ve grown and healed. I remember our “firsts” without him – holidays, vacations, special moments – and how I didn’t think it was possible we’d get through it but we did. I remember the fog I was in for so long, not wanting to see another living soul, but over time, I returned. I remember the many prayers I spent asking God to heal our family, to pull those ties closer instead of the stretching away I was feeling at the time. We are stronger now. We hug, we talk, we laugh, we pray. Even if in the background each of us has a piece that aches for Austin, and always will, we continue on.
You don’t get over child loss, you learn to get through it.
In the years since, we’ve seen unexpected changes for the good. Austin’s life and our story have touched more than we could’ve ever imagined. For the better.
Our rebuilding, the literal patching back together of our family, wasn’t as easy as going to the store and buying supplies. This healing doesn’t come overnight and can only be found from one source. Our continual restoration has come from the Master Carpenter. God is the only answer I can give as to why we’ve survived all this time without our firstborn. Through Him we found peace, strength, hope and even joy.