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Outside the Box or Inside the Box

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I have been told several times recently by friends, that the grieving process looks different from one person to the next.  My three children are all on different tracks of this process, not to mention me.  I have a good friend who helps counsel at a local grieving center for children.  She gave me a great image of how we must handle this grief.  She said that we must be able to, and give ourselves permission to, put the pain "in a box" and come up for air.  The pain is so great, that we can't physically dwell or stay in that place of pain 24/7.  We have got to come up for air . Then, when the need or desire to go back to the pain arises, we can just open up the box again.  We are all coming up for air at different times and for different durations.  There is not a right way to do this.  Our needs, age, maturity, thoughts, and fears are all so very different from one another. Without being told a magic formula, my children are naturally opening and closing their boxes and swimming up for air when they need the sun to shine on their faces.

My 12 year old son, Michael Anthony, needs more air than do the rest of us.  He prefers to be in a private place, with people who create the most safety for him, mostly in my presence,  when he opens his box.  By nature, he has always been an extremely active child.  In addition to that, he is very social. This explains why his love language is quality time. He has never met a stranger.  Because of his size, which is tall and strong for his age (5'7 and weighs 175), he has played tackle football for 5 years.  Most of the time, except this year when he played center, he has been a defensive tackle.  All season, every year, his father would remind him to hit his man.  He would push his man on the shoulders, when he was clearly large enough to make lunch meat out of him.  When asked why he was not tackling the guy, his answer would be, "But he's my friend!"  We would remind him that he just met the boy, then he would say that they had talked in between plays and had much in common!  They would agree not to take each other down.  Michael then resorted to paying him for each tackle and double payment for sacking the quarterback.. this seemed to work!  These past two weeks he has played lots of tennis, spent time on his drums, gone turkey hunting, fishing, camping, earned an Eagle Scout merit badge, played in the neighborhood creek, had horseback riding lessons, ridden the Ranger in the woods,  worked on target practice using ketchup bottles, and has also had his down time with some video games or dance-offs with his teenage sisters playing Just Dance 2. There is nothing wrong with him doing these things right now.  His personal make up requires him to be active or on a specified schedule.  Because our schedule has been thrown out the window for awhile, it has been good for him to be active and do things that bring him joy.  At night, when just the two of us are alone together, his brain settles down and he likes to having some chats with me as his mind slowly drifts to his life questions and feelings.  Last night he told me that some people who have been here have made him feel like I was the only one experiencing the loss and pain, and he was, somehow, supposed to be able to carry on his daily duties and responsibilities. He said this was not fair to him and I agreed.  I  shower him with hugs, squeezes, and kisses.  We have prayed together and cried together.  Because of his busyness and planning activities, it may appear to those looking on from the outside that he is not grieving.... oh, but he is.  He just can't hold his breath as long as we can  inside the box of grief and pain.

Our 14 year old daughter, Julia, has amazed me.  She has cried her share of tears both publicly and privately. She, too,  loves to be around people but also enjoys to touch base with me more frequently during the day.  The first few days following the accident, we had hundreds of people pass through our home.... literally.  She parked it in the bay window in our front sitting room with a pillow and a blanket, in her sweat pants and sweatshirt.  She would visit with people there, or she would stretch out, cover herself up with the blanket, and take periodic catnaps when she felt the need.  She felt safe around the activities of the house.  While in bed at night, she reads my blog and will sometimes cry herself to sleep.  Her love language is physical touch. With that need, she makes herself "available" to me for a hug and a kiss almost every time she passes through the room.  If a friend is over to visit with me to cry and talk, she will often sit right next to us without saying a word.  She listens intently, and will nod or grin, when in agreement with the emotion.  When I begin to cry, she looks at me with love and understanding in her eyes.  It seems to help her to see me cry and share my heart.  I think it is helping her to sort things out in her own heart and mind.  In the past, we had nicknamed her Velcro Girl because, sometimes, she seems to stick by your side.  Because there were over 2000 people to greet at the visitation, the wait time to see the family was over 2 hours long.  After 3 hours of standing in one place receiving people, it was decided it would move along faster if I moved down the line instead of them walking towards me.  We all split up in order for us to see all of the guests.  My best friend moved quietly along behind me to support me and meet any needs that I might have had.  As I began to move down the line, shaking hands in introduction, hugging people, and receiving condolences, I felt my Velcro Girl appear right beside me.  Michael Anthony had gone to the food room for some dinner, and Mia did her own, adult-like greetings, in her quiet, loving, and compassionate way . My heart was moved with Julia beside me to support me and for me to support her. She patiently met every person there, while holding my hand and walking with me.  She has two levels in her box.  One is just for her when she is alone. Above that is the level where she experiences the pain through my tears and conversations.  She seems to feel loved and safe in that place.  Like Michael Anthony, she will then come up for air to be silly, play Just Dance 2, have coffee or shop with friends, play the piano, guitar or bass guitar, clean, play with her 4 year old cousin, or just hang out.  Doing these things does not mean she is not heartbroken or not grieving.  She is just coming out of the box to breathe easier for a moment.

Our 18 year old daughter, Mia, is mature beyond her years and always has been.  She has always been able to quickly and easily show emotions without any embarrassment.  She has her father's heart and a heart turned towards her heavenly Father.  These past few weeks, she can walk into the room and just look at me, and it is as if her eyes are saying, "I get it. I am with you. I understand." She can hug you without saying a word and her spirit says it all.  She cries quickly with me when my tears begin to flow and will come to me and just hold me until the tears subside.  She also draws energy from being around people, but she prefers one on one and, like me, also needs some pull away time.  The great thing about Mia is that she knows when she needs to be with someone, or when she needs to be alone.  She makes her choices and meets those needs.  This past Sunday, she felt the need to be in the church service... a need of social time, but more intimate because our church is a second family to her.   She sat next to my Dad, who was still in town, and the service began.  Our church choir sang, "I Want to say Thank You," in Michael's memorial service, and blew all of us away with the presence of God which they brought forth and the spirit of worship. This would be her first time to hear the choir since that day. Everyone stood and the choir began to sing, "Bow Down",(which her father had always sung), and,"Our God is an Awesome God."  My Dad told me that she melted on the spot and had to sit down as she cried her way through the song.  She was comforted being within her church family, and yet, at the same time, was able to pull away by sitting down.  By the time she came home, she was relieved, stronger, and greeted me with a hug and her sweet smile.  She goes to her box more frequently than the other children, as do I, because we are stronger, know our limits inside or outside the box, and can hold our breath longer.  When she is out of the box, she is with friends, working at JCrew, playing her guitar, mandolin or piano, playing Just Dance 2, or chilling out with whomever is around. I think she has found a healthy balance of life in and outside the box.

We cannot judge how they have responded so differently to the same experience.  They are unique, healthy, loving children who loved their father with all of their heart.  They laughed when he laughed, prayed when he prayed, loved when he loved. They all had a great relationship with him, spent time with him,  and knew they were special to him in each and every way.  They are missing him and longing for him whether they are inside their box or outside their box.  We have to love them in both places.


Anonymous Says:
March 15, 2011 at 10:27 AM

As Michael interacts with that "crowd of witnesses", I know his pride is overwhelming. What a great legacy in you and the children. Line upon line, precept upont precept, I know you are all going from glory to glory. Blessings.....

Anonymous Says:
March 16, 2011 at 4:44 PM

Happy Moments, PRAISE GOD
Difficult Moments, SEEK GOD
Quiet Moments, WORSHIP GOD
Painful Moments, TRUST GOD
Every Moment, THANK GOD

Anonymous Says:
July 9, 2012 at 5:29 PM

Hi I thought you might be interested in my new book called
GRIEVING OUTSIDE THE BOX... now available on Amazon.com
the subtitle is Stories of Hope and Resiliance. These are real people that I know and their journeys of grief with poems and suggestions.
thank you. Dr. Karen I. Shragg It will be available as an inexpensive print book this week and as an ebook already.

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