For this final installment of this series on my journey with grief, I’d like to focus on two themes. Since Kim passed, I have been aware of and navigating my way through these, but they have not fit into a specific chronological time frame. So here we go.
In the epilogue of my book, Big Breath In, which I rewrote after Kim had passed away, I said that my resiliency was “running low these days.” Well, I admit to you now, that this was, in fact, not entirely true. My resiliency is, in fact, not “running low these days,” it is actually nonexistent (I felt I had to provide some hope at the end of the book).
I have always prided myself on being able to function well under pressure. I’ve always been attracted to areas of leadership in crisis, being able to lead and act in a calm and reassuring way even when the present was in chaos and the future uncertain. It is what attracted me to hospital chaplaincy work and other leadership areas in which I have worked and volunteered.
However, as I mention at the end of my book, after living through the loss of my brother Warren, the effects of respiratory failure due to Cystic Fibrosis, waiting for and receiving a double-lung transplant, walking with and caring for Kim for the past five years, and then, of course, the grief over losing her, I admit that my resiliency has run out. I feel like I have no backing to hold me up so that when any challenge comes my way, I simply fall over. Something as simple as a machinery breakdown on the farm has had me walking away from work and simply going home (my family has become very understanding of my antics). The slightest drop in my daily lung function test has had me canceling appointments, commitments, and work for a week or two. My lack of resiliency has led me to be panicked at the slightest setback or confusion.
Now, there have been moments when I've felt that a fragile wall has been built behind me, something to prop me up so that when a challenge or hardship comes my way, I can feel myself rebounding back a little. However, that doesn’t last long. If any negative pressure or challenging situation is not resolved quickly, it is game over, and I am back to my huddled position at home. It appears that the person who used to thrive in times of crisis, who prided himself on being able to take on burden after burden, is finally burnt out.
I wonder if resiliency is like trust, that once broken, it takes a very long time to build back, and maybe it never truly comes back as strong as it once was. But perhaps resiliency isn’t the key either. If resiliency implies returning to the original shape, I know that is impossible. Maybe it is not resiliency I should focus on, but transformation. I know there is no returning to who I was; there can only be transformation into who is now taking shape in me. I'll have to think about that some more.
Whenever someone is reading my book, and they message me that they found a particular part of it meaningful or funny, I right away go and reread that section (I think this has to do with some sort of insecurity within me or something). I was recently rereading a paragraph about my waiting for transplant, and I was struck by how similar my experience of grief has been to that time of waiting. During my wait for transplant, I was simply waiting. There was nothing I could do to speed the transplant process along; it would take as long as it was going to take. That was it. The same goes for grief. I often feel like I am just waiting for my sorrow to lighten up over time. I am waiting, putting in the time. Grief is going to take its time. It will never entirely pass, but I know the day will come (and I have had glimmers of that already) when it won’t be so paralyzing, when it isn’t so impactful and painful, and when I will begin to feel like myself again, or a new self. But until that naturally begins to unfold and reveal itself to me, I am simply waiting. It will happen when it happens.
In his book, Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff writes, “I have no explanation. I can do nothing else than endure in the face of this deepest and most painful of mysteries ... My wound is an unanswered question.” I find that word, endure, to be one of the most powerful words I have come across since Kim passed away. ENDURE. There is both a strength and a weakness to it. The “weakness” has to do with an inability to move forward freely. The power to rise is missing. But it is also a word of strength, of standing and looking into the face of the storm, allowing the blows of life to hit and to just try and withstand it. I have this picture in my head of standing still, allowing the sting of the rain and the whipping of the wind to hit me, of not moving forward, but also trying not to allow it to push me back or topple me over; to simply endure.
That, I feel, is what life has become right now. I am in this time of sorrowful waiting, of needing to endure. It is not endurance or perseverance, for me, those words have this idea of running or moving forward––that is not it. Endure––like a rock––to stand and wait against the wind.
My View Today
Getting this final blog post written has been a struggle (I'm not even all that happy with it, I feel it is missing the mark somehow). To use a quote from C.S. Lewis from last week, “all the hells of young grief have opened again.” Over the past week, I have felt a bit of a funk settling in. I’ve been feeling restless. This past tuesday evening, I was lying on the couch watching TV when someone rang my doorbell. I opened the door and recognized one of my neighbours, who also attends the church I’ve started going to since the summer, standing there holding a gift basket. She said that one of the things the church does every Christmas is hand out gift baskets to those in the congregation who have recently gone through a profound loss in their life. Standing at the door, receiving the basket, I felt a lump forming in my throat. As I closed the door and placed the basket on the counter, I lost it. I couldn’t stop crying for about ninety minutes. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Currently, the bombers are back. My wooden leg is kicked out from under me. The shine of the last seven weeks has worn off. “All the hells of young grief have returned.”
I am thankful for the positive season I had this fall. It has allowed me to process a lot of my grief and write this series. But it seems as if on cue, with the closing of this series, so are the curtains closing on the light that was shining in. It feels different than October and not as bad. I have learned things I can do to not return to that place, but grief is unpredictable, and at least right now, it’s not easy.
So, there you have it—my journey with grief over the past eight months. I hope to return to this blog series in the spring to update you on how things are going, but for now, I will begin using this blog for other things. I hope to continue to write here and give updates on my book and more on the world of CF and transplantation. I have some ideas rolling around in my head that could be fun, but those will have to wait for the new year.
Thanks for reading and following along thus far.
George Keulen's Blog
Welcome to my blog, where you will find general ponderings about my life: Of living with cystic fibrosis and a double lung transplant, being an advocate for person-centered care, being a widower, and of course, reflections and news about my book, Big Breath In.