Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Grace's Place

Eastern Standard Time.

I couldn’t breathe the other night.

I felt as if there were a sharp knife stuck in my collarbone.

And I panicked.

Short, sobbing breaths made oxygen absorption even less of a possibility.

I’m not 100% sure what triggered it.

It didn’t help that my husband asked me to descend the steps to our basement in order to watch a movie on the Big Screen.

Each step mocked me with ubiquitous school pictures of beaming little girls.

Close to the bottom, I see Katherine receiving a bouquet of roses as Fraternity Sweetheart. Next, she’s the college beauty queen. Then there’s Miss Alabama stuff. Theater posters. Modeling shots. Family beach pictures.

Balancing my tray, I try to avoid much eye contact with the wall. Too much contrast. The wall is a collage of change and loss. Souvenirs of a different life…one that’s over now.

 I pick my way down the steps, careful not to fall.

We start to watch “Invictus.”

I know (and love) South Africans. I am irrationally emotional throughout the film.

At one point, I’m distracted by the light coming from the playhouse in a corner of our basement. My husband has turned on its little porch light so we don’t have to eat in total darkness. Labeled “Grace’s Place” after our youngest, it remains a tangible reminder of the girls who played dress-up there long before they played other games in the basement.

We’d finished eating by then, so I go over to turn off the light. But I am drawn inside. I see the three American Girl dolls, all dressed up for tea at the corner table. I look at the sweet pictures that once graced the girls’ bedroom walls. I open the curtain to the dress-up clothes. I sit on the floor and rifle through the princess dresses and ballet costumes. I smell one, hoping to discover the residual scent of a little girl. I sniff a faint hint of mildew instead.

The dam bursts.

My husband bends his large frame down to enter the miniature doorway. I’m doing Annette Bening’s last scene from American Beauty, where she collapses, sobbing, into her dead husband’s clothes. He gently lifts me up and hugs me.

“What’s this about?” he asks.

I can’t talk.

But he knows. He feels it, too.

Back upstairs, the knife in the neck seems to penetrate my lungs.


The next morning, I stare at myself in the mirror, surveying the damage I’ve done to my poor over-worked eyes. How can I avoid this every time I come home, I wonder.

Should we just strip the walls bare…redecorate the bedrooms?

Remove all vestiges of the former life?


I don’t want to end up like Blanche DuBois, trailing around crying about the good old days long after they’ve gone up in smoke. Or pretending they haven’t.

Nor do I want to completely eradicate the past from the present. To negate the joy that was then.

It’s all part of the mix. The recipe contains both sweet and sour elements. I need to savor them both.

“Living in the now” has become clichéd from over-use. So many in our race-track, multi-tasking world are seeking to be more fully, mindfully present in our fleeting moments on earth. It is a worthy aspiration. But I realize that it is no longer just a life goal for me, but a mandatory requirement at this point. That is the way it was…and it was good. This is the way it is now

and it is good.

I suppose that I will grieve as many times as I need to grieve. Until there are no more tears.

But I must continually choose to celebrate the now, remembering that, one day, I will live in the eternally perfect present tense.


( I have touched on this topic before at In The Meantime: http://kimarnoldblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/holding-on-while-letting-go.html)



A note about the previous post:

I want to make sure that no one confused intimacy with irreverance, because none was intended.  I believe that we should approach the throne confidently, but with a sense of awe…as well-beloved children of a King who is worthy of our deference and reverence.

But who is able to handle our honesty.

And our reality, whatever it is...

even when it's ugly or flawed or messy or incorrect.


Lindsey said...

Oh, I'm sitting here with tears rolling down my face. My Grace's place is still crammed with American Girl dolls, though I have been known to grieve the Dora dollhouse and abandoned stuffed animals. It is one long, endless goodbye, this parenting journey ... and some of the time I can't bear the bittersweetness of it.
Thank you for your beautiful words.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful and thought-provoking.

Celebrating the now, with all of its imperfections...I like that.

Thanks for sharing this intimate description of your journey.


ashli said...

I have been following your daughters story since nienie mentioned her. the story inspires me. the life you live makes me appreciate my life and the blessings that i take for granted every day.

i sincerely thank you for your sweet reminders, your honest, heartfelt thoughts and the way that you put into words the way that you feel.

i want to be a mother like you. one who teaches her children to love God. and that God loves them.

....i will continue to follow your margery blog. i love it!

Unknown said...

Hi Kim,

After reading the post, my first thoughts were:
"You're on the right track. Keep going."
I don't know if that was necessarily for you or for me.
Either way - keep going. You are bringing others with you on your journey and helping us with ours.

As always, I thank you for your words and honesty.

Much love and affection,

Anonymous said...

I am a mother of two daughters aged 26 and 24, and a Nana to a 2 year old grandson. I began following your family's story the day after Katherine's avm, and to be perfectly honest I am not sure how I came to be there.
As I have followed Katherine's story and subsequently your story, I have been brought to tears and to my knees many times. Thank you for sharing your heart with us! I often feel strange as I follow a story of someone I only know through their writings, but there are so many parallels, it touches me deeply. Always know that this woman is blessed by you, and each time in the fall when I make a trip to Athens I will feel even closer to you (even when you are on Nana duty far away!) Be blessed as you are a blessing... Janice

Laurel said...

Ah, yes. The delightful and dramatic panic attack. I've had precisely one-for absolutely no reason- and don't care to repeat it. My mom and sister both suffer from regular episodes. The most fun is when you hit an age where it crosses your mind that it is an actual heart attack.

You have so much dichotomy in your life right now that the reconciliation of the two defies the engineering of the mind.

Former life vs. current life is made up not only of realities but imagined futures. I can't imagine this represented more fully than in the places where you live: the home where you built a life, treasured the now and the future, the expectations and fruit yet to be borne, and the other built from necessity in a place you never thought you would live.

Grief takes us at unexpected times and carries its own solace. The gratitude for the life before, those things you loved and enjoyed, and the knowledge that you carry those always. Yours is suspended, extended, by the loss and salvation of your circumstance.

You have so much to be grateful for but it is so different from the blessings you pictured that the loss and the new are too much to knit together. I think you'll end up with a patchwork quilt of epic proportions rather than a smooth tapestry of artistic perfection.

Peggy Dabbs said...

Thank you for sharing this journey with us! The previous posts of our
other "sisters" touched my heart also.

Sometimes, I too "fall in a heap" grieving over the past, and wondering "how did I get here?" Then, I pick myself up and continue on in gratitude and praying for help with what is now.

Thank you for being you.
Love, Peggy

Karen said...

Wonderful that you have so much love in you- so much love that it hurts. My mom wouldn't have, couldn't have loved me this much- she didn't let Jesus give her real love. She was too afraid. She didn't trust Him. I didn't trust him either until I was 41. I'm 50 now. I marvel at love, having lived behind solidly built cinder blocks my entire life, mortared together with sin, and shame, and abuse and resentment. Thank goodness I trusted my wrecking ball lover, Jesus. He set me free. I do though, whenever I see it,...MARVEL.... at love that is as big and alive as yours is.It is so good but it hurts to love so much doesn't it? I shrink back. Your writings help me to want to love more.