When I was first became a Christian in my late teens, I listened to anything and everything that would help me believe and understand what Jesus had done for me, and satisfy my hunger to know God and His Word on a deeper level. One of the artists I listened to was Steve and Annie Chapman. They were decidedly country, which was not necessarily my favorite genre’, but I learned from and related to their lyrics so much that I loved them. One of my favorite songs they did back in the late 70s or early 80s, was The Secret Place. This is a song that I have never forgotten, and have learned of in a new way since my middle son passed away. The words to the first half of the song go like this:
“My heart is like a house; one day I let the Savior in.
There are many rooms where we would visit now and then.
But then one day He saw that door; I knew the day had come too soon.
I said, ‘Jesus, I’m not ready for us to visit in that room’.
That’s a place in my heart even I don’t go.
I have some things hidden there, I don’t want no one to know.
But He handed me the key, with tears of love on His face.
He said, ‘I want to make you clean. Let Me go in your secret place.'”
The lyrics to this song express so beautifully how Jesus took me by the hand, led me into the room in my heart where I had hidden all my sins, walked me through asking Him for forgiveness and repenting of my sins, and cleansed me of that sin. I’ve never been the same since.
This idea of “rooms” in our hearts goes so much further than just hiding away secret sins. I’ve done quite a bit of exploring this idea since my son’s passing 2 years ago, in part because I have been told more than a time or two that I need to learn to “compartmentalize”. I was a little offended the first time I was told this. One reason for the offense was that it was a mere couple of weeks after I buried my son that someone felt the need to tell me this. What I heard was, “Stop grieving all the time. Put your grief in a compartment and shut the door.” At that time in my life, my grief equaled my son I had lost. There was no separating the two. It felt like this person was telling me to forget my son. I know now, that was not necessarily what he meant. But in the raw, brokenhearted, anguished place I was in at that time, I couldn’t hear anything but “forget your son”.
I think we all compartmentalize to some extent or another. I also think men are probably better at it than women. I know my hubby is extremely good at it. He is so “good” at it, in fact, that if I, who has one big compartment for every thought and emotion that ever comes into my life, ask him to multi-task, like listen to me and watch TV at the same time, he seems to lose it. Thank God for technology like DVRs and the pause button for live TV.
All humor aside, I have certainly learned that I compartmentalize a lot more than I thought I did. I remember the morning my son died, I kept hearing in my mind, the sheriff knocking on my door, over and over again. I couldn’t seem to not hear it, and it was traumatizing me. But I felt like if I forced myself to not hear that sound in my mind, I would be banning from my mind something to do with what seemed at the time like the most important day in my son’s life. I couldn’t let it go, or I would be letting some important detail of the day he died, go. Of course, it wasn’t very long before I realized it was important that I let it go, or I would suffer more trauma than I was already suffering. So, I put that sound in a room in my mind (I call them rooms instead of compartments – it seems more homey!). It took me several weeks to be able to keep that sound in its proper room, but I did finally succeed.
Besides the sound of the Sheriff’s knocking on our door, I have added to that room: my imaginings of my son’s accident, seeing my son in the hospital the day he died, hearing my other children when they saw their brother’s body in the hospital the day he died, the funeral home, the visitation, the funeral, the meal after the funeral, coming home to a house void of any sound but sniffling, my daughter crying, my other daughter coming over to cry, my sons being stoic then breaking down and crying, and so many more of the painful memories.
I have begun to realize lately that I have also added to that room: the sound of my son’s voice, the feel of his arm draped over my shoulders, the memory of the last time we got to see him alive, seeing him checking the hamburgers he was grilling for us my last birthday he was with us, hearing him ask his older sister if she thought I was ok the Christmas I was so sick I had to go to bed instead of going to Grandma’s house with them, seeing his beautiful face the year he surprised us and came home for leave, seeing his ear-to-ear grin at the airport when he came home from Japan the last time, and so many more happy memories that I cherish.
I have portioned away, into my “grief room”, everything that has to do with the son I lost 2 years ago. Everything. Not just the traumatic and sorrowful events of the past 2 years, but the precious happy memories, as well. I have hidden all these away in a carefully guarded room.
But the door on that room leaks.
Or to be more specific, the room is so full, the door bulges at the seams and sometimes (frequently) bursts open and memories begin to leak out, and tears run down my cheeks.
So, I have begun the difficult and oftentimes painful process of sorting through the stuff in my grief room – kind of like cleaning out the closet that everything we don’t know what to do with gets thrown into. I can’t work on it very often because I have just begun to be able to function knowing it is there. But I am beginning to recognize differences in what is stored in there and sort them out into separate piles to put into more appropriate rooms. I don’t want my memories of my son alive and well and participating in our family and his life to be in the same room as the memories of seeing his lifeless body in the hospital, or in his casket, or his closed casket under the awning at the burial site.
I just realized, as I wrote the paragraph above, that this emotional “sorting” going on in my heart and mind directly coincides with the physical sorting I have been attempting to do in my office. I had 5 or 6 small boxes of papers we brought home from our son’s apartment the day we cleaned it out 3 weeks after his passing, that had been sitting in my office for the past 2 years, untouched. I tried to go through them a couple of times, but couldn’t get any farther than the top 2 or 3 things before the tears clouded my vision and I replaced the papers and turned away from them…..back to my computer to play mindless games to keep from having to think about the unthinkable that happened to our family.
Recently, though, I have been going through the boxes, sorting out the stuff that is meaningful to me and my family and throwing away the things that are just his junk that he hadn’t thrown away yet, like college algebra papers, though I had to save a few.
Our counselor told us, a few weeks after we’d begun to see him, that our “grief bucket” was full and nothing else could fit into it. I knew that to be true – the only emotion I could handle was the utter sorrow of losing one of my precious children. No other emotion could fit into my life at that time. I am beginning to recognize a greater ability to handle ordinary life situations in myself in the past few weeks, though. Things like sorting through his papers, and sorting through my memories are no longer devastating to me. This is difficult emotional work, but I am doing it, and sometimes I even manage to do it with only a few tears.
Praise God for progress!
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12