18 Months Out

I wrote a piece this time last year, “What I Know 6 Months Out.” (below)  That entry was a reflection of the first 6 months without my daughter, Maggie Lee.

Now that it’s been 18 months since her loss, a few more thoughts hit me today.

1. No devastation of mine will outstrip the grace of God.

I love Max Lucado’s quote, “Counting on Heaven to make sense of Earth.” The stretch to reach over and grasp faith when doubt is throwing itself at you is always a worthwhile endeavor.

2. Healing is The Spirit’s work.

The best advice I have gotten is this, “Staying busy helps, telling your story helps, but there are places in your heart which can only be healed by The Holy Spirit.” This is encouraging because I feel like I should be so much farther along than I am in this process.

3. Forward may be scary but stagnant is lethal.

Even though the temptation to close up shop in my soul exists, what it costs me to never dream again is profoundly greater than the risk of those dreams never coming true. This is just some of what I have learned in 18 months.

    Jinny Henson- 2/ 2/ 2010I have often reassured myself in the six months since Maggie Lee’s death that although I have no idea what I will do without her, I honestly didn’t know what to do with her when she first arrived, either. Somehow this gives me room to breathe and by the grace of God, I sense that I will adapt to my new life in some measure as I did before.Of course, birthing a child and burying a child are two radically different prospects. On the one hand you deliver a bundle of dreams wrapped in possibility oozing potential and conversely, in the other unnatural scenario, you lower those most treasured dreams into the ground…forever.It is a disorienting experience and frankly I am shocked to still wake up every morning. “A Broken Heart Still Beats,” is the title of a grief book for parents and, alas, mine still does. I remember reading a about a friend’s 4-year-old daughter who had cancer two years ago. As I clicked out of the email, I sighed with relief that God had not laid that burden on me because He knew full well that I could never take anything so awful.And then in a moment, despite the diligent love that you have and the protective eye you naturally cast, a freak accident comes calling and is unaware that your family is supposed to be exempt. As soon as you’re told that your child will die, you begin to ratchet down expectations. You see a child in a wheelchair and breathe a hasty,”I’ll take it,” or one with a contracted little body, but still able to communicate and think,”I would gladly spend my life taking care of her” But, alas, the ultimate bargain isn’t yours to make. I remember painting Maggie Lee’s toenails crazy colors while she was comatose and massaging her legs when the nurses would let me take the pressure cuffs off. I told everyone that she always wanted to be famous and wouldn’t she be irked that she slept right through it? I distinctly remember the kindness of a nurse preparing her body for burial as it were by bathing her when the end was near; detaching the monitor from her head to wash her blood-matted hair so that I could braid it one final time. I also remember most of all longing to explain to them just who was lying in that bed covered with tubes and monitors, but that proved to be impossible.
    It still is impossible, but the urge remains to remind the world that although she only had 12 years, she was truly a phenomenal little person.

    I have learned a few things in my first 6 months of new-born grief. Certainly, many more lessons are to follow as I will contend with this ever-present absence as long as I shall live. I have learned that it is impossible to shake a good friend. Most people are lucky to have one true friend when it is all said and done. I have an embarrassing wealth of amazing friends and family who have shouldered the burden of loss with me. Souls who have sincerely attempted to put themselves in our unenviable shoes, anticipate our needs and keep us supplied with books and Starbucks cards.

    I have learned to treasure every imperfect day and those who remain. Life is hard and will not for the vast majority of us ever turn out in the way we would choose. I guess that’s why we’re all so cranky. Since Maggie Lee’s death, I have tried to suck the marrow out of life even more than I did before; enjoying my family as they are, not as they should be. We often unwrap the presents of the people around us with a conditional bent of dissatisfaction; we love our children but try to exact better performances from them. We appreciate our parents but our dad dresses funny and mom has a goatee. We are committed to our spouse but he sets the thermostat too low and never remembers how we like our coffee. Losing someone I love has helped me to step back and be grateful for what and whom I have left.

    Even though I never was much of a control freak, I now know that even the appearance of control over my circumstances is nothing but a facade. It is with infinite wisdom that the writer of Ecclesiastes compares our earthly existence with a fleeting vapor. I have learned that even if life would’ve obediently followed my plans, that I would have at some juncture encountered a traumatic blow or two. Time wounds all heels, and many more graphically than mine, just consider Haiti. No purpose is served by pridefully thinking that no ones’ loss can ever rival mine. If I wear my disaster like an orchid on Mother’s Day, it will only serve to frighten people. Every human being will be confronted by unwanted circumstances to which they can accept, or wander down main street in a nightgown like Mary Todd Lincoln. As for myself, I never looked too hot in a nightie.

    I have learned that t-shirt fronts serve as great Kleenex if you suddenly get an unexpected gusher. Gut-wrenching grief is sneaky and will typically ambush you at the most inappropriate moments such as the carpool line, Sunday School or the deli counter over cold-cuts. Some times, emotions are brought on by well-intentioned small-talk such as, “How many children do you have?” or, “Is he an only child?” I have found it best to answer the question as my life is now rather than to thrust my emotional baggage on an unsuspecting Wal-Mart Employee. People by and large are unprepared for the flood of toxic emotions a grieving person is capable of producing.

    I have learned that people do indeed want good to have the last word. When our three-week ordeal ended, over 250,000 visits had been made to Maggie Lee’s Caring Bridge Site. On October 29th, what would’ve been her 13th birthday, over 18,000 people signed up to do a good deed.  On “Maggie Lee For Good,” Day, Lawyers took on cases pro-bono, an American passed out baguettes to the homeless French in the Eiffel Tower’s shadow and one man installed a hot water heater for a disabled man in Louisiana who previously showered on his back porch. Schools had canned-food drives, friends had lemonade stands benefiting Children’s Hospitals and a Pediatrician in Texas forgave the medical debt of a newly unemployed father, just to name a few. I have learned that when you are determined to wrist good out of tragedy, God and many other people will hustle to help you.

    I have learned that although I struggle with God and miss my daughter desperately that I am not prepared to go it alone. I know intrinsically that God is the only path to true healing of which I can conceive. Although there are days that the searing pain wins over me, I have learned that my Heavenly is indeed close to the brokenhearted, and that hope in Christ will sustain me until I see my precious child again.

    I have learned that of all the things I have failed to prioritize, that mothering is not one of them. Not that I was or will ever be perfect, but that I was dead-on in living with my family as my priority. I am devastated to have placed so much import on loving my children only to have had one of them die, but grateful that for a brief period of time that I did what mattered most. When Maggie Lee told me that I was the best mother in the world, I would tell her that I was sure she would grow up and need counseling for something I had done or failed to do but that she would know that I loved her with all of my heart. And, she did.

25 thoughts on “18 Months Out”

  1. Jinny, you inspire us. We thank you and John for your faith and your transparency. I’ve learned so much about faith, joyful endurance from you both.

  2. I am so blessed by your God-given wisdom once again. I continue to lift you up, and so appreciate how you embrace what cannot be measured in earthly ways. Praising the Lord for how He walks with you, and all of us, daily…and never let’s go. Love sent your way…..

  3. What a testimony….I thought I was having a bad day or week but now you’ve helped me to realize that things could be much worse! Thanks a million..I needed it!

  4. Thanks so much Jinny. I felt our mama hearts so connected as I read your beautiful writing. We lost our 2 year old son Corban 11 years ago and just “celebrated” his 14th bday Monday. So strange to realize so much time has gone by and that life could be so amazingly joyful and beautiful again. Since the loss of Corban, I’ve also lost my younger brother Bart to a massive sudden brain aneurysm and am losing my mom even now as I type. Each loss is unique and devastating in it’s own way, but a strange thing is happening to me. It’s dawning on me more and more the reality of Heaven. Pretty soon, more people I know and love will be there than here! And I will too! I sense the party is growing bigger, louder, and rowdier there and the applause of Heaven roars and it encourages me to live this life here with reckless abandon ,no regrets, and soaking up every moment for what it is- PURE JOY! So sweet to think of Maggie Lee and Corban celebrating us on, rooting us on to more and more LIFE- until our day comes to join in with them.

    Bless you my friend, on your continued journey of joy and grief.

  5. Jinny, life around our house was wonderful at the time of Maggie Lee’s death. Since her passing our life has turned upside down. Our youngest daughter became addicted to drugs. 2010 has been a living @&%%. On Saturday 2/5 she will be released from a 30 day rehab in TN and continue her recovery in a 90 program nearby. As difficult as it has been for us I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it has been for you and your family. I find encouragement in your strength. Thanks for sharing your story. God bless, John

  6. Jinny, you are amazing. Your words, and your strength. Your insight and your faith. Your heart and your love. May God continue to bless you and your family. Yours is a test not many have to face, but not only are you facing it, you are being blessed by it. You should be a writer. You are so gifted. and maybe it’s through the pain that you find your true calling. Love you and continue to pray for your family. Debi

  7. Jinny – Your story of Magee Lee has touched me since the first blog I read on caring bridge. When it happened, a mutual friend of ours posted on FB that her college sorority sister needed prayers for her beautiful daughter who had been in an accident. I began praying for all of you and following your story. So many of yours and Johns writings have brought me further along in my path with God. I thought I was a faithful servant and then I read your story and wasn’t sure I could handle it with as much grace as you did. I have learned so much from both of your blogs and prayed for a deeper more meaningful relationship with God. There is nothing good about your daughters death, but the ripples of her presence continue to work through people. She is still here – placing her hands and Gods on our shoulders to keep us on the track to the loving faithful God who really never lets us go! You and your family are an inspiration to so many out there. I really appreciate your continued blessings to everyone by sharing! I think in another year from now – you will be able to take these articulate blogs and publish them in a book that will be well received by Christian families dealing with situations similar to yours!

  8. Jinny,you truly need to write a book for parents who have lost a child.You inspire me so much.Your FAITH IS so powerful! I think about all of you often,and can’t believe that it’s been 18months since Maggie Lee went to be with our Savior.What an amazing person you are! Just know that I pray for you, and your family.Keep living and inspiring us to walk in His footsteps.I know Maggie Lee is very proud of you, and she is smiling down from heaven @ you. May God bless you all….. Ashlee

  9. Jin – You are amazing…your words beautiful…your heart so strong. What a difference you make in this world. Thinking of you….bless you!

  10. Jinny~ These words are from the Holy Spirit. Thank you for sharing them with us. What a GREAT writer you are. I should have known that about you 🙂

  11. I continue to rememher you each day and so many friends who have lost children too young. I try to remember how blessed I am – reading your thoughts makes me more aware. Blessings on all of you.

  12. I lost my son on 3/6/2011
    He was 33 and died after 18 days in I c u
    He died of A R D S

  13. Bless you, Jinny. I think of you guys often and pray you receive strength for that day and peace that surpasses all understanding.

  14. My dearest friend is five houses down right now saying goodbye to her 13 year old daugter as she goes to be with Jesus. http://Www.briellemurray.com. She fought an amazing 3 years with cancer.
    Anyways, your insights are an invaluable resource as I prepare to support my friend on the journey through grief. I am so thankful she is a very strong believer. Thanks for sharing your journey.

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