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Grief & Gratitude

I went silent on you after we arrived home on Friday - distracted partially by gratitude, partially by grief.

Gratitude, because every doorway Kiara walks through is a milestone we couldn’t count on. Gratitude with being home myself, as I am freshly aware of the beauty and peace of the place. As I look around me it seems like a garden washed by spring rain: familiar and yet new; the beautiful outshining the imperfect.

Grief, because I enter my husband’s world, and realise how much I have missed. It’s triggered by a few silly things. He puts the kids to bed while I’m busy with Kiara. The home routine is adjusted. They do it without me. After that, he wants to watch a series with me, but has moved on to a new season in my absence. That doesn’t bother me - he knows I just watch to keep him company. But I realise I have not been here to keep him company. I have not been here. He has been alone.

As he falls asleep beside me on Friday night, my tears start to fall, and I don’t know why. Not wanting to wake him, I get up and go to the bathroom mat, like I did that first night. It was here that God met me, and gave me the word to #keephopealive. I have lived this month as Jaci. Now I want to understand it as Richard.

My body physically reminds me of the month that has passed, my primal lunar calendar counting off the days. The 25th. We are losing her. My heart aches as I remember my pain; as I feel his for the first time. My love. My hero. My strong, unshakable husband. He is losing his daughter. I break. I cry a nightful of tears for him, for what he’s been through; for the tears he’s cried that I haven’t wiped away. Many have empathised with the pain of a mother. I now try to understand the oft-neglected pain of a father. The father of my children.

I have sympathized with my husband. I have been intentional about being physically available to him. And yet, for the first time I realise I have never put myself in his shoes.

This must be what breaks marriages. We have gone through the fight of our lives, and yet we have done it without being able to lean on each other. I have not been the long-haired beauty that bathed her warrior’s wounds in the tent by night. We have been soldiers fighting alongside each other, calling in the medics to attend.

The 26th dawns and I keep reliving the month passed. Richard lost his daughter and then he lost his wife. He took over the command at home and was forced to watch us both recover without him.

This weekend, Richard and I find time to express what this month has meant to us. He tells me of the hardest parts. I have overheard them told to others, but this time I listen with my heart, and I see my listening makes a difference. There is pain he carries that will only be forgotten when he has told it to me. I am still his best friend. I could not be there for him, but he forgives me and shares his heart now. I do the same.

There are things we need to know and hear. There are things we have done that have been unhelpful for each other. Richard has needed to come to grips with worst-case scenarios. I have needed to remain positive and hopeful. At times our needs have been directly opposed to each other. I have leaned on my friends and he has leaned on his, but in some ways I wonder if we would have been the right support for each other anyway?

We have to overcome the awkwardness of reconnecting. We were passing ships, and now we are ships coming in to harbour. There is bashing and barnacle-rubbing and a refitting that needs to be done. We are ineloquent in our docking. But we know we used to fit here. We determine to fit again.

Kiara is infinitely more comfortable at home. The love from The People of the World becomes something she can touch and see as she goes through some of the cards and gifts she has received. She has a few blissful moments of privacy, as she is allowed to sleep and dress and read without eyes permanently on her.

A touch of normality also highlights her loss. She is asking how long it will take to be able to grow her hair so that she can tie it into a bun. Truthfully, it’ll be close to two years. That’s hoping it all grows evenly again. She sits with her siblings this morning around the table as they do school, and she’s trying to remember how to subtract in a tower sum. She’s muddled at first but, with help, she remembers. She’s doing her work lightly in pencil, so we can use the books afterwards for Tyden, who’s 6. She handles it with grace and the kids are incredible. “You’ve done Grade 1 and 2 Maths in two weeks!” they exclaim, boasting to each other that she’s still super smart.

Passing ships are now ships in dock, but the sirens of war still ring in our ears. We are on high alert. The boys are not allowed down the passage to Kiara’s room; she is not allowed out her room without an escort. Richard’s vigilance is at a maximum. He feels responsible to keep her safe from flying balls and running boys. She sleeps with a cot-side on her bed, and I check on her regularly, keeping my ears open all night. I am listening for the sound of seizures, a risk that will remain with us for years, but would be particularly dangerous while her head is so vulnerable.

High-alert, but harboured at home. Normality and loss. Familiar and new. Grief and gratitude. But grief is passing. I smile as I write this, knowing gratitude passes, too. I pray we will forget the one and remember the other. And yet it’s often only after heavy rains that beauty outshines imperfection.

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