DANCE AGAIN (book)
I wrote this book during the months following Olivia’s passing—it starts from the day she died and ends the day our 5th child, Benjamin, was born (about 14 months later).
This book is not about what happened on the outside (although I did include some journal entries to help fill in the story). This book is about what was happening inside me during these moments, and a condensing of the lessons I learned about grief and healing.
The theme of this book is rest in the midst of pain.
On one hand, we had known since before she was born that Olivia would not live long—she was deemed “incompatible with life” due to a chromosomal defect called Trisomy 18. On the other hand, she had lived for 14 months. Around month five, we stopped expecting her to die at any moment. We learned to be with her while she was live. With that decision came the risk—the certainty—of much greater pain whenever it was her time to go.
On March 11, 2016—a beautiful, warm, spring day—Olivia died, unexpectedly. I’m still processing that day. I remember the weather. I remember the way Olivia felt heavy in my arms. I remember the tears of our friends. I remember the blood-red sunset.
I remember the basket—I had been dreading that basket for a year and a half.
I remember praying as a family over Olivia. I remember knowing there was no good prayer to pray, but trying anyway. I remember the feeling after the basket left our front door and the door was closed: like the biggest wave had come and gone… the emptiness of its wake. It was peace… and it was sadness. It was heartbreak… and it was victory.
It was grief… and it was healing.
The following months were possibly even more difficult than the previous ones. My wife and I were slowly deconstructed until all that remained was a pile of parts on the floor.
All I wanted was to get up—to put myself back together. But I could feel a quiet presence (I still feel it now) of a physician, working. Just as my wife was stitched together 14 months earlier after delivering Olivia, just as my daughter was stitched together in her mother’s womb before that, someone was stitching me back together. Quietly. Patiently. Working. Healing.
My battle during these months—and the main focus of this book—was to allow myself to be healed. Even as I type this, I’m overwhelmed by the pain of staying on that operating table—of not jumping up and becoming occupied for the sake of my sanity and sense of whole-person-ness.
My wife and I had a very difficult decision to make on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute, basis: will I settle for an external image of wholeness, or will I wait for real healing to happen inside? The first path was faster. Saner. But the second was intimately tied to the same posture/mindset we had learned from Olivia during her life. “In repentance and rest is your salvation; In quiet and trust is your strength.”
The statistic is something like: 95% of marriages of parents who have lost a child end in divorce. We were right there. We had the conversation more than once.
I become a person I was embarrassed to be. I did and said things which brought debilitating shame, which snowballed into more things I did and said, which brought more shame…
We had four other kids—kids who had been through hell… kids who lost their sister, and in many ways their parents. My heart still breaks to think about them during all of this. We failed them so many times in so many ways.
The urge to jump off that operating table… It was a minute-by-minute battle to stay—to trust that the physician was still working… to trust that there even was a physician.
Even during this period of—when death had had its way, when I had become someone I hated, when even smiling started to feel foreign—we knew that, even here, there was life.
Olivia taught us to live life, life the way it is, in the midst of uncertainty. Now, in her absence, she was teaching us to live life, life the way it is, in the midst of our pain. And in the midst of that pain, in the midst of that fumbling to try to let go and to live these moments, we found healing. Not just healing from our loss of Olivia—we were being healed deeper and much farther back than that.
The pain of loss is inseparable from healing.
Grief is not a series of necessary steps to “get over” a loss.
Grief is being open. Grief is being receptive.
Grief is the absence of certain comforts which give us only the impression of healing.
Grief is the door which leads to healing. Grief and healing are inseparable.
Grief is healing.
This book is my best attempt at sharing my grief, and in doing so my healing, with you.
What I couldn’t fit into words, I poured into music.
As you read this book and listen to the music, please let yourself breathe. Notice your breath. A common translation for the word “breath” is “spirit”—let the spirit travel in and out. Let it go where it wants. And as you breathe—as you let the common parts of my journey resonate with you—see if you notice a physician working on you as well.
This is a hard path to want to walk down, but I believe that deep down many of us are ready and excited to walk it. We are no longer satisfied with an external image of wholeness—we are ready for real healing inside.
THANK YOU for traveling 14 more months with me.