when you feel it in your marrow: the restorative work of mourning

January 8, 2016, Michaela Evanow, 3 Comments

I have never been more tired. Actually, the last three years of my life have been drenched in a foggy sort of fatigue. Not just motherhood fatigue. It’s a kind of fatigue that invades your life from the moment the doctor tells you your child (or dear family member) will slowly lose their ability to live.

This fatigue settles in and turns your life upside down. It’s not that you want to bury yourself under the covers, although some days I yearn(ed) for that, it’s just that your shoulders carry such weight and your feet are leaden.

And lives appear to go on but yours has stopped…and it stops and screeches every time you see your beautiful child or loved one. Those eyes and those hands. It is pure and holy love, but it also painful. Painful because you know that unless a miracle occurs, your beloved will be taken away from you. So you pour, pour, pour all that love into them, knowing it will end, knowing you will one day have to say goodnight and goodbye.

And every siren, every phone call throws your heart into a panic. It affects all those in the family, too. Emergencies waiting to happen. Trauma. Flashing lights and shiny black boots and throwing up in basins and crying–lots of crying.

It’s no wonder you are tired.

Just the other day my husband and I were watching a TV show, a medical drama of sorts, where an infant girl presented with RSV and needed to be intubated. She started to code and it was at that point that I got up and started rubbing my ears furiously, palms to seashells, trying to fuzz out the noise. I crouched into a corner and started rocking back-and-forth, silent sobs coming out of me. In my head I knew that I probably looked a little crazy, but my body just started to react.

And suddenly, I was at the foot of her hospital bed when she was 13 months old, as they were preparing her to be intubated, rocking on my heels, nearly knocked out by fatigue and fear.

They made us leave the room. Perhaps one of the darkest moments in my motherhood journey took place then. That moment when we didn’t know if we would lose her and they told us to leave the room. I vowed I would never let it happen again.

She survived that trauma and we carried on and we loved and lived. But that fatigue, that fear, it just settled over me like a fine dust, because I knew it wasn’t over. I spent years pushing it aside, dustpan in hand, because Life! Because Florence! Because Hope!

But, this fatigue is a form of grief. It doesn’t just affect parents of medically fragile children. It affects those that have faced a diagnosis, impending loss, and agonizing heartache. Many of us know this fatigue. And many of us push it aside.

Caretakers. Peacemakers. Grievers. 

It’s okay to kneel down and cry and look right at your grief. It’s okay to take time for yourself and ask for a day in bed and not cook for years. It’s okay if you are so very tired. Grief comes not only in death.

I have learned that I’d like to face it head on and dive in and under, rather than feel it crush me from behind. Eric Lindemann, in a famous 1940 study on grief, discovered the waves of grief cause a “need for sighing, an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power, tension or mental pain.”

So, this fatigue is real. It’s all real.

I believe in a God that carries our heavy burdens but I’m also a mother that held my dying daughter, simultaneously crying out to Jesus for mercy and cursing the thin air.

I believe in mourning.

I believe in healing and hope and I also believe in the power of grieving.

All of these things work together. I am not afraid of this dark.

It’s causing me to see so much more Light. My active grieving lets me shake off the shale that has gathered here. My acknowledgment of pain allows me to turn my face toward God, instead of away. It does not diminish all the good and what He has done for us.

I will not cover up the pain and the dark and the sorrow with hollow, happy words and painted on smiles. I will make time and space. Not just for me, but for so many others that have been denied permission to grieve.

Are you a safe place for a griever, a caretaker, a broken heart? Will you catch the weak kneed and let them fall softly into it, or push them forward, unfortified and too tender to carry on?

It is simple, really. Caring for those that mourn.

Fancy words are not necessary, because most likely, your friend doesn’t have the energy to respond.

But food to fill the belly? And mugs to warm the hands? These things are good and they go down easy.

And three simple words: I am here.

I love you.

I love her.

I miss her.

I see you.

Me too, friend.


  • Reply Becky January 10, 2016 at 4:24 PM

    Thank you for your honesty, and sensitivity, and vulnerability. Your words ring so true. 4 years ago, my youngest daughter regressed into autism, and into hours of screaming, and headbanging, and severe anxiety. The process of waiting for assessment and diagnosis was torture, and I was wracked with a grief that felt like a tsunami. I thought that if I let myself feel it, I would be swept a way. I pushed away at the grief, and poured all that I had and was in to my daughter’s therapies, and alternative treatments, that made a miraculous difference for her. I always focused on the gains, and buried the grief, pain, loneliness, and abandonment (of church friends who pretended that nothing was happening) I felt-deep, deep, deep. My daughter has since recovered most of her skills, but I found myself changed, and numb. For the first time in years, I can see now that I have to feel the pain to really feel the joy. Your words are beautiful, and I will remember them as I allow myself to feel all the pain I set aside for so long. Thank you for including those who face a diagnosis among those who grieve. It’s a different loss that the death of a child, but the loss was very real. God bless and sustain you as you feel your feelings.

  • Reply Lora Brecker January 10, 2016 at 11:46 AM

    Thank you for writing this. This post is the first of your writing that I’ve seen (a friend shared this on Facebook). I plan to read more of your posts.

  • Reply Danielle January 8, 2016 at 7:47 PM

    You have taught me to grieve “better” with those that are in deep mourning and suffering. Thank you.

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