The Great Sadness, I live in the past and in the future

March 3, 2010 at 11:02 AM 4 comments

If you have never read the book, The Shack by William P. Young, I highly recommend that you read it.

I read it for the first time in the summer of 2008, and then passed it on to my dad to read that summer (that fall he was diagnosed with cancer). Currently I am in the process of re-reading it. If you know me you know I love a good book, and I am a classic bookworm. I love ‘getting lost’ in a book. I love books that are encouraging and inspirational and bring me closer to God, and this is such a book. I am such a bookworm that if you were to see me reading it you would find me with a yellow highlighter in hand highlighting away as I read. Just ask Josh. ๐Ÿ™‚ Well let me just say that this second reading of the book is so much more meaningful than the first as now I can relate even more to the fictional main character.

I will not spoil any part of the book, but for those of you who have never read it, the book is about a father, the main character named Mack, as he deals with The Great Sadness.ย  What is The Great Sadness? Well his little daughter (I think she was 6 yrs old) was kidnapped and evidence suggests that she was brutally murdered – don’t worry this isn’t a spoiler -it’s on the back of the book. So The Great Sadness refers to Mack’s grief – the grief ofย  a parent who lost a child… now you see how I can relate.

The following excerpt explains a little about The Great Sadness and how it feels – this is, I think, an amazing, dare I say beautiful, description of grief and what mine feels like many days:

“Little distractions…were a welcome although brief respite from the haunting presence of his constant companion: The Great Sadness, as he referred to it. Shortly after the summer that Missy vanished, The Great Sadness had draped itself around Mack’s shoulders like some invisible but almost tangible heavy quilt. The weight of its presence dulled his eyes and stooped his shoulders. Even his efforts to shake it off were exhausting…He ate, worked, loved, dreamed and played in this garment of heaviness, weighed down as if he were wearing a leaden bathrobe–trudging daily through the murky despondency that sucked the color out of everything. At times he could feel The Great Sadness slowly tightening around his chest and heart like the crushing coils of a constrictor, squeezing liquid from his eyes until he thought there no longer remained a reservoir” (p. 25).

Without giving anything away, the book deals with the questions we all have for God when someone dies, disaster strikes – Where is God in this? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow pain, suffering, etc.? … You get the idea. I have asked God many of the questions Mack asks God in the book.

At one point in the book (p. 141) a character asks Mack, “…do you think humans were designed to live in the present or the past or the future?” Mack hesitates before giving his answer and replies, “I think the most obvious answer is that we were designed to live in the present. Is that wrong?” The other character says, “…You are exactly correct, by the way. But now tell me, where do you spend most of your time in your mind, in your imagination, in the present, in the past, or in the future?” Mack thinks and then answers, “I suppose I would have to say that I spend very little time in the present. For me, I spend a big piece in the past, but most of the rest of the time, I am trying to figure out the future.”

I read that last night and thought wow, Mack just gave what I would have answered almost word for word. That is me. That is what I’m doing in my grief. I stopped and thought about the passage I had read. I am here every day in the present living, obviously, but I am not really living. My mind and my heart are usually in the past with Hailey. When they aren’t there, my mind is trying to figure out my future.

I knew I wanted to write this post as soon as I read this last night. But just 30 minutes before I sat down to write this I received an email from a friend who sent me a pdf file of a newsletter from Survivors Outreach Services (SOS) she thought I might find useful. An article in the newsletter addresses parental bereavement – the grief of a parent who has lost a child. In discussing how parental bereavement is perhaps more difficult than other types, it states that “for these parents, a personal history includes a past with the child and a present and future without the child.”

I live in the past with Hailey.ย  I know my past with Hailey was the 9 months in my womb and 36 days on Earth – not a very long past some may say, but it’s long enough, trust me. When I look to the future I feel lost, trying to figure it out, like Mack explains. The SOS newsletter also states “parental grief … may include an overwhelming sense of its magnitude, a sense that the pain will last forever, a sense that the grief is etched into one’s very being.”

My future was Hailey, but now my future no longer includes Hailey – that grief does feel like it will last until the day I die because I will live without her for the rest of my life. My future has no Hailey now. So I try to figure it out, and I spend a lot of time there. What will I do now? I was going to be a mom to Hailey forever. I was going to be a stay at home mom until she grew older and went off to school full time. Now that future is gone – and Iย  know I’ve mentioned this before about how upset I get when people asked me very shortly after Hailey passed about what I was going to do – was I going to teach, sub, get a part time job – and I just wanted them to back off! I still don’t like questions about my future because quite frankly I just don’t know. Will I ever be a mom again? Will I do some substitute teaching before the school year is out? Will I go back to teaching full time? When? What will I do? Am I ready to do the things I want to do? What can I handle? What do I want to do? These types of questions float around obnoxiously in my head a lot of the day.

So where do I spend my time? In the past with Hailey and in the future trying to figure it out. Like Mack. What a realization this is. I am not living in the present at all. Sure I go work out, I’m involved in various ‘Christian things,’ I’m taking some classes, I walk Opie, I write my blogs, blah blah blah blah blah … but I’m just going through the motions. I’m not really here most of the time. My mind is usually elsewhere – I’d say 90% of the time.

And reading this passage last night was kind of a wake up call for me, like it was to the main character of the book. Didn’t I just write a post not too long ago about how Hailey taught me the importance of living in the present? Yep. It was so easy to do when she was here with us. But now, am I really practicing what she taught me? No. I feel like Hailey and God wanted to make sure I got that message last night. I did, and I really needed it.

The other character continues the conversation by saying (paraphrased version) that it’s not bad to spend time in the past because it’s good to take time and remember and learn from the past, but don’t make it an “extended stay” make it brief. And for spending time in the future, well that really is pointless too for the most part – when we spend time in the future trying to figure it out we’re really trying to play God and give ourselves a false sense of control and most of the time we spend in the future is spent worrying – so true for me lately, oh so true. And this is not good.

The Bible clearly teaches about not worrying about tomorrow (as I’ve mentioned in another post) and the verse that came to my heart as I’ve been thinking about all of this is:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” ~James 4: 13-15

God is in control of our futures – our paths – he will direct our ways if we acknowledge himย  (Proverbs 3:5,6) – he knows the plans he has for us (Jeremiah 29:11).

So what did I learn in all of this? My grief and my situation in life have caused me to spend too much of my day in the past and too much of my day in the future. I really need to stop. I need to truly live in the present. Having that perspective really changes everything….It’s hard to put into words exactly how it affects me.

Towards the end of that conversation in The Shack,ย  (p. 142) it reads: “Mack looked down once more at the water and breathed a huge sigh of the soul. ‘I have so far to go.'” And in response the other character laughs, “Only about a foot, it looks to me.”

I laughed to myself when I read that. So true again. I feel that I am so lost and messed up inside right now. I don’t know which way to go. I have no clue where my life is headed in the next month, 6 months, year, or 5 years. Absolutely no clue. And in realizing everything I have been realizing and how to live a better, healthier life, I feel that I too have so far to go. But there I go spending my time in the future. Really… I don’t have to go very far if I’m living day to day in the present like I should be.

So ask yourself this? Where do you spend most of your time? Is something in your life causing you to spend your time in the past? Or maybe in the future? Or maybe both?

Live for the present, like Hailey taught us and God continually tries to tell us. ๐Ÿ˜‰


Entry filed under: Me. Tags: , , , .

Hailey’s 3 Month Birthday, This Little Light of Mine March:Trisomy Awareness Month

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jennifer  |  March 3, 2010 at 11:19 AM

    Great blog! That is an important reminder for ALL of us. I appreciate the time and effort you put toward communicating those important points to us. Good job…

  • 2. ileamarie  |  March 3, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    I can tell you right now I spend my time in the future. I usually feel like every single thing I am doing is something to prepare for the future-working to make money to afford a house, kids, studying and learning to be a better clinician so I can help my future patients, planning a wedding, etc. I try to live in the moment by doing little things-doing yoga or wii fit to relax, enjoying cuddles with Mark, etc. But you know, the present is almost over. I mean, it’s already the past just since I wrote that! So….basically, this is hard for me. All I do is plan for the future, which I think is good….I think where I start to feel in trouble is when I start to WORRY about the future and let those dumb what ifs plague my mind. It’s good to think and plan and anticipate the future but when the unknown starts to stress you out, then you are doomed. So when I am smart enough to realize I’m in one of those zones, I do a couple of things-I make lists. TONS of lists. Right now I have 4 to do lists categorized (wedding to do, work to do, things to buy, miscellaneous to do, haha), and I try to prioritize them-what do I need to do/can I do today? What can I try to plan to accomplish tomorrow? You have to be flexible, but I think to some extent it’s ok to look at where your life is going, or you’ll just start to be adrift….at least, that’s my perspective! I also feel that when you are READY emotionally and psychologically to make some of those decisions, they’ll become pretty clear. You loved to teach, but are you ready to be surrounded by a bunch of kids? Perhaps not-perhaps a new opportunity will present itself and you’ll be able to think “Yeah, I’m ready to take this on” and then you will ๐Ÿ™‚

    Incidentally-How is Josh handling everything lately? I hope that you guys are able to share all this together and that you can lean on each other ๐Ÿ™‚

    I wrote you a book-sorry!

  • 3. ileamarie  |  March 3, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    Also, this book is on my To Read list! I forgot my book lists-To Read and To Buy, haha ๐Ÿ™‚ I only have 2 on my to buy list….the hardcover copies of Harry Potter and Gone with the Wind ๐Ÿ˜›

  • 4. Keri  |  March 4, 2010 at 8:15 AM

    Love, love, love that book! Love, love, love your blog and it’s new look! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE you!

    Like someone said earlier, this is a great lesson for all of us to rememeber. I am, too, always living in the future – because I am an incessant planner… Thank you for the little reminder! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Life lesson: Live in the moment!


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In Loving Memory of Hailey Marie

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