When grief struck me once, it shattered me from within. And no one on the outside could possibly understand what was happening to me internally. In its first strike, grief took me from dry land and pummeled me into the sea. I was tossed around by every wave. Every ocean current had its way with me. I tried to resist it, suppress it, swim against it, overcome it. But I couldn't. Grief is as powerful as the waves of the sea.
When grief struck me a second time, it numbed me. And it was almost impossible to even recognize what was happening inside my own self. I was still tossing and turning amidst the ocean's waves, but I didn't notice anymore. Whereas before, I fought grief and tried to swim ashore, now I simply let grief take me wherever it wanted. I knew the current was stronger than I was. Whereas before I was fearful of all the unknowns that come with grief, now I was numb to such acquaintances. Nothing surprised me. It just saddened me all the more.
In the first instance, I was constantly looking back to shore, wondering how to get back to that place of comfort, that place of peace, that dry land. In the second instance, I began constantly looking out to sea, wondering if I would ever see dry land again. Wondering if my place was permanently out at sea.
My family and I have been on a two and a half year journey deep in the throes of grief. Today marks the first year anniversary of losing my second niece, Dasah Brielle Dennis. She lived a bubbly 12 hours of life on November 13, 2014. I held her in my arms and was just as grateful to see my second beautiful niece awaken to this world as I was when I held my first niece, Sophia Kyla, for her 10 hours of life on September 1, 2013.
Our time with Dasah was precious in its own way. She was blowing bubbles the whole time she was with us. She was making cute crying noises that warmed all our hearts every time we heard them. She was born in the morning so we were able to spend the entire waking hours of the day with her. I got to take a picture holding her with her Mommy and Daddy by my side (see above).
This day was different from the day Sophie was born. This time, I knew what was to come and the fear of facing death was not foreign to me. I had been there before. I was not fearful of the unknown. I was really just fearful of what another loss, another wave of grief, would do to me and my family.
What was most devastating to me in the loss of Dasah was one word that, at the time, seemed forever buried in my layers of grief: hope. I couldn't see or grasp on to any hope. It was now a foreign word to me. Everything in life seemed to turn to gray. There was no color. I was afraid that hope was shattered inside me. That's when I knew I needed to get help. I started grief therapy because I knew I was swept out to sea and had no fight left in me.
And since that time, I have ever so slowly begun to recognize hope has not been lost. It has just been hidden. Dasah's life and story has paradoxically been one of hope. Even as I write these words, there is a bit of stinging resistance in me that begs to disagree. But I must press these points, if not solely for my own sake.
Where have I found hope hidden in Dasah's story?
In her name. Lindsey and Kevin chose to give their second born daughter the name Dasah Brielle. It is short for Hadassah which means myrtle tree. Isaiah 55:13 says "Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up, and instead of the briar the myrtle will come up, and it will be a memorial to the Lord, for an everlasting sign which will not be cut off." Even in her name, there is a declaration of hope amidst the threat of despair.
In her birth. When Dasah was born, she cried a lot and blew bubbles as she showed off for her family. She was very active and entertaining. This was a special gift to us all as our experience with Sophie was much different. It was so fun to see the joy she brought to us all in those brief moments.
In the surrounding community. Once again, I saw friends of our family stand with us, grieve with us, celebrate with us, and simply be present in our pain. There is nothing that helps the healing process like someone who simply gives the gift of their presence–and also their tears. It is the smallest and most powerful reminder that you are not alone in your grief.
In my family. Grief can shatter families. Its waves can be so sudden and forceful that loved ones are separated from each other, unable to understand one another, caught up in their own misery. It has not been the case with our family. We have all chosen to be there. To be broken. To be hurting. To need help. Not to put on an act. Not to deny the reality. To look death in the face and still love. To let each other grieve in our own strange ways. To just let each other be.
In my own heart. I can only say that I am a different man than I once was two and a half years ago. As an uncle, watching two nieces pass away in their first hours of life has forever changed me. I see the world differently. I don't know how to put words to this part of me, but it is just a new way to look at the world, to look at life, to look at the one who suffers.
Towards those who suffer. I can now suffer with those who suffer. My job takes me to places and people who have felt the weight of oppression, who are bruised by constant stripes of injustice, whose voice cries out for justice only to fall on deaf ears, who carry their message to the masses only to be put back in their place. I am no longer numb to their cries. I can connect to their pain. I see how they suffer. I hear it in their voice. I see it in their eyes. And I know that those who suffer need someone to be with them. I want to be a man who always errors on the side of standing with those who suffer.
On this one year birthday of Dasah Brielle, I want to say to my second niece, thank you. Thank you for your 12 bubbly hours of life. Thank you for giving us hope amidst despair. Thank you for being so 'chatty' in your 12 hours of life. Thank you for your life. Today, my tears and the waves of grief that wash over me will not lead me to despair. I will let your message of hope stay in my heart. I love you.
"…hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts…"