I have lived the last eight years of my life believing emotions are wrong. My parents didn’t intend me to ever believe this. But my mother grew up in a family where emotions are kept to yourself and inadvertently continued the legacy. I had my father to balance me out. His mother was all exuberance, delight, joy. Let’s just say I learned practicality and reason from my mother’s mother and passion and enthusiasm from my father’s mother.
I grew up in a church that valued emotion. Not above doctrine but perhaps nearly equal to it. How right this was I am still working out, but whatever the circumstances, I grew up with a strong faith and an excellent relationship with the Lord that was the foundation for everything I am.
In college, two things happened. First, I was burned by some who had an emotional faith which turned out not to be doctrinal and in fact led them to have a very weak faith indeed. Second, I studied theology as my second major. Regardless of the background of any of my professors, I had found what I had longed to study and clung to it as only a perfectionist who loves rules and reason could.
Logic and emotion warred with one another in my two majors. This was particularly so in my senior year as I studied my senior seminar in theology and my senior seminar in literary criticism. Theology won over my affection, and those classmates and professors whom I respected led me to an appreciation of doctrine above all.
Since then, as I have matured, I have seen the importance of both and the danger of preferring one over the other. But my perfectionism has lent me to appreciating reason and logic perhaps more than I should. What can be better than rules and logical ways to understand the universe and faith? Old habits of feeling defeated in arguments for years against three brothers came out in arguments with my new husband, himself a southern baptist who had never so much as raised his hands in church. How could I expect any arguments from emotion to trump arguments from reason? They cannot and should not, right?
As a woman it has been my torment to feel logic overpowered by hormones on a regular basis. Any woman can be rational and force herself to be so, but at times it is far harder than others and I have grown to hate it.
So when I found out I was pregnant at last, I was delighted but held it in. I kept myself distant even from you, Rowan, until my ultrasound, where I saw your tiny heart beating and was told the chance of losing you t that point was very small. I fell in love and let myself do so to the full extent of an expectant mother, unleashing my imagination to wonder if you were a boy or a girl, what we would name you, what it would be like to have you meet your aunts and uncles and grandparents at Christmas. To add baby books to my amazon.com wishlist, to begin to imagine how we would decorate your nursery. To tell a few friends about you.
When suddenly I lost you, emotion turned the tide and won the war. Reason is a fair weather friend. I clung to it still. When the ultrasound technician quietly and calmly asked me if I had any questions, I did not ask, “Was there something I did wrong? Is this my fault?” I asked, “What is my next step?” How can I remove this pregnancy and move on? How do I handle this? What are the rules for the next month of my life? After your father was contacted, I asked Holly to go to my house, check on the dog, and remove all signs you had been expected. The maternity clothes, the fetal Doppler, the single onesie I had allowed myself to buy for you.
If only there were rules for this. I could have held onto them as the waves of grief pummeled me by the minute. I could have clung to them as hormones drained abruptly and unceremoniously from my body. I could have trusted them as my faith wavered and my trust in God seemed misplaced. But grief has only stages, not rules, and they don’t even stay in a proper order. What a disappointment. What a betrayal. Even now, with the postpartum depression fading and my objectivity returning and my physical self technically ready to try again, reason is insufficient.
Probably it always was. I resented being governed by grief and loss and sorrow and anger and hormones and depression. Emotions are the result of chemicals in the brain and also the result of being human. Both reason and emotion are attributes of God’s nature. We, made in his image, have both as well. We have the capacity to feel deeply. We love and we lose. We have joy and despair. Artists and authors will argue that emotion is what makes us human more than anything else, for in it we have what animals do not. Furthermore, we do not speak of God as reason, though he is that. We speak of him as love, for he is that too, and we as humans value that this is his essence.
What a fool I am to worry if I have grieved rightly. If I have walked this road of grief in an admirable manner. If my report card for grief has an A+. Typically I do not worry if I have pleased others so much as my own expectations of myself, but in this I have worried if my anger at God has caused others to stumble. If my words in my letters to you have expressed falsehoods. But this is equally foolish, for grief has no right or wrong road.
Whatever I have said in the last six weeks, whatever I have felt, it is beautiful and horrible. It is human and it is a new realm of the spectrum of human emotion for me. It has dragged me, screaming, into the depths of what is evil about this world, into the darkness that God saw and entered into to rescue us from. It has moved me as it moved God into his rescue mission to the world. It has also led me, on my knees, into the beauty of what it means to love and lose a beloved one. It has freed me from my fear of and disdain for emotion. It has allowed me to see the purity in mourning from the soul itself, despite what logic would dictate. It has taught me grace.
I am far from past it. My loss of you is still my very present existence. I breathe in your heartbeats and exhale the lack of them. But here, six weeks later, I am at last in equal measure governed by emotion and reason and can choose from the two of them as I will. And rather than choosing to cling to reason as if it was my savior and the superior choice, I will choose to feel as much as I want how much I love and miss you. Perhaps for the first time in eight years, I give myself permission, without guilt, to feel.