Its not the big holidays that have been hardest for Settle Monroe in the wake of her toddler sons death last October.
Its in the middle of the day, when I realize that Im only setting the table for a family of four, that kind of takes my breath away, she said. Or when I realize that Im folding less clothes than I used to, or packing one less lunch. Those are the things that are just hardest for me.
Monroe, who lives in Raleigh with her husband, Jeff, and sons Duncan, 18 months, and Jack, 3, credits a loving family, supportive friends, and her faith for providing some light in the dark days that have followed the death of her son Webb, who died at home overnight of a viral infection no one knew he had.
But she also finds solace in writing, and around the first of the year she decided to give her words a life online, in a blog she named As I Walk.
Immediately after Webb died, writing was kind of one of the few things I felt at peace doing, Monroe said. And a few months after he died I really just felt that I was kind of isolating myself, kind of carrying a lot of grief and pain on my own. I decided to do it, in part just to invite other people into that grief and that kind of pain and just allow them and me to walk together through it on a deeper level than I was able to do just in conversation or just talking about it.
But even as Monroe mourns her son, who was nearly 3 when he died, she celebrates his life as well, infusing her words with the presence of the boy she describes as this just incredible blend of sweet and strong.
She turns to her husband, Jeff, for proofreading as well as for discussion of the tough topics the blog addresses, a process he says both find soothing.
I know shes coming at this with the idea of expressing her thoughts and her experiences and her story, he said, but, you know, all of our stories are kind of wrapped up together.
Jeff Monroe saw it as a positive sign when his wife broached the idea of starting a blog, and hes had no regrets as hes watched it unfold.
Its just been a really meaningful thing to her to share her thoughts with others, he said. And I think its also really helped her to feel like the blog has been honoring Webb and Webbs life in some way.
Monroe said she doesnt know how many people read her blog. She could find out, probably, but she doesnt care.
I think for me, theres just so much freedom in just telling the story, or just writing my reflection. Its not really my concern, said Monroe, 30. She disabled comments from the outset, but she did list her email address under her blogs contact tab. And people have taken notice.
She hears from other mothers who have lost children, she said, and really just people who have known grief and pain.
But what keeps her going most is the response she gets from within.
Writing, she said, forces her to pay attention to what she feels, which she perceives as a step toward healing.
When I finish the entry, I feel like the writing is the emptying out, but I do feel like God pours in peace, and kind of fills that emptiness, she said. And thats why I continue to do it.
Inspired by Psalm 23
Monroe views her blog as the chronicle of a journey, with stops along the way for deep, intense pain but also a steady pull toward hope. For readers who walk with her, the conversation is honest and frank, and God is a constant companion.
The name of the blog is inspired by Psalm 23 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death a Bible passage Monroe reads nearly every day.
Her Christian faith, she said, has been both shaken and strengthened by her familys loss.
I dont know if anybody can honestly walk through something this painful and not question some deep things that they believe to be true about God, she said. Where are you? Are you good? Are you sovereign? There are some real deep spiritual questions that I have wrestled with and I will continue to wrestle with.
And so in that sense, it has been shaken. But more powerful than that has been Gods love in the middle of this. People say, Where is God in this? What I want to say, and what I want to say in the blog, is that he is with me. And he is with us. Thats exactly where he is. He is right here with us.
Writing to get through the day
For most of us, April 22 was just another day, a springtime Sunday made for taking it easy. But it was a day Monroe had been dreading since the very first hours of her life without Webb.
She wrote on her blog about the focus on and fear of the day that would mark six months since he died that had taken root in her mind. Her reflections on the milestone are heavy and heartbreaking, but tinged also with hope. As a grieving mother, thats a balance Monroe finds herself inhabiting on a daily basis.
I feel that his death and our loss is certainly still as painful and as horrible as it was the first day that he died, Monroe said. But Ive just learned how to live and to keep walking with that pain a little bit more as the days and months go by.