Dance Again

by Nathan Peterson

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    I wrote this book during the months following Olivia’s passing—it starts from the day she died and ends the day our 5th child, Benjamin, was born (about 14 months later).

    This book is not about what happened on the outside (although I did include some journal entries to help fill in the story). This book is about what was happening inside me during these moments, and a condensing of the lessons I learned about grief and healing.

    The theme of this book is *rest in the midst of pain*.

    On one hand, we had known since before she was born that Olivia would not live long—she was deemed “incompatible with life” due to a chromosomal defect called Trisomy 18. On the other hand, she had lived for 14 months. Around month five, we stopped expecting her to die at any moment. We learned to be with her while she was live. With that decision came the risk—the certainty—of much greater pain whenever it was her time to go.

    On March 11, 2016—a beautiful, warm, spring day—Olivia died, unexpectedly. I’m still processing that day. I remember the weather. I remember the way Olivia felt heavy in my arms. I remember the tears of our friends. I remember the blood-red sunset.

    I remember the basket—I had been dreading that basket for a year and a half.

    I remember praying as a family over Olivia. I remember knowing there was no good prayer to pray, but trying anyway. I remember the feeling after the basket left our front door and the door was closed: like the biggest wave had come and gone… the emptiness of its wake. It was peace… and it was sadness. It was heartbreak… and it was victory.

    It was grief… and it was healing.

    The following months were possibly even more difficult than the previous ones. My wife and I were slowly deconstructed until all that remained was a pile of parts on the floor.

    All I wanted was to get up—to put myself back together. But I could feel a quiet presence (I still feel it now) of a physician, working. Just as my wife was stitched together 14 months earlier after delivering Olivia, just as my daughter was stitched together in her mother’s womb before that, someone was stitching me back together. Quietly. Patiently. Working. Healing.

    My battle during these months—and the main focus of this book—was to allow myself to be healed. Even as I type this, I’m overwhelmed by the pain of staying on that operating table—of not jumping up and becoming occupied for the sake of my sanity and sense of whole-person-ness.

    My wife and I had a very difficult decision to make on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute, basis: will I settle for an external image of wholeness, or will I wait for real healing to happen inside? The first path was faster. Saner. But the second was intimately tied to the same posture/mindset we had learned from Olivia during her life. “In repentance and rest is your salvation; In quiet and trust is your strength.”

    The statistic is something like: 95% of marriages of parents who have lost a child end in divorce. We were right there. We had the conversation more than once.

    I become a person I was embarrassed to be. I did and said things which brought debilitating shame, which snowballed into more things I did and said, which brought more shame…

    We had four other kids—kids who had been through hell… kids who lost their sister, and in many ways their parents. My heart still breaks to think about them during all of this. We failed them so many times in so many ways.

    The urge to jump off that operating table… It was a minute-by-minute battle to stay—to trust that the physician was still working… to trust that there even *was* a physician.

    Even during this period of—when death had had its way, when I had become someone I hated, when even smiling started to feel foreign—we knew that, even here, there was life.

    Olivia taught us to live life, life the way it is, in the midst of uncertainty. Now, in her absence, she was teaching us to live life, life the way it is, in the midst of our pain. And in the midst of that pain, in the midst of that fumbling to try to let go and to live these moments, we found healing. Not just healing from our loss of Olivia—we were being healed deeper and much farther back than that.

    The pain of loss is inseparable from healing.

    Grief is not a series of necessary steps to “get over” a loss.

    Grief is being open. Grief is being *receptive*.

    Grief is the absence of certain comforts which give us only the impression of healing.

    Grief is the door which leads to healing. Grief and healing are inseparable.

    Grief *is* healing.

    This book is my best attempt at sharing my grief, and in doing so my healing, with you.

    What I couldn’t fit into words, I poured into music.

    As you read this book and listen to the music, please let yourself breathe. Notice your breath. A common translation for the word “breath” is “spirit”—let the spirit travel in and out. Let it go where it wants. And as you breathe—as you let the common parts of my journey resonate with you—see if you notice a physician working on you as well.

    This is a hard path to want to walk down, but I believe that deep down many of us are ready and excited to walk it. We are no longer satisfied with an external image of wholeness—we are ready for real healing inside.

    THANK YOU for traveling 14 more months with me.

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1.
Dance Again 02:58
I may write another song, maybe even the perfect one, but it won't ever be the same. And I may take another try, pick my feet up for another mile, but it won't ever be the same. It won't ever be the same. I don't want to dance again. Tell the music not to play. Tell the music not to play. I can see her, I can feel her face. I don't want to dance again. Seasons change and memories fade. Tears dry but scars remain. Things are never gonna be the same.
2.
Is It a Sin? 03:47
Is it a sin to want to choke the life Out of the lungs of Jesus Christ To watch his last breath Since I missed when my daughter closed her eyes God forgive me for the things I've said And the things I'm gonna do But God help me if I ever see your face And don't say these things to you Who are you to take her away Just because you're God Just because I'm not With your arms around her now Is that supposed to feel like something that's good I ran so fast I could hardly see I needed to be there But I was too slow and she was gone And I'll never get that back I tried and I tried and I tried To be there for her But I guess you're her father now And I can go back to whatever the hell I was doing before Who are you to take her away Just because you're God Just because I'm not With your arms around her now Is that supposed to feel like something that's good God forgive me for the things I've said And the things I'm gonna do But God help me if I ever see your face And don't say these things to you
3.
Don't rush to get up now, You've really been through it this time around. And I know you want to run, Just to feel it, to feel it, Just to know that you're still here. It's like a movie all around, Speeding up and up, But you're only slowing down. You'll never catch up now, no Let it go 'till the pain catches you, It's a moment, here and now. You're not saving anyone So don't rush to get up. She's not going anywhere And you're not saving anyone. Come back to where you are. It might hurt like hell, burn like coals, But at least right here we know who we are. You're not saving anyone So don't rush to get up.
4.
Cry 03:05
When you call, but she doesn't come home When you swear that you hear her voice, but she's nowhere to be found When all you have is reminders that she's gone And nothing left can imagine going on Go ahead and cry, it's fine It's the only way for you to feel right now Go ahead and cry, it's fine It's the only way for you to heal somehow When it's cold, and it's never gonna change When you try, and you try, and you try, but it doesn't do a thing When all you have is a memory that fades And every step is another step away Go ahead and cry, it's fine It's the only way for you to feel right now Go ahead and cry, it's fine It's the only way for you to heal somehow
5.
Marathon 03:24
How are you? I'm okay. How 'bout you? I'm the same. But if you only knew, then you'd say... It's not a marathon, You don't have to be strong, It's okay to fall apart, You can only be where you are, You don't have to control, The waves will come and they will go, It's not a marathon.

about

These are the songs I wrote during the year following our daughter Olivia's passing. At times I have felt like this isn't even art—that I'm a fool for sharing it. But all the while, I've heard a voice telling me to keep going, to finish my assignment.

So here it is, my darkest dark, my deepest pain, my hope and my healing. 🎈🌊

credits

released December 7, 2018

Written, performed, recorded, and produced by Nathan Peterson
Mixed by Matt Rausch, Nashville
Mastered by Tom Baker, LA

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Nathan Peterson Peoria, Illinois

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