God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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Still True

Five years ago this week, I held my daughter in her hospice bed. Beauty and pain mixed together. I wrote this post more than 3 years ago. The content is still true.  Waves of grief still flow and crest. Anniversary dates affect me. If you are grieving, don’t let anyone tell you that you need to get over it. Not. going. to. happen. Nor do we want to “get over” the person who we loved very deeply.

Due to the grace of God and friends, I’ve learned how to stabilize during the days of choppy waters. My love will never ebb – fade away. Thank you for your friendship during this season of life.  Warmly, Marie

Living with grief is similar to living in the ocean.

When I lived on land, my life was solid, firm and pretty predictable. Yes, there was the occasional thunderstorm, but for the most part living on land was emotionally consistent. The earth beneath me kept me well – grounded.

Initially when I lost Leah, grief was like a huge tidal wave. It hit hard, fast and furious.  And the feeling of being stunned numbed me for a period of time. Actually, for a long time. It was similar to the time that I was physically knocked onto a beach in Maui by an ocean wave. The force of the wave slammed my body to the shoreline. As hard as I tried to brace myself, it smacked me to the ground with total indifference. Its power stunned me. Getting up, my legs were off balance and my head instantly ached. I was disoriented and frankly, just glad to be alive and not swept into the deep water. All I thought about was survival. That’s what the moments of Leah’s cancer diagnosis and Leah’s death were like – being hit by an enormous tidal wave.

Blog_Ocean

After the wave hit, grief became the choppy waters after a storm. All I could do was either bob, float or tread water. Having to conserve energy, I’d just focus on moving slowly. I couldn’t swim. I was living in slow motion and just looking right in front of me. Minutes felt like hours. My breathing was hard and sometimes, while treading water, I couldn’t talk. I’d sleep with the bobbing waters around me like a survivor stranded at sea. I’d wake up nauseous with my heart racing and anxious – knowing I had another day with the hard reality of living in the ocean waters facing me. Trying to ride the waves of emotion became a matter of daily survival.

When living in the waters of grief, tears have been minuscule compared to the raging waters that surrounded me. It was actually symbolically comforting to cry in the streams of water that showered me. My tears just became one with the vast ocean of sadness. Others didn’t always see them, but tears were my companions.

Blog_Ocean waves

As I became more familiar with the grief waters, I started seeing beauty in unexpected places. There’s life in the ocean waters. In the depths of sorrow, beauty is below the surface. The kindness and love of others, the joy in memories of Leah, the comfort from God enabled my blurring eyes to focus in on the exquisite life that exists in the deep waters.

Blog_Ocean jellyfish

Sometimes the grief ocean became peaceful. The sun shone, the birds soared and dolphins leapt and all was well. With my soul. All was well. For a time, I enjoyed the present and didn’t think about the last storm or a possible upcoming storm. I lived in the moment of sunshine and basked on the rock of peace and contentment, until….

….the next grief storm. Just as ocean storms are forecasted, there are times when a grief storm was predictable. I expected a grief storm to hit around Leah’s birthday, the day she left us to join heaven and holidays. But there are times, a storm hit suddenly and I couldn’t predict it. Recently, I was at a garage sale and saw an American Girl doll. Suddenly, I saw Leah’s happy face as she opened her first Bitty Baby doll for Christmas and carried it with her everywhere for months. This memory wave hit hard and fast and took my breath away.

In that moment, it felt as though I was being sucked into the ocean floor. It felt as though I was drowning.

But I didn’t drown. Either God, someone, some thought or a prayer sent me a life preserver and I was helped back up for air.

Yes, living with grief is similar to living in the ocean. Although Leah has been gone 18 months, I expect the moving waters of grief to continue indefinitely. The ebb and flow of emotions are with me for the rest of my days. They change my environment forever.

I am not a guest. The ocean called grief is my home.

Family and friends also live with me in this home either because they too have lost Leah, or they have lost another person who they deeply love.

As the years pass, one by one, people for whom I care are guaranteed to join me – moving from living on land to experiencing the dramatic, fluid, unpredictable and stunning life in the grief ocean.


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What to do when Christmas is hard

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year

With kids jingle belling

And everyone telling you ‘be of good cheer’

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

From the song  It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams

Such sweet words. For several people, they eagerly await this season and began excitedly counting down the days to December in June!  The holiday song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year says it all for this group of people.

You are either in this season or life, or you have friends in this season of life.

There’s another group of people who desperately want to fast forward to January 2, 2019. Many of us are either in the midst of a serious health diagnosis and/or crisis, relationship breakdown, job loss, divorce or grieving the death of a loved one. The joy that typically marks this time of year turns into a sadness and uncertainty about the future that is very lonely and painful.

Truth: You are either in a joyful place or a painful place. And your family and friends are experiencing the holidays from one of these positions.

How do you recognize and reconcile the reality of both experiences?

  • When you are in a “great place” in life, how do you celebrate with both your happy friends and your sad friends?
  • How do you even begin to reach out to someone in pain?
  • If you are the person struggling, how do you take care of yourself?
  • How do you not feel like you are bringing people around you down?

I don’t have magic answers, but I can share my life experience and what I’ve learned during the last few years. This Christmas will be my fifth without my 15 year old daughter Leah. She passed away in 2014.

This time of year brings conflicting and complicated emotions. Leah had cancer for 14 months. It was this time of year, in 2013, when she had a major setback and relapse. We knew she was in a bad place, so we tried desperately to make the month of December special for her.

It is a sweet memory … and a bitter memory.

For the first two holiday seasons without Leah, I was quite numb. I basically went through “the motions” during all the major holidays as I did my best to outwardly smile and engage with family and friends. Yet, I hurt on the inside.

When you are in a great place and all is going well in your life, it takes personal sacrifice to enter into someone’s pain or difficult situation. Yes, you risk being uncomfortable; you may have moments of empathy and compassion that bring you to a potentially melancholy place. You too may feel somber emotions as you walk alongside your friend.

You will experience life more richly by:

  • Acknowledging your friend’s loss
  • Not making decisions for your friend – invite him or her to events
  • Being understanding and flexible if your friend changes his or her mind at the last minute
  • Doing something special in memory of the person who your friend lost
  • Keeping your commitments when you offer to do something with your friend

These actions from my friends and family have been true Christmas gifts to me.

Now, a word to those of us who are in the middle of a challenge or deep loss:

  • Realize our grief is unpredictable and messy – Emotions around the holidays are all over the place. One day, we feel upbeat and happy and the next day, we feel depressed and lonely. Don’t feel pressured to make too many plans ahead of time. Ride the grief wave as you need to.
  • Ask for what you need – If a friend is kind enough to reach out, respond and don’t ignore him or her. Communicate openly about what is most helpful to you at this time.
  • Find a creative way to honor your loss – Holiday traditions are so foundational and meaningful in our lives. Create an event/tradition that honors your loved one and keeps his or her place in your heart alive.
  • If you just can’t go to a public event – don’t. Give yourself permission to say no.

The holidays are a time to respect one another’s needs and celebrate our love for one another – whatever life stage we are in.

Holiday blessings all!

Blog_Christmas 2018


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President Bush’s example – time doesn’t change love for a deceased child

Along with the rest of the world, I grieve the loss of President George H.W. Bush. Or as many call him – 41. It sure takes a smart and special person to serve as President of the United States. His devotion and personal investment in our country were great. His devotion to his wife and family was equally remarkable and noteworthy.

As the stories are told about President Bush, there’s one story about his personal life that I didn’t now. He had a three year old daughter Robin who died of leukemia in 1953. It was a time when there weren’t many advances in the treatment of leukemia. She was in a hospital in New York for many months. When Robin died, Barbara and George Bush were devastated.

Their love for Robin stayed with the Bush’s their entire lives. So much so, that President George W. Bush (43) mentioned his sister’s name during his father’s eulogy. The mentioning of Robin, 65 years after her death, touches me — deeply.

As a mother of a deceased child, I immediately connect with the deep grief of losing a child. I also connect to the powerful hope of a reconciliation with Leah after my own death.

Mentioning Robin’s name gives voice to all parents who have lost a child to death.

We can learn four, key things from George H.W. Bush’s example:

  1. Say the child’s name – It’s healing and affirming to hear the deceased child’s name. It’s meaningful when others acknowledge our deceased children. Our children graced this planet, whether for moments or decades, and brought us joy. Saying Robin’s name at Presiden’t Bush’s funeral told the world, “We remember Robin. She is not forgotten. She was cherished.” Saying her name was a gift to the entire family.  Hearing my daughter’s name brings me joy. It doesn’t make me sad. As the years go by, I hear Leah’s name less and less. Not hearing her name is what makes me sad.
  2. Number of other children doesn’t lessen pain – The Bush’s have six children total. Robin was one of six. The fact that there are five other children didn’t lessen George and Barbara’s pain and grief of losing Robin. Period.
  3. Grief grows compassion – President Bush remained sensitive and comforting to people he met who were battling cancer or other terminal illnesses. He went out of his way to acknowledge the pain and grief that were caused by cancer.
  4. Time doesn’t matter – Robin died at 3 years old. President Bush hasn’t seen his daughter for 65 years. Let that sink in —  65 years. At the age of 94, this father still longed for his daughter’s presence. The hope of seeing his God, wife and daughter gave him peace as he approached death. His love for his daughter knew no time limit. He carried her in his heart until his last breath.

Personally, the last point hits me the strongest. There is a comfort in knowing that I share this connection with the Bush’s. Although a sad connection, parents who have lost children have a bond with one another.

I’ve been living four years, almost five, without my daughter Leah. My love hasn’t lessened one bit. And it never will. It is affirming to hear how devoted President Bush was to his child’s memory and the ways that her presence blessed his life.

There are good articles about the impact Robin had on the Bush family. There is one today in the Washington Post.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2018/12/06/george-barbara-bush-never-stopped-agonizing-over-death-their-year-old-robin

Thank you President Bush for loving your family and country well. May you rest in peace and enjoy your first days in heaven with Barbara and Robin.

Blog_George HW Bush

 

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Your Heart is Calling

As the years pass, the protective covering gets harder.

Exposed to the elements of life, you trust less – doubt more.

A casing forms – similar to bark on a tree or the shell of a tortoise.

Layers grow over with each:

  • Betrayal
  • Harsh word
  • Disappointment
  • Violent act
  • Painful illness
  • Lie
  • Wound
  • Sad situation
  • Death

Especially death.

It wasn’t always this way.

Try to remember.

Focus really, really hard.

Go back.

Remember the tender, trusting warmth of that first friend, first crush, first kiss, first love.

Picture moments of music, dance and silly laughter.

See the face of the person who first believed in you, first trusted you, first loved you.

Let yourself go there.

Place yourself in these moments – before any disillusionment.

Don’t run from these memories – thinking that their impact is lost and forever gone.

Explaining the peace away as young naivete.

Hold the images.

Look at them.

Turn them over.

See them. Really see them.

It will start to happen.

Healing of the outside walls.

The protective covering cracks.

Chipping open  . . .

. . . the outer hardness breaks.

The soft inside is warm and comforting.

Calling you.

It is still there:

  • Unlocked
  • Alive
  • Beating
  • Hopeful
  • Real

Waiting for you.

Your heart is there.

Pure.

Whole.

Tender.

Strong.

Lovingly patient.

Calling you back to who you truly are – who you are truly made to be.

Your heart is whispering.

Listen.

 

Blog_heart soft inside


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Dealing with the hard “stuff” – like her room

I am not even sure how to title this blog. After someone we love dies, it’s all hard. There’s nothing easy about heartbreaking loss.

For me, after losing my 15 year old daughter, there were aspects of the grief process that I confronted quickly, directly and aggressively. For example, I spoke at my daughter’s funeral. Looking back, I’m not quite sure how I had the ability to be articulate and not break down in tears. Well, yes, I do know. My love for her and desire to honor her gave me the adrenaline I needed to get through that experience. And only with God’s help.

Also, the first four years after Leah passed away, I was an assertive advocate for Make-A-Wish – speaking at events for them and leading a Walk for Wishes team in Leah’s memory for three years. My drive was to give back to Make-A-Wish. Our Wish trip to Paris was an incredibly wonderful gift. It was something positive on which to focus during Leah’s illness. As our last family vacation with Leah, the trip is a true memory to cherish.

One area of deep pain and avoidance has been going through her “stuff” and clearing out her bedroom. The first couple of years, I tried to go in her room. I even wrote a blog post about it. Yet, after I wrote that post, I shut the door and didn’t return for a very long time.

I wasn’t at peace going in her room. And I wasn’t at peace not going in her room.

It wound up being easier for me to avoid the whole experience. Her bedroom door stayed shut for more than four years.

Yet, every so often, I felt a nagging voice say, “You really need to get her room done. There are nice things our family and her friends can enjoy.”

Finally, the pestering voice won. For the last several months, I spent hours going through my daughter’s things and selecting items that I want to keep and items that I was open to giving away. Notice I said, “open to” giving away…

My husband and I are very different on this topic. He is very understanding and gracious. He’s given me the space to deal with her things in the best way that I can.

Going into her room felt like stepping back in time. Many items were left exactly where she placed them – books, clothes, stuffed animals, jewelry, photos, etc. It shocked me that there was no dust in the room.

This past month, I had friends, who were very close to Leah, pick out a few things before returning to college. I was worried her friends wouldn’t want to come to our home and go through her things. It has been almost five years. Happily, they were appreciative to select items that belonged to Leah.

Like so many moments after losing my daughter, this experience was bittersweet. It brought sadness and happiness. It is always wonderful to see Leah’s friends; I felt joy as they expressed their connection to her and her memory. It was meaningful to hear the reasons that they picked either a piece of jewelry, stuffed animal or Eiffel tower.

Other people I know dealt with  personal belongings quickly after a death – clearing out items within a couple weeks.

For me, I just couldn’t do it.

I’ve probably kept more of Leah’s items than I need, but it will be a process of releasing and letting go. The experience of clearing out her things feels like another goodbye – another sad goodbye.

I know that I am sentimental about “stuff,” I’ve learned to accept this fact about myself – items have meaning. I fully understand that the things aren’t Leah and they can never replace her.

A major step, in confronting the permanence of my loss, is complete.

One day, I may let most things of Leah’s go. For now, I have several boxes.

One item that I will never ever give away – Leah’s Bitty Baby Doll.

Never. Ever.

The joy on her face when she opened this Christmas present was priceless.

My reflection:

Do what you need to do – at your own pace – while being kind to yourself – and let your love win!

2005 5 septem bday dolls.jpg

My Little Miss with her favorite American Girl Dolls. The first two!

 

 


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When grief becomes a poison

Meeting grief has similarities to a first time encounter with a stranger.

You see the person across the room at a party. The stranger looks awkward.

You think, “Oh, please. Oh, please don’t come toward me.”

And the unfamiliar person walks up to you – and makes an introduction, “Hello, I’m Grief.”

You are anxious and tense.

The discussion with Grief is circular; you have no idea where the conversation is going and when it will end.

But no one else comes up to chat, so you keep talking to Grief.

The pace of the conversation picks up. You begin to learn Grief’s connection to the host and some of her story.

Listening deeply, she connects with your innermost thoughts and feelings.

Grief shows great compassion toward your challenges.

When it’s time to leave, you exchange phone numbers.

Grief calls a lot at the beginning of the friendship.

She shows up at the least expected times — early in the morning, mid-day or late at night.

On certain special holidays, when you know she’ll call, Grief is actually comforting and affirming.

After some visits, Grief kinda makes you feel — well, alive and fully human.

After other visits, Grief leaves you tired, empty and drained.

After some time, she invites you to meet her relatives.

When you walk into her home, your eye catches the glance of a well-dressed, magnetic person.

As Grief’s cousin, she is the life of the party and a crowd grows around her.

Her demeanor is colorful, dramatic and engaging.

She captures the attention of everyone in the room with compelling stories.

You notice after several stories, she is always the hero and never the bad guy.

As the night wears on, you notice how repetitive she is. Grief’s cousin gets tired and she’s harshly reproachful.

Her smile is gone. Not happy anymore, she is seething.

She suddenly leaves and slams the door on the way out.

You walk up to your friend and ask, “What jut happened? Oh, by the way, I didn’t catch your cousin’s name?”

She turns to you, with a tired look, and says, “Oh, she’s always like that. She starts out the life of the party and then leaves in a huff. Her name: Bitterness.”

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Note:  While I am not a grief expert, I have had my world rocked by distressing circumstances. My daughter and both parents died in an eleven month period. During this same year, I was laid off my ministry job of seven years — at a community to which I felt God called me.  These compound losses gave me a new lens to view the world.

ANY significant loss is a type of death. And with death, we grieve.

My faith community is experiencing heart wrenching pain because of moral failings,  broken trust, destructive words and much more . . . .

Due to the circumstance, individual and collective grief is morphing into many emotions and behaviors — some good and others not so good.

While we may not choose grief as a companion, we can choose what our suffering turns into.

  1. Grief is not bad. Grief can grow compassion. The depth of sorrow can help us see our humanness. It has the potential to birth something good — empathy. We can become more merciful and gracious toward ourselves and the humanness and vulnerability of others.
  2. Unchecked grief is bad. It can turn into deep, deep anger and a desire for retribution. (One example is that I experienced the consequences of severe judgment and self-focus that defined my grandmother’s life. Her father died when she was small and her husband had an affair.) 

When grief moves deep inside our hearts, it rots and morphs into bitterness.

Bitterness is a poison.

Bitterness is:

  • Unforgiving
  • Blinding
  • Unloving
  • Short-sighted
  • Self-focused
  • Alluring
  • Relentlessly determined
  • Deceptive
  • Isolating
  • Destructive
  • Cynical
  • Critical

We falsely believe we can control bitterness; we cannot. The charmer controls us.

We hold the poison in our hands and drink it willingly when bitterness becomes our friend.

I’ve fought off this harsh emotion after losing Leah. I haven’t handled each of my losses perfectly, but I sniff out its toxicity near me.  I want to get better at refusing to drink from the well of bitterness.

My hope is that each of us pause, acknowledge our grief, own it, work through it and not allow this abhorrent substance to seep into our souls and hearts. And if we do, there is hope.

Our great Healer offers the antidote once we consume the poison – a big dose of forgiving love.

Blog_Poison

Grief and Bitterness can be personified as “he” as well. Insert the pronoun that works best for you…

 


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The Roller Coaster Ride called Grief

Climbing the stairs to the platform is one of the most anxiety producing actions ever.

Waiting to board, I chatter nervously.

Heart racing, hands shaking and knees wobbling.

A huge part of me wants to turn and run away as far as possible.

But, she’s at my side and our turn is next.

It arrives.

We’re in the first car.

There’s no buffer between us and the unknown in this front seat.

Stepping into the car, I take the inner spot.

The metal bars come down around our shoulders.

They are heavy and inflict pressure.

We look at one another.

As the mom, I’m trying not to show my fear.

But I am petrified.

Her eyes say that she’s scared and I say, “Just hold my hand. I’m here.”

The roller coaster starts slowly…very slowly. Teasing us.

Then we ascend. Inch by inch.

“Click…Click…Click…Click”

A sound that tells me that we are headed for quite an experience.

On a 90 degree angle, we are in the hands of gears and brakes that I hope work.

My heart beats so hard; I can hear it loudly in my ears.

I swear I can see her heart beating.

A blue sky is all we see.

Can’t envision what’s on the other side of the incline.

As we level out, I look down – totally overwhelmed.

Blog Roller coaster 1

Visual overload.

A maze of twists, turns and curves.

There’s no way to identify the route – no time to exit.

I’m not in control.

The descent is fast and furious.

Whoosh! Both of our heads hit the back of the car and our hair whips in many directions.

Whish. We descend in less than 5 seconds.

Lightening speed creates a blur.

She and I grab one another’s hands tightly.

We laugh nervously.

Whoosh again. Rounding another curve.

It’s happening so quickly that my mind can’t comprehend the full ride.

Where are we headed? When will it end?

In this moment, I am acutely aware of my feelings:

Anxious. Fearful. Curious. Protective. Impatient. Overwhelmed.

High doses of adrenaline keep me from passing out.

Trusting that this metal bar will hold us in.

Hold her in.

A dark tunnel approaches.

I think this means the ride’s almost over. Thankfully.

We enter the darkness, so black that I am comforted by closing my eyes.

Her hand still holds on to mine.

Ah – a speck of white light.

It’s tiny, but gets bigger and bigger.

Now total brightness.

Yes! We’re through. We made it.

The car slows down.

I look to my right.

She’s gone.

What?!

Panic. Fear. Shock. Disbelief.

How can she be gone?

“Somebody, stop this roller coaster now and get me off. I have to be with her.”

But the ride doesn’t stop.

It starts over.

This isn’t happening; it’s a bad dream.

There’s chatter behind me so I know that other people are still on the ride.

I have to go through again without her by my side.

This time I ride with a broken heart.

Repeating the climb, the speed, the twists, the turns,

the dark tunnel – all without her.

Alone in the front seat.

I have no idea how long the ride will last.

The bar is holding me in – protecting me.

The slow ascent repeats – “click… click…click”

Here I go.

Trusting that she is ok without me.

That someone is protecting her.

Until my ride ends.

…And this is what it was – and is like – for me to lose my daughter to cancer.

Note: I wrote this blog post almost three years ago. I still go through an emotional roller coaster – although the dips and turns may not be as dramatic.

Trying to put words to an experience as painful as losing my daughter is difficult. I know some people try to enter my world and relate to my experience, but of course, they can only understand to a certain level. Unless, they’ve either cared for a child through a serious illness and/or lost a child.  

I do have dreams of my daughter. Some are tender and some dreams mimic the experience of this roller coaster ride – losing her in a crowd or she vanishes. So hard.

Trusting in the strong arms of God that hold me tight, until I see her again. And grateful for many of you who stay on the ride with me. Almost five years later.

Hang on with courage to your own ride – wherever it takes you.