God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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What to do with pain

Stepping out of the car two days ago, my right foot hit a hole in the grass. The top of my foot turned outward and I felt a tendon rip. Unbalanced, I fell on my left side – hitting the ground – first, on my knee; second, on my hip; and third, on my elbow. Ouch!

My immediate thought was, “Quick get up! Did anyone see me fall?” How completely embarrassing.

Not knowing whether or not I broke anything, I forced myself to stay down. Scanning my surroundings, I didn’t see anyone. “Phew.” Ok, my pride was safe for the moment. Slowly moving to a sitting position, my body ached.

My desire was to get back in the car. I was leaving for a fun adventure and didn’t want this fall to affect my entire afternoon. Could I just pretend this fall didn’t happen? A greater wisdom said, “Go in the house and look at the damage.” Slowly, I limped into the house and hobbled straight to the freezer for ice packs.

Afraid to look at the damage, I lifted up the left leg of my jeans. It turns out that a large pebble caused a scrape on my knee. My right foot wasn’t swelling yet. As I iced these areas, I had a decision to make. Was I going to keep moving or stop and take care of my joints? With sadness, I chose to stay home.

Pain stopped me.

Why? Pain is an indicator of a bigger problem.

This time my wound was physical. But reflecting on this goofy fall, I see a parallel to emotional pain. Getting up too quickly after a troubling experience, whether physical or emotional, is likely to create permanent damage.

Something inside is torn.

Something inside is throbbing.

It really hurts. It just happened. I don’t know if it’s a sprain, or a dislocation, or a full break. If I don’t go slowly and check the soreness out, my activity is likely to cause greater damage to me or someone else. For example, if I got in the car with a broken ankle and tried to drive, my foot may have not been strong enough to hit the break and I could have missed a stop – hurting myself or someone else.

It’s the same with emotional pain. After a trauma, if I go through the days immediately following as though nothing happened, my feelings may be impaired. I can hurt other people around me with words or actions that flow from the pain.

Slowing down to think clearly is hard, but necessary. And, after a serious trauma, it may take much more than a few days of reflection; it may take months or years.

I’ve had emotional pain originate from:

  • betrayal
  • careless words
  • broken relationships
  • illness
  • trauma
  • death

When I’ve taken time to 1) stop, 2) assess and 3) respond – in this order – I have made better progress with a full, healthy recovery.

I’ve learned, with the death of my daughter Leah, not jump to action after distressing encounters. While she was suffering and sick, it would have been easy to let my pain lead me by lashing out at doctors, nurses, social workers, family, friends, etc. when they were unclear, hurtful or selfish. Most of the time, I paused, waited and tried to think clearly before responding. I didn’t always get it right, but I think overall, I feel that I handled my responses to pain appropriately without damaging other people.

When we pause and wait before we speak, we gain clarity and perspective. Especially if we feel wounded and betrayed. Our instinct is to either ignore, or move forward, or address the pain immediately. Sadly, a quick response can create a major tear in relationships. I see this especially with the use of email and social media as a way to respond to hurt and conflict. When triggered, online responses happen quickly and carelessly without much thought. Permanent damage to relationships results.

Handling our injuries is tricky.

When we don’t care for the wound, the pain seeps deep inside – becoming part of who we are.

Acknowledging pain, as a sign of a deeper problem, helps us more fully heal.

So, for two days, I’ve missed going to the gym to exercise. Fortunately, nothing is broken, no sprain, no major swelling, but I’m still sore. It’s hard to be patient. Waiting for the aches to lessen is helping me recover. I want to move forward on solid footing.

Hope you take time to 1) stop, 2) assess and 3) respond to the depth of your pain. In this order.

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The Ache

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Dear friends,

Feelings are a gift.

They sure bring color and flavor to life and make every day interesting.

As you have, I’ve also experienced lots of emotions such as:

  • A joy that creates a sensation of being light as a cloud
  • A nervousness that imitates dozens of butterflies in my stomach
  • An anger that burns and churns inside like a smoldering fire
  • A fear that rattles, shakes and freezes me up all at the same time

Each of these feelings come and go. Some daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. The interesting thing about them is that they are unpredictable. Each new morning brings unplanned situations that create a vast array of emotions. I’m sure we can all agree to this reality!

The amazing thing is that each of our life experiences are different. In my life for the last five years, there’s a feeling that underlies them all.

  • Sadness

When the sadness arrived, it was at first like stepping on a hornets nest. Sadness was dramatic, painful and all consuming. My natural instinct was to get off the nest as fast as possible, run from it and then double over.

As time passes, my sadness is similar to an unending muscle or joint ache. It goes deep into my bones – the way we all feel on cold, damp winter days.

Other emotions do supercede the sadness. But when the day is done and all the other emotions settle, the sadness is there.

The reason being is that this specific sadness is born from love.

A love that is brighter, deeper and stronger than any other emotion I’ve experienced.

A mother’s love.

Today marks four years that my little miss Leah is no longer physically present. It’s true that there’s no loss similar to losing a child. I hurt along with all the parents in history who’ve lost children to illness, war, school shootings, brave acts, suicide, murder and many other tragedies.

You may feel a similar sad ache because of Leah’s absence or because of the absence of someone else who you love.

Don’t feel sorry for me. Let’s focus together on the deep love that creates the ache. The beautiful, magnificent love that binds our hearts to someone else’s.

You are kind to walk alongside me as I openly grieve the loss of my daughter.

And you will never hurt or offend me by mentioning my daughter’s name or wanting to talk about her. It gives my love somewhere to go. Her name and face bring joy to my heart.

Today, I am inviting the heartache to the forefront as I remember the moments that we said goodbye. Thank you today for all your words and prayers. They comfort and uplift me.

With a heart of love,

Marie

My beautiful girl. Miss her spirit – her inner and outer beauty and, oh my, miss her beautiful blue eyes.

Leah 2018

 

 

 

 

 


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I made it through another year

Another Christmas and New Year pass.

It was the fourth Christmas without your bubbly excitement.

One more year that the white stocking graced the fireplace mantle – replacing your handmade red and green one.

The Christmas tree, filled with cupcakes and Eiffel Towers, was a type of memorial because it displayed things that you loved.

The tree also proudly displayed ornaments both you and your brother gave us. We’d give you $5 to buy us a gift at grade school craft fairs.

You’d proudly come home with brightly wrapped items.

Back then, they seemed so modest and simple.

Priceless today.

Our last holiday season together, five years ago, was intensely precious.

Not knowing how long you’d be with us, we soaked up every minute.

Embracing, in a circle, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve wasn’t easy.

It was hard for you to stand, because of your illness, but you did.

You wanted to complete our family hug. And join in on our New Year prayer of gratitude.

On February 20, 2014, I didn’t know how many years I could bear the grief of our broken circle.

Losing you seemed to squeeze everything out of me.

But, here I am.

I haven’t given up, or given in to sorrow.

I soak up joy with people who I love, wherever or whenever I can.

Of course, it breaks my heart that you aren’t physically with me.

So I hang up special ornaments and decorations in your memory –

and try not to focus on how sad it is that I have to do so.

The number of Christmas’ that I haven’t seen you doesn’t matter.

It never gets easier without you. One. Single. Bit.

You are one of my best gifts ever.

Your love of Christmas magic has a special place in my heart little miss.

Yes, I made it through another year.

Love you more than all the cupcake and Eiffel Tower ornaments in the world,

Mom

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Note: A friend of mine sent me an email after Christmas that began, “You’ve made it through another year.” These words touched me deeply. “She gets it,” I thought. Just these six words confirmed that she can only imagine the ongoing pain of losing my daughter. Her words are a special gift to me. While I don’t constantly talk about it, the sorrow of losing Leah is always present. Love for life and the people who I love keep me going.  


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Being a light to family and friends during the holidays

It’s a busy time of year for EVERYONE. The holidays either bring joy, sadness or both to each of us. I wrote a post earlier this month titled “When the holidays hurt…what to do for your friend and yourself.” The reality is that we are all so busy, the people who may benefit from this post – maybe didn’t have time to read it.

So, I’ve summarized the content, in hopes that someone who needs to either be encouraged or affirmed will take a few minutes for self care. Sometimes, we need information in small portions vs. the main course.

Here’s the appetizer.

If you have a friend who has suffered a major loss or challenge this year (i.e. a death in family, divorce, job loss, major illness, etc.), you will benefit by moving toward your friend, rather than away from your friend.

You can be the light he or she needs this holiday season.

You will experience life in a much richer way by:

  • Acknowledging your friend’s loss
  • Not making decisions for your friend about holiday events
  • Being understanding and flexible about your friend’s involvement in holiday celebrations
  • Doing something special for your friend
  • Keeping your commitments – don’t bail on your friend the last minute

When people have shown me these kindnesses, it has given me the gift of unconditional love.

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

  • Realize our grief over ANY loss is important; there is no grief hierarchy
  • No guilt over sadness about a loss when others are happy; there is no grief timeline
  • Accept grief as unpredictable and messy
  • Ask for what you need – don’t pretend or stuff your feelings
  • Find a creative way to honor your loved one or acknowledge your situational loss either privately or publicly
  • If you just can’t go to holiday gatherings, don’t – give yourself permission to say no

We can have glimmers of bright moments during difficult life situations. They start by being our authentic selves with family, friends, co-workers around us. Be real. Don’t hide in the dark.

The holidays give us an opportunity to see people who we haven’t in a long time. It’s helpful to realize we’ve all struggled with something in 2017; it’s the better to choice to be genuine reflections of reality to one another.

Wishing you peace.

Note: If you’d like the main course on this topic, please read the previous post.

 

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When the holidays hurt…what to do for your friend and yourself

 

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much mistletoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When love ones are near
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 that create a picture of cozy fireplaces, twinkling Christmas lights, shiny menorahs, cheery music and jolly laughter. For several people, they eagerly await this season and began excitedly counting down the days to December in June! Their outdoor lights were up in November. The holiday season brings days off work to shop, go to craft fairs and attend holiday parties with family and friends.  The holiday song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year says it all for this group of people.

Truth: 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, 2018. Many of whom 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 this season of life, or you have friends in this season of life.

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?
  • Can you risk being “brought down” by someone who is hurting during the holidays?
  • 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?
  • What if you need a “time out” during this holiday season?

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 fourth 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. On Thanksgiving 2015, I basically had a “grief breakdown” and had to leave a gathering without saying goodbye to anyone because I was deeply sobbing.

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.

Remember your friend, the one for whom you care, is going through much more than you are. He or she is living the pain. He or she can’t go home to normalcy the way that you can.

You will experience life in a much richer way by:

  • Acknowledging your friend’s loss – In my case, after four years, people don’t mention Leah much anymore. When they do, it’s very special. I was at a recent volunteer meeting and a friend gave me a big hug and asked how I was. She acknowledged my loss and asked, “What did Leah love about Christmas?” Wow! What a gift she gave me in that moment. However you do so, take the time to either say or write kind words about your friend’s loss. Words such as “I’m so sorry that you are without your loved one. I can’t imagine how hard this season is.” Or “It must be hard this time of year not having a job. Can I take you out for coffee or take you shopping so you can pick out a special treat?” Or, “It must be so hard to not feel well during the holidays, can I bring you a favorite meal?” Avoiding a friend’s hard situation adds another layer to the sadness he or she already feels. Don’t fear reminding them of their loss, they think about their life challenges every day.
  • Not making decisions for your friend – Let your friend make decisions about what she or he does or doesn’t do around the holidays. Invite her to events that you normally would. Or, even invite him to an event that you hadn’t considered. If you are unsure about whether to reach out or not, reach out. If you don’t invite your friend, he or she will have limited activities to consider and this experience is isolating and lonely.
  • Being understanding and flexible – Sadness is a strange thing – especially around the holidays. An emotional reaction to an event can hit at any time. A friend may say yes to a party invitation, arrive at your home, suddenly get emotional and start to withdraw or cry. My first Christmas without Leah, I felt sensitive, but peaceful. Nothing unexpected happened. My second Thanksgiving without Leah, I had an unexpected “grief attack.” Something happened that triggered intense mourning that I couldn’t control. It actually shocked me. I had to leave the celebration. Please give your friend permission and grace when they are in public. Don’t get easily offended if he or she doesn’t immediately accept an invitation, or if he or she cancels at the last minute. Especially, if your friend has a health issue. Your understanding spirit will be remembered.
  • Doing something special – You can buy a special gift, make a donation to a cause or give a unique card to acknowledge your friend’s pain. I am so incredibly touched when friends and family reach out in a specific and meaningful ways. Over time, I’ve had friends decorate our home with Christmas lights, drop off meals, do holiday shopping for us, etc. During one family gathering, our extended family decorated Thanksgiving cupcakes in Leah’s memory. By acknowledging your friend’s difficult situation in a tangible way, you stand out as someone who really cares.
  • Keeping your commitments – If you tell your friend you are inviting her to a party, invite her. If you suggest going out for a Hanukkah or Christmas drink/coffee, follow through and make it happen. Promises that are not kept are especially hurtful to a person going through a hard time.

The more you invest in your community of family and friends, the more they will be there for you when you need them.

These actions have taught me about true compassion and have been some of the best holiday gifts that I have received.

Now, a word to those of us who are in the middle of a 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. Be bold. It’s ok. Friends who haven’t had a significant loss often want to be helpful, but don’t know what to do. You can gently coach them on what is most meaningful 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. I’ve replaced Leah’s former Christmas stocking with a beautiful white stocking in her memory. It’s a small action, but it is a tangible way of keeping her part of our family traditions.
  • If you just can’t go – don’t. Give yourself permission to say no. Please just be careful to not isolate to a degree that is harmful to you. Maybe you can’t see a friend in person, but would gladly talk to her on the phone for 15 minutes. At the three year mark, I was in a place where I could actually host having friends to my home for the holidays.

The holidays are a time to celebrate our love for one another – whatever life stage we are in, right? Whether we are flying high or have hurting hearts, our lives are so much more meaningful when experienced together in community.

Holiday blessings all!

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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

My husband and son recently rode through very long, cold, dark tunnels during a recent bike trip. When I heard about the mile long tunnels, my body tensed. My immediate thought, “I don’t think that I can ride through a tunnel that long. I’d feel trapped and claustrophobic.”

Well, they made the journey. No panic or bat attacks. Their tuned-up bikes and head flashlights made the ride enjoyable.

The pictures they took were pretty cool. I’m sharing them in this post. These specific tunnels were created to help cut through hills and terrain – making it easier for people to get from one side to the other side via train. No longer used for trains, these tunnels are part of a bike trail.

As I look at these pictures, I marvel at the visual symbolism of a tunnel.

In my life, entering seasons of hardship has been similar to stepping into a dark tunnel. I’ve stood at the opening of a hard season and was forced to move forward. The tragedies of child loss, severe parent illnesses and friendship endings took me from one reality to a new reality.

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As I look at this picture above, I identify with it. There is only one reason that I could enter. And that’s the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is the one thing that would keep me calm and focused on moving forward.

Today, the light continues to call, “There’s a way out! Look straight ahead and keep your eyes on me. There’s an end to the darkness.”

Focusing on the light makes unpleasant journeys not as fearful or agonizing. As the light grows and gets closer, I can see more of my surroundings. And they aren’t so scary.

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As a note: There’s something that I didn’t know about the structure of mile long tunnels both in the past and present. They are created with safety niches/shelters. Just in case a train is coming and workers are inside the tunnel, the niches serve as step outs. These spaces save many lives I’m sure.

 

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I think about my safety niches along dark journeys – prayer, community of faithful family and friends who love me, hobbies, serving others, music, laughter, art, work, spiritual practices, etc. Each of these things protect me, rescue me and keep me moving forward.

With each step, as I get closer and closer to the end of the tunnel, the light gets brighter … and almost blinding.

Something new inside me grows. Hope.

Hope that there is an unexpected blessing or good change in me on its way.

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For me, the light, on which my eyes are fixed, is a loving God. Trusting Him keeps me moving forward and not feeling overwhelmed with the darkness.

Thoughts to consider:

  • What is a current tunnel in your life?
  • Have you entered it willingly or unwillingly?
  • What is your safety niche?
  • What is the light on which you are fixed?

Wishing you peace as you focus on the light at the end of your tunnel.

 


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What’s a friend to do?

“My friend is deeply hurting. She lost (fill in the blank.) I’m at a loss. What should I do?”

You’ve probably been in this situation. Someone for whom you care just had something very, very bad or sad happen to him or her. You want to help, but you feel frozen and don’t know how to respond. You care about your friend, but feel clueless.

You want to help and not hurt. What should you do?

In my life experience, I’ve been on both sides  – wanting to reach out to someone who is hurting or needing someone to reach out to me.  I’ve learned that there are three, key things to do when someone is in pain or suffering.

  1. Tell your friend that you care. Don’t assume that he/or she knows that you care. Tell your friend either in person, via a phone call, snail mail card, email or text. However you do it, tell her you care. (If your friend’s love languages are words and spending time with others, tell your friend that you care in person. A short visit will go a long way to someone who has these love languages.)
  2. Listen more than talk. You may feel pressure to say the “perfect” words to someone who is hurting. Don’t put this expectation on yourself. No one is perfect at handling hard life circumstances or major losses. Think of an open-ended question before you talk to your friend – a question that may get him to share what  he is thinking or feeling. Approaching the conversation with a listening heart frees you up to be both supportive and understanding.
  3. Just be there. Show up and be present during the hard times. Your loyal friendship and caring attitude may be what your friend most needs to move forward after a loss or during a difficult life season. You can’t fix your friend’s situation nor should you. Be present either physically, emotionally or spiritually.

Two things that I’ve learned not to do when a friend is hurting:

  1. Saying “I know just how you feel.” Your intent may be to use this phrase to show empathy, but it’s actually a hard thing for your friend to hear. No one knows exactly how another person feels, so this statement is not really a true, empathetic response. This statement also prevents a deep authentic conversation. Your friend won’t have anywhere to go in the conversation because if you already know how he feels, what more can he even begin to share?
  2. Promise to be present and not show up. Ouch. This one is hurtful. When your friend is hurting, he or she may really be leaning into your promises. If you make a commitment, it’s important to follow-through. If you don’t, your friend won’t trust your words and behavior. It’s probably better to not make promises that you can’t keep.

Life is truly a journey of learning how to best support our family, friends and loved ones during hard times. Not one of us is a perfect friend. I’m so grateful for the grace my friends have extended to me. I hope they feel that I’ve been gracious to them as well.

The important thing is to learn from each situation and grow to be kinder, more loving and compassionate to the people around us. Ultimately, as the saying goes, “Treat your friend the way that you’d want to be treated.” If we do, our relationships promise to grow in depth and impact.

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