God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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When a phone call changes everything

It’s a typical afternoon.

The sun is shining through my office window.

Looking through a pile of papers that need to be reviewed,

I hear laughter down the hallway.

The phone rings. I think, “Should I pick it up?” 

It’s a phone number that I don’t recognize, but I need to answer.

I’m half-hoping that it’s a sales call, but … it isn’t.

I get up and shut the door.

It’s a call any parent doesn’t want to receive.

The doctor’s office shares that the scans “are positive.”

“I’m so sorry, your daughter’s cancer has spread.”

My entire body goes numb.

Heart pounding, I can’t believe that what I am hearing is true.

“I must be in a bad dream; this can’t be real,” I hear myself say.

Unsure, how to respond, I’m frozen in time.

In one dimension, I’m asking a million questions.

In another dimension, I can’t even remember my name.

“You’ll have to get to the hospital immediately. We may need to do urgent surgery,” the doctor says.

I numbly respond, “What? We’ve only been home an hour.”

He says, “I’m sorry, you need to come back.”

Arms limp, I hang up the phone.

A hopeful day turned into a nightmare … that quickly.

With one phone call.

One call.

In my mind, I hear my pastor saying these sentences, countless times,

“Life is hard. Any of us could get ‘that’ phone call at any time. Are you prepared?”

I can’t even think clearly. How can I be prepared for this seemingly impossible situation?

I go into autopilot and the protective mom, deep inside me, activates.

Everything I believe about a loving, caring and healing God must kick in now or I’ll drown in shock and pain.

I bring my daughter to the hospital and tread through a nightmare month.

Since this situation I just described, I’ve received several of these “life altering” phone calls.

We all get them.

The calls all sound different.

  • “Meet me in the HR room in 5 minutes.”
  • “Your wife isn’t doing well.”
  • “Your son was found … and it’s bad news.”
  • “Your friend was in an accident.”
  • “Your child was caught with drugs.”

Yet, all the calls have a common denominator.

They often stun us and dramatically throw us off balance;

it’s as though a huge, ocean wave knocks us over.

We believe that we are drowning.

These calls demand more of us than we have to give.

At least, what we ‘think’ we have to give.

As soon as we rise above water, we gasp for air and start swimming.

The ability to move in deep water is a gift.

A gift of inner strength that grows with time.

An irony of life is that we most learn to swim in deep water when we

are forced, through circumstance, to be in deep water.

The potential for these phone calls doesn’t seem to lessen as the years pass.

The calls seem to increase.

Hopefully, what comes with each call is the resolve

to withstand the shock and the strength to move forward.

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From Hell to Heaven in 9 days

If hell is a place of agony, I’ve been there for several days.

Three years ago at this time, I was sitting on the edge of a dark precipice – looking into a heartbreaking and scary unknown.

For you see, my sweet Leah was in final stages of abdominal sarcoma cancer. We wanted to keep Leah at home, but the disease was spreading rapidly and she needed pain meds via IV, so we took her to hospice. Our goal was to make her comfortable and bring her back home.

She did not come back home. Little did I realize that, as we drove away in the ambulance, she would never enter our front door again.  I knew from the 30 minute ride to the hospital that this bad experience was getting worse, but my instinct to take care of my girl took over my emotions.

I’ve avoided the hospice topic for three years. Why? The process of dying is hard to think about and even harder to talk about. It’s a topic many of us push aside and avoid. Who wants to hear stories of death? It’s depressing and uncomfortable.

Having walked  the “valley of the shadow of death” with Leah, I have a different perspective about the dying process and talking about it.

If heaven is a place of of supernatural peace, I’ve also been there for several days.

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After the first few days of frustration and tension in hospice, it’s as though a soft cloud enveloped the four of us in Leah’s hospice room. She became more comfortable and relaxed. No longer able to open her eyes, she knew who was in the room and when family members left the room. Each time that I stepped away to use the bathroom, she called for me – knowing I left her side. It was as though she was seeing with her eyes shut.

The onsite chaplain explained to me that while Leah’s body was dying, her spirit was growing stronger. As I listened, I thought, “Hmmm, it sounds nice, but this comment is probably what he has to say. It’s part of his job description.” During the nine days in hospice, I came to believe his statement as truth. Her spirit WAS growing stronger.

Leah, with eyes closed, shared some images that clearly comforted her and, in turn, comforted me. She motioned with her hand and said that she wanted to “sit on the white blanket again” and she wanted to see the “fishes again.” It’s as though a beauty was calling her – wooing her.

During Leah’s final three days, the three of us spent 24/7 with her and it was as though we were having a sleepover. The three of us (my husband, son and I) took turns playing our favorite songs on my iPad – filling the room with music. Relaxed as though in a hotel room, we chatted about funny experiences and memories. When Leah got a little restless, I sang Christmas songs to her, which calmed her. (Humorous because I have a lousy singing voice.) For her nine days in hospice, I stopped being a caregiver and nurse. I was able to just be “mom” and focus on fully loving Leah.

Laying next to Leah the 9th morning, I could sense the time for her to go was coming, so I called Mark and Grant to her bedside. And within ten minutes, she took her final breath. I have no doubt she moved right into God’s presence and walked through His front door – the door of her true home. Her final expression was peaceful and beautiful; there was a slight smile on her face.

Her hospice nurse wisely said to me, “Her suffering is over and now yours has just begun.” Again, words proven true.

Today, I’m honoring the day she passed away. I miss her. I will always miss my sweet girl – every day that I breathe. Time does not heal or take away the longing for her presence.

Your willingness to share my journey, of loss and restoration, is a gift. My spirit is lightened when I share my love for my little miss. I deeply thank you for reading my posts and entering into this space with me.

If I can give you a gift in return, I hope you are at peace thinking about your final moments. If not, and you desire to have the supernatural peace Leah had, God is there for you –  all you need to do is call upon Him.

I have confidence in this verse, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all of your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

I am counting on this promise.

Blessings.

Marie

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Note: Our hospice team was amazing. They were kind, compassionate, thoughtful and very sensitive. One of the coordinators asked if we wanted a mold of Leah and me holding hands. Leah agreed to it and I am so very grateful. It’s made of plaster; I keep it in a box so it doesn’t break, but took it out to show you.


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What Watching “Laura and Rob” Taught Me about Loving Leah

It is so sad to hear that Mary Tyler Moore passed away yesterday. As a little girl, I could never get enough of The Dick Van Dyke Show.  It was fun to watch Rob, Laura, Buddy and Sally get in and out of hysterically funny situations. Hearing the signature opening music and seeing Rob trip over that ottoman became part of my life growing up.

 
As I got older, I rarely watched the reruns. Then, several years ago, I started introducing my children to the shows that I loved as a kid such as: the Brady Bunch, Bewitched, That Girl, The Partridge Family – and my all time favorite – The Dick Van Dyke show.

 
To my surprise, Leah LOVED watching the crazy antics of Rob Petrie.
It was enjoyable to see her reaction to the funny skits such as when Laura decided to become a blond, when Rob gave Laura a hideously ugly necklace, when Sally advertised on national TV she wanted a husband, when Laura opened Rob’s mail and a boat expanded in their living room and on and on…..

After Leah had surgeries and chemotherapy, we watched lots of TV. The Dick Van Dyke Show is on Netflix, so it became a favorite past time for us – giving us something positive on which to focus. Watching the Petrie antics helped us relax and fall asleep.

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Leah, more of an introvert, wasn’t a chatty person. And I really like to talk. It was a challenge for me, an extrovert, to relate to Leah’s communication style.
I wanted to ask her so many questions and talk about lots of topics. Talking didn’t comfort her. What she needed was just for me to be in the room with her and watch an entertaining show. Her love language was time together.

So, this extrovert had to learn to be quiet-just sit-and be present. It was hard. In doing so, I learned Leah loved good humor and herself had a great sense of humor. I think we watched every episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, well over 100 of them, at least 10 times. Seriously.

Looking back, I believe God was working through the Petrie’s personalities to comfort Leah in a unique way – especially the last months of her illness. I am grateful that God used a talented actor and actress and my favorite comedy to bring joy to my daughter’s life during such a difficult time.

 
I hope Leah and “Laura” have met in heaven. Mary’s excellent acting enabled me to connect with my daughter in a priceless way.

So, if you are looking for a good laugh – watch one of Leah’s favorite episodes “The Curious Thing about Women.” Thank you Mary Tyler Moore.
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“…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10


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Debbie Reynold’s shocking death – some mothers understand too well

I cannot stop thinking about the sudden deaths of a daughter and mother, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. The mother’s death, only one day after the death of her daughter, shocks and stuns the world. Yet, there is a group of us who too easily understand Debbie’s agony to the point of death – and this group is mothers who have lost their children.

Both of these women’s deaths are tragic and I deeply hurt for their family and friends.

When I learned of Debbie’s passing, my immediate thought was “She died of a broken heart.” Then, I read that she had a stroke while discussing her daughter’s funeral plans and I immediately understood the strain of these moments. Her son said that the stress “was just too much.” I imagine her age and health played a role in her stroke, but losing Carrie was just impossible to bear.

Just too much for her to carry.

For losing a child is “perhaps the greatest sadness known in nature.”

I read this line on Facebook and it didn’t have an attribution, or I’d give the person credit. In my life, this statement proves real and true.

Debbie’s death is a tragically beautiful and powerful reminder of how deep a mother’s love is for her children. Her death confirms what we mothers, who have lost children, know – the loss of a child creates a heartbreak unlike any other.

As I read social media comments about Debbie’s death, many mothers don’t know if they could take the death of their child; it’s unnatural and unthinkable.

And some mothers, who have walked the valley of the shadow of death with their child, say they envy Debbie because she doesn’t have to live with the daily pain of losing her daughter. She is with her daughter for eternity. These are hard words for some people to hear and relate to, but are a real reaction for some mothers who have sons and daughters pass away.

From the moment my daughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I lived under a strain that is difficult to describe. I actually thought I was going to die from the heartache and pressure. The sorrow of seeing Leah suffer was painful to bear.

I prayed to God that He wouldn’t take me before Leah because, being in the late stage of cancer, she couldn’t bear the absence of her mother. It’s amazing what mothers can withstand for the sake of their children.

I survived my daughter’s death and am grateful, especially for my son, that I did. I had a great, great grandmother who lost four of her five children. She passed away of cholera upon the death of the last child. I imagine she was worn down, devastated and couldn’t take the agony of another loss.

My love for my daughter kept me going during her illness. Today, my love for my son, husband and people close to me keep me going.

I believe Debbie Reynold’s death shines a very public light on the power of a mother’s love for her child and the effects of grief. No matter how well a mother and child get along – whether the relationship is filled with joy or struggle – a mother’s love is like no other. Love is powerful and grief is one way of expressing deep love. (Of course, the deep emotions apply to a father’s love as well, but as a woman, I am sharing from a mother’s perspective.)

My hope is that by hearing Carrie and Debbie’s stories, people will grow in awareness, understanding and compassion toward mothers who lose their children to death.

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Photo: Debbie Reynolds courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Her White Christmas Stocking

As, I take you out of the Christmas box, your whiteness is in stark contrast

to all the red and green stockings.

You are soft, shiny and smooth.

Hanging by the fireplace, you proudly stand out in the room.

For this, I am glad.

You see, you represent a pure and precious love to me.

A love so deep that its earthly absence makes my heart ache.

Your striking presence doesn’t take away the sadness.

You do have a special spot on the mantle – a place that once held a colorful Christmas stocking filled with candy and other goodies.

A stocking that was joyfully picked up and rummaged through for many years.

Although my child won’t take you off the mantle this year, I will pick you up and put love notes inside you that share how much my dear one is treasured and missed.

Every year, until my last Christmas, you will lovingly hang next to my stocking.

You are so much more than a clean, bright piece of fabric.

You help me honor a life no longer on earth, but a beautiful and cherished soul in heaven who is living a new life – a life of joy and total bliss – free of tears, pain and sorrow.

You are her white Christmas stocking.

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Note: As a way to honor my sweet daughter Leah, I place a white Christmas stocking on our fireplace mantle. I hope you find a way to honor the special people in your life who are no longer with you. It is very meaningful to honor our loved ones in tangible ways. They are forever loved and never forgotten.


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A Christmas Message for My Friends

Dear Family and Friends,
Let me start by saying that I wish you all a wonderful holiday season. I hope it is filled with more memorable moments than you can count. If 2016 was a good year for you, I rejoice with you. If it was a hard year, I empathize with you and encourage you that a new year is on the way.

At this third Christmas without my daughter, you may be concerned and wonder how I am doing – but may be hesitant to ask. Or, we may have lost touch and you feel awkward asking.

For me, this Christmas season will be different – different than the last two without my girl. In some ways, it’s hard to believe that it is the third Christmas without my Little Miss. In other ways, it feels as though the last time I saw her was a lifetime ago.

This Christmas is going to be a year of firsts.

It will be the first year we are hosting Christmas Day without Leah here.

It’s the first time we are sending a family photo Christmas Card without Leah in it. Our family always did fun, and somewhat silly, Christmas photos. For example, one year our Christmas card imitated the Brady Bunch opening – with shots of our heads in squares looking different directions. Another year, our card pictured a cookie baking scene. Leah had so much fun doing this photo shoot because to make it “look real” we threw flour at one another. We were drenched in flour. My shy, little girl was delighted with that photo session.

For the first two years after she passed away, we didn’t send a photo card. One day this year, my son asked, “Mom, why don’t we do a Christmas family picture any more?” I really had no answer. So, I scheduled a photo session with my sister last week. I’m actually happy with the way it turned out. As I stared at the card I thought, “Wow, what a nice, genuinely happy family.” 

And seconds after this thought, sadness hit.

Our new reality, without Leah, feels familiar.

And this thought creates a type of grief.

I call this mini-grief moment an aftershock. Just as the earth has aftershocks days or weeks after a significant earthquake, so I’ve found that my heart has aftershocks after my tumultuous loss.

Why do I share this perspective about aftershocks in a Christmas letter of all places? Shouldn’t a Christmas letter highlight only happy thoughts and moments?

I share it because, although I am more engaged in social activity, I want to be authentically as real as possible. Outwardly, I am functional and able to go to holiday parties, laugh, buy presents, host friends and family for events in my home. And I actually am enjoying myself. Inwardly, there is a space in my heart that aches. It always will be tender.

For a parent who has lost a child, a special holiday like Christmas will forever bring joy and pain. My Christmas’ will never really “fit comfortably” until I am reunited with Leah. At any moment an activity may trigger a memory or thought that creates a grief aftershock.

How can friends and family most help me?

I ask you to celebrate my current family – which always includes remembering Leah.

It is meaningful for you to:

  • Say her name
  • Ask questions about her life
  • Share memories of her that make you laugh or smile
  • Affirm how special she was
  • Acknowledge how heartbreaking it is for me to lose her
  • Show interest in the ways that I honor her memory

By doing one of these things, which may feel slightly uncomfortable for you, you provide incredible comfort and care. Don’t fear, bringing her up doesn’t remind me of something sad; I think about her everyday.

You see, Leah is a permanent part of me. She was forever embedded in my heart since the first moment I knew I was pregnant, heard her heartbeat and felt her move in my belly.

The bond of a mother and child goes deeper than imaginable.

As time passes, I’m increasingly aware of how intensely deep my love is for both of my children. They mean everything to me and my husband.

At this time of year, my love for them gives me a teeny, tiny glimpse into God’s love for me and you. It’s so hard for me to comprehend that He loves me so much more than I love my children – which is the reason that He came to earth. Personally, I do believe He came to earth and He is the ultimate Christmas present.

Christmas is so much more than a cultural holiday; Christmas is a love story  about a Father and His children. A Father who sacrificially and lovingly gives His children the gifts of strength, forgiveness, healing, hope, joy, freedom, peace and ultimately an eternity with Him.

I hope you experience the power of His Shining Love, this Christmas and holiday season.

Blessings.

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My New View of Winter

Winter used to be a season that I dreaded because it was visually desolate with:

  • Bare naked, dead-looking trees.
  • Gray, gloomy skies.
  • Cold, bitter, freezing air.
  • Dark afternoons that close up the day way too soon.

Enough reasons to dislike at least 4 months of the year.

With you gone, this season has a new meaning.

Winter sometimes mirrors how I feel on the inside.

Winter is an outward expression of my inner reality.

At least parts and pieces of my inner reality.

The gray days give me the space to pause and slow down.

The visual promptings of winter remind me to hibernate with warm memories of you and wrap myself in my love for you.

So you see, the skyline shifts – the naked trees no longer appear dead – but sleeping.

They are simply resting and waiting to be born anew in Spring.

Just as I wait and allow myself to hope.

Hoping.

No. Another word is needed.

Faith.

Having faith that an eternal Spring is on the way where I will see you again.

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