God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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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!

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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.

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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.


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Importance of Inviting Parents who Grieve to Celebrations

An open letter to Family and Friends,

Summer. It’s that time of year again. A season of celebrations!

Graduations. Wedding Showers. Weddings. 4th of July Parties. Family Reunion Picnics.

Lots of excitement and joy packed into a few months. As you create your invitation lists, you may pause as you consider inviting us because we have children who died. Concern about whether or not we will be comfortable makes you hesitate as you send your invitations.

You may wonder:

  • Will attending the shower make us miss our daughters?
  • Will we get emotional and cry at graduations?
  • Will we be more sad than happy at your daughters’ weddings?
  • Do you say anything to us about how sad we may feel?
  • Do you ask us any questions about whether or not the event triggers our grief?

These are all real concerns.

In spite of your inability to know the answers, I encourage you – invite us!

Pain and joy coexist. 

Please invite us, parents who lost our children, to your joyful celebrations.

Through the deep loss of my 15 year old daughter, one key thing I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t want other people making decisions for me.

You may want to do what is best for us, but please let us decide whether or not we want to attend the shower, wedding or graduation party!

One of the things I don’t think most people understand is this fact: After the loss of a child, there is a large ripple of losses. We not only lose our child, we lose connections that our child gave us. In addition to these connections, other relationships may end. Some of us are isolated from family and friends who are threatened by our grief. (These people are not mean-spirited. They may have a real fear and anxiety about feeling uncomfortable around those who mourn.)

So, please don’t take our choice of celebrating with you away from us.

If you eliminate the option for us, you are really doing what is most comfortable for you – not us.

As bereaved parents, we still love our friends and family and want to celebrate with you!

It is possible to feel sadness and joy at the same time.

For example, yesterday, I was happy to celebrate the upcoming wedding of one of my dearest friend’s daughters. I’ve know this sweet bride-to-be since she was born. Now, 26 years later so much of life has changed, but my friendship with her mother has endured. I was incredibly honored and grateful to be present at this special occasion.

Were there moments I was sad? You bet.

As I watched the young women laughing and opening gifts, it hurt knowing my daughter didn’t have the opportunity to be a bridesmaid or bride.

During picture time, my beautiful friend came up to me, put both arms around me and said, “I’m so glad you are here; I was wondering how you’d feel.” These words of acknowledgment were so incredibly sweet. My heart was touched. I will always remember that moment – that in the midst of an important day, she really saw me.

You know what family and friends? As grieving parents, we’ve already handled the worst there is to handle.

I ask you: Please give us the opportunity to decide whether or not we attend a party or event. Contributing to your life may be the very thing we need.

Please Invite Us!

With hope,

A Grieving Mom

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Annoying Mother’s Day cutesy quotes

I’m really not as grumpy as I’m about to sound right now.

But cutesy quotes can be so annoying.

I used to love cutesy phrases and sayings.

When I was a teenager, I plastered them all over my school folders.

Quotes such as, “Train your mind to see the good in everything,” and “When it rains look for rainbows…” were written in lovely script on pocket folders for every class.

I think that I was trying to BE positive.

Think positive.

Act positive.

See the glass as “half-full.”

Not a bad thing.

But, I was young and not totally realistic about adult life.

So fast foward to this Mother’s Day 2018 –

As I flipped through Facebook, a light-hearted cutesy quote grabbed my attention:

“Only the best moms are promoted to GRANDMA.”

Ugh. Really?

Pause. Wince.

Some of you won’t need to read any further.

You immediately understand.

Some people have the good fortune to never feel a twinge of pain reading this saying.

For others of us, this light-hearted quip STINGS. Feels like a bee bite.

Harsh reality:

When you lose a daughter or son, as a child, you lose the opportunity to have grandchildren.

And quotes like this one aren’t so fun, are they?

Am I advocating for the banning of all cutesy Mother’s Day quotes and even cards?

No.

I am advocating for us to be sensitive to the life circumstances of others around us.

Let’s be aware that “life isn’t a bowl of cherries” for all moms.

I’m so grateful to my friends who sent me texts/messages this Mother’s Day. Several friends acknowledged that, while the day brought me joy as I celebrated my son, it also brought pain as I reflected on losing my daughter.

Sweetness and bitterness together.

My friends’ kind words uplift and shape my view of the world so much more than any cutesy quote ever can! Thank you!

Blog_Cutesy quotes

 

 

 

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Why Today, Bereaved Mother’s Day, Matters

You walk by us every day at work and the shopping mall.

You stand next to us in the line at the grocery store.

You sit next to us on the train.

You wave hello as you drive by us in the neighborhood.

You whisper prayers next to us at church, mosque or synagogue.

We are everywhere.

Do you see us?

You will never know by our smiling faces, what is going on in our hearts.

At times, to us, it feels as though we are invisible.

Some of us never share our story  – you don’t know that we lost our child through miscarriage.

Others of us lost a child the moment she or he was born. And we never told anyone.

A group of us lost our child to violence, whether self-inflicted or at the hand of another.

Some of us received the harrowing phone call that our child was in an accident.

And there are those of us who cared for a child through a terminal illness.

We are all mothers whose children are no longer with us.

And yes,

It is the worst pain imaginable for a mother to have a child die first.

The worst.

And yes,

We would have gladly traded places with our child.

And yes,

We are brave and courageous women.

We have survived the worst life experience; yet, we get up every day and move ahead through the pain.

We continue to take care of our family, friends and community.

And yes,

There are days when it’s hard to get out of bed.

There are days we feel shock that our child is gone.

And yes,

Although we may have other children, the depth of our chid’s absence is still great.

And yes,

Mother’s Day every year brings joy and sorrow – a truly bittersweet day.

That’s the reason today, Bereaved Mother’s Day, is so special.

Let’s bless the person who thought of it.

It is a time for bereaved mothers to acknowledge the special love we carry every day in our hearts.

On this Sunday, I honor all Bereaved Mothers.

I especially think of my grandmother Sophie who had several miscarriages. Although she had nine living children, sadly, she never healed from the weight of her miscarriages.

I think of my great-grandmother Carmela, who lost four of her six children (at ages 9,7, 5, 1) to illness and accidents. Upon the death of her fourth child (eldest at 9 years old), she passed away two days later.

Today, your stories and legacy are honored – along with hundreds of thousands of other women across the centuries. I wish that I didn’t understand your pain, but I do.

Your strength to persevere inspires me. I trust you are at peace and your children are in your arms today . . . just as my sweet girl will be in mine again.

Blog_Bereaved Mothers Day

 “The carnation does not drop its petals but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying.” Ann Jarvis

 


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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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