God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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Where are you?

Many days you feel so far away.

Things are different between us.

There’s a misty cloud separating my heart from yours.

I don’t like it.

It’s heavy.

It keeps me from connecting to you.

Maybe it good that this void feeling is uncomfortable.

It’s a blinking warning light – telling me that my soul needs attention.

This distance between us – it’s not your fault.

Some days, I feel like the teenager who goes into her room, puts in her EarPods and shuts the door.

Shutting you and everyone else out.

Angry. Sad. Hurt.

Hiding my agony.

Some days, I crack open the door and peak out.

Looking to see if you are standing there – waiting for me.

Occasionally, I jump up and run out of my private space.

I feel a surge of energy. A fresh wind.

Do these moments of freedom bring you joy?

You wait for me: patient, kind and loving.

You gently place your arms around my sorrow.

You see beauty in every one of my tears.

Your gifts comfort me. Yet, they don’t erase my pain.

On very bad days, the trauma resurfaces its ugly and horrifying head.

And I am alone with all my memories – both good and bad.

When I tell you that “I’ll never heal,” do you judge me? Are you frustrated with me?

How I long for the day that anguish is no longer part of me – a day when I approach you with an unbroken heart.

Until then, I’ll keep calling your name.

Even when you feel far away.

___________________________________________________________________________________________
Note: Trauma changes us. It changes our life experience. Trauma changes the way that we interact with others. 

When you read this blog, who do you think I wrote it to? Who would you hand these words to? Maybe your spouse, parent, child, friend, loved one who died? This letter is from me to God. For me, it’s been a long time coming. Losing my daughter to a monstrous cancer was and is traumatic; it is an unspeakable and cruel life experience to carry. Trauma just doesn’t go away. Our stories aren’t always happy and jolly and they need to be told and shared. I encourage you to speak or write down words of truth to the one in your life who needs to hear it most.  

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Blog_JA 20 Where are you?

Photo: Courtesy of Pixabay


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The Great Collision – Sadness & the Holidays

Heartache and Thanksgiving. Grief and Christmas. Depression and New Year’s Eve.

Tricky combinations. For me, mixing these painful emotions and holiday celebrations feels like a collision of two realities.

Three separate times, I was behind the wheel and, without warning, I was rear-ended at a red light.  Each time an angry vehicle crashed into me with such force that my head whipped forward and hit the visor; my back immediately ached.

And each time, I was startled, confused, scared, angry and frustrated.  At the same time, joy and thanksgiving surfaced. I was hurt and needed attention, yet grateful to be alive and not paralyzed. Tragically, many people lose their lives in these scenarios.

The jolting impact of my daughter Leah’s terminal illness and death created similar painful emotions to an accident – shock, confusion, fear, frustration, etc., but magnified by at least 1000 times.

Since Leah passed away five years ago, living without her during the holidays is disorienting.  I have good things (faith, family, friends and other blessings) to celebrate and for which I’m grateful. Yet, nothing erases or takes away the crushing impact of her absence.

Here are things that I do, and have done, to be on the offense around the holidays:

  • Seek Care: I get medical treatment when I’m physically hurt; I’m purposeful in getting emotional and spiritual attention as I cope with grief and loss. This care can look like seeing a counselor, spending time with parents who have lost their children, praying, writing about my daughter or talking about her with my husband, son or trusted friend.
  • Go Slow: Around the holidays, I didn’t make too many commitments the first couple of years following Leah’s death. Just as I allowed for healing and avoided strain after a car accident,  I didn’t host holiday events right after Leah died. I gave myself permission to arrive late, leave early or skip the jolly parties.
  • See the Good: A majority of time when people offer help, I accept. Just as I wouldn’t stop an ambulance from taking me to the hospital after my car accidents, I know that I needed, and still need, help coping with the holidays.
  • Move Again: The holidays trigger lots of conflicting memories, but I make a conscious effort to focus on my son, husband and people who I love. I know Leah would want this attitude from me. Driving after being rear-ended is scary. Eventually, I had to get back in the car and behind the wheel. I surely look in the rear view mirror more frequently. There are times I am anxious about the future and isolate, but these times are fewer and farer between.
  • Remember and Honor: Leah’s illness was not my fault, just as being rear-ended wasn’t my fault. In addition to feeling sorrow, I’m grateful Leah was part of my life. She loved the holidays and brought me great joy the 15 years that I had her in my life. I miss her and honor her by putting up a white Christmas stocking in her memory. Our family creates fun activities to honor her such as cupcake decorating or doing a fun craft in her memory. Sometimes my remembrances are on my own. Other times I invite others to join me.

Collisions are two energies coming together. Mixing pain and joy creates something entirely new. 

If you face the collision of sadness and the holidays, you are not alone. Please know that you are stronger than you may think. You’ll get through the season – and may have moments of joy along the way.

Best always, Marie

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Blog_collisionNote: Hopefully, you haven’t been rear-ended, but you may have been in a bumper car when you suddenly were jolted by another bumper car. Friendly or not, it’s stunning to the senses.


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Losing a child is not like . . .

A daughter or son dying is NOT similar to:

. . .  a child leaving for college.

. . . a child running away.

. . . a child moving far away.

. . . a parent’s failing health.

. . . a parent or spouse dying.

. . . a spouse cheating.

. . . a marriage ending.

. . . a severe medical diagnosis.

. . . a dog, cat or other pet dying.

. . . a friendship or job ending.

These life events are all hurtful, tragic, sad and life-altering.

Yet, a child dying is NOTHING like any of these losses.

While each of them is heartbreaking, there is NOTHING similar to standing at a gravesite and watching your child lowered into the ground.

Many people cannot comprehend the magnitude of losing a child. The reality is that unless you have walked this path, you will never understand. And that’s ok. We bereaved parents are glad that you can’t understand it. We wouldn’t wish losing a child on anyone.

I have a metaphor that may shed some light: Child loss is similar to living within feet of a bottomless abyss.

I’ve had several of these losses listed above. For me, these endings felt similar to jumping off a high dive into the deep end of a pool. It was heart-pounding scary, anxiety producing and surreal. Yet, I swam to where my toes could touch the bottom. The secure poolside was within sight and strokes away.

Losing my daughter was/is similar to jumping off a boat into the middle of the ocean. I come up for air and the boat speeds away. There is neither a bottom to touch or sides to swim to. The body of water is massive. To not be pulled under, I have to either tread water, float or swim.  I have “helps” such as a life vest, arm floaties or fins. There’s no sense of “a break is coming.” To keep going, my muscles must strengthen. I cannot pretend that I’m in a pool, but I’m facing a dark, subterranean ocean.

So you can see how, similar to a jellyfish sting, hearing “I know how you feel because  . . . ” creates hurt. Unintentionally, this statement doesn’t acknowledge the oceanic depth of our pain.

All this said, please stay the course with grieving parents. Losing a child is not contagious. If you spend time with us, a dark tidal wave will not consume you. Be the life preserver that uplifts your friend – don’t be the boat that pulls away.

Keep in mind that a bereaved parent teaches us about resilience, strength, endurance, devotion, compassion and eternal love. I’m grateful for the grieving parents who have modeled these strengths for me.

Blog_Grief is not like_August 2019

Photo:  Pixabay

As a person of faith, I believe that my daughter Leah and I will spend eternity together. This perspective doesn’t mean that I am free of sadness here and now. After 5 years, I still ache for her presence. I expect to feel the same after 10 or 20 years. The grief waters won’t ever drain because my love for her is everlasting.

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I Grieve Differently than You

Chatting over a cup of hot tea, hiking through gardens, listening to a concert and scavenging for antiques – are all activities that I enjoy. What’s even better is doing these activities with someone I care for. Spending time together is my love language.

What’s your “love language?” You might feel affection by getting gifts, receiving a love note, sharing a good bear hug, or having your loved one help you with chores, etc. These actions may scream “I love you” to you.

Interesting that we each receive love differently.

If we each experience love differently, why wouldn’t we each react differently when someone who we love dies? Either to bodily death or permanent loss of the relationship?

It’s interesting that grief over a “love ending” isn’t talked about nearly as much as the joy of love beginnings.

Because we typically don’t discuss grief in our culture, I think there’s denial about the ways that grief impacts each one of us.

We freely discuss sorrow at wakes and funerals.  But, then it’s like the timer runs out and the sympathy spigot turns off the days or weeks after a funeral.

That’s it.

Life goes on.

Long-term grief becomes an unspoken topic.

For the griever, hurt and pain are harsh realities. As time marches on, fewer people ask “Are you hurting?” as days, weeks and years pass.  (And loss is not only about physical death. Losses through divorce, break-up, illness, layoffs, moves are real and painful too.)

So, we place our sadness deep inside – moving it into one place in our hearts. The problem is that the grief finds its way out. When it does, it looks different for each one of us. Active grieving is not a cookie cutter experience. Our unique response to heartbreak may confuse, anger or isolate our friends and family.

What’s your grief language?

For me, grief waves comes as tiredness. Remember your first love and how much energy you had being around that person? For me, grief creates the opposite. If I’m thinking of the person who I lost – I get tired. As a result, it affects family and friends because I’m not as relationally proactive as I was prior to losing my daughter. It’s harder for me to initiate the “time together” part of my love language.

It complicates my life experience; it’s hard to ask for what I most need. It takes someone else reaching out to me – to counteract the grief tiredness. They kind of “wake me up.”

Recently, I spent several hours with loving moms who lost their children. It was clear, very quickly, that our experiences with grief are different. We listened deeply to one another’s stories, cried freely and supported one another unconditionally. When I left, I was refreshed – and tired at the same time.

How do you experience grief?

  • Do you also get tired?
  • Would you rather be alone?
  • Do you need to be with people constantly?
  • Do you find that you get angry quicker?
  • Do you need hugs more often? Less often?
  • How does hearing your loved one’s name affect you?
  • Are you more compassionate? Less compassionate?
  • Does music soothe you?
  • Does it help you to talk about your circumstance and the person who you miss?

As a first step, I’m learning that I need to know myself – even five years after losing my daughter. I’m pausing. Realizing the way long-term grief impacts me – helps me move forward.

The second step is sharing the impact of my broken heart with family and friends. Doing so makes me honest and humble.

I find that life is so much better when I’m open – and not putting others in a position of guessing about my behavior or needs.

Blog_June 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 


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If I Walk Away . . .

Days that matter: Mother’s Day and Bereaved Mother’s Day. Grateful for the healing work that comes from sharing my heart. This post is so meaningful to me. It was written in 2015 and is still true.

If I Walk Away . . . 

It may happen on expected days –

a birthday,

Mother’s Day,

Thanksgiving,

or

Christmas.

It may happen on unexpected days –

the first day of school,

an ordinary sunny day,

or

a stormy day.

It may happen at the mall

as I walk behind a teenage girl with

long, brown hair

or

when I’m introduced to an adorable,

petite, blue-eyed,

three-year old cherub.

It may happen on a crowded street

as my eyes catch

a woman’s purse adorned with

the Eiffel Tower

or

a mother and daughter

walking arm in arm.

In a split second,

my head feels light.

My stomach aches.

My arms and legs are heavy.

Harsh reality hits in

one, single swoop.

My eyes reflect a distant look

as I smile.

Sometimes people ask.

Other times they don’t.

Leaving me to wonder if

they have any sense of

the depth of the sorrow.

I absorb the moment.

Only sharing it with a precious few.

Just know that if I step away,

I may be walking into a moment of grief

or

running toward a special memory.

Know that if I walk away,

I will eventually return

but

trust me

if I need to walk away.

2001 8 aug fam walk


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Memory Triggers

Do you ever catch a whiff of something and it smells so familiar? But, you can’t place  the scent? You try hard and can’t remember. You imagine it must be something from childhood.

When I smell pound cake, I get a flashback to the Sarah Lee pound cake that my dad bought us — with chocolate chips. So tasty. So sad that they don’t make that version anymore. My dad loved treats and I like remembering this about him.

Some memory triggers are painful. When my best friend died, I went to buy a bouquet for her wake.  I clearly recall the strong, sweet aroma of flowers as I walked into the shop. Normally a pleasant aroma, this day the flowers had a sickeningly, strong odor. For the next several years, I couldn’t walk into a floral shop without thinking about that sad moment. Burned in my memory.

Other memories are attached to sounds.

Hospital room medical machines regularly sound off with an annoying beep. When my daughter Leah had in-hospital chemotherapy stays, I wanted to rip these annoying machines out of the wall. They always interrupted us right when my girl fell asleep.

Today, I can be in an office building and hear a loud, repetitive beep or chirp. These sounds bring me right back to her hospital room. I start recalling the hard things about being there — the look of the bathroom, sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress, trying to help her move and eat, etc.

I’m thinking about this topic today because last night I was clearing out papers. I found a Book of Poems my daughter wrote when she was in second or third grade. Wow, seeing her writing and words sure brought back feelings and memories. Some joyful. Some sad.

I’m so grateful that I have my memories of her. Even years later, there are items of hers around the house that I still haven’t found. Or, the situations that I’m in when I feel as though the sights or sound are connected to her. One place that creates lots of memory triggers is an Ulta Beauty store. As a teenager, Leah loved walking through Ulta stores and selecting fun, girly items.

We all have these memories. Each of our stories is filled with joy, happiness, sadness and sorrow. No one knows when these triggers will hit. When they do, we can be in very awkward, public situations.

What can we do about the timing of our memory triggers? Not much.

We do the best we can in the moment.

Let’s be patient. You never know when the person next to you is having an emotional trigger. It may be either happening to the man in the car behind you, a child in the library or a woman standing next to you in the Ulta store line.

Let’s just be kind.

What memory triggers do you have of someone special to you?

Blog_Memories March 2019

 

 

 


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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.