God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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Three Words I Dread – Three Words I Appreciate

As a child, I had a mod bike with a pink banana seat. Huge handlebars, longer than my arms, showed off pink and white tassels. Back “in the day”, I rode my bike dressed in a  skirt and tights.  Not the most comfortable way to ride it.  I frequently fell off the bike and skinned my knees.  I got really bad “skinners”… the ones where you can barely move your leg . The scabs are huge and hard. Not fun.  As soon as I could, I’d get back on the bike. A few blocks later, I’d hit a sidewalk rut and slam – back down I’d go again.  Nothing worse than reopening that golf ball-size wound on my knee.

My family (and close friends) can attest to the fact that I still take a plunge to the ground now and then.  Gratefully, I haven’t had one of these physical skinners in some time.

Today, the wound is different and on the inside.

During Leah’s illness and passing, people have said or  say things that bump my bruised heart.  There are also things people say that act as a salve or band-aid on the wound.

Three Words I dread

“How are you?’

Seems like a simple enough and harmless question.  Yet, these three words cause anxiety.  My heart races faster and I feel uncomfortable when I hear them. It’s because so much happens inside me at that moment. I have a split second decision to make.  Am I honest or do I pretend everything is ok?  I ask myself, “Does this person want to know how I  really am?”

During Leah’s illness, there were times it felt as though I was laying on the ground bleeding and someone would lean over and ask “How are you?”   When approaching me in a traumatic situation, someone asking this question didn’t do anything wrong.  It just didn’t open the door to a helpful conversation.  I remember standing like a deer in headlights – responding with a dazed look when asked this question.  Especially when Leah was going through radiation, chemotherapy and in hospice.

Even today, three months after Leah’s death, “How are you?” isn’t always  comfortable to answer because the question is so open-ended.  I have so many emotions going on that I don’t even know how to begin to answer it.  For me, it bumps the bruise. Questions easier for me to respond to are: “How is your day going today?” “How’s this week been?” “How can I best pray for you now?”  Questions that are more specific and tell me how open the person is to talking about where I truly am at.

Three Words I Appreciate

“I am sorry.”

Another simple phrase, but it means so much to hear.  Saying “I am sorry” acknowledges that something bad has happened – something that is an unusual loss.  When someone says these words to me, there is an immediate heart connection. They show empathy and care.  In saying them, the person takes a step toward me – a step I appreciate and respect.   I am more comfortable responding to these words because I feel I can be open about missing Leah and how I am feeling in the moment.  I can never hear them too much.

We are all on this bike ride called life together.  It’s hard to know what to say to another person suffering a loss of any kind – whether the loss of a child, parent, spouse, marriage, friendship, or job.  We all experience losses in our lives  that create wounds.

Words will either cause the wound to open or help the wound heal.

After Leah passed away, one of my dear friends said something so raw and real. She said, “Marie, I apologize right now for anything stupid that I may say today or in the future.”  This statement really touches me.  I will never forget it.  It shows love and humility.  Her words tell me that she knows my loss is overwhelming, but she wants to interact rather than avoid me.   She helps me feel safe so that I want to get back up on the bike and authentically talk about this valley through which I am journeying.

“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”  Proverbs 16:24

 

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Meet my Friends – Pity and Compassion

Seeing someone who we love hurt or suffer tears us up inside.  Even when we hear of traumatic experiences of strangers…. we feel a heavy sadness.

We will most likely feel pity or compassion.  They are different.  Very different.

I’d like to introduce you to these two friends.

My friend pity is genuine, sympathetic sorrow.  She has tears welling up in her eyes.  She says “I’m so sorry this loss happened to you.  Its’ the worst thing in the world.”  Pity is the heavy stare that shows sadness and reflects back to me the horror of my circumstance.  She sends the beautiful card in the mail that expresses authentic words of comfort and regret.  Pity holds out her hand to comfort me for a few minutes. This side of pity is the better side of her.

Yet, this friend has a dark side.  “I’m so glad this didn’t happen to me,” she secretly thinks.  She hears my sorrow to a point.  Not wanting too many details.  Pity is busy; she can be in a hurry.  She wishes I could move on quicker.  Or, she wishes, I would be “ok.”  She wants ‘the old” me back.  My friend pity doesn’t stay long; she wants to move on.  I think she is fearful of showing too many emotions.  The fear of getting sucked into the vortex of my grief is scary to her.

My friend compassion is very aware of my distress and wants to alleviate it.  She is sobbing with me.  She says,”I’m so sorry this happened to us.  Let me carry some of your heavy load.  We need to share this heavy burden.  I won’t let you walk the valley alone.”  Compassion encourages me to give her some of the heavy rocks out of the bag on my back.

Blog_Pity and Compassion

She sits in the mud puddle with me for as long as I need to talk about my loss.  My friend compassion is not in a hurry.  She doesn’t feel the need to fix me or anything.  We just sit together quietly or hold hands as we sob until there are no more tears left.  She listens more than she talks.  She is heartbroken, but not frozen.  She thinks of creative ways to share time with me and serve me to alleviate my suffering.

My friend compassion looks a lot like her sister – love.

I tend to want to visit with my friend compassion more than my friend pity.  Compassion typically has suffered a great lost herself.  Or, she is so open to God working through her that she doesn’t fear entering into my circumstance.  She walks through my door, sits down at my table and shares the bitter meal with me.

Not only have I had visits from pity and compassion, but I too have been the friend pity and compassion to others.  I was pity and compassion to Leah during her season of cancer. During the course of her illness, I hope and trust that she saw the friend compassion grow in me, leaving the friend pity behind.

Due to walking this valley of heartbreak and suffering with my family, I pray others will grow to see the friend compassion in me.  There will be many opportunities to show her face to others as the earthquakes will rock, the tsunamis will crash, floods will soak, fires will consume and tornadoes will tear up.  Pain comes. Unexpectedly.  Relentlessly. Without prejudice.  To all. To people for whom I care.

Whose face do you want to show? The friend pity or compassion?

“Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3


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Dancing Well without Legs

Leah enjoyed dancing. Right before she was diagnosed with a large abdominal tumor, Leah was in a lyrical dance class. I think the first miracle, during that horrific year of her illness, happened the day before we discovered her first tumor in January 2013. The miracle is that I “forgot” to take her to her dance class that evening. I never forget stuff such as this. Later I realized that if she went to that dance class and fell…and landed on the tumor…who knows how an event such as a fall may have shortened our time with her.

Leah was sad that during her cancer treatments she did not have the energy to dance. During this time, Leah was weak and couldn’t go many places. Watching TV became THE major activity that we did together. One of the many shows we watched was Dancing with the Stars (DWTS).

A new DWTS season started shortly after Leah passed away. I decided to keep up with the show. Grant is my wonderful TV companion as we cheer on our favorite performers.

One of the dancers Amy Purdy, a double amputee, has a special place in my heart. Watching her glide across the floor with prosthetic legs is amazing. She exudes grace and confidence. Yet, it’s clear that dancing isn’t easy for Amy. We see the hard work, determination and strength it takes to get her through draining rehearsals and performances. But she keeps going. And never gives up. She’s made it to the DWTS finals that we’ll watch tomorrow.

Amy photo

There are few metaphors that adequately illustrate the pain of losing my dear daughter. The loss is so great and dramatic, that it feels as though I lost a very part of myself. Similar to losing a limb. Leah’s absence is permanent just as losing a limb is permanent.

Life will never be the same again without Leah. And life hasn’t been the same for Amy since she lost her legs at 19. Nothing anyone can do or say, or anything I can do or say, changes the gaping hole that Leah’s absence creates.

Yet, I imagine that I will learn to cope and live without this critical part of myself – just as Amy learned to dance competitively without her legs. One day, I hope to experience joy and thrive again – as clearly Amy has done.

I have to remember, as well as others around me, that it takes time. After her legs were amputated, Amy didn’t immediately start dancing. She had a season of pain. She had to learn to sit up, move and walk all over again. Slowly.

What an inspiration Amy is to the human spirit. Her confidence and fortitude impact DWTS viewers across the globe. Amy is a hero; I know Leah would say she is courageous.

My daughter too was brave. Her positive spirit, hope and lack of complaint during her ordeal were courageous. For as long as I live, I will draw upon Leah’s strength during difficult times. I will be thinking,”If Leah did it, so can I.”

“Be on your guard; stand firm in faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13


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So how was Mother’s Day?

It’s the question people wonder about, but some people are afraid to ask.

Last Mother’s Day was difficult because I knew there was a possibility that it could be my last Mother’s Day with Leah. We knew the cancer was aggressive. By this time last year, Leah had two major abdominal surgeries and was in the middle of her first chemo and radiation treatments. I remember feeling very uptight on Mother’s Day in 2013 because I wanted to savor the day with Leah and my family.

Actually, the whole year was lived trying to savor every moment. It takes a lot of energy to try and soak up every encounter with another person. A lot. It’s humanly impossible to take it all in – as I have learned.

So yesterday…I did dread the day…I admit it. I was mad at myself for dreading it. “It’s just a made up Hallmark holiday”, I told myself. But regardless of it’s origin, it’s a holiday that I’ve celebrated my whole life. Now too, my mother was gone. One month after Leah my mother passed away at 81 – magnifying the loss.

A friend gave me excellent advice…to minimize the pain avoid a Mother’s Day service and Facebook, which I thought was wise. I asked Mark and Grant to take me to one of my favorite places in the area: The Chicago Botanical Gardens. So beautiful. I really experience God through nature and you can see why below.

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We enjoyed our hike through the gardens, with hundreds of other people. Must be the most popular day of the year at the gardens. If earth is so beautiful, how much more is the heavenly beauty Leah is experiencing now.

After opening my Mother’s Day gifts, I finally broke down and the sadness of Leah’s absence was strongly felt -for all of us. God, my husband and son carried me through the day. Along with multiple texts from dear friends. Grateful.

This I know: I celebrate my son Grant and am proud of the man he is. I am his momma and always will be. And I am Leah’s mommy and always will be. Two gifts from God.

I have so much to share with you my friend….topics such as messy grief, grace in unexpected places, what people have said that helps me and what they’ve said that doesn’t ease the pain, differences between receiving pity and compassion, miracles through the journey, etc.

Thank you for praying that my Mother’s Day would bring joy and not pain – truth told – it was a mixture of both.


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Honoring my Precious Leah

“In closing my words to all of you here, God wins.  Leah is not in this box.  She is with God.  God always wins over evil and death.  And ultimately, Leah won.”

These words were the closing statement at my funeral tribute for my precious 15 year old daughter Leah. Seeing my name as a speaker at her funeral service left our friends, neighbors, church and community members speechless.  Looking back, I don’t know how I stood in front of 500 people and got through a 10 minute tribute. I know that her story had to be told and God gave me the strength to do it. I had no choice that sad day; I had to honor my daughter. The love and support in the room helped me stand firm.

This blog is dedicated to Leah.  Losing Leah, on February 20, 2014, to her 14 month battle with sarcoma cancer is heart breaking and devastating.  I’ve lost other loved ones in my life – three of my very best friends.  And my dear mother passed away at 81, only four weeks after Leah – compounding my present grief. 

My daughter’s suffering and death have brought me to a place of pain that I have never experienced.  As a writer, I feel compelled to write about this journey through the valley of the shadow of death and sorrow.  And hopefully restoration.

I fully believe God wins.  Since I was very young, I have experienced the love of God personally.  At 8, I was drawn to the person of Christ, his sacrifice and love.  I made a conscious decision to believe in Him and trust Him. And love Him fully. 

What I am now processing is “….but can I win?”  How do I reconcile my faith with such a deep loss? I have many questions. What does this journey of Leah’s absence look like?  Why is the sorrow so deep when I believe she is in heaven? How long will I be sad?  When will I not cry every day?  How do I make senses of this cruel disease called cancer? How do I remember and honor Leah well?  How can I be loving and giving to my family members and friends? What does peace look like? How do I answer people when they ask how I am?  What do I do at work or the store when I feel a wave of grief and panic? Is there a healthy grief?  What does it look like?     

During Leah’s illness, I regularly wrote email updates about her health and asked for prayer.  Many people shared that the updates were helpful in supporting us and guiding them on how to pray.  I think when one of us is vulnerable and shares our story we deeply touch each other. 

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So to my many dear friends and family who have supported our family — thank you with every ounce of my being.  And to my new friends, thank you for stopping by this blog for a visit. I hope you will join me on this journey of grief and hope. Each of us has experienced loss in one way or another. My desire is that by sharing my story and journey with you – you are encouraged in some way.

Leah, I miss you-you were a gift from God. I love you more than all the stars in the sky and you will always be my “little miss.”