God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


In Lieu of Flowers – but why?

Today is the first day of Spring!  And you know what’s coming – flowers.

One of my strongest, little girl memories is being in my Nana’s garden. When I was a young, my Nana (grandmother in Italian) had a flower garden in Chicago. Her house had a postage size lot, but she grew flowers along the perimeter of her walkway and backyard.  She had a green thumb – growing roses, petunias, tulips, pansies and gardenias.  Her prize accomplishments were her pink, striking peonies.  The blooms were large and full – surely prize winning. She took care of her flowers with tender adoration. She’d smile ear to ear as we walked through her heavenly haven.

Probably the best gifts that she gave me were cuts from her garden.  Our family would be preparing to leave after a visit.  She’d pull me aside, walked me through the garden and selected choice flowers for me to take home.  The peonies were the best gifts of all … because she treasured them.


Flowers have a mystical, magical, intimate and even spiritual quality about them. We are tied to people historically through flowers. Poems are written about them and thousands of paintings have been drawn of them. Flowers are gifts in all of life’s circumstances: births, high school dances, graduations, weddings, stage performances and hospital stays. They even follow us to our funerals and gravesites.

So, when death announcements say “in lieu of flowers,” I breathe a sad sigh. Often, the goal is to ask for charity donations in the memory of the deceased.  I think donating to causes is wonderful and needs to be done.

Yet, why in lieu of flowers?  Why not in addition to flowers?

As you can imagine, with three family members passing away this last year, I’ve received many flowers. I have cherished each one of them.  There is something warm, beautiful, hopeful and comforting about these colorful masterpieces.  And many smell amazing.

Let’s be honest – death and loss are depressing. Although cut flowers are not permanent, they add visual warmth to a painful circumstance.  Personally, I can be a rebel and don’t always obey the rules. I like to send flowers even when I’m told not to!

Going through a season of many, fresh losses, my way of being extravagant is to buy cut flowers each week. When selecting them, my thoughts focus on Leah. Here’s this week’s bouquet.


One of the most emotional and meaningful gifts that I received, after Leah passed away, was a heart necklace. In the center of the heart are pieces of dried flowers that adorned the chapel at Leah’s funeral service. Two of her friends gave me this uniquely thoughtful necklace. It will always be a treasured piece of jewelry.


Today, if you are grieving a loss, splurge. Buy yourself some flowers in honor of spring. Whether your loss was a day, week, month, year, five or 10 years ago – give yourself a present.  For whatever the loss: whether your loss was a loved one, friend, job, marriage, relationship, pet, do something nice for yourself.  You are worth it.  If you can’t bring yourself to do it for yourself, buy a bouquet for a someone for whom you care.  They can surely use a lift and you will surely receive a smile in return.


How to help a grieving friend

Today, I want to share what has been most helpful to me as I grieve my losses, especially the loss of my beautiful Leah.  I am big into metaphors as you can probably tell if you’ve been reading this blog.

From my perspective, grief is like being thrown into a big, dark hole that you can’t climb out of alone.  There’s no ladder to get out.  It’s dark and dreary for a period of time.  The sun may break through, but there are periods of darkness.

As I’m in the black hole, there are people walking by.  I can hear them talking or laughing or even crying.  They may look down on me with genuine concern, but they are ok with the fact that they are “up there” and I am “down here.” They may toss sympathy my way, which is sincere.  “Marie, I wish you weren’t down there… so sorry.” They share a few words and then walk away.  They are gone for days, months or longer. But again, it feels as though they are “up there” and I am “down here.”

Then there are the people who try to throw a rope down.  They are hoping that I’ll grab on to the rope and they try hard to lift me up.  But, I’m dead weight in this position. They strain and wear themselves out and eventually walk away.  Or, they can’t lift me up alone, so they bring others around and try to lift me up together.  It starts getting easier when the group is pulling. Many times, I’m almost out of the hole, but sadly I slip back down.

Then, there are the people who consciously decide that there is only one way to help; they sit down at the edge of the hole, throw their legs over the side and shimmy down the hole.  So now they are in the dark hole with me, eye to eye and heart to heart. They are scared to be in the hole with me, just as I am scared to be here.  It’s close. It’s risky.  How can they not help but cry with me? They fear that they will never get out. But they know that by interacting with me this way, they can truly help because they have experienced being in the abyss themselves.


So, how do you get in the hole with your grieving friend?  Do you have to be “with them” 24/7 or sacrifice hours and hours a week?  No.  But there are things that you can do to help your friend see that you are not just an observer, but in the abyss with them.  These are a few suggestions.

Be Purposeful

Coming alongside a grieving person is a decision.  We may have a desire to support someone.  We can think about them a lot and pray for them – good things to do. Prayer is critical. But to actually walk alongside a grieving friend is a purposeful decision.  It’s not going to just happen. Most of us are busy and we don’t have a lot of “white space” in our lives.  So the decision to come alongside your friend needs to be proactive, or it won’t happen.

I can tell which friends of mine are purposefully walking alongside me. They touch base with me on a consistent basis.  Even if touching base is a weekly message, text or phone call/voice mail. They aren’t waiting until they are “free” to reach out to me.  They proactively check in or make plans to see me. They don’t wait on me to initiate because they are seeking to walk alongside me. I may be lagging a bit behind in the walk. So, they slow down their pace, get behind me and gently urge me to keep walking and moving forward.

Ask questions

If you are feeling totally stuck on how to help a grieving friend, ask them.  Consider asking specific questions versus general questions.  Show you care by the questions you ask.  A general, “How are you?” is almost impossible for a person in deep grief to answer.  But asking specifically, “What helps you most during this time?”  “Can I go to the grocery store for you or with you?” “Does it help you to talk about how you are feeling?” “What is most comforting at this time?” “When do you feel the most energy?”  “What will help you get out of the house?”

Watch your words

Remembering falling off your bike and scrapping your knee? Ouch.  It hurt to walk and the worst pain was when you bumped it up against a table or something. Major ouch.  What didn’t hurt at all when your knee was whole, now causes seering pain when bumped. Our hearts operate this way.  When in deep grief, our emotions are raw.  Very raw. Grieving people greatly appreciate people who try to use healing words.  Words that show tender support such as “I hurt with you.” “I am so sorry.” “You are so strong.”  “You can do this.” “I love you.”  “Tell me what you loved about Leah or your parents. I want to hear.” Words that lift up.

Avoid words that imply “Your life is a wreck.”  “I am so glad it’s not me. I could never get through it.” “You must be strong for God to give you this terrible situation.” And a flippant, “God will make everything right.”  Sometimes people mean to support through Scripture. But throwing Biblical verses out randomly like pieces of candy at a parade, do not really help the person the way other interactions can. There have been times I was climbing out of the hole and words were said that were like dirt kicked right in my face.  So as I grieve, I am learning about grace. Which is a whole other blog topic. 😉

When present, be present

When you do have time with your grieving friend BE WITH THEM. Make the most of your time together.  Don’t be distracted with your cell phone, or tap your foot as your friend shares how he or she feels for the 100th time.  Show patience and listen to his or her wounded heart, even if you’ve heard it all before. I am blessed that after Leah died, Grant, Mark and I talked about Leah and her illness and her last days – for two weeks solid.  We stayed in the house and talked. In our shock, I am sure we repeated ourselves over and over. But, it was a safe place.  A place where we didn’t feel hurried or rushed and we were there for one another. We weren’t judged and we didn’t over analyze one another’s comments.  We didn’t try to fix one another. We still feel free to talk a year later.

Remember how I just said our hearts are tender during grief?  When a heart is tender or in trauma, the memory cells kick in high gear. When in grief, a person is touched by visually seeing people – face to face. I highly encourage you to attend memorial services. It is meaningful to go to visitations, but it is also extremely meaningful to go the memorial service where the loved one is honored. My memory is seared, in a positive way, as I recall the people who were there to support me during Leah’s and my parents’ funerals.  Go.  It does matter. You matter to your friend. We don’t get “do overs” on funerals.

Love Your Friend

Bottom line. Showing active sympathy and empathy are forms of love. Love is an action, not only an emotion. Loving is risky, but it is a worthwhile risk. Extending love through compassion puts us in a vulnerable place. There are times our efforts may be rejected, but true love goes back and tries again – over and over and doesn’t give up. Love puts others above ourselves and doesn’t keep a tally sheet of “I called her once” then “she called me once” so I “gotta keep it even.”

Love risks rejection or love is never born.

I can tell you by name the people who have broken through the darkness because they have repeatedly come after me when I haven’t responded. A person in grief is in a time warp, they may not even realize that you’ve called them 10 times, but one day, they will finally respond.

We all have different love languages too.  Try to pick up on whether your friend’s love language is time, service, gifts, touch or words of encouragement and then reach out – letting one of these five love languages lead the way.

We are all wired for action aren’t we?  When we see something wrong, we want to step in and do something.  It’s hard to see someone who we care about in pain.  We feel powerless.  I hope this post helps you as you interact with me and others who are grieving.

I do have to end this post with a spiritual observation, especially now during Lent. During a period of deep grief, it is natural to question whatever faith we have. Whatever religion we profess. We ask “Where is God in our pain?” “Why does God allow crap in good people’s lives?” Sadly, many turn from their faith during a season of tragedy.

Truthfully, my relationship with God is changing through my season of deep, deep loss. Aspects of my faith are a bit on trial in some ways.  Yet, my circumstance draws me back to the core of my faith. A belief that God loved this broken world so much that He made a conscious decision to come into the dark hole with me/us.  He could have kept the posture of looking down, standing at the top of the hole and staying unengaged.  Christ chose to shimmy down the abyss and become one of us to show us that He loves us in our pain and brokenness. And He patiently waits for us to see Him in the darkness and respond to His offer to help. And He promises to lift us out of the hole, even as we are broken, and love us anyway.

I encourage you to think about this unique God of love and I encourage you to risk being love to a friend in grief.

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Tiny Things for Leah

I don’t remember when it started, but at some point Leah began to like tiny things – itsy, bitsy small things. She liked to collect items such as little glass animals or polly pocket dolls or rocks or shells. As long as it was small, the item was a minuscule treasure to Leah.

One of Leah’s tiny things:

Leah_Tiny Things

One of my favorite, theme birthday parties for Leah was a “Tiny Things” birthday party. It was so fun working with her to come up with the food items for the party. We served miniature hot dogs, small tacos, grapes, inch size carrots, etc. So cute.

As I thought about how to honor her on the day she passed away, I remembered her love for “smallness.” Then it hit me to ask people to do a small, random act of kindness in Leah’s memory. Another grieving mom I know asked her friends to do something similar for her son.

I knew that Leah would love this type of activity. She wasn’t into big, showy activities or behavior. Leah was introverted and behind the scenes. For example, she loved the times she served at our church food pantry by stocking shelves.

So, I called out to many of you – friends and family to do a “Tiny Thing for Leah” on or before February 20. As a result, I got wonderful emails and texts about the various activities people took on in Leah’s name.

A few of the activities in Leah’s honor: providing hard boiled eggs for homeless people in the Chicago loop, giving a bouquet of beautiful flowers to a hurting friend, donating furniture to people in need, handing a server a delicious box of Girl Scout cookies, paying for the next person in line at McDonald’s and giving an inspiring book to a friend. Some people didn’t share what they did, but I got a text message or email that simply said “DONE.” I know what they meant.

For our family, we went to a local restaurant on the day that Leah died and bought one of her favorite meals – ribeye steak. Bringing a card with me, I wrote our waitress a note sharing with her that we selected to give her a gift that day in Leah’s memory. We gave her five times the 20% tip. I was so nervous to hand it to her. When I got the courage, I said something such as “Today, we are honoring my 15 year old daughter’s memory. She passed away a year ago from cancer. We are doing a ‘tiny thing’ for her and we picked you as the person we’d give to today.”

Our server’s demeanor softened and she immediately gave me a hug, smile and said, “Oh thank you. I will pray for Leah and pray for you.” It was a beautiful, short 10 second exchange and I felt so good. Don’t know if I will ever see her again, but this moment was a marker one for me.

It felt so meaningful. Many of you have helped us through your prayers and acts of kindness. We have been on the receiving end for so long that I felt joy at giving to someone else.

Several people emailed me saying their “tiny thing for Leah” experience was very touching for them too. I know without a doubt that God gave Leah an awareness about what was going on and she must have been excited.

Purposeful acts of kindness inspire me that we can do good for others every day. Some people are called to do large scale, good deeds for humanity. Not all of us are called to save millions of people or donate thousands of dollars. There is no reason that each one of us can’t be purposeful and share time, resources, or “tiny” gifts with others. If we are too busy to do small, random acts of kindness, well…we are just too busy. Aren’t we?

Thank you for inspiring me and supporting me as we continue to find beautiful ways to honor Leah’s memory. It is comforting to know the beautiful girl in the photo below will never be forgotten.

Leah_a favorite