God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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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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Celebrating with Your Grieving Friend during the Holidays

It’s November. It’s hard to believe that in less than two weeks it’s Thanksgiving day. Once Thanksgiving hits, whoosh, it’s Hanukkah and Christmas. In one more blink of an eye, it’s New Year’s Eve.

Wonderful memories are often attached to this time of year. Holidays are filled with delicious meals, tasty sweets, festive decorations, multi-colored lights, lots of greeting cards, beautifully wrapped presents, upbeat music and especially important – friends and family.

For a friend or two in your life, this holiday season is sure to be a painful one because he or she lost a close family member or friend. The joy that is typically associated with this time of year can turn into a sadness that can be quite lonely, painful and dreaded.

For me, it’s hard to believe that this holiday season is my third Thanksgiving and Christmas without my daughter Leah. She loved the fall and winter holidays and beamed with happiness as we enjoyed them. Leah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our celebrations. I’m so grateful for my memories of her. Yet, our family’s holiday season will forever be different.

How do you as a family member or friend respond to someone in your life who has a deep loss? How do you show him or her that you care? Should you acknowledge his or her loss during the holiday season? Give her space? Not invite him to big events so he doesn’t feel uncomfortable? Send her a holiday greeting card?

From my perspective, I want to share a few ways others have responded to my loss that I’ve found most helpful during the holiday season:

  • Acknowledge your friend’s loss – However you do so, take the time to either say or write compassionate words about your friend’s loss. Words such as “I’m so sorry that this is your first Christmas without your husband or wife. I can’t imagine how hard this season is.” Or “What’s your favorite Christmas memory of your son?” Or, “I remember how your dad would play Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, that was so fun.” Avoiding a friend’s loss adds another layer of grief to the sadness he or she already feels. And yes, acknowledge her loss even after the first year…grief has no time limit. Each year without a loved one is hard.
  • Don’t make decisions for your friend – Let your friend make decisions about what she or he does or doesn’t do around the holidays. Invite her to events that you normally would. Or, even invite her to an event that you hadn’t considered. You may feel more uncomfortable around your grieving friend than he is around you. So, if you are unsure about whether to reach out or not, reach out. If you don’t invite your friend, he or she will have limited activities to consider and this can feel isolating and lonely. After my loss, the holidays feel a bit surreal and lonely and it is helpful to know that I have activities that I can chose to attend or not attend.
  • Be understanding and flexible – Grief is a strange thing – especially around the holidays. An emotional reaction to an event can hit at any time. So a friend may say yes to an party, arrive at your home, suddenly get emotional and start to withdraw or cry. My first Christmas without Leah, I felt sensitive, but peaceful. Nothing unexpected happened. I was able to be part of activities. My second Thanksgiving without Leah, I had an unexpected type of “grief attack.” Something happened that triggered intense sadness that I couldn’t control. It actually shocked me. I had to leave the celebration. Please give your friend permission and grace with his or her presence. Your friend may be either more quiet or more outgoing than normal. Like me, he may need to leave your event early. Don’t get easily offended if he or she doesn’t immediately accept an invitation, or if he or she cancels at the last minute. Your understanding spirit will be remembered.
  • Do something special – You can buy a special gift, make a donation to a cause or give a unique card in memory of your friend’s loved one. I am so incredibly touched when friends and family reach out in a specific and meaningful way to honor Leah. For example, my niece drew a picture of Leah for us and gave it to us as a gift. I can’t tell you how meaningful this action was to me. Our extended family has also joined us in decorating Thanksgiving cupcakes in Leah’s memory. Your friend may or may not show emotion in the moment, but know that, by acknowledging your friend’s loss in a tangible way, you will stand out as someone who really cares.
  • Keep your commitments – If you tell your friend you are inviting her to a party, invite her. If you suggest going out for a Hanukkah or Christmas drink/coffee, follow through and be the one to make it happen. Promises that are not kept are especially hurtful to a grieving person.

These actions above have been some of the best holiday gifts that I have received.

Now, a word to those of us who are grieving:

  • Realize our grief is unpredictable and messy – Emotions around the holidays are all over the place. One day, we may feel upbeat and happy and the next day, we may feel depressed and lonely. Don’t feel too pressured to make too many plans ahead of time. Ride the grief wave as you need to.
  • Ask for what you need – If a friend is kind enough to reach out, respond and don’t ignore him or her. Communicate openly about what is most helpful to you at this time. Be bold. It’s ok. Friends who haven’t had a significant loss often want to be helpful, but don’t know what to do. You can gently coach them on what is most meaningful to you at this time.
  • Find a creative way to honor your loved one – Holiday traditions are so foundational and meaningful in our lives. Create a tradition that honors your loved one and keeps his or her place in your heart alive. I’ve replaced Leah’s former Christmas stocking with a beautiful white stocking in her memory. It’s a small action, but it is a tangible way of keeping her part of our family traditions.

The holidays are a time to celebrate our love for one another – including our loved ones who are no longer with us. I hope you are either encouraged to reach out to a friend who had a significant loss or respond to friends who are extending their hearts to you in love. Please share in the comments section any additional ways that others have touched you during the holiday season.

Holiday blessings all!

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Keep Moving

Life can be hard.

Actually, I’m being “politically correct” with my word choice.

Let me rephrase this statement.

LIFE IS HARD.

It just is.

And not only for some of us.

But for ALL of us.

Rich or poor.

Young or elderly.

Healthy or ill.

We all have seasons of hardship.

It’s the great leveler.

One instinct is to pick up the pace when life is hard.

Rather than walk through the day, sometimes we run through each day as though we are in a marathon – pushing so hard that we almost become numb.

Or, another instinct is to barricade ourselves in our homes.

Some of us  form cocoons around our hearts, metaphorically speaking, and cut ourselves off from other people.

Rationalizing that at best, we are protecting ourselves from disappointment, or at worst, we are protecting ourselves from heartbreak.

On days when it takes enormous effort to put one foot in front of the other, I’m training myself to keep moving.

What does moving look like for me?

It’s saying yes to that coffee date with a friend, volunteering at church or for my favorite charity, sending hand written cards to friends, going for  long walks with my dog, crunching fall leaves, reading an inspiring book, singing silly songs with my husband, listening to my favorite band, or surprising an ill friend in the hospital with flowers.

What if I just don’t feel like doing these things?

I force myself to move – because I’ve learned that:

Challenging myself to move creates positive energy.

Positive energy creates a lightness.

Lightness creates happiness.

Happiness creates inner joy.

Inner joy creates hope.

Hope strengthens faith.

Faith blossoms into love.

And it’s love that helps me persevere.

 

What keeps you moving?

Whatever it is – push yourself.

Do it.

Move.

And keep moving.

Today, start by stepping outside with a plastic bag and collect your favorite, fall-colored leaves.

Who cares what your neighbors think?

I think you’ll be glad you did.

 

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