God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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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.


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What to do when Christmas is hard

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year

With kids jingle belling

And everyone telling you ‘be of good cheer’

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

From the song  It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams

Such sweet words. For several people, they eagerly await this season and began excitedly counting down the days to December in June!  The holiday song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year says it all for this group of people.

You are either in this season or life, or you have friends in this season of life.

There’s another group of people who desperately want to fast forward to January 2, 2019. Many of us are either in the midst of a serious health diagnosis and/or crisis, relationship breakdown, job loss, divorce or grieving the death of a loved one. The joy that typically marks this time of year turns into a sadness and uncertainty about the future that is very lonely and painful.

Truth: You are either in a joyful place or a painful place. And your family and friends are experiencing the holidays from one of these positions.

How do you recognize and reconcile the reality of both experiences?

  • When you are in a “great place” in life, how do you celebrate with both your happy friends and your sad friends?
  • How do you even begin to reach out to someone in pain?
  • If you are the person struggling, how do you take care of yourself?
  • How do you not feel like you are bringing people around you down?

I don’t have magic answers, but I can share my life experience and what I’ve learned during the last few years. This Christmas will be my fifth without my 15 year old daughter Leah. She passed away in 2014.

This time of year brings conflicting and complicated emotions. Leah had cancer for 14 months. It was this time of year, in 2013, when she had a major setback and relapse. We knew she was in a bad place, so we tried desperately to make the month of December special for her.

It is a sweet memory … and a bitter memory.

For the first two holiday seasons without Leah, I was quite numb. I basically went through “the motions” during all the major holidays as I did my best to outwardly smile and engage with family and friends. Yet, I hurt on the inside.

When you are in a great place and all is going well in your life, it takes personal sacrifice to enter into someone’s pain or difficult situation. Yes, you risk being uncomfortable; you may have moments of empathy and compassion that bring you to a potentially melancholy place. You too may feel somber emotions as you walk alongside your friend.

You will experience life more richly by:

  • Acknowledging your friend’s loss
  • Not making decisions for your friend – invite him or her to events
  • Being understanding and flexible if your friend changes his or her mind at the last minute
  • Doing something special in memory of the person who your friend lost
  • Keeping your commitments when you offer to do something with your friend

These actions from my friends and family have been true Christmas gifts to me.

Now, a word to those of us who are in the middle of a challenge or deep loss:

  • Realize our grief is unpredictable and messy – Emotions around the holidays are all over the place. One day, we feel upbeat and happy and the next day, we feel depressed and lonely. Don’t feel 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.
  • Find a creative way to honor your loss – Holiday traditions are so foundational and meaningful in our lives. Create an event/tradition that honors your loved one and keeps his or her place in your heart alive.
  • If you just can’t go to a public event – don’t. Give yourself permission to say no.

The holidays are a time to respect one another’s needs and celebrate our love for one another – whatever life stage we are in.

Holiday blessings all!

Blog_Christmas 2018


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President Bush’s example – time doesn’t change love for a deceased child

Along with the rest of the world, I grieve the loss of President George H.W. Bush. Or as many call him – 41. It sure takes a smart and special person to serve as President of the United States. His devotion and personal investment in our country were great. His devotion to his wife and family was equally remarkable and noteworthy.

As the stories are told about President Bush, there’s one story about his personal life that I didn’t now. He had a three year old daughter Robin who died of leukemia in 1953. It was a time when there weren’t many advances in the treatment of leukemia. She was in a hospital in New York for many months. When Robin died, Barbara and George Bush were devastated.

Their love for Robin stayed with the Bush’s their entire lives. So much so, that President George W. Bush (43) mentioned his sister’s name during his father’s eulogy. The mentioning of Robin, 65 years after her death, touches me — deeply.

As a mother of a deceased child, I immediately connect with the deep grief of losing a child. I also connect to the powerful hope of a reconciliation with Leah after my own death.

Mentioning Robin’s name gives voice to all parents who have lost a child to death.

We can learn four, key things from George H.W. Bush’s example:

  1. Say the child’s name – It’s healing and affirming to hear the deceased child’s name. It’s meaningful when others acknowledge our deceased children. Our children graced this planet, whether for moments or decades, and brought us joy. Saying Robin’s name at Presiden’t Bush’s funeral told the world, “We remember Robin. She is not forgotten. She was cherished.” Saying her name was a gift to the entire family.  Hearing my daughter’s name brings me joy. It doesn’t make me sad. As the years go by, I hear Leah’s name less and less. Not hearing her name is what makes me sad.
  2. Number of other children doesn’t lessen pain – The Bush’s have six children total. Robin was one of six. The fact that there are five other children didn’t lessen George and Barbara’s pain and grief of losing Robin. Period.
  3. Grief grows compassion – President Bush remained sensitive and comforting to people he met who were battling cancer or other terminal illnesses. He went out of his way to acknowledge the pain and grief that were caused by cancer.
  4. Time doesn’t matter – Robin died at 3 years old. President Bush hasn’t seen his daughter for 65 years. Let that sink in —  65 years. At the age of 94, this father still longed for his daughter’s presence. The hope of seeing his God, wife and daughter gave him peace as he approached death. His love for his daughter knew no time limit. He carried her in his heart until his last breath.

Personally, the last point hits me the strongest. There is a comfort in knowing that I share this connection with the Bush’s. Although a sad connection, parents who have lost children have a bond with one another.

I’ve been living four years, almost five, without my daughter Leah. My love hasn’t lessened one bit. And it never will. It is affirming to hear how devoted President Bush was to his child’s memory and the ways that her presence blessed his life.

There are good articles about the impact Robin had on the Bush family. There is one today in the Washington Post.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2018/12/06/george-barbara-bush-never-stopped-agonizing-over-death-their-year-old-robin

Thank you President Bush for loving your family and country well. May you rest in peace and enjoy your first days in heaven with Barbara and Robin.

Blog_George HW Bush

 

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Your Heart is Calling

As the years pass, the protective covering gets harder.

Exposed to the elements of life, you trust less – doubt more.

A casing forms – similar to bark on a tree or the shell of a tortoise.

Layers grow over with each:

  • Betrayal
  • Harsh word
  • Disappointment
  • Violent act
  • Painful illness
  • Lie
  • Wound
  • Sad situation
  • Death

Especially death.

It wasn’t always this way.

Try to remember.

Focus really, really hard.

Go back.

Remember the tender, trusting warmth of that first friend, first crush, first kiss, first love.

Picture moments of music, dance and silly laughter.

See the face of the person who first believed in you, first trusted you, first loved you.

Let yourself go there.

Place yourself in these moments – before any disillusionment.

Don’t run from these memories – thinking that their impact is lost and forever gone.

Explaining the peace away as young naivete.

Hold the images.

Look at them.

Turn them over.

See them. Really see them.

It will start to happen.

Healing of the outside walls.

The protective covering cracks.

Chipping open  . . .

. . . the outer hardness breaks.

The soft inside is warm and comforting.

Calling you.

It is still there:

  • Unlocked
  • Alive
  • Beating
  • Hopeful
  • Real

Waiting for you.

Your heart is there.

Pure.

Whole.

Tender.

Strong.

Lovingly patient.

Calling you back to who you truly are – who you are truly made to be.

Your heart is whispering.

Listen.

 

Blog_heart soft inside