Grief: A Journey

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

 

Have you ever gone on a journey—a hard journey—not knowing or understanding how to navigate or find your way, hoping for or needing someone to travel with you? Maybe someone you love and trust to help you when the road gets rough, and someone who may need your help, too? Recently, I read a true story about a youth leader who sacrificed his first few days of marriage to accompany a high school student on a journey to Yosemite National Park. The student planned to drop out of school to become a rock climber, and because he had intended to travel alone, he was surprised that his friend wanted to go with him.

The student knew nothing of the youth leader’s marriage; but because the youth leader saw that his young friend had made up his mind and could benefit by having someone with a bit more life experience go with him, he chose to go on this journey—knowing that most likely his friend would realize on his own that this idea probably wasn’t the best. Within a couple of days on the trail, he did just that, and the younger man decided on his own that he wasn’t cut out for rock climbing and that perhaps quitting school wasn’t the best idea.

Life Journeys

Like the story above, where the two friends took an actual journey—and the younger man had his own journey learning some valuable lessons—there are different types of journeys in life: when we travel to new places, take a walk or bike ride, visit our grandparents or friends across the country, fly on a plane or ride a train. There are also the kind where we learn new lessons, change the way we feel or think, and the kind where we need help from others to understand our emotions. We often don’t understand that this kind of journey may not end in just a few days; the journey of grief has no stopwatch, and we don’t always know where we are going.

A Journey of Grief

Andrew Lindwall lost his dad when he was only four years old, and he needed help learning how to navigate the feelings and questions he had. Someone I Love Has Died: Grief is a Journey of Discovery is part of Andrew’s story. He and his grandfather take a walk—a journey—through woods, hills, streams, and valleys, and together they share thoughts and feelings that help them both travel a path toward understanding grief and a very difficult part of life.

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk,
then crawl, but by all means keep moving.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward  to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 13:13, 14

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Grief: No “Right” Way

Grief: deep sadness caused especially by someone’s death. : a cause of deep sadness. (Miriam Webster)

… the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.

When someone important to us dies, it represents an end to what has been familiar for us, and we must adapt to that new—usually unwanted—reality.

I would add to “usually unwanted reality” surprised and possibly shocking reality.

When I was 17 and my brother was 14, our dad died suddenly. He had just started work for a new company, we were starting our Christmas decorations for that year, and life seemed to be rolling along well for our family—until it wasn’t. Suddenly and shockingly, everything changed.

My First Grief Experiences

As a 17 year-old, the only death I’d experienced—the first true grief—was that of my grandfather the year before. He lived across the state from us, and when he died, our family went. At least, most of the family; I stayed behind. I didn’t want to remember Granddaddy any other way than how I last saw him—so my parents let me stay home. Maybe they figured I’d need to work out my grief in my own way.

So when my dad died almost a year to the day later, I began to experience grief in a whole new light. I watched my strong, independent, “drill sergeant” mom fall apart; over the next days and weeks, she didn’t sleep, she had phantom illnesses, she stared into space for hours. My brother—who up to that point had been a fairly happy-go-lucky guy—over the next several months, became angry and rebellious and would often rage over small things.

Grief—there is no one way or right way to experience it.

As for my reaction to Dad’s sudden death—I pretty much remained calm and strong for everyone else. Because Dad was a WWII veteran, there would be no funeral or service for several weeks (his body was cremated) until our family could get to the National Cemetery. So for me, life went on. I picked up the slack around the house, I tried to calm my brother down, I went with Mom to the hospital when she thought something was wrong. My school choir was in the middle of rehearsals for a Christmas performance, so I went to rehearsals. I stayed busy with school and at home, and I spent a lot of time in my room, alone with my guitar.

There is Help.

Someone I Love Has Died: Everyone Grieves and No One Grieves Like Me  is a book where children can read about how grief is personal and individual for everyone; that there isn’t one way to grieve or to feel, that it is a process each person walks through differently. The coloring pages are available for filling in or doodling or writing, showing how unique grief is to each of us.

Karen Lindwall-Bourg also gives parents and care-givers tools with which to help guide children through their own grief process. “Written for grieving children, ages 3-99, and for those who walk this journey with them,” this little book will help people of all ages understand that grief isn’t static and that each person grieves in his or her unique way.

 

Tyranny of the Good

“Sometimes saying ‘No’ is the only way back to a life of ‘Yes.’”  Shauna Niequist.

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.  I Corinthians 10:23

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Good Things

Have there been times in your life, maybe even now, when you are doing good things—really good things, LOTS of good things—but you realize that something isn’t quite right? If you’re like me, the answer is a resounding “YES!” And if we’re honest, most of us walk (or run really fast) that pathway more often than not. We get busy doing activities or jobs that are productive and helpful and serving others and life-giving. Why would we NOT want to do those things??

When our family moved from our beloved east Texas to Colorado several years ago, I felt that if I didn’t get involved and be of service and make friends pretty quickly, I might sink. We had left the place where we raised our children and ourselves; where we helped start a church, served in the community, and were involved in myriad home school activities; we left friends we did life with and with whom we developed roots. So even before we got unpacked, I started putting my name on lists, volunteering for needs at church, and looking for people who were in the same life-vein as I was.

All of those things were good!

STOP! SLOW DOWN!  shield-1372620_640

But about a year after we got settled in CO, something—or Someone—spoke to me. “Slow down. Stop striving. Rest.” And then, “You will be just fine—even better. Get to know yourself and love those who are most important in your life right now. All of those other activities and needs and people aren’t going anywhere—but the most important ones are right in front of you. THIS is where you need to be.”

STOP! Get to know yourself and love those who are most important in your life right now.” What?! Wasn’t I doing that? Hadn’t I done that all along? I was already doing that by staying busy with all the good things and people around us, while also teaching my children about service and what was important. What does that mean, “Get to know yourself”??

Tyranny of the Good

Somewhere along the way of life, where so many good things were before me, I thought I had to do them all and work to make sure things got done. I had to serve because there were so many needs, and surely, no one else would do the job; or because others expected me to do it; or maybe because it made me feel important. Really? Rather than pray over all of those good tasks (there’s a concept!) before deciding what was best for all concerned—especially my family and me—I took off running. I loved what I was doing: working, teaching, leading, heading up hospitality committees, attending to others’ needs.

And even though I thought my busyness and service were necessary and good, they weren’t best. The work I was doing wasn’t always profitable—at least, not for me; I was striving. The goodness of life, while always a gift, had started to become a very heavy weight; and before I realized it, I was on a track where knowing God, knowing myself, and knowing those I love most, had taken a back seat.

Saying No

Soon after I heard that voice telling me to slow down and “get to know myself” and to truly connect with and love those around me, I started saying “No.” I said No when I was asked to manage a website for something at church; No when a need was posted for a co-op leader; No when asked to volunteer weekly at a food bank. All of these needs were important, necessary, and good—and it wasn’t easy using the N word (at first). But eventually, I gained a freedom that was even more important, necessary, meaningful—and so much better.

Gradually, I started saying Yes to quiet mornings at home; Yes to writing more; Yes to deep and important conversations with my adult children; Yes to serving those in my home. I had to learn No so I could get back to Yes.

In the process, I slowly began to realize things about myself and understand more of what God wanted me to know: that He will use me right where I am; I don’t need to chase after all of those good things in life I am not responsible for; He directs my path toward goodness as long as I seek Him first.

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He who dwells in  the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.  Psalm 116:7

Return to Your Rest

Once you find the Rest your soul needs, you’ll realize that Life is still there, all of those good things are still waiting. But you will also be able to discern what is profitable. When you’re able to step back and see not only what the world around you needs, but what YOU need, you’ll walk toward to a more healthy and whole path and will be able to say Yes once again.

        “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness                                                                    and in trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

 

Light a Candle

“A single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”  Anne Frank

“I am waiting in a silent prayer, I am frightened by the load I bear in a world as cold as stone. Must I walk this path alone?…Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness…”

It’s that time of year—with family, friends, decorations, lights, trees, gifts, music, yummy spicy smells, cookies—Christmastime. So many love to start celebrating early each year and keep the Christmas music going and the tree and lights up through winter. We all love the storybook Christmas.

But this time of year is also sadness and loneliness for so many—often magnified because of all of the lovely holiday trappings. Life doesn’t stop because it’s Christmas. Every year, I seem to be more acutely aware of this side of Christmas, of the messiness of life, of those who are hurting. I can take cookies, send gifts, say words of encouragement, pray for peace and healing—but the sadness and pain are still there. There are those walking through a dark night of the soul, and Christmas lights don’t take that darkness away.

There are so many.

But God…

He is Light. Jesus. He knows the pain and loneliness and darkness. For those of us who love this season, may we remember why we love it. All the fluffy things are wonderful, but God became flesh in the midst of a dark and hopeless world to bring light—the true Christmas Light. He gives hope—because we all need it.

So each night during this season, I light a candle for those whose pain is magnified during Christmas, and I’ll pray for some small comfort, some small light to guide them. Even the small flame of a candle can lead us out of a dark night.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 

Isaiah 9:2

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Thank you Mom, for your Service

In the summer of 2009 my mom fell and injured herself — not too seriously, but enough that she needed rehab — so we started the process of learning how to best help her. Because she was with the Women’s Army Corps during WWII, someone suggested that we try to get VA benefits for her, so I met with the VA representative about her case. While visiting with him, he asked me if she’d ever received her medals. I told him I had never seen any or ever heard her talk about them. As he was perusing her documents, his eyes suddenly lit up, and a big smile crossed his face. “She was a combat vet! I rarely see this!” He then explained to me that she was considered ‘combat’ because she was serving in the European combat zone. She worked in the Medical Records department in France and was in London when it was bombed by Germany.

Mom during WWII                                                        **********************

When I was growing up, I often heard Mom tell stories of her years as a WAC, but until recently I never really understood that part of her life. Even now I can only ‘get it’ from a distance. Those years shaped her and solidified a value system that few of us today will ever understand.

Mom grew up on a military base because my grandfather was career military and fought under General Patton, and she spoke often of her ‘drill sergeant’ father (who died many years before I was born). So for a young woman to do something fairly unconventional for women at that time probably wasn’t too strange to those who knew her then — especially during WWII, when help was needed everywhere; even those who weren’t enlisted volunteered or sacrificed somewhere. And by becoming a WAC, Mom knew she could travel, which she much preferred over staying in a small dusty TX town.

Looking back on my childhood, I think I understand a little better why we moved so often; Mom wasn’t one to stay in one place very long. We either moved from one town to another or from one house to another — she got bored with her circumstances quickly and convinced my dad that it was time for a change. Now, I think some of that may have been a longing to find some of the excitement and variety she found and loved in the military.

One year after that initial meeting with the VA representative, he called me to say that he had requested and received her medals. At a Veteran’s Day ceremony, after more that 66 years, Mom was honored for the work she did during WWII. I was thrilled to be there with my family and hundreds of others who were there to honor her and 3 others from WWII.

My mom was 90 when she received her medals, and she passed away 6 months later. She wasn’t living in our area at that time; even in her late 80s she was still moving from one place to another (some things never change!), and I’ll never forget all those moves! But Veterans Day is the day I think about her most — and I think it is the day she’d want to be remembered.

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This Mama’s Heart

Letter to my children ~

There is so much I want to say to you, things I’ve probably already said to you face to face – maybe a million times – but lately I’ve been thinking that somehow, all these years, I’ve probably missed some things. So I’ll say them now and hope that somehow you catch some of it and take it with you into adulthood (even though most of you are already there, the truth is, we continue into adulthood for the rest of our lives. Well, at least I think we do. I still have more life ahead, maybe. Every day I realize just how much more I have to learn and put into practice. That’s all part of growing up, isn’t it? No matter how old you are?).

When you were born, your dad and I were in awe — with each of you. And in so many ways, we’ve been in awe ever since. You’re all such amazing kids, and we feel that you’ve become such great people in spite of us. We certainly weren’t and aren’t perfect parents, and we made ‘mistakes’ along the way. I put the m-word in quotes because I believe that our mistakes can lead to our greatest successes sometimes…because everything in our lives has a purpose from which we should learn and grow. I hope and pray we learned when we blew it and fixed it when we had the chance.

But I can tell you this for a fact – we didn’t do it alone. We have a great God who directed us. We read parenting books and discussed and read more books and discussed more…but each of you is so different, and although the books we read might have helped a little, we couldn’t have done it without a lot of prayer and faith that the reason you are even here at all is because God has something in mind for you. So we trudged along as your parents trying to get to know you for who God made you, not for who we wanted you to be.

As I say that, I’m not even sure we knew who we wanted you to be or what our dreams for you were. They didn’t go much beyond hoping and praying that you would follow Jesus and become whomever He wanted you to become. And on the outside, that looks so different with each of you. But on the inside, not so much — more than anything else, our heart for you was that you would be compassionate, honest, teachable, generous, kind, thoughtful, wise, loving people.

When you were little, I wondered when we’d see those character qualities — when would love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control be part of your life? Not that I expected you to be ready to go to work with Mother Teresa right away or anything. And honestly, there were times I wondered if we needed to invite her to our home to counsel all of us! But as you’re entering the world of adulthood, I see those attributes in all of you, and I’m so very thankful. They will take you far in life. Truly, the other things don’t matter so much — what you do with your ‘career’ or how much money you make. What matters is how you’ll handle life; and if you have the heart and character to make a difference in your little corner of the world, that is what truly matters.

I read a quote the other day that I think is one to remember: “You can’t claim that you love people when you don’t respect them, and you can’t call for … unity unless you practice it in your relationships. And that doesn’t happen out of nowhere. That’s something that has got to be put into practice every day.” The missing word there is ‘political’ — but the idea here doesn’t just cover political unity — it goes for unity unity. Period. Unity in families, with friends, co-workers, with those whom you disagree. Unless you practice those beautiful character qualities you’ve been given, you won’t make a difference in the world around you.

As a mom, I tried to make our home and life a place of peace and beauty and grace, as much as I knew how – and now it’s your turn to do the same to those around you, to find it or create it for yourselves and others. We all make choices, good and bad, so I just hope you choose all those fruits of the spirit with which you’ve been so endowed. I’m not perfect, you aren’t perfect — if we were, we wouldn’t need to grow or learn anymore. So please forgive me for the times I failed you. And even though there were those times, I’m confident that your dad and I took our job seriously enough that we gave you each a glimpse of what it means to keep your faith, to cultivate it, to grow it: to walk in those God given qualities and share them with others who need light and love and peace and grace in their lives. But please remember this most important truth ~ unless you have love, all of those beautiful qualities you have in your heart won’t matter. Because the greatest is love. Always.

I love you so much.

Mom

P.S. Someone once asked me how I still have many of the friends I had in college, and a couple from high school – my answer is that I chose to have sharpening relationships – friends who sharpened me, and hopefully I sharpened them. We went deep and beyond us. Eternal relationships. They last. Choose that kind of friend. You may not have thousands of them, but the ones you have will be everlasting and make you a better person.

Lucy, the Wonder Dog

This is our dog Lucy ~

or maybe I should say our Cassie’s dog Lucy. When Cassie was about 5 she asked us and asked us for a puppy, but at the time, we already had 2 dogs and at least one cat and whatever animals people decided to drop off at our driveway. When you live in the country, people assume you want more animals, so they leave them as gifts.

Anyway, one afternoon as we were outside cleaning and mowing and working around the yard, this little dog wandered up to our house. Not a little puppy exactly, but still in the puppy stage. Cassie knew immediately that she had her puppy. The rest of us decided she must have prayed for her, and that because we wouldn’t answer her prayer, God did. He does like to bless us.

So Lucy became part of our family.

And that dog has nine lives — we’re sure of it. As we drove into our driveway one Good Friday, the always exuberant Lucy ran excitedly up to our mini van, and my husband – who has a theory that dogs always get out of the way of an oncoming vehicle – ran right over her leg. Then somehow, thinking she was under the tire, he backed up and ran over it again. So we all jumped out thinking we were going to find a smashed Chihuahua, with a crying 7 year old ready to disown her father — instead we saw a yelping Chihuahua limping away under our trampoline and out of sight.

We didn’t see her again that night. So the next morning, early, Chuck and I went out to try and find her. Somehow, she had crawled into a culvert and made her way under our yard and was waiting at the other end. We were able to get her into the car and to Dr. Wonderful Cannon, and amazingly, her leg was pretty much only dislocated. He wrapped it up, and she hopped around on 3 legs for a few weeks till it was all better.

A couple of years later, the always exuberant Lucy pranced along with Cassie as she went to our neighbor’s house for something – and our neighbor’s dog, ever watchful of menacing intruders – attempted to protect her from the uninvited Chihuahua by grabbing her backside and slinging her around like a rag doll. Somehow, Lucy made it home (very quickly), and after treating her with peroxide and liquid bandaid, she was back to her exuberant self in no time.

She never went to visit our neighbor again, but they’re still friends — sometimes (Lucy is a little schizo about our neighbor for some reason. Must be a Chihuahua thing).

Last summer we moved to Colorado, but we had to leave Lucy behind for a couple of months until we had a house. Somehow, she managed to stay out of trouble while she waited for us. As soon as we were able, we brought her here, and Cassie quickly made her comfortable in her new home.

Whenever Cassie leaves the house, Lucy props up on the back of the couch and looks out the window, waiting for her. And every Wednesday night, when Cassie goes to youth group, Lucy waits by the door to remind us that she’s going with us when it’s time to pick her up. But one day recently, she didn’t want to go.

A few weeks ago, Lucy suddenly stopped being her exuberant self. Cassie knew immediately something wasn’t right, and a few hours later, when she couldn’t pick her back legs up off the floor, it looked as if she was in pretty big trouble. We gave her a baby aspirin and put her in her bed. But the next morning, after not-the-best sleep, I got up to check on her and I thought she was in doggy heaven. So I called Chuck at work and asked him to pleeeeaaaase come home and help me break it to Cassie – I couldn’t tell her by myself.

Then a few minutes later, I went and looked at her again, and she looked back. Didn’t move, but looked. So I called Chuck back and told him, never mind, she’s still with us. He came home anyway, just to check.

So off we went to the vet hospital a few blocks away. Turns out that she had a fever and infected saliva gland, of all things. She took meds for 2 weeks, and suddenly, one morning, she got up, looked at me, and wagged her tail again for the first time in weeks.

Now she’s back to the picking-up-Cassie routine — and going for walks in the park, and riding with us to Taco Bell. Yes, we’ve come up with a few new ways to spoil her.

Now to figure out how to extend the rest of those nine lives…not sure how we’ll do that, but I just hope they last awhile. We love little Lucy, and I hope she’ll be around for many more moons to come.