Category Archives: grief

Laughing again

“There are two of me
And two of you”

So starts the song by Jackson Browne that describes so many relationships in life. Two of me, the daughter-child and the adult-child and two of him, the father who was only still when laying on the living room floor, pillow under his chest, watching television at night. Daddy to me no matter what age but when his age caught up he was the second him, the one who couldn’t conquer his health problems and went from joy to lament.

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4 of us in Tulsa

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I have to count backwards to remember how many years he’s been gone. I only know because he passed the April before our daughter graduated high school. I guess it’s terrible not to remember the exact day and year your daddy died. I do. Sort of. I remember it was during spring break and we were doing a day camp with the kids from church who needed something to do. I remember getting the call from a friend who thought I knew. I remember his voice when it became clear to him that his condolences were actually my first hearing of daddy’s passing. I remember that exactly. How I was at my desk in that pitiful old building we called a church. I was facing the window and I remember his voice. I don’t remember what I said. Just Ron saying, “I’m so sorry.” And the kids. A dozen or so of these precious kids that Henry kept in the other room while I called mama to tell her. They’d been divorced years but she cried.

I remember the day went on and I went to where the children were and each one hugged and kissed me and maybe I didn’t show them how to grieve when we continued on with our outing for the day. But grief doesn’t come then. Grief is a sneaky bastard. Sometimes cruel in his attacks.

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So yeah, it’s been a long time and I guess I can blame reading about others loss and today, April 2nd, being the day the second of him left this world that’s brought this on.

And the song goes on….

“There were two of me
And two of you
Searching for a passageway
Hidden from our view
And together we went crashing through
Every bond and vow and faith we knew”

There was always something hidden, or at least not clear to me. The fiercely protective daddy of his little girl and the sad, confessing dad to his grown daughter. Things I’m not sure a parent should tell their child no matter how old but I think I already knew.

In his absence I’ve lingered on the bitter taste of loss a bit too much. Loss and how hard his life was the last few years. Three days a week on dialysis, position taken from him through retirement and a realization he wasn’t in control. The passageway he went crashing through was frustration and sadness and it broke my heart. Bonds and vows had been broken. Faith? I think we kept that.

Some days I miss daddy. I miss telling him the funny stories because laughing with him was the best. But I don’t miss his sadness and his grieving over a life of activity lost. I don’t miss hearing his strained voice when he called after dialysis. I don’t miss his complaining about what he couldn’t do and couldn’t eat and couldn’t be because I couldn’t help him. God intervened and took him home where, I’m sure, he’s laughing once again.

 

 

 


Coming and Going

“MeMe, I have a grown up tooth coming in and a wiggly one in front.” Our daughter is prompting KK to call us to share bits of her daily life. I heard her excitement and it’s the best news I’ve heard all day. It woke me up to how quickly the time is passing and the focus on life, coming and going life, was clearer.

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1st day of kindergarden outfit

1st day of kindergarten outfit

* You will die sooner than you think. You will be forgotten.

Those words from Reggie Joiner, spoken yesterday at the conference I was attending, just hours before the word was shared my mother in law would not last the weekend. We expected her to pass in June yet this was sooner than we thought. Sooner than we could ever prepare for because you can’t prepare for the physical absence of someone you love.

The granddaughter has her first grown up tooth coming. She is in kindergarten and went to her first sleepover. Her life is full of firsts and while she is coming her great-grandmothers are going. Her grandmothers in that in between place where we see a full life but mostly while looking back. We are burying our mothers and welcoming another generation. Trying not to forget one while raising up the other.

*You will only be remembered by the people who know your name. – Reggie Joiner on Legacies. 

Granny would call out several names before she got to the right one and she always laughed first. So many names from her 5 children and over a dozen grands. My own mother doesn’t know my name or my brother’s or her grands. We know her name. We remember for her these days.

Granny long gone, mama, mind going more everyday but soul very much here and perhaps while the mind goes her soul is coming, coming for more grace.

I’ve uttered the words I’ve heard both generations before me say, “I don’t know if I’m coming or going” and it’s surely felt like that today. The words about Legacy from Reggie echoing in my mind as my mother in law gave up her earthly struggle and the granddaughter reminding me of her tender new life coming with full energy for more.

in her costumes

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Coming or going? Coming AND going is how life is. There is never time for death but always time for birth but really, isn’t this earthly death birth? Birth to what Paul tells the Corinthians is the day we will see clearly. The Voice says,

     For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal.I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face. 1 Corinthians 13:12

One moment the soft smiles are forming remembering my mother in law and the next, they are giving way to tears of sadness knowing I’ll not hear words from her lips again. I’ll not hear her call me Beki instead of Debby and pretend she got it right. I’ll not hear her laugh at one of her sons just because they’re her sons and bring her such joy. Coming and going, smiles, laughter, tears and sorrow. They mingle together and when we gather we won’t know if we’re coming or going and we’ll be doing both just like she is now. Gone from this world but only her body. Her legacy is in her children, and, I pray, the generations to follow.

 


Tired

I want to retreat. To hide out from people, people I know, and just pretend I have this normal life where I’m a housewife (I was good at that role) and I can tidy up things that are a bit in need and cook a healthy dinner for us and maybe pay attention to the art class I’ve had to ignore due to schedule or do something else creative, but solitary.

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I’d rather do that than prepare for this conference (that I love you know) and spend 2 1/2 days of go-see-do-sleep repeat. I’d rather ponder quiet thoughts and put fingers to the keys than wait for Ruth to die not knowing when, again, we’ll pack a bag and take a journey that feels so unnecessary and too much.

I am feeling selfish and needy and I just want to take a nap. And I don’t nap! Yeah, that’s where I am.

It will pass. It always does. Some caffeine and a game day face and I’ll benefit from the need to carry on.

But….this feels more. A little. This time. I think it’s death. I think it’s the waiting and the life that won’t wait. I plan. I need plans. But life, and death, have plans of their own leaving me to choose my response.

The game day face hasn’t worked too well today and I’m afraid people have seen more of the real me than they ever should. I could feel it in my walk, fast paced with purpose. My words clipped and the anxiety crawling across my shoulders.

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We are using the chapel this Sunday. Period. There are chairs in it and the piano was put in today and will be tuned by the end of the week. We will be in there Sunday because I need to be there where we all sit together and I am not apart from them. Dorothy needs a piano to play and not the junk she’s be struggling with to get a melody played.

We don’t know how to use the new audio/visual system and the installers have made no attempts to train us. A call today informed us the techs are installing a system for someone – IN THE BAHAMAS! No matter. We can go low-tech. We have chairs, we have a piano and we have the Word.

Henry and I were trying to see what we could figure out on our own and as he was trying to get audio I was crouched on the small platform, bowed over when I knew I had to stop. Stop fussing, stop rushing and release, again, it to God’s control. To His purpose. Again. And in those few moments I knew it will be okay. If I step out of God’s way, if calm down and let Him be, He will.

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He will care for my mother-in-law in her dying moments as He’s cared for her all these years.

He will care for our family as we sort out the details and make room in our lives for another loss that will mean eternal joy.

He will tend to audio and air conditioning and time limits.

He will be thanked for his graciousness toward me when I don’t deserve it.

He will surprise me with his truth in a new way and I will praise His name.

He will get me through today and that’s all I have.


It’s messy up in here

We were laughing as we often do. Eric telling John about something I’d written and John cringed and said, “that’s messy”. I stood defiant as I replied, “I’m messy.”

There was one thing mama didn’t tolerate and that was a mess. My hair was cut in the short pixie until mid way through grade school because mama wanted it neat. I was allowed to let it grow only with the understanding it would be kept from hanging in my face. (You can’t imagine the compulsive ways that manifest itself).

Neat, uncluttered, organized, these are the things that help me breathe comfortably and feel accomplished. I’ve conquered our stuff!

But life is messy because fear and pride can’t be hidden away for long. Selfishness and self-pity, arrogance and defiance cannot be dusted and tucked inside a basket on the shelf.

At five, our granddaughter lines up her toys. They are in a neat row and we smile and wonder if these are tendencies being revealed. DNA from great-grammy?

There are no neat rows for addiction and relapse and turning away from the Beauty and Love that chases us all. There is no way to clean up Alzheimer’s and the guilt and long grief it brings to families. All we can do is muddle through the mess trying to clear a space for love.

There is no way to avoid living a messy life when you believe the One who turns life upside down when he uses addicts to teach this church girl and expose the mess I thought was so well ordered. When he takes my words, rehearsed and regurgitated from years of listening but seldom learning, and like a boomerang they come back  at me, this time filtered through the lens of grace and I know I am the mess.

I’m finding the best way is to live through our mess together.  I’m finding the mess has always been me. Hair brushed back out of my face, books all neat on the shelf and bed made first thing each morning makes me neat. Compulsive a bit or maybe I can say I’m just honoring mama. Neat but choosing to walk in the mess of service just like she did. Choosing to love others right in their mess because He still loves me in mine.

 


If it’s her party, why am I crying?

The notification stares at me as though the letters are glowing bold. They are burning through my heart and I have given way to guilt.

“Mom is turning 75 years old…..let’s shower her with cards”

It doesn’t matter I didn’t realize this was her 75th. (I always have to do the math to figure out how old she is.) Or that by the time my sister posted this on Facebook a plane ticket would have been very costly or that these trips are typically planned months in advance. (I have to prepare for this in so many ways).

None of that matters as I sit here, the day before, with the reality of it hitting me hard and knowing her firstborn will not be there. It doesn’t matter mama doesn’t know me anymore. I know her. I know she is the woman I have admired most and can never give what she has given to serve others.

It’s not practical for me to go. The several hundred dollars a plane ticket would cost to stand in front of her with other family and friends and wish her a happy birthday. And then what?

Today, practical doesn’t matter. Today I feel like I’m letting her down, letting myself down. Denying myself of the pleasure of standing in her presence, whether she knows me or not. A few more moments with her when she can still laugh and nod her head when the scripture is read to her. Another chance to finger through photographs of the faces no longer known and see if I can prompt that one moment in time with her.

And then there’s the wondering what the family out there will think. They are gracious, they always have been. They are the practical sort too. I didn’t get this way on my own!

There is no answer for a heart feeling broken or a daughter feeling she is letting down her mama. Or maybe herself. Henry will put his arm around me and let me cry into his heart. He will remind me of love, of his and mama’s and, somehow, he’ll say something to soothe this bare heart.

He said, “you’re a good daughter.” How does he know the perfect things to say.

It has been a tough day. This day before her birthday. On the day friends and family, now strangers to mama, will gather to celebrate her day. They’ll share some cake and maybe sing to her. Someone will take pictures and I’ll see them on Facebook and I’ll be thinking about her, about them, from 3000 miles away.

I will be grateful for a sister so brave to have this party for mom. I will be thankful for those who’ve sent cards and covered our family in prayer.

I will be thankful for a life lived in faith, of not knowing and still believing. Believing it’s okay to be here, in my corner of the country. Here thanking God for His unfailing love.

 


On Belonging

“You never belong until you believe you do.” Voskamp

There are things that happen when parents divorce, even good parents who aren’t fighting and things are being done all polite.

There are things that are created in your daughters when you keep secrets and you can’t tell her what’s going on and an aunt has to tell her you’re getting divorced and your mom never could talk about it. And you can’t keep from crying in band class so your teacher asks if you want to go in his office during class and you do and you cry by yourself while class goes on.

Walking home from Junior High your friend tells you her mom saw in the paper about your parents divorce and you wonder if everyone knew but you.

And then you move. At the end of summer you and your mom move far away where you  don’t know anyone and there is no family and people think you have an accent and this is all so very different for you.

A year later you decide to move. Back to a familiar place, you move with your dad and while the faces and places are known life isn’t the same and maybe this is where the not belonging starts.

At 15 it seems the constant in your life is moving. Moving and God because when we move we always find God in our church and when mom and dad divorced I knew I needed to find God closer, so I did. I said that quiet prayer that I wanted to be his and I was but this moving….it was so hard and marked my life in that way where I wondered if I could know I belonged. Somewhere. Anywhere.

We are attached to the physical places. To not having to ask directions and knowing where the best local burger place is and what use to be there and you remember before there was metered parking on the beach. The familiar gives a sense of belonging but we belong to the place and there should be more.

That is my struggle, in finding and allowing the more. In believing I belong wherever as long as I am with Him. My husband is that physical him for me as our lives have had their own moves. But after all these years I can’t seem to allow God to be the place, to allow him to provide the belonging. Rather, for me to accept the belonging he does provide.

My early years of moving have left their scars of abandonment. With that has come the insecurities that God wants desperately to overcome. Forty years later I can turn into that teenager fearful of being the new girl and that fear keeps me out of joining, out of belonging.

His belonging doesn’t have street signs and familiar buildings. His belonging changes and I am learning, slowly learning, to belong in the changes.

 


When the time comes

My sister had her big birthday last weekend. She threw herself a 40th birthday party and asked her guests to gift her with donations to Race for Life. Over 70 people came to her party. We have a big family out there and I’ll guess half (maybe more) were relatives.

Then she emailed me about planning moms funeral.

Mama is still here. She’s not sick or showing any signs she won’t be with us much longer. Her dementia advances, tiny steps at a time it seems. Lisa and I both pray God will spare her from what we fear could come. That stage when all is ravaged. So we plan.

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It’s the right thing to do. Do it now when it’s less emotional and neither of us want to admit it can possibly be more emotional. Mom has long paid for her plot and we know that much.

Several years ago when my brother and I were out there for the funeral of her husband he tried asking mama what songs she might want sung at her service and what scripture she liked. She was having none of that talk. Not then and not since.

It’s a huge burden for one just turning 40, for one who suddenly lost her father before she was 35 and now bravely emailing me about our mom’s funeral. When it comes. When it’s time.

“Do you think Paul would or could do it? I’m definitely not having a viewing or open casket. I know she would want it in the church.”

And so back and forth we went for a day or so, little snippets because more would just be too much, too hard. I would answer her note surprisingly composed and then turn to brush away the tears I couldn’t contain.

Journey

 

Not Paul, I said, but Henry. He can do this for us. He loves her and she was crazy about him. Even now we talk in past tense because mama has been gone a few years now. Her mind slipped into a place we’ve not been able to find. I read the suggestions for family with an Alzheimer’s parent. Ask them about their siblings and where they work and find out what time their mind is living in. It sounded so promising and I knew I’d learn so much more about mama’s life but she fooled me. When I asked her if she had kids, she said, “Well yes”. How many? “Too many to count” was her answer. Three has never been too many for mama to count and she talked about living in Florida where she has never lived. She loved to visit us here and it was as if she thought we were sisters and lived in Florida. Her confusion became my confusion and it was hard to go on. That was over two years ago. Now, she can’t manage that.

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So we plan a little. The day comes for us all and we assume that day will come for her before us. God has that answer as He does to all things. Some answers he shares with us and others, I know I couldn’t handle so He spares us.

It’s gotten a bit easier the past few years. The acceptance has come and I thought the grief had all washed over me but it will come again. I will grieve for losing even her body. Her earthly vessel she served God with so diligently. I will grieve that part though maybe a little less. Again, God knows. Acceptance of His knowledge, His will, mostly importantly, His grace.

 


If joy comes in the morning, is it morning yet?

“Crying may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b NCV

Are you like me and feeling the heaviness of the week? I could turn off the news but the tragedy and hate and sorrow would still be there. In our country, in our world, in our families. Not all suffering is played out on the nightly news. But when it is, when it pulls us together and we’re on our knees for strangers our hearts are worn down and out. I look for joy in the morning but find more sorrow.

our flag of freedom

our flag of freedom

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Are you also like me and have this need to be happy and laugh a little but there’s this guilt, a sense of betrayal to our neighbors in TX and MA and funerals being planned and families split wide open?

The books of wisdom also tell us to cry with those who cry and rejoice with those who rejoice. Forgive me if you’re not ready for this, but I need to rejoice. I need to celebrate the strength of our people. Even in the loss we have seen incredible acts of selflessness and heroism. We can only know good in the face of bad and when it’s really bad, it’s really, really good.

It's by the cross we are made free

It’s by the cross we are made free

“God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.” Romans 5:20 NLT

Not all tragedy is the act of sin. Accidents, like in West, Texas cause as much sorrow. But when one of the men asked why does God allow this to happen, the only answer that offers me any sense is this: free will. That’s the gift God gave us all. He gave us the free will to choose. To choose evil or good. Right or wrong. Blue or Orange. Cold or Hot. It’s what makes us alike and different; our choices. God has given his guidelines to us through his word but he will not make us follow him. Friends, that is love.

And I choose to rejoice in that love. The grace that is more abundant in the face of sin, evil, sorrow and heartbreak. That is the joy we have with each new day. Yes, my heart aches for so many. Yet, I thank God for his free will and grace that will see us through.

 


Fighting fire with fire

I was glued to the news coverage of the most recent atrocity in our country. It was hard to escape as it blared from the networks and I didn’t turn it off as though watching the interviews and video replays would provide an answer when there is no answer for evil.

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The winds are swirling outside our windows and the palm branches are bending to their howl. How fitting a storm would churn now. Driving in this morning the sky was dark but above the sun rays were streaming out as rays of hope. Isn’t that how it is? God sending hope in the midst of storms?

The Salvation Army Massachusetts division emergency canteen serving in Boston yesterday.

The Salvation Army Massachusetts division emergency canteen serving in Boston yesterday.

In the fiery blasts on that street in Boston people ran toward it. There are always people who run toward the blast, toward the fire, toward the dangerous unknown. They are the ones who have answered their calling. Their calling to help.

This morning I read these words in Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience:

“Feel their flame and feel their heat and the people of God face fires. 

That’s what we do. You fight fire with fire and the people who have fire in their bones are called to fight the fires of this world.”

A friend noticed a few years ago when our babies were all grown up and looking for their place, teachers, fire fighters, health care, social workers. She said they go into those professions because they want to help people. It’s what they’ve seen their parents do. And so it was. People of God face fires.

The fires we run to aren’t played out on the evening news but often spilling from the heart of one sitting in an office chair or who lingers behind after chapel service. It’s embers from abuse that have never died but are rekindled to flames raging to be put out, to be calmed.

It’s the fire of God’s Holy Spirit inside one that runs to combat the fire in another. But I confess my fire inside is often but a flicker. I hang back while others rush to offer aid, more content to be a bystander. I’ll wait. I’ll watch. I don’t know their kind of fire and lack the proper equipment. Those words haunt me even now as I know one who reached out and I’ve yet to answer. Feeling inadequate to manage their fire. Surely another is better equipped.

We sing the words:

“Send the fire, send the fire, send fire”

pleading for God’s Holy Spirit, like fire to burn inside us, burning away the chaff and keeping aflame the desire to follow His call. Even when His call leads us to another fire. The people of God face fires.

 


April 2. I think.

I don’t know why the date eluded me for a few years and even now it sneaks up on me. While I had trouble remembering the date events of the day have always been clear.

We were stationed in Lake Worth, Florida.

It was during spring break.

We were in the corps – pastoring the local Salvation Army.

We were having a spring break day camp with the children from the church.

A friend called. He started by saying how sorry he was. What? Sorry? I think my voice might have cracked beginning to realize why he was calling. Why he was telling me he’d just heard and was sorry. Then his realization that I didn’t know. No one had called to tell me daddy died. His call, one of condolence, was the first.

My favorite best memory of daddy.

My favorite best memory of daddy.

Henry heard my voice, he knew. He knew, could tell what was going on. He gathered the children in another room. The day would have to go on. There was nothing I could do at the time. Wait. It’s always waiting, even for the dead.

I went out to the children where one by one they came to give hugs and kisses as Henry had been explaining to them what was happening.

Mama and daddy at my brother's wedding.

Mama and daddy at my brother’s wedding.

L-R: sister-in-law, 2 nieces, son, grandpa, dad, daughter, me (early 90's)

L-R: sister-in-law, 2 nieces, son, grandpa, dad, daughter, me (early 90′s)

The perm years ;) 1981 with daddy and my two littles

The perm years ;) 1981 with daddy and my two littles

He passed his picture taking on to me

He passed his picture-taking on to me

I guess numb is the right word. Daddy had been sick. He was diabetic and it has been stealing bits of his life and body the past few years. He’d been in hospital a few times and there’d been no reason for me to think this stay was any worse than the others. No word from his wife. No one called to say I should go. Nothing. So my friend called to say he was sorry to hear about dad’s passing only to find out he was announcing the news to me.

I called mama. They’d been divorced 25, 26 years? She cried.

It was April 2. I think. I’m pretty sure that was the day. It was muddled and muddied and grief often is.

It was 1997. I know that because it was our daughter’s senior year. Daddy was coming for her graduation. His first grandchild and even though travel would be hard and a dialysis center would have to be found he was going to come for this. Instead, we went to him. To a funeral at an unfamiliar place to a burial in a graveyard we’ll never visit again. No need. It’s in Dallas and why look for the living among the dead as the bible says. It’s just a place where his physical body has returned to dust.

His spirit and soul lives. It lives in our daughter’s crooked pinky fingers, just like his.

It lives in my ruddy Irish complexion and soft spot for corny jokes.

It lives in my brother’s type-A personality and competitive spirit.

It lives in our call to serve.

It’s been a long time. I don’t revisit that time often. There is still sorrow about that day and the last years of his life. But it seemed time. Time to feel the depths of it and own those feelings. Admit that daddy was flawed and understand the fright having a daughter gave him. Grace gives that. Grace accepts. Accepts me and my sorrow. My loss. Grace always gives.


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