Sometimes grief ebbs and flows through my life like a river runs through the woods. Any given moment, the wind changes and the current becomes violent. The grief thrashes around like spilling over my heart like the rough water flows over the banks.
Trying to describe grief to someone who has not experienced it is hard to do. Explaining it to a fellow griever is easier but it still can be very different for each person. I find analogies are the easiest for people to comprehend but still they often have no idea what I’m talking about.
Grief has been described by many in different ways. Some we can all identify with and others we can’t even imagine. For me grief chases me relentlessly with reckless abandon and does not care when or what I’m doing. It comes and goes as it chooses and I am often left breathless. I find it necessary to run and hide because I cannot or do not have the words to explain it to my loved ones. It’s overwhelming and takes my breath away – each and every time.
Grief washes over me during times of remembrance of my daughter OR during times when I think back at my life and the pain and sorrow that prevailed during many parts of my life. Some people do not know the whole story. Nor will they ever. Grief has also taught me much. It has taught me that nothing is guaranteed. That life can be gone in a minute. Life can be changed forever by just a wrong decision or a medical condition that takes a turn for the worse.
Grief has also taught me to love hard. To breathe in and out the pain of unimaginable loss. To believe in my God and His plans for me that I still don’t always understand. God consistently has rescued me from the depths of sorrow with His grace and love. His word is constant and His promise is love. He moves me to take that next step. He loves me unconditionally.
While grief throws me around often, God is always there to provide a safe place to fall.
Until next time,
Again, this weekend we said goodbye to a second family member in three months. While this is my spouse’s side of the family, Grandpa John was special. He had the best hugs and wore the cutest suspenders and a fedora hat everywhere he went. He died after a long illness and left behind his wife, our Mimi, children and many grandchildren.
His service was one of celebration and not mourning. I find that when there is a celebration, people can see many sides of that person one might have not known or seen before. Several displays of pictures and memorabilia was shared that reminded all who walked in and paid their respects of what a special person Grandpa John was.
As someone who has been too far too many of these, I can tell you that it will always be hard to walk into a funeral home and say goodbye to someone in your life. No matter how long you knew them or how much they were a part of your life. I find walking into a funeral still brings back too many sad memories of my mom’s, my grandmother’s and my daughter’s funerals. It’s like a flash back of some sort that knocks the wind out of you and sends you back to a dark place you try not to visit too often. I remember the first funeral after my daughters was my aunt Barb’s. She and I had just begun to get to know each other again after many years apart. I struggled to open the door of the funeral home and had to call someone to come out and help me. My cousin, my aunt’s daughter and my brother came out to walk me in and I sat down feeling as if I was going to suffocate with grief.
I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable in a funeral home again. Too much pain and grief has entered my life over the many years. I know as I get older there will be more and I just don’t know how I will handle it. Saying goodbye is the hardest – especially when you didn’t get a chance to hear their voice or say goodbye – a meaningful goodbye. Saying I love you or I will miss you in my life. Those goodbye’s might be tough but not getting a chance to say what you need to say – it stings. When I went to my mother’s bedside, I did not understand the gravity of the situation. I did not know I’d only have days left with her before she’d slip into a coma and die a few days later. There was so much left to say and do and it was stolen from me.
When my nanny passed, she couldn’t talk or see me, but I knew she heard me in the room. I missed hearing her voice and just devastated that again, I found myself saying goodbye to someone too soon and without having time to say and do things together. Brittany passing – was unexpected and quick. 12 hours from speaking and seeing her looking fine to seeing her die right before my eyes after 12 long hours in the PICU watching her slowly slip away with each code to resuscitate her. Again, left with many things unsaid and not completed. There was so much life yet to live. I loved her with all my heart and soul. She was ripped from my life in just hours.
What I’ve learned about saying goodbye is – it sucks. It isn’t fair.
What I’ve also learned is that in living with the fallout of losing so many people in my life – that God has a plan that I am not privy to. That one day I will know why they all had to go too soon. Why was their time cut short? My faith assures me that one day I will be reunited with my loved ones and that keeps me going every day.
Until next time
As a nurse, a mother caring for a chronically ill child or a family/friend observing the end of life, I can tell you there are so many things that people can do to offer support, be a voice and care for those going through a life-altering event.
Recently I experienced watching a family member go through the last months of her life and saw how vitally important it was for her to check off the things on her bucket list. Her family and friends surrounded her with love and support to make sure as many of those opportunities happened. Some of those things were easy and some not so easy. But for me what was most important was that there was effort. The effort to help her experience some of the things she’d wanted to do in her last days. I know this made her crossing over far less scary for her and the days she had left lived to the fullest that they could have been.
Like with any other situation in life where it be joyful or sad – where love ends or life begins; when life get exhausting; graduations or weddings; the support and validation of one’s life or situation can be all the difference to the person experiencing it. The simple task of just “being present” is all that many of us need to feel that someone took the time to stop their own busy life to spend it with doing something that is meaningful for someone else.
Taking this time to help someone going through a tough time opens the opportunity to also speak up when something doesn’t look right. You know the old adage “if it doesn’t feel right – it’s probably not”. I know many of you can think of a time when you experienced something or observed something and thought – “that just doesn’t seem right to me” – trust your gut on this one! Sometimes its the environment; or the caregiver situation or sometimes it’s just simple needs of food and home care. There are many who suffer daily caring for their chronically ill or dying friend/family members. As human beings we are put on this earth to serve we should be compelled to help. To extend a hand. To be that bridge between exhaustion and rest.
I remember the many meals, gifts, visitations and love extended to me after my daughter’s passing and how I felt so overwhelmed by the generosity of those, especially those I did not know well. People rescued me and I’m fairly certain they did not even know it. I felt loved and it lifted me up and I’m fairly certain they did not even know it. There is no greater gift than to simply pull up a chair and sit next to someone suffering and just be present. You won’t have the answers. You can’t fix what is broken. God gave us this inherent ability to love. Our hearts were built to expand with love and compassion. That is truly what anyone who is hurting needs – to feel that love and compassion.
Until next time,
I was thinking the other day how unconditional a mother’s love is. I’ve had the great blessing of knowing it from both sides. I had the most amazing mother who worked more jobs than I could ever imagine to make sure we had a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our backs. We were poor but we had love. As my mother passed away from breast cancer, my daughter was growing inside of me. I began to love in a way I had not done before. To myself I thought this must be how it felt for my mom to love me.
When Brittany was born, I was in the midst of grieving the recent loss of my mom and all that meant to a new mother. I grieved that she did not live long enough to see Brittany in person. The most she ever saw was the ultrasound photos and rubbing my belly when I was able to get home from Dallas to see her. I grieved for all the times I would need her to ask questions about things I wasn’t sure of. I grieved over and over every time I needed a hug from my mom. Even today I miss that unconditional love expressed in so many ways.
As Brittany became sick, I truly needed my mom because I did not know what to do. Everything I did or every decision I made about her healthcare was made from a nurse perspective and as time grew it evolved to a mother’s perspective. I grieved over who I knew my daughter could not become – a mother. I truly never believed that one day she would die from her illness because not many do; however I knew she would be unable to have children given the medications she had to take every day to keep her illness under control. I wanted so much for my daughter to understand what it meant to be a mother and to experience that unconditional love from a daughter’s perspective and a mother’s perspective.
A grief closet….
My daughter died just shy of her 18th birthday from a fatal grand mal seizure. In 12 hours her life was over and so was mine. At least the life I knew for the past 18 years was over. While I have come to understand that the unconditional love my mom had for me and that I had for Brittany is not gone from my heart – it is gone from my life. The hugs only a mom or child can give are what makes me cry quietly in my grief closet while I’m alone. In this place of my life I am so alone. And where I quietly fight my battle of grief. I believe this will always be my quiet battle to fight for my remaining days.
Since her death I have worked hard to rebuild my life, while different, it is a rebuilding process. I have found love again. I am loved by so many friends and family. I am blessed to have some close friends who have helped heal that place in my heart that for so long bled sorrow. And yes, sometimes it still does bleed; but I am comforted by the strength of my faith and the love of my family and friends. My new “framily” has given me the strength to keep pursing love and joy. Each day, with just the smallest of things like text messages or hand written cards – a breath of life is given to me.
But make no mistake I am still quietly over here in the corner of my grief closet missing my girl and my mom more than I could ever put words to. I say to my mom and Brittany – “with each passing year, I feel the distance between you and me grow more and more”. And that creates a whole different type of grief I have to learn about and manage. With all the love that surrounds me, I am confident I can continue to mold that into something that can help others.
Until next time,
I can safely say that I work harder at avoiding my grief than I do working through it. Avoidance is a coping mechanism that many use, including myself, to push thoughts and feelings back to a place where it won’t “hurt” so much. After 10 years at this grief thing, I can tell you that the pain still hurts and I don’t like it much.
For example, I avoid dusting a particular area in my living room where family photos and where many of my photos of Brittany and her ashes are. The act of dusting causes me to slow down and look for more than a second at her pictures or her ashes box. Picking up items that have such meaning, that carry memories that remind me she is no longer alive. With each item I pick up and carefully dust and place back on the shelf, the pain swells up inside me. By the time I’m done with the entire shelf, I am consumed with grief. I don’t think that will ever go away.
I also have a chest full of her things including her American Girl Doll that was created to look similar to her. The glasses she was wearing when she died, I still cannot touch without weeping. There is even a hand mold that the Life Team talked me into doing after she had just passed away. I slowly place my hand on her hand and it’s so painful I just put it all away and close the chest. I am consumed with grief.
Avoidance works for me because it helps me live through each day so that I can live somewhat of a normal life. It is actually important to me and those around me to be as normal as I can for them. It helps me work and do the things I need to do to care for my family. But there is a cost to avoidance. It is exhausting. It is painful.
I have to figure out this small space in my grief where I can privately grieve for my loss and live in my current life that I am forever grateful for. It’s a narrow space where I don’t always navigate well. Even after 10 years I still get it wrong. It is an evolution that I feel I’ll always be working through.
Until next time,
A few months after my daughter passed away I made the decision, at my family’s guidance, to return to my hometown of Indianapolis. My family saw that continuing to live in my house, our house the house my daughter and I shared for 2 years’ post-divorce was silently killing me. It was a difficult decision to leave a job I loved and people that helped me through one of the toughest experiences in my life. Home seemed like a logical place for me to be – with family.
Searching for a new church home became my priority. I understood the importance of having my faith but even more important was having a church family. It did not take me long to find Grace Church in Noblesville, just outside of Carmel. I got involved quickly with their Grieving Support team and became a Touchstone who was a parent who had lost a child and knew the importance of having someone to come alongside a newly bereaved parent to support them when they were ready.
Grace also provided me an opportunity to work with college students which enriched my life beyond measure. It provided me an outlet for my heart to love on these students while they were away from their families at college. It did more good for me than I think it did for them. I’m still in contact with a few of them and still cherish those memories.
Grace decided one year that they would stage a re-enactment of Jesus’ last days and death prior to Easter. I wasn’t sure what to expect but felt compelled to go and experience it. There were many areas that included the Last Supper and washing of feet. One area brought me to my knees. There laid just a cross across the stage and areas to pray throughout the room. I walked up to that cross and reached out to touch it and it seemed as if there was some type of energy around it that provided this message to me. I began to weep and grieve for not only the loss of Jesus but of God’s son as I understood the loss of a child too. From that day forward I looked at Good Friday from a much different perspective.
Through my years as a Christian I celebrated Christ’s birth like many, some who don’t even know the true meaning of Christmas. I grew in my faith as an adult and as a parent. Through the death of my mother and grandmother and the eventual death of my daughter – my faith was also challenged, often rocked to its core. Here is what I know – my faith, the resurrection of Jesus and eternal life promised is what I hang onto in the dark moments of my grief. My faith has been my rock and salvation after the loss of my only child Brittany. While it took a huge hit, my faith sustained me when nothing else could soothe my broken heart.
This Good Friday and Easter are a perfect reminder to me and I hope for someone who reads this, that the hope of seeing our loved ones again is grounded in this holiday weekend and will sustain us through our dark days.
Wishing you light and love.
Until next time,