Thursday, August 17, 2017

In one word...

On a FB grief support community, someone posted this meme. The top words that people chose were: Unending. Unbearable. Life ending. Everlasting. Relentless. Surreal. Lonely. Difficult. Impossible. Shocking. Crushing. Empty. Lost. Hell. Change. Broken. One user even put "Can't."  One user put "hope" and another "heaven."  As for me, the word I chose was: REDEFINING.

How has grief redefined me?

My world was turned upside down. I had a hole in my heart the size of the Grand Canyon. Having been part of an "us" for 34 years, I was suddenly on my own. It was like falling of a boat into the middle of the ocean. During a storm. In the dark. My life became so utterly different than what it was and while the changes were being made, having to contend with crushing sadness and loss was at times nearly overwhelming.

I say "nearly overwhelming" because God won't let us be overwhelmed. His presence in the fire, in the flood, in the furnace, wherever we may be, keeps us from being consumed by it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


It occurred to me that I have spent most of this past year since my husband died in a whirlwind of busy-ness. It is rare that I relax - often that means collapsing.

Before Pat passed, I had accepted a position that did not pay well because we had his income for our main support. This job was a mission and very worthy in terms of experience. We were both excited about it.  When he passed, I knew the salary wasn't going to cut it BUT there was no way on this green earth that I could handle interviews after his death. So I've been drawing from the life insurance I received to pay my big bills every month - this cannot go on forever.  I also would lose my health insurance because we were insured through Pat's job. My new job offered that but it took a huge chunk out of my paycheck each payroll. Therefore, I began teaching several exercise classes a week to supplement my income.

Each day involved getting up at 5:30, taking care of the dogs, leaving for school by 7, a 30-minute drive, starting my workday, dealing with a very unkind co-worker, heading home at 3:15 for a 45-minute drive since the traffic had picked up. Taking care of dogs, eating quickly, heading out the door to teach a class, coming home, grading papers, cleaning, laundry. For a couple of months there was a man I was seeing who showed up every night that I didn't work at the gym. This meant that I couldn't do the stuff that needed to be done because I was entertaining him or he was taking me out to eat. Sometimes we walked or went to the gym but I was determined to be in bed by 9:30 pm to get a good night's sleep. Therefore, there was more rush on the other days. On weekends I tried to see the grandkids, tried to accomplish bigger chores. Went to church every Sunday. Directed a children's church Christmas program from October through December.

All the while I was rushing hither and yon, working, breathing, juggling life, I was stricken with grief and striving to function around it somehow. My house was (and mostly is) positively overflowing with my husband's things. He liked his "stuff" and there has been quite a wild amount to deal with. (My goal was to get that done this summer, ha ha ha). I was able after a few months to give away and donate more than 15 giant bags of his clothing. When I say "more," I am talking 5 - 10 bags more. I lost count. There were 64 pairs of pants/jeans before I stopped counting. I'm still working on shoveling my way out of his belongings and there are less than three weeks left to summer break.

This summer break I had so much that I planned to tackle. However, Vacation Bible School was slated for two weeks after school ended. That first week meant decorating and organizing stuff. Any one who has done this know what kind of work this is. My dear friend and I had the teaching station so we had to plan/practice our lessons and then spend 3 hours each morning delivering them.  Meanwhile in the first two weeks after school ended, I taught 26 exercise classes.  The summer has been spent with me teaching 10 classes a week  - and sometimes a couple of more. I've babysat grandchildren whenever possible.

I also fell in love. After the first fuzzy relationship - more like friendship - with a widower ended, God put a man in my life that had been a friend of my husband's. He was seeking after God, reading my writings, and wanting to talk to me about the Lord. That turned into a long distance relationship and a prayer partnership. We read the Bible together daily and pray every morning before work and every evening before bed. We also have been seeing each other every month, sometimes twice a month. Each of those visits is jam-packed with a great deal of busy, busy frenzied activity. He has projects that he feels need to be done at my house (and I'm thankful). When I go there, he has things he wants to take me to do and I also need to see my daughter and her four children. It hasn't been restful.  The most restful time was when I had two snow days in a row and he was visiting while out of work due to an injury.

I've had very few days with the luxury of truly having nothing to do in a "good way." The days that there has been "nothing" were also populated with emotional turmoil. There has been quite a bit of that to contend with. The co-worker who was so much like Dolores Umbridge who seemed to make a business out of trying to tear me down. The grieving child lashing out at the easiest target. Suffice it to say that other relationships can be affected by grief, especially when it is shared. Being the "mom" it was very hard to function in full mom mode when I have also been a new widow trying to find my way in a completely new life.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

One year has passed...

It seems like yesterday they were lowering Pat into the ground - and yet it seems like a thousand years ago, or at least a dozen.  On one hand I feel like I'll spy him out in the back yard, putzing around, doing what he love. On another, I feel like it has been infinity since I saw his face, kissed his lips, and felt his warmth.  Here I am, after one year has passed, gazing into the gaping hole left by the loss of my husband.

How can it be that my life somehow moves forward with such an intrinsic partner in it missing? We were an "us" not a "you" and an "I." This is something that he emphatically stated time and time again. We were a team, each with our own roles to play but clearly working together towards a common goal. I feel at times like I am standing out in a ballfield, facing my opponent, and yet somehow expected to cover all the bases by myself. On those days I'm torn between trying to do it all and wanting to call "forfeit" and run home to nurse my sorrows.

There are things I would tell him, and I hope he would understand. I'm an athlete, no good on the sidelines. Letting life pass me by doesn't come natural to me and no dishonor to the relationship is meant. "I'm in the tryouts or training season for a new team. Seven months now.  He is not you, but he is a good man in his own right."  This new team is going to have a completely different schema; its own strengths and weaknesses. It doesn't replace the team that Pat and I once made. In fact, it is an entirely different league. Once upon a time we were children who grew up into adults together, we built a life, had our own children, then grandchildren. This new team is made up of two people who are already all grown up and who do not want to stand alone in the ballfield hitting balls and running after them alone.

Sometimes I cry; most of the time I just keep muddling forward. I've made it through one year this way. One day I'll probably sit down to write and discover it has been ten years. I wonder where I will be then.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Do you deserve to be happy?

What do you deserve? Deserve means to be worthy of, to be entitled to, to have a right to.  There is a current song by Little Big Town that says "we all deserve to be happy while we're here." Why? Why are you entitled to happiness? Where is this written? The Founding Fathers seemed to understand happiness wasn't an entitlement. They said we had the right to *pursue* it, not that we deserved it.

Our culture programs us to equate happiness to the material pleasures, sexuality and other bodily gratification. Choose the right partner with the right actions to stroke your ego and you'll be happy. Do this activity and you will be happy. Buy these clothes, cars, gadgets, etc, and you will be happy. Marriages are destroyed and families are broken because we look for other people to make us happy and when they don't, we abandon ship and create ripples of unhappiness for others as that ship sinks. How many children are damaged by divorce and fighting because their happiness was secondary to the egos or material needs of their parents?  We teach them that other people are expendable if they don't gratify our selfish desires. We teach them that obtaining material things is crucial to finding joy. Pursuing money to gain material goods becomes more important than time rearing children, making memories with spouses, and even proper rest.  The idea that happiness comes from "entertainment" leads to time spent in emptiness and immorality, opening the door to more temptation and destruction of the values and people who are truly important  There is so much ugliness that tends to accompany the concept that we "deserve" to be happy. Throw in the concept of being entitled to it and a blind eye is turned to the negative until far too much damage is done.

The Bible tells us this, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." and Psalm 144:15b "Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!" Godliness is the key to happiness - and being content, not constantly looking for more and more, but being satisfied is profitable. One way I can see right off the bat that it is profitable is because you aren't striving, striving, striving to have things or a movie-perfect marriage.  When you are looking at and truly appreciating the things you have, you can build upon them. Try gratitude. Seek contentment.

Philippians 4:12 - 13  "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Luke 12:15 "Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”"

Psalm 37:3-4 3 "Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart."

Matthew 6:33 "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Monday, July 10, 2017

A message from beyond...

My friend, Sherie, lost her mom the day before Patrick, passed. I was trying to figure out if she felt the same sensation I did (that I also discussed with my daughter, Erin, this morning). I said:
"Do you feel the void more strongly now that it is one year? I feel like being in the same physical place in the solar system where we were when going through the trauma of it all somehow intensifies the feeling. Like a rock thrown in a pool of water sends out strong ripples. It's like hitting that place again and the ripples are still present - or an echo or shadow or something of the intense emotions is still there."

When I was talking to Erin just this morning, I was speculating about tesseracts and folding the fabric of space/time and trying to illustrate what I meant/felt with a blanket and an envelope. I talked of wormholes and physics. I likened it to a person pushing forcefully upward from down in the realm of the sea and the pressure of bursting through the surface tension of the water and up, up into the realm of the air. The force of the departure creates a burst, waving and rippling. SO to what effect does the departure of a soul leaving its body create when leaving the earthly realm into the heavenly realm?? And to what extent does the emotional intensity surrounding that departure affect the size and the resulting strength/length of the reverberations of that ripple?

 In talking about this with Jenna, she offered that when a star dies, its energy in the form of light, continues on and we see that star ages after its death. Erin and I had discussed how time isn't the same for God/heaven - that a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day. That there is no sorrow and mourning in heaven and it is likely due to no knowledge of loved ones suffering while in bondage to the earthly clock and no worries of unfinished business in this realm.

And now I'm going to add a freaky, touching, wonderful part to this: Today I've been cleaning out my computer room which has become a receptacle for all things I don't know what to do with or don't have time to deal with. I have boxes spread out in the middle of my living room. I took a break and AS I WAS WRITING THE ABOVE to share, I went into the kitchen. When I returned, THIS was laying in the floor about a foot and a half from the doorway to the room, right where I had to walk. I HAD NOT STEPPED OVER IT ON MY WAY PAST; NOTHING WAS THERE BEFORE. No junk, no clutter - no where near the boxes I was sorting - empty carpet and this laid there in full view upon my return to my desk. A love note from my late husband...

This seriously just happened and I cried...not tears of sadness. Tears of loss, tears of joy, tears filled with the knowledge that God is in control and loves me as He loves Pat. Call it coincidence, say that I overlooked it when it fell out of who-knows-what. I know that it is a message from my husband and from my Lord.

Mark 12:26-27 "As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living."

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Where my strength comes from...

If there is one thing I can say about what has gotten me through this past year since Patrick left this world, it is this from Nehemiah 8:10: "The joy of the Lord is my strength." Strength is the quality or state of being strong - well, what is strong?  To be strong is to have the power to move heavy weights and/or to withstand great force or pressure. And what is joy? It is delight, great pleasure, happiness. "Of" expresses a relationship or a connection between a part and a whole. When I say the" joy of the Lord" has been my strength, I'm not talking about a crutch that I lean on (that is a support), a cushion when I fall (a soft landing), an insulator (to keep bad things out), or a piece of armor (He does arm us mightily). When I say the "joy of the Lord is my strength" I'm talking about POWER. Defining "is" is hard, but it is a state of active being. This, strength, this power, is of God. It is a happiness that flows like liquid steel into the fiber of my being from the mighty God who created the universe. It is power to be more than an overcomer in Christ.

Over a year ago, my cousin who went to be in glory last week, Monica, and I had a conversation about this. This was before my husband passed, before her daddy passed away. We had both been both challenged and afflicted by those who challenged our beliefs, who came against that joy with a radiating sort of negativity.  She told me that she had learned that she was *never* going to let anyone or anything steal her joy. She wasn't going to stifle that joy of the Lord no matter what and joy was like a fountain spewing forth from her. I think everyone she came in contact with it was touched.  Her joy was that "joy of the Lord" and she wasn't hiding it from anyone. What a testimony she gave as she walked in that joy. We had some similar challenges and shared some prayers concerns - and in a discussion about those things back in December she reminded me we were "Walking by faith not by sight!"  It was a proud moment, indeed, when this woman who shone her light so brightly told me she was proud of me for "pushing ahead even in my grief."

It is one thing to get through the battle unscathed but why settle for merely making it through each day? .Romans 8:37 tells us we are MORE than conquerors. A conqueror prevails, defeats and masters.  Just absorb the rest ---
Romans 8:38-39 "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A friend of my cousin's shared this quote from John Piper, "Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have."   This past year has seen a lot of weeping and grief, but there have been many reasons to smile and rejoice. When God took Pat home, He did not take His joy from me.  If anything,  He poured me some more and taught me how to better access it.  He taught me how precious every single day is and to embrace this life. So while this is bound to be a difficult week of reflecting on the the anniversary of the  loss of my husband, the recent loss of my uncle, and the fresh loss of my cousin full of Sonshine, the Lord has given me blessings to remind me that I am well-cared for.  As Monica would say with confidence, they took the glory train. They are in His presence now - but as for us, nothing can separate us from His love.

The joy of the Lord is, indeed, my strength.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dear Pat...

Dear Pat,

It has been 11 and a half months since my world completely changed. My whole world *was* you and the life we created together -  our children, our routines, our rituals. Getting up each day with you beside me and going to bed each night in each other's arms. July 3, 2017 seemed like any other day. We went to church, we had lunch, we looked at furniture and laughed because there was not a single thing we liked. We joked about being the hippies our kids thought we were and just having bean bags and the exercise ball. You did your yard work while I wrote yet another paper for my graduate degree. Without warning, July 3 became the last normal day.

I miss you - that is a given. There is no denying that not a single day goes by without thoughts of you, without shock and wonder that this state of existence without you isn't really just a terrible dream. Wendy and I were talking the other day about how it is simply unfathomable. Some days it seems like you are really just here, maybe outside tinkering in the yard, or upstairs napping. Other days the horrible hole left in this life by your passing becomes a yawning chasm impossible to cross.

How have I dealt with your passing? I've done what I always do. I've sucked it up; I've kept a stiff upper lip. I've done what has to be done. Oh, I've certainly broken down and howled, bawled, sobbed, and screamed. I've tried to do that in privacy but there have been many times where the tears rolled freely and I couldn't stop them. Regardless, I've made it a point to keep moving forward. Survival. That's been the name of the game. Because really -what other choice is there?

My mother always said, "Don't cry over spilled milk. Clean it up." Well, losing you is far, far, FAR more than spilled milk. However, the sentiment still fits regardless of whether other people don't "get it." Staring at my loss and wallowing in it would do nothing at all to get me from sunrise to sunset, day in and day out. It certainly wouldn't make me feel any better in the long run. So with no other option, I've surveyed life on each given day, made a mental inventory of my needs/wants and sought to meet whatever each day required of me.

I had accepted a job before your death that, while very rewarding, does not pay well at all.We both prayed and felt so right about this job.   Knowing I couldn't live on that income, I began a side job that would cover my health insurance costs. Now I have another side job that will further supplement my income. You would be very happy with God's blessing me with the ability to do what I love - teaching language arts and more exercise classes (as long as they didn't take time away from you). There are things that would not make you happy: the adult bully who tormented me throughout the year and the fact that the exercise classes are co-ed. I can imagine your opinions and advice on both. So many times I wished I had had you to come home to and tell the stories of my day. You would have laughed so hard - that special Ernie laugh. You would have wanted to come to my classroom and meet everyone, do special things for the students. You would have loved building things for science experiments. You would also have been my knight in shining armor and my shoulder to cry on when my own Dolores Umbridge was doing her best to make my days dark.

But you are not here to be and do what I know you would. Instead I've had to face my trials in a different way, find new support, You were my "person" and I was your "person." Even when things were rocky and we were at each other's throats we always knew that we had each other. To suddenly find myself without you put me at such a loss. What we built over decades can never be recreated. I have had no choice but to find new connections, engineer a new support system.  Yet God, He has always been there - a strong tower for me to run to, a mighty fortress, my deliverer.

And then there are your children - they miss you so much. You were a rock, a steady, immovable rock. They could count on you being there - for a laugh, for a hand, for a strong shoulder. We were all so blinded by our own grief, but I really expected better of myself. I was so consumed by my loss of you that I wasn't the nurturing mother I should've been to help them deal with theirs. It is so hard to be the mother when you want to be mothered yourself. That's a whole other ball of wax - not having my mom and my dad at a time when I want so badly to run to them, pour out my sorrows and have their support.  When I started coming out of my own fog and seeing everyone else's struggles, it was mind-boggling, guilt-riddling and awful on numerous levels. It isn't my place to write here about their stories - but I know that they would give anything for the strong, loving hands of their Daddy on their shoulders and embracing them in a huge bear hug.

I went to your grave this morning - our anniversary. Thinking about how one year ago you were here, taking the day off from work while I was substituting at Biomed. We had plans to celebrate our anniversary in July, after Jenna's baby was born. You had a big surprise for me when I came home. You had cleaned out the back bedroom, set up bunk beds for the grandchildren, fixed the ceiling fans, and set up toys. You were so proud to show me this - you had me close my eyes and then revealed it to me.  Here it is, one year later, and your body is in the grave. I miss you so much.

How can this be? We are 15 days away from that dreaded one year anniversary. Six days away from the night the week from hell began. I've been living without your hugs, without your kisses, without your loving texts and phone calls, without your warm, snuggly body for 350 days. I asked, how can this be? It doesn't really matter, does it? Because it *is* and there is no changing it.  Abject acceptance is the only recourse.