Tag Archives: grief

The Nest

When I was 7 months pregnant with our first child, I led a seminar in the church I was serving on “How to Cope When Your Kids Go to College.” I have a background in Pastoral Counseling so I guess I believed I was using that knowledge to teach. Now, I just think it is hilarious and I’m surprised they didn’t throw things at me for not knowing what I was talking about.

I remember talking about grief, change and how having a child move out alters your family system. I talked about finances and the demand college expenses places on families. At the very end, a man in the back and raised his hand and asked, “Is it possible this could also be very fun?” The teacher (me) and the rest of the class seemed frozen in time for a minute. We looked at each other and quietly decided that fun just might be possible.

Fast forward almost three decades and I feel more qualified to speak on the issue. We have successfully sent two children to college and in about a week we will drop off our third child there  We are about to experience an empty nest.

We have literally been parenting now for 29 years straight. We have had kids in our home that entire time. How incredibly weird it feels to look up, look at each other and say, “Wow, that was distracting.” And, “You look different.”  “What year is it now?”

This time, with this kid moving out it feels different to me. First, for whatever reason, he’s more pleasant at this stage of his life than the other two were. He’s talkative and interesting.  He will cook, mow and run errands happily with no expectation of money or reward. He’s musical and fills our home with piano and guitar music and songs of all types. He’s funny. Secondly, I’ve been able to spend his senior year not working so we’ve bonded. I’m going to miss him. I told him I got a job at his college in the dining hall just so I can see him at meal times. He did not think this was funny nor a good idea.  I loved the idea except for the hair net issue. Thirdly, this time the next will really be empty. No extra kids left to parent after this one.

Yesterday, at church, a lot of moms with kids this age were crying. We needed a support group or something. Some of the kids were too.

It is really hard after pouring yourself into someone and spending 19 years loving, protecting, worrying and hovering, to send them off. It just is.

How I plan to cope:

-I’m going to let myself grieve and acknowledge that I miss him.

-I’m going to stay appropriately in touch. Some soon-to-be college parents were talking about devising a communication code with their kids where the students will text SA if they are still alive. I’m going to ask for more than that, for my sake.

-I’m going to continue with all my healthy habits: exercise, journaling, drinking lots of water every day, yoga.

-I’m going to have fun with the guy I married.

-I’m going to focus on the projects in my life that give me meaning, purpose and joy. There’s so much need in our world, so many ways I can love.

-Oh, and I’ve decide it is not an empty nest, at all. It is just a bigger nest. My nest stretches from Grapevine, to Frisco, to Houston and now out to College Station. And actually my nest has more eggs in it than ever with a son-in-law and now, a grandson too.

-If all that fails, I’m getting a hair net and you’ll see me at Duncan Dining Hall at Texas A&M happily distributing scrambled eggs. It’s always good to have a back-up plan.

 

 

 

When Broken Things Heal

Last year, on this very day, I was at our daughter’s home, awaiting the birth of our grandson, when I paused to take a picture of a beautiful sunset. I took one tiny step off their back porch and fell in an ever so slight hole with one foot and broke my ankle on the other foot.

It was about the worst possible time for such a thing to happen. I was there to assist. I was there to be on two feet doing things. I was going to be a whirlwind of helpfulness taking care of people I love.

When I called my daughter from the ER sobbing that it was indeed broken, she said, “Mom, this will be funny some day.” It is still, to me, one of the least funny things that ever happened. When my family tries to bring up my week-long stint with a walker before I received my walking boot, I make them stop because I can’t take remembering that horror.

The doctor told me it would take A YEAR to feel normal again. It still doesn’t. As I write, after walking 3 miles this morning, it is aching. I find it fascinating that it is still bruised in two places. How can it be still bruised?

But every day, I am grateful that broken things can heal.

Breaking my ankle taught me things that I seem to keep having to re-learn:

  1. I am breakable, vulnerable and human. To this day, my husband shows me curbs and holes. I keep saying “Just because I fell doesn’t mean I will fall again.” But, it actually does. I, like you, am capable of falling. I am breakable.
  2. Healing comes on a slow timetable. I have to keep being reminded by pain and aches that I am not yet healed. Healing is slow. One must be patient…more patient than you ever dreamed you’d have to be.
  3. Broken things don’t heal just as they were. My ankle is forever changed. So are people who lose loved ones, receive a diagnosis, endure a broken relationship or a devastating job loss. The good news is, you can heal. The harder news is that your brokenness will still be there even after you heal.
  4. God specializes in brokenness. So many times we believe our God is all about only a pristine perfection….turns out, not so much. Rather, God is perfect at healing real life brokenness. It’s not a clean and sterile kind of healing either. It is a messy, achy, wiser, kind of mending that God does.

Colossians 1:20-21b, The Message: …all of the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe-people and things, animals and atoms-get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies….You yourselves are a case study of what God does.

Imagine this truth: what is broken in you, on you and around you, can be a real life case study in how God can heal.

I have an achy, bruised, forever-changed, mostly healed right ankle and soul. I am so grateful.

  

The Teacher

Life is clearly a series of transitions. We should be used to that by now. So many I know are in the midst of some achingly abrupt and difficult transitions. The hardest ones seem to the be the ones no one asked for.

I have friends who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Some are grieving breaking or broken marriages. Some are agonizing over the painful transitions of their children in trying to launch into the real world or who are struggling with addiction, anxiety, learning differences or depression. People I know keep getting difficult diagnoses. I know some right now who are transitioning from this life to the next or sitting near a loved one who is.

I have two sets of friends who are literally going through everything they own in order to move to different countries for a work season. I know some who are in the midst of big job changes, some they didn’t ask for.

My family has been wrapping our hearts around my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis which became official last June after revealing itself slowly a few years before that. She does not like to call it that. She believes she has normal “old people forgetfulness.” We try sometimes to gently remind her that it is more than that but I don’t suppose it matters.

My mom was an elementary school teacher. She’s still teaching me, even through her own transition. As Alzheimer’s erases her memory, she is forced to stay anchored in the present: the this day, this moment, present. Her disease has made her more attentive, more reflective even. We spend Wednesdays together. One of her favorite topics is for me to tell her about my childhood. I’m a storyteller anyway and not that many people are asking about my childhood these days, so I find it delightful. She hangs on every word. She’ll say, “I remember that!” Or, “I was a good mom, wasn’t I?”

She gets more caught up in the moment we are in. Last week, at a restaurant, she said she loved me and asked if she could kiss me. One kiss led to more all over my face. With the business lunch crowd looking on, she kissed and loved on me as if I was 9 months old. I just let every single kiss soak right in.

She stays in the present. She savors things, gratefully. She loves playing Tetris and beating me, every time. She loves a nice cold glass of Chardonnay. She loves peppermints, iced coffee, ice cream, playing Solitaire and Words with Friends on her Kindle. She will look at pictures of her loved ones all day long. She often names the things she likes, like a Holy litany.

Almost every time we are together, she tells me to look at the sky. “Can you believe how blue it is?” “Look at that tiny cloud over there!” “I’ve never seen the sky look so beautiful, have you?”

I do not romanticize her disease or what is coming for all of us. I know how hard and long and ever changing our journey will be.

But for now, in this transition-no-one-asked-for, she’s still teaching. I think her lesson points can work for anyone going through a hard season.

Stay in today. It is all we really have.

If you love someone, tell them and kiss them all over their face.

Savor little things, gratefully. Name what is good in your life over and over and give thanks.

And, for God’s sake, and yours, look up. Look up.

That Silent Saturday

In Christianity, there’s not really even a name for that Saturday. No one seems to know what to do with the day in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is such an awful, awkward, painful day.

I’ve heard it called Holy Saturday, but not much. Even the Bible doesn’t have much to say about that day. Matthew’s gospel has Pilate demanding that the tomb be sealed and guards watch it around the clock, just in case someone tries to steal the body. All the other gospels are silent on the topic.

The torture of the agony of Friday ending in death’s finality. The tears, the earthquake, the ripping of the heavens, life over as they knew it. Hopes and dreams crushed. And, then, can you imagine? Saturday happens and it is just silent. God is silent. Time, I imagine, agonizingly slow. There are no answers, no revelations, no angels. Just nothing.

What I want to say today is this, don’t gloss over that horrible Saturday while you are getting ready for Easter. Don’t use it as only a day of gathering Easter supplies and food for tomorrow. Don’t just use it to pull together your Easter fashion ensemble.

Stay in it. Pray through it. Try to feel it because the Silent Saturday is as much a part of the Christian faith as all our other milestone days. In fact, I believe most of our Christian life is lived in the silent, awkward Saturday seasons.

Like when death has been pronounced and the body taken away; or when the divorce papers are signed and submitted; when the diagnosis comes and you have no clue how it will unfold. Hospital waiting room moments or right after you hear them say that you are no longer employed. Our faith lives are full of silent Saturdays.

What we do in the silent, painful, awful moments of life is as important as what we do on Easter.  Actually, maybe how we handle Saturday matters more than how we do when the angel assures us that “He is not here. He has risen just as he said” Matthew 28:6

This awkward, awful, no name, no information Saturday has something to teach us about life and faith. Stay in it and learn.

A Bucket of Skunks

I was loading my car early in the morning to head home from my daughter’s house to mine, readying myself for the five-hour drive, when I saw it. Actually, the smell of it came before the seeing. It stopped me in my tracks,  a bucket of dead skunks. Okay, it was a bucket of two dead skunks but that was plenty.

Has that ever happened to you? Probably not, the strangest things always happen to me first. But, haven’t you ever been minding your own business and stumbled across or caught a whiff of some serious unpleasantness? The kind of awfulness that can make you gag?

You know what I mean, that loss that stops you cold in your tracks; that diagnosis you never dreamed would be yours; the huge bill you weren’t expecting to get, that hangs like a dark stinky cloud over your head; that thing your kid did that you had prayed they would never do. Or maybe it is the words spoken that no one can ever erase, like “I don’t love you anymore” or “There’s nothing more we can do.”

The awful smell, the reality of what you see and now know, it’s like a bucket of skunks or worse. Sometimes, life contains skunks.

In this case, this bucket of skunks was the result of a hard night for my daughter and son- in-law, who live in the country. Their dog cornered these two skunks right outside their bedroom window and would not desist. Suffice it to say, the skunks lost and ended up in a bucket. The smell of their fight, permeating the dog, parts of the house and beyond. I actually smelled it from another part of the house in the night and thought my son-in-law was making coffee but that’s a whole other story.  Apparently, when you are sleeping, smells can be deceiving.

And that’s how I, at the beginning of a good day, ran right into a bucket of  very pungent, non-alive skunks.

Is there a Word for this? A faith response to our bucket of skunks moments? I think so.

First, acknowledge it. Go ahead, stop, smell and see that something really rotten has crossed your path.

Secondly, talk about it. No matter how bad it is you have to talk about it. Tell the story. We are still talking about the skunks at our house. Talk about your grief. Talk about that financial pressure you are feeling or how much your job stresses you right now. Talk about your worry over the health thing or the parenting thing or the darkness you feel.

Thirdly, pray about it. Some of the smelliest things I have lifted in prayer have taken on new dimensions under God’s healing light. Psalm 141:1-2, The Message translation even connects our prayers to a pleasing fragrance, “God, come close. Come quickly! Open your ears-it’s my voice you’re hearing! Treat my prayer as sweet incense rising; my hands raised are my evening prayers.” Can skunkiness be transformed into a sweet perfume under God’s watch? Yes.

Fourth, laugh about it if it is not too soon. I promise, there are moments of joy and lightness even in the toughest of things. When I was a little girl, at my first funeral, I could not understand how people were laughing, before, during and after the funeral. Now, I know, because life is mixed, sorrow is bittersweet and joy really  comes, in all situations, even if only for a minute of relief.

As I left town, my son-in-law and daughter were discussing what to do with their bucket of skunks; how to rid themselves of it. I just happily drove away, glad that it wasn’t my bucket of skunks. Which, now that I think about it, is a whole other point. Sometimes what’s ailing us is not even really our concern. What’s that saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”?  It might even apply to skunk buckets.

 

The Grace of Holy Tears

When I was just six years old, my grandfather, my beloved Paw Paw, took his life and so my journey with grief began. I didn’t know how to grieve and as you can imagine, my family was upside down. I held it in and made sure I was well-behaved and responsible.

Meanwhile, I looked for my Paw Paw everywhere, in grocery stores, malls, in every passing car and at church. I didn’t understand the mystery of death, how a person can be here and then just not. I still don’t understand it. His death led me to ministry. I didn’t know much at age six but I knew if I could help anyone not take that path, I would.

cindy-6

Six years ago today, I began another, more grown up grief journey when I lost a friend, co-worker, treasured ministry colleague with no warning. One day we were happily engaged in ministry and planning Sunday worship services, the next he was gone, leaving an entire congregation reeling, and me, devastated and suddenly in charge of a whole church. Once again, I held in my grief and was a well-behaved, responsible pastor. It was all I knew to do.

Holding it in was not that good for me. Six months later to the day, I learned I had breast cancer at age 49. Later, I melted in even more spectacular ways. It was all grief.

Doesn’t it seem like we should all be better at dealing with loss?  Everyone dies. Our lives are inexplicably interwoven with people we love. We have all lost loved ones. Why is grief so hard?

Grief is hard because it rubs up against sad, angry, guilty, mixed up, real life feelings. Sometimes we are not so good with feelings. Grief is also messy. It really has no time-table and it pops up at the strangest of times. For a while, I was a grief counselor and I remember a woman sharing that after her husband died, she misplaced a shoe in her own home. She found herself sobbing as she searched for a simple shoe. Later she realized she, like the shoe, had lost her sole/soul mate. A lost shoe triggered her sobs. Grief is also hard because we all grieve on different timetables from one another and we are all grieving the unique relationship we had with the person. No one else lost what you lost.

Listening to all those grieving people taught me that the most important thing about loss is to just go ahead and feel it. If you keep it in, it will circle back around to hurt you. We are not meant to keep grief in.

Go ahead and express what you’ve lost. Let the messy feelings come as they will. Don’t judge yourself because it is weeks, months, years or decades later. Cry. One of my supervisors once told me he believed our tears actually baptize our feelings. Baptize: to bless or sanctify, to make holy, to infuse with grace and God’s spirit.

This morning, six years after losing my friend, I cried as I’ve done lots of times now. I cried because so much shifted on that day. I cried because I still don’t understand the mystery of death. I cried for his family and for the church that lost him. I cried for the way my life changed that day and the challenges I’ve had since then. Each tear, baptized a messy feeling. Each tear felt like it cleansed a wound. Each tear not just a tear but a bit of Holy water, embedded with grace, forgiveness and a peace that passes understanding. Thanks be to God for the healing power of Holy tears for little girls, and big ones.

 

It’s Springtime, But…

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers.  She just posted a new blog. It came to me as a lovely Monday morning gift, echoing what I was already feeling today.  Her words, “So life. It’s the whole deal. Mixed grille all the way, gorgeous and sad things all mixed up.  Us, at our best and worst, in it together; life death, rebirth, and life again.”

Isn’t that the truth?  Just like today here in Texas, the sun is shining brightly. The sky is this amazing blue color. It rained all weekend so spring is just bursting forth before our eyes.  And, yet in our world, from politics to terror; from lack of food and water to other injustices, so much is not right.  I can’t hold lovely springtime and my newsfeed in my heart and spirit at the same time. It’s just reality. Bitter plus sweet equals life.

How do we manage the sad and real weaving its way through the beautiful and tender parts of life? We hold it all lightly. We lift it all up to God’s healing light.  We offer up our mixed feelings, relationships and irritations to God’s tender care; not to mention of deepest angers, hurts, resentments, pains and losses.  We make it by praying, crying, laughing and letting go; by holding onto each other and being kind.

Oh yes, and by washing all of it, regularly, with buckets and buckets of God’s grace. I’m pretty sure that’s the only way forward, just dripping in grace and tracking it everywhere.