That I live and you are gone.
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.
There’s a pain goes on and on.
We went to see Les Mis yesterday. And yes, it was a bit of a trial getting through it. The lyrics above from “Empy Chairs at Empty Tables” resonated with me. I have not had words to type since the last post. It’s been kind of frustrating. There is a lot going through my head and my heart but I cannot find the words to express my grief. It seems just out of reach. Real but not real. A fog. Fatigue. Lack of appetite. Forgetfulness. Body aches. A whirling mind. I look at pictures and feel like I am looking at someone else’s life. I have memories. But they don’t seem like mine. I live for one day at a time. For one moment at a time. I realize how often I would live in the future before Mike became ill. We talked about things we looked forward to doing together. Projects around the house, traveling, friends and family gatherings, dreaming of Rebecca and Keith and Molly’s futures. And now I live in the present. The future holds more fog. It is elusive. Not something that is guaranteed. My mind skips from today and lands in eternity. The pages of life in between have been ripped out of my life book.
When I stop to really think, I begin to realize that it is not a bad thing to live in the present. God has the future planned out already. So I simplify. I rest. I walk. I don’t want to miss the blessings. I want to be thankful. I find that when I am thankful, my heart is a bit lighter.
I will keep this short. Because these are all the words I have for now. When I started writing this blog, I promised myself I would be honest. Brutally honest. I know we each have our own grief to grow through. So we pray for one another. Extend grace to one another. And love one another through it. Honestly. Without insulting the grief work by smoothing it over or making light of it. It is hard. And it is painful. And there is only one way to come out the other side – to go through it. I read something this week that I will paraphrase. It says that God willingly sent His only son to live among us. Jesus experienced suffering, grief, and pain. Just as we do. He didn’t spare his son from the hardships of life. And Jesus did this for me. He died and rose again. He beat death. He beat cancer. He beat despair. And He did this so we can have the hope that together with Him, we can perservere. We can receive His grace and mercy and we will have victory, even in the midst of our sadness and pain. So I have hope. That the words will come. That the fog will lift. And that someday, I will be able to once again look towards the future here on earth with bright hope. All in good time.
“Grief is a journey, often perilous and without clear direction, that must be taken. The experience of grieving cannot be ordered or categorized, hurried or controlled, pushed aside or ignored indefinitely. It is inevitable as breathing, as change, as love. It may be postponed, but it will not be denied.” ~ Molly Fumia
I recently read that it takes courage to grieve. I remember the intense feelings after my Mom died. The hole in my heart ached and ached. And for a time, I thought it would just go away. But it followed me everywhere and I could not shake it. One day a friend talked about how sad she was after having to put her beloved pet down. The feelings she described were very similar to my own. And I saw her pain and sadness. They were real and she was expressing them. At that point, I realized that I was not doing the work of grief that I needed to do so at that point I plunged in. I talked with God – I knew He said He could heal our broken hearts. So I gave Him a challenge – I would feel my grief fully and trust that as I did so, He would ultimately heal my broken heart. It was a messy journey. I did not miss an opportunity to allow myself to enter fully into the emotion of the moment. I know there were times when Mike would wonder if he would ever have his wife back. And there were times when little Rebecca would look at me with those big blue four year old eyes and wonder where her Mom went. But in the end, there was no doubt that God filled the ache in my heart as I allowed Him to. It was up to me to determine how intimately I would allow Him in. And after my Dad died, I was more familiar with the process although the journey was very different. Losing my second parent left me with the sense that I was on my own in a sense. I felt like I lost some of my own history. But I did my work once again…and God did His. Through each grief journey I learned a lot about how our culture deals with death and grieving. We live in a culture that is very uncomfortable with talking about it. We ask how others are handling their grief but I am not so sure we really want to know. Mostly because there is nothing we can do and we are left with a helpless feeling. I am discovering that I don’t always need people to do something for me. I need them to be. To be present in my sadness. To be willing to enter into my messy days. To stick with me and cheer me on when I stumble through the days and to remind me that God is good; that He has given me unique talents that will one day be put to good use. And not to expect me to explain how I am doing because most of the time I just don’t know. Sounds odd but it is true. This afternoon I tried telling Rebecca how I was feeling and I came up blank. There are no words that come to mind.
So I am taking courage. Knowing I am not doing this alone. And knowing that someday my heart will be whole again. I know it. I’ve experienced it before. This will take a long time. A very long time. In the meantime I will fight to remember that God’s love never fails and He will always love me. (song: “Always Loved You” by Third Day)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
“Lord, when doubts fill my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me and give me renewed hope and cheer.” Psalm 94:19
“The Lord my god is my fortress – the Mighty Rock where I can hide.” Psalm 94:22b
I recently received a couple of booklets from dear friends. They are both written on the topic of grief. I really appreciate a few things about these booklets: they are both short, they have a big font size, and are double spaced. Perfect. I read each one in one sitting. And I felt better as I was reminded that all the emotions, physical exhaustion, and reduced mental capacity I am experiencing are normal. And natural. And needed. I have made the grief journey before and learned a great deal then. My Mom died of ovarian cancer when I was 30. She had a four year battle through chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. And then my Dad died when I was 36 – of prostate cancer. Grief upon grief. It was a long ten years. But just as diamonds are formed under the earth’s pressure, so my faith grew greater through the pressure of dealing with the realities of my parents illnesses. We all have choices to make – it is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. So it was during those challenging times that I started to experiment with making the daily (and sometimes minute by minute) choice to trust that God will take care of me regardless of circumstances. I decided to take grief and all it involved head on. One thing I learned early on about emotions is that they are here and then they are gone. So in the sad times, I know one thing is for sure – the feelings won’t last forever. I gained courage and confidence that no matter how bad I felt, they would eventually lessen. There is a physical exhaustion that comes with grief that is very real and sometimes paralyzing. The simple tasks of life take great energy. Just writing up my goals for the day is just as tiring as actually accomplishing just one of them. The thought of a phone call makes me want to take a nap in preparation and then another one to recover. I find it hard to walk down the driveway to get to the mailbox. And then the mail sits on the counter for another day before I open it. Rebecca and I went to get a Christmas tree on Saturday. It still sits on the top of the Tahoe three days later. Today we laughed about hanging ornaments on it and leaving it there. Makes for easy clean up after Christmas! Reduced mental capacity is something I am experiencing now. When I traded in my car last week, a friend came with me because I knew the numbers would overwhelm me. Simple math becomes complex for me and mental mistakes occur frequently. Memory lapses and a fog has settled over my brain. I feel like my mind has gone elsewhere but didn’t tell me where. So I live in the fog and do my best, being gentle with myself. Social situations continue to be challenging. Especially in large group settings where I don’t know many people. I cannot make small talk right now. But I desperately need to be with people who know me best. And who won’t be offended when I am hit by the fatigue truck. Perhaps that may be why email and text messaging work well for me right now.
I had a conversation with a friend about what a typical day looks like for me right now. Here it is 2:15AM and my day has already started. I slept hard for about 3 hours already tonight and now I am awake. I will fall asleep again soon and will probably wake up around 6AM. I will try to doze off again for a little bit and then I am up for the day. I typically wake up with a sense of great expectation for the day. It is a good thing because I know that each day will bring me closer to a healing of my broken heart. I read my Jesus Calling devotional book. Then I remind myself that it is time to eat breakfast. I don’t have a big appetite so I play this little game where I try to eat something every time I drink a glass of water and vice versa. We’ll see how that works. And then I am ready for a nap – which I never take. So I check in with Rebecca, Caleb, and Molly. And I take an hour to do administrative work from my to do list. Typically that evolves into hours long process of phone calls, emails, and whatever needs to be done to accomplish any particular task due to the bureaucracy. And then I have to remind myself to eat lunch. But then I have to make it. And I am ready for a nap…which I don’t take. I plan a visit with a friend several times a week in the afternoon. But wow I get tired! So I start to think about what we are going to do for dinner. But I get tired and want to take a nap – but it is too late in the day. So we find something to eat…and I drink my water with it and feel like I’ve accomplished something! I have good intentions of doing one hour of thank you notes each evening but I find it tiring to do more than two or three at a time. So that is what I do. I end the day with writing down what I am thankful for on that day and I do some reading until I can no longer keep my eyes open. Before I know it, I am awake around 1:00AM and feel like writing. So here we are. In short, I find that every day is different. There is no routine. There is no rhythm to my days. I set my goals and make my plan but once that is done, I know I need to be flexible and do what needs to be done to take care of myself.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the booklets I read. Here are the titles: A Time to Grieve by Kenneth C. Haugk and Discovering – Permission to Grieve by Doug Manning. Here are a few thoughts that have been helpful for me:
- It is surprising how much physical pain there is in grief
- Grief is a monstrous and frightening attack. Our whole being seems under threat and we are forced to concentrate on our own survival. Your own pain must take precedent over almost everything else. Finding ways to survive will rightfully be job one during the days ahead.
- No one can say how long your grief will last. You will walk through this process in your own way and on your own schedule.
- Grief comes in waves. In grief, we fill up and a new wave must be cried out. We get some relief and then we get filled up and another wave hits. There seems to be no reason or pattern to the waves. Often they hit at the most inopportune time and place with little or no warning.
- Your social world has changed and suddenly every relationship is different
- There is no normal in grief. There is no right way to feel. So feel what you feel. Fighting your feelings will intensity them and create a great deal of anxiety and fear.
- Grief is transitional.
- “Brown out” is real. Your mind is in overload and at times it may shut down.
- When a wave of emotion comes, our bodies secrete the hormone Cortisol. This causes your mind to whirl like a gerbil in a cage. It dehydrates your body, affects our appetite, and saps off about 60% of your energy. Sleep becomes a fitfull bursts and Cortisol can also affect your blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
- Exercise helps. Drink more water. Journal.
- Grief ignored does not go away. If ignored, it will come out in another way – usually through illness or depression.
- Find “safe” people. They are the ones who simply listen. They will Hang around, Hug you and Hush. You do not need advice. You need ears. Someone to just quietly hear your pain.
- True strength doesn’t mean being unemotional and fiercely independent. It is letting yourself be human, recognizing your own limitations, and allowing others to help you when you really need it.
- God never intended us to suffer alone.
This has been a very LONG post. It’s now almost 3:00AM so it is time for more sleep. I am sure I will rest well now.
There are some exciting things happening! Just this week I found out that over $12,000.00 has been donated to the “Wells for Haiti” fund in Mike’s memory. This is truly amazing and we are speechless. We cannot possibly thank you enough for your kind donations. The best I can do is to post updates here so you may be a part of this project as the vision continues to develop. Our desire is to provide water for the people that our church is connected with (Jerusalem Baptist Ministries) in Pignon, Haiti. It has become apparent that providing access to water is only one step in meeting the needs of our friends. The next step is to ensure that the water they access is clean. This will not be a quick fix project and we need your prayers for clear direction as we learn more and move forward. Please check back here often for updates.
Here are some quick facts about Haiti as well as a map so you can see where Pignon is located.
- Poorest country in the Western Hemisphere
- More than 3 million people are homeless
- 1 in 5 dies before age 40
- 55% live on less than $1 per day
- 79% live below poverty level
- 59% of children are anemic
- 1/3 of newborn babies are underweight
- 50% do not have access to clean drinking water
- Languages – Creole and French
- Literacy Rate – 52.9% (2003 estimate)
- Religions: Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 16% (Baptist 10%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%, other 1%), other 3%, none 1%. Note: roughly half the population practices voodoo
- An outbreak of cholera has been ongoing in Haiti since October 2010. There is a also a high risk of hepatitis A and E, and typhoid fever from food or waterborne sources.
(CIA World Factbook)
Another exciting development is that there is a strong possibility that Mike’s 1999 Chevy Tahoe may take a road trip to Pignon! I was preparing to list it on CraigsList when the opportunity to have it shipped was presented. I couldn’t say YES fast enough! I’ve been told the roads in Haiti are quite rugged or, as one friend described it, “It is like driving on the moon”. The Tahoe is quite capable of handling that kind of terrain. Mike would be thrilled to know his favorite vehicle will be meeting the needs of Pastor Jephtha and the people of Jerusalem Baptist Ministries. Friends from our church will be getting the Tahoe cleaned up and ready for travel over the next several weeks and I will post pictures of the send off.
I’ve dedicated this song to the newly renamed “Clean Water Project”. It is “All My Fountains” by Chris Tomlin.
“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. “Isaiah 66:13.
I enjoy watching Rebecca comfort little Caleb Michael. She cares for all of his needs. Even when she is tired. She is constantly sacrificing for him. Most of all I like to watch how she comforts him when he is in distress. She holds him close and because she knows him, she is able to soothe him in a way that makes sense to him and gives him permission to relax and rest in her arms. In doing this consistently, Rebecca is teaching Caleb to trust in his Mom’s care and love. And she is constantly reminding him that she loves him. Rebecca tells him, she sings her love to him, she journals those words to him and she holds him. And sometimes Rebecca has to let him cry a bit knowing that will help him in the long run. Watching Rebecca interact with Caleb made me think a bit more about the depth of God’s love for me. He promises to care for all of my needs. He sacrificed his one and only Son for me so I can have a personal relationship with Him now and forever. He knows me – and He knows what things comfort and soothe me. His faithfulness through Mike’s illness has helped me to grow in my trust that He will never leave me or forsake me. I trust in His ability and desire to care for me regardless of what stage of grief I am in and no matter what emotions I am feeling. And He knows that I have to cry – he gave me emotions. His love for me is so intimate that He even counts my tears. That means that He is present with me in my sadness. He can handle it. I knew I wanted to write something tonight but I wasn’t sure what. I spent some quiet time talking with God about the day and this is what came to mind. Now I can go to sleep, having been reminded that even while I sleep, His love still comforts me. He watches over me, cares for me, and holds me close. And because He knows me, He can do all this in a way that makes sense to me so that I can relax and rest in His arms.
I am trading in my car. The one we bought new in July 2011. We made quite a few good memories in this car. Very good. We drove this car to the airport where we flew to Las Vegas and spent an awesome week visiting Keith and Rebecca in June. Another airport trip took us to the NCAA Elite Eight volleyball tournament in St. Louis. We drove around New England watching Springfield College volleyball matches. One of the best memories associated with this car was driving to meet Mike after work on Fridays – a little habit we fell into once the volleyball season was over. It was a great way to cap off the work week. We always tried to sit in the most private corner – just us. But when you went out with Mike in our hometown you always bumped into someone he knew. And I was so proud to meet his people and to be his date. And then we would drive home. We spent a lot of time in that car. I remember the contentment I felt as we got to know one another again during our empty nest year – just the two of us.
And there are some sad memories. Very sad. Like when we took Keith and Rebecca back to the airport after a visit. Somehow a stop for ice cream on the way made the trip a bit better. And when we brought Molly back to school after a weekend home. That was always bittersweet. And then there was our first trip to Dana Farber in Boston – this car took us to the house of dear friends who opened their doors to us the night before Mike’s first appointment at DFCI. And that was the first of many trips to Boston. For diagnostic testing. For surgery. To the oncologist. And multiple visits to the local hospital. Gradually, the trunk that once carried our golf clubs carried a walker. And then a wheelchair. It met us at the hospital during Mike’s last days. And then drove me home again. We loaded the trunk with pictures of Mike and all of our memories and drove to the wake. and the next day we drove to the church and celebrated Mike’s life.
And now we drive little Caleb around. Our first grandchild. And in the trunk we currently carry a stroller and other necessary baby things. But Mike is not with us.
Now my needs have changed. I will be getting rid of Mike’s beloved Tahoe. It was the one thing he could not part with. So I will. A new vehicle will be useful to me in so many ways. I am happy that my car payments will remain the same. I am happy that I will have room to transport Keith, Rebecca, Caleb, and Molly and still have plenty of room for a stroller or for the contents of a dorm room at the end of the academic year. And maybe my golf clubs – if I am ever patient enough again to work on that silly game. I am very happy that I will have room for the Big Red Stinky Dog – who has become my faithful companion. He looks a bit like Clifford, the big red dog in the back seat of my current car. He will be much happier with this new arrangement.
But even though I am confident in this change, I find myself quite melancholy. I know it is a good move. It is for all of the right reasons. Perhaps I am sad because it is a concrete reminder that I am taking this step alone. I know Mike will not spend time with me in this new car. That new memories will be made without him. I will do my best to trade in the car and all the sad memories with it. But we all know that our minds and emotions don’t work that way. Good grief is a process that takes time. It is work. And it hurts. But there is hope. One thing I learned as I was grieving both my parents was this:
Jeremiah 31:13 “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
I know this to be true. And so I will hang onto this promise from our loving God. And will move on to do the next thing. And I will take Caleb for a ride. And will look forward to stopping for ice cream when he gets bigger. It will make this trip a little bit better. Of that I am sure.