Letters from Mike

This post has taken me a long time to write.  Valentine’s day was one month ago today.  Mike and I never did get crazy over Valentine’s day. I am not the long stem red roses kind of girl. We exchanged cards and Mike always gave each of “his girls” a small box of chocolates of some sort.  We treasured the notes we wrote to one another in those cards.  It’s amazing how the simplest traditions can mean the most.

A few weeks before Mike passed away, he handed me an envelope stuffed full of letters.  As I was about to pull out some of them, he said, “No, not now”.  So I put them away for another day.  This Valentine’s day I decided to get myself a small box of chocolates and dive into that envelope. I was kind of nervous. Did I really want to know what was in there? What kind of tsunami of emotion would I experience? Was this really a good idea?  What I found was one of the greatest gifts of all:  letters Mike had written to me during our years of dating. We lived in separate states for much of that time. No email, cell phones, or texting to keep in touch. We usually called each other once a week…after 11:00 PM on a Saturday night when the long distance rates went down. Our communication was limited.  These letters were our lifeline to one another.

What touched me the most about the letters was his constant encouragement for me to seek the Lord. Time and again he affirmed my walk with God and wrote about the spiritual growth he saw in me. He talked about what joy we would have when we saw each other again.  And then I realized it. What Mike wrote in those letters to me then are still applicable for me now.  The same prayers he prayed for me 30 years ago, he prays for me now. Seek God. Be honest with Him. Trust Him. Press on. And while we are once again separated, I have the hope and assurance that we will be reunited again. Some day. Not only with one another, but also with the One who wipes away our tears. The One who is currently carrying me close to His heart. There will be a day….

Jeremy Camp, “There Will Be A Day”.

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My Question for You

Everyone has questions.  Believe me, I have had my share the last several months.  After Mike’s memorial service, there were questions. And I welcome them. We planned that service intentionally to honor Mike and give glory to God. To be honest, I don’t remember too much of it. But what has become evident is that many people who attended the service were touched in some very personal way.  I know that only because they have told me. But what I don’t know is how they were impacted. And lately I’ve been wondering about that. When someone says, “I became a better person that day” or “My life will never be the same” it leads to me to wonder why?  What specifically touched your heart?  And has your life, indeed, changed?  If so, in what way? Sometimes it is hard to find the words to describe what happens in this life. But I’d like you to try. So, I pose this question:

If your life has been touched in some way as a result of our journey through Mike’s illness or at his memorial service, can you put that into words?

I am determined not to waste this time of grief. That may sound odd, but it is during extremes in life that I tend to learn the most…and grow the most. And I learn a great deal through other people. So I challenge you to reflect on this experience and to draw out the very things that have shaken your core or caused you to shake your head in wonder. As I go through this process daily, I see that there is a whole lot going on. And knowing your story will help me to see part of that bigger picture. It is up to you. In your own time. In your own way.

Things that Help

There are so many books, blogs, and other resources on the topic of grief.  I have yet to find anything that speaks to how to help those who are grieving.  Especially when the inital time frame has passed and so many have gone back to life while the one holding the grief begins to navigate the deep waters of sorrow on their own.  Yes, grief is so very personal.  And yes, everyone experiences it in a unique way. But I thought it just might be helpful for me to write down those things that I have found to be helpful.  I will continue to update this list as time goes on. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or perhaps you have supported someone in grief in a way that I have not mentioned below and may be of help to someone else.

  • Very soon after Mike died, I asked friends to repaint the room where Mike and I spent much of our time. It was to become my new bedroom for now.  I had seen a beautiful calm pale green/blue for the walls, the color of Bermuda waters. Within a few days, the room was completely made over with new linens, window coverings, and a new headboard.  These women did such an amazing  job. And then someone sent me an incredibly soft throw blanket that matched the walls perfectly.  Everything in the room is now soft and geared towards comfort and I do my best to keep it free from chaos and clutter.  I retreat there often when the afternoon sun streams in and makes it warm and inviting.
  • Relationships are awkward.  Everyone misses Mike.  There are no perfect words to ease my grief.  It is made that much harder when others say nothing.  Take the risk. Mention Mike’s name.  Dare to tell me that you miss him.  Take courage and say what you miss about him. Your tears comfort me. They do not scare me.  God knows I have shed enough of my own. He continues to count each one; that is how intimately involved He is in my sadness.
  • Please do not give me too much “space”. When everyone gives me space, the space becomes very large and empty. It is easy for me to feel like others have forgotten about Mike.  Forgotten about me. I know in my head that is not the case at all but in those quiet moments, my mind is quite convincing otherwise.  I greatly appreciate the notes, emails, and texts that you send. Just to let me know you are thinking of me and praying for me. They help fill the space and remind me that you are still with me.
  • My capacity for socializing is quite limited so I might not take you up on an invitation to head out into the world.  But then again, I just might.  It depends on the day…and sometimes on the moment in that day. I am learning how to know what I am able to do and how to verbalize that in a gracious way.
  • It is not easy for me to be decisive. It puts a lot of pressure on me to decide what to do, where to go, what I’d like, etc. If you provide a couple of options it is very helpful.  I know you so desperately want to help but asking “what do you want to do” poses a difficult question. To be honest,  I want to be beyond this grief. That is what I really want to do. But that is not possible and has nothing to do with meeting for lunch or going for a walk.
  • Affirmation is important during this season of life.  Losing my spouse means I have lost a part of myself.  Mike and I worked at our marriage…the whole “two become one” part of God’s plan for marriage.  While we maintained our unique sense of self, we also shared a great deal of ourselves with one another.  So I am now asking God to show me who He created me to be…what unique gifts and talents has He given to me. Your insights are helpful.
  • It is vital for me to have a small group of friends and family who have the courage to enter into the darkest days of grief. I need to know that I can vent my feelings, frustrations, and fears without judgment. Jesus hears them daily and now I can take those brutally honest moments to others as well.  What a gift.
  • Please do not take anything personally that I may do or say.  Honestly, my brain just does not work some of the time. As a matter of fact sometimes it just goes blank. Or will completely jump tracks. I look forward to the day when I have more clarity of thought.
  • It takes me a long time to accomplish tasks.  It is frustrating but true that I am still working on expressing written thanks to all those who supported us through this time.  I don’t know why but writing a simple thank you note takes me about an hour.  Be patient when I have a task that needs to be done. Don’t be afraid to send me a reminder of something on my “to do” list that has not been accomplished yet. I appreciate it and need it.
  • I continue to have a couple of wonderful people helping me with all things financial. Because it is hard to think straight at times, I do not want to make any mistakes with my finances. They give sound guidance which helps me to rest in the decisions that I have to make.
  • I love my dog.  He goes with me everywhere.  And so does his fur. He is great company – if I could use words to describe him they would include kind, sensitive, loyal, fun, and patient.  In general, he stays available for those times when I need someone by my side and he is all too happy to be there. God’s creatures can be a source of great comfort. Red2

A Curve in the Road

I  want to know what lies ahead.   I am impatient.  I cannot see around the bend in this road called grief and lately it has really been frustrating.

curve in the road

I  went on a road trip to visit my dear extended family “down south”.  It was hard to determine if I was ready for this trip or not as grief has had a tight grip on me lately.  Finally, I decided to go and my sister and I packed up her van for the long drive. We arrived at our destination, unpacked the van, and then went to visit our Aunt who lives a short distance away.  On the way, we encountered a curve in the road that fronted a cemetery.  It was such a sharp curve that you had to slow down or risk missing the curve altogether and ending up in the ditch, or worse yet, into the cemetery itself.  We traveled this road several times during our visit and each time we approached that curve and slowed down, I stared into that cemetery.  And my thoughts lingered there with those silent head stones.  As much as I wanted to see the road ahead I couldn’t.  The curve was too sharp. And even though I knew the road would straighten out, I couldn’t see it. And that cemetery reminded of my grief.  And it happened…every…time.

That is how my grief journey has been going lately.  I have had this urge to speed up, to get busy. Very busy. I am already tired of this thing called grief. I am tired of not knowing what my life is going to look like “down the road”. Every day I wake up and grief is there. Each night grief tucks me in.  I am tired of every day having to do something in a new or different way. Everything I do takes time.  Nothing gets done quickly.  Nothing is familiar.  Relationships feel awkward.  I want things to be settled. But they aren’t. And then I wonder…will they ever be?  As much as I want to speed up, to strive to make sense of things, to straighten out the crooked road of this thing called grief, I find that I cannot do it. So the grief remains.  And then when I finally come to the end of myself, the still, quiet Voice takes over, urging me to let go of the striving.  To slow down. To let go of trying to control the future. To slow down.  I don’t know what my life will look like in three, six, or nine months from now.  I don’t know where I will find a job…or which of my relationships will grow through this season. Again, I am reminded to slow down.  

“I will instruct you (says the Lord) and guide you along the best pathway for your life; I will advise you and watch your progress.”  Psalm 32:8

“The Lord will work out His plans for my life – for your lovingkindness, Lord, continues forever.” Psalm 138:8

He is with me.  I do not have to do this alone. And so in the meantime, I learn to give grief the time and attention it needs. I let go of the tomorrows. And in doing so, my heart is slowly mended by the One who understands grief, who has the power to heal.

“He heals the broken-hearted, binding up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

And I learn to trust Jesus on a deeper level.  And our relationship grows because I know He will be with me all the way. He is the One who will help me find my way.  This gives me great hope. Hope that I will make it around the curve and the road will eventually straighten out.  Not because I’ve made it so, but because He has taken me by the hand and has walked me through it all.  And so the frustration dissolves and peace invades.  Thank God.