When Your Adult Children Grieve

Today my daughter runs.

She runs to honor her husband, Keith, who passed away nine months ago.  She runs because he loved running.  She runs to represent the struggle of her grief journey.  She runs because her two young vibrant children do not afford her much  time to grieve.  She is running with the community that was Keith’s professional community; which was also their family’s community. And she is running with friends.  They come from all over the map.  They trained for this day for months and now they are running together. With her, for her, for Keith, for the children. Today.  300+ miles away in Washington DC. she runs.  It is the Navy Air Force Half Marathon.

And I am not there.

And I am struggling with that.

A lot.

I woke up early. I am signed up for athlete tracker.  I stare at my email account.  No updates.  My imagination runs wild.  Where is she? How is her body feeling? Is she buoyed by race time excitement? Is she shedding tears? Most likely yes and yes. Although I was able to support her by watching the kids while she trained, it just doesn’t feel like enough.

After my husband passed away, another daughter wanted to hike Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. One of the ways of grieving her loss was to bury some of her Dad’s ashes at the top. This was a hike they wanted to do together, but he was physically unable to. Determined to support her, and battling total fear I completed the task with her.

This mama bear wants to do anything and everything to protect her cubs.  How desperately I want to take away their pain from the deep losses they’ve experienced in their young lives.  After my husband’s death, I made a choice to grieve well; whatever that means.  I was determined not to run from the grief and all things associated with my husband,  but to allow the waves of sadness to come. To trust in the process of grief, having experienced it before. But it is so different when you see your adult children suffer.  Often times as Mom’s, we feel like we are doing a good job when we “make things better” for our children regardless of age. It cuts deep to know that I cannot do anything to fix this for my daughters. I cannot mend their broken hearts. I do not know how to ease their pain. But I do know Who can. He can provide constant help, love, and healing to my girls just as continues to do for me.

Mourning into Joy

As a parent of grieving adult children, there is no right way to do this. It is important for me to continue the work of adjusting to life as a single woman. And there is a balance to caring for myself and being available to care for my daughters and grandchildren.  I have not figured it out. Not even close.  But that’s OK.

And so I encourage Rebecca to run like Keith. And Molly to hike like Mike. I can love them through their struggles.  I can stand back and allow God and others to comfort them. And I can know that being present is enough.

 It is enough.

baby and camel

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Prov 31:25

Leaning into the Rock

“When the sun goes below the horizon he is not set; the heavens glow for a full hour after his departure. And when a great and good man sets, the sky of this world is luminous long after he is out of sight. Such a man cannot die out of this world. When he goes he leaves behind him much of himself. In death he speaks.”  Beecher

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I came across this quote in a book called “Streams in the Desert”. It perfectly describes the influence Mike’s life continues to have on me as well as the lives of others since he died seven months ago. Sometimes I hesitate in publishing these blog posts because I fear that others will get tired of reading about my great loss and journey through grief.  But for me, writing is a big part of my healing. Since God promises to heal the broken hearted and because I trust in His promises I feel like I need to do my part – to not fear the pain of grief but to enter into it fully…knowing that I do not enter it alone. So I continue to write and do my best to express some of the many facets of this journey. And maybe some of these words will encourage you along the way as you struggle to walk through moments of this life that sometimes just do not make sense.

Molly and I recently returned from a visit to Las Vegas where we spent time with Rebecca and Keith…and little Caleb. It was a great time to catch up with one another and to see how much Caleb has grown since we last saw him in March.  He is seven months old now. For those of you who don’t know, Caleb was born the night before Mike died. One of life’s true mysteries that I still struggle with. Great joy and great sorrow. Caleb is our first grandchild.  But since I am now a Grandmother, I have a need to share pictures and tell you a little bit about this very special little guy.

Isn’t he something?! He has no idea the joy that he gives us. He is so smiley and his eyes sparkle and his brow wrinkles; just like Mike’s did.

Caleb is very observant. And sometimes it can make you a bit self conscious the way he studies you. See what I mean?! He is a true blessing and while I don’t understand the timing, I am truly thankful for this gift of life that came at such a sad time and the smiles that Caleb brings to our faces and our hearts.

Now that I’ve behaved like a true Grandma – sharing pictures and talking about how wonderful our grandson is…..I will return to the blog post…

Last June (2012), we took a family trip to Vegas.  Mike, Molly, and I spent a week visiting Rebecca and Keith, exploring the beauty of the area. We visited the Hoover Dam. It was so much fun to take the tour with Mike, the Civil Engineer. He helped us all appreciate the challenges that were overcome in construction of the dam. He was in awe. And so were we.

We then took a road trip to Zion NP, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. This picture was taken at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset. The shadows and colors on the canyon were so beautiful and different than during daytime.

We also spent some time taking in the uniqueness of Las Vegas itself. This was at the Bellagio garden just before we headed to the airport to come back home. What a wonderful week we had making memories that will last a lifetime.

Sometimes it is good that we do not know what the future holds.

In the Spring of 2012, Mike had been having some aches and pains.  A chronic cough. Fatigue. Muscle pain in his scapula area. Weight loss. What we thought were symptoms of stress or related to allergy symptoms were all the result of a very large malignant tumor on his kidney that had metastasized to his lungs and back. He received a diagnosis of a rare and aggressive form of liposarcoma mid August; after surgery to remove the tumor. The results were shocking. And numbing. And despite his bravest efforts, Mike lost his battle two months later on October 31.

Now, as we enter this summer season, I look back and my “one year ago” memories are  mostly not very pleasant. Memories of trips to Boston, navigating the world of Dana Farber, hoping for good news, heart wrenching facts, disappointing results, and diminishing physical capacities all flood my mind and emotions.  I could easily be swallowed up by these difficult memories and lock myself away. But rather than avoiding them, I have decided to revisit those hard times and places. And sometimes I do it in person. I am intentional about making new memories. It helps to layer them upon the hard/sad ones. It isn’t easy but it helps me.  And that brings me to our most recent trip back to Las Vegas.

This time, there was a mission involved.  Last year, at Zion NP,  Mike set off with Keith and Molly to hike the strenuous Angel’s Landing trail. (Here is a link to a beautiful YouTube video:  Angel’s Landing.) Unfortunately, Mike was not able to get very far due to some of the symptoms I mentioned above. His heart began racing and he had difficulty breathing.  Since he was not one to back down from any challenge this upset Mike greatly. Thinking he was over heated, had allergies, or was simply bothered by the altitude, he promised Molly that he would return to Zion with her one day so they could tackle the trail together.  In time, it became clear that Mike would not be returning to Zion. It was at that point, that Molly decided she would return to Zion to do that hike one more time with her Dad one way or another. (You can read more from her perspective here.) So last week, Keith, Rebecca, Caleb, Molly and I packed up and returned to Zion NP.  With some of Mike’s ashes in the backpack, we headed up the trail….

If you are familiar with Angel’s Landing or watched the video, you will understand why this was a personal challenge for me. It’s scarey.  I am not comfortable with heights. People have died on this trail. Seeing this sign made me pause and wonder if it was really necessary for me to continue …

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At this point, we had just one more mile to go to the peak. But this one more mile included the most challenging part of the trail. I had to decide whether to move forward or not. I stood frozen and thoughts swirled in my mind.  In the last year, I have had to face many fears I reminded myself.  And truthfully, I continue to deal with them on a daily basis. Through Mike’s illness, I learned how to focus on the present and let God take care of the rest. And so I decided that this was just another opportunity to put that into practice. I figured I could focus on just one step at a time. And so I pressed on.  Shaky knees and all. As I talked to myself, to Mike, and to God (and anyone else who would listen) on the trail, I became more determined to finish. I certainly had my doubts; especially at points like this:

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but I was not going to let doubts, or fear, or fatigue stop me. Over the past year, I’ve personally experienced what it means in Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” so was I really going to let some fear stop me now?! So step by step and ever so slowly, I made it to the top. Yay!

Once at the summit, we looked for just the right spot and then buried some of Mike’s ashes there – over looking the canyon.

Photo: A very special spot

Angel’s Landing; Zion National Park

I’d like to say that once at the summit, I sat down and took in the beauty surrounding me. I tried. But the truth is, I started to wonder how on earth I was going to get down that trail – this time with gravity pulling at my tired achy knees. But I was surprised to learn that the trip down was not nearly as terrorizing as the way up. At least not for the entire time. It had its moments for sure. Will I ever do it again?  I don’t know. But I do know that I learned some pretty big lessons along the way and I’ve written them down so I don’t forget. (and so maybe you can remind me of them too)

  • “Lean into the Rock”  This is what Keith told me as we began the final 1 mile and the most difficult part of the trail.  (Psalm 62:2)
  • Grab the chains – they are there to help you; and when they are not present, it means you can do it w/out them. You do not always need them even though you think you do. (Phil. 4:13)
  • Focus on one step; the only step you have to make even in spite of the shaky knees (Isaiah 35:3)
  • Have someone to follow – and someone to follow up on you (Deut. 31:8; Isaiah 30:21)
  • Do not become distracted by circumstances around you – stay focused (Matthew 6:34)
  • Caution signs do not mean to turn around, they mean keep going but choose your steps carefully
  • The fears and actions of others may be the most potentially dangerous thing for you. Do not get dragged down by their missteps. (this was a valuable lesson learned on our way down. An inexperienced and quite fearful hiker was making his way up a narrow part of the trail.  Rather than moving to a safe place where I could pass him, he stopped in the middle of the trail, held onto the chain, and motioned for me to go by him. After an awkward stand off for a few seconds (which seemed like minutes) it was clear he was frozen and was not going to move. So I took a deep breath and went ahead and passed him. I was sure he was going to lose his balance and reach out for me as he tumbled down the cliff.  But he didn’t. And I made it past him. And we both lived.)
  • It hurts to leave others behind…to let go of expectations and life as you thought it would be. But sometimes it is part of a necessary ending in order to move forward. (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • Fear and trust cannot coexist. We have the freedom to choose one or the other. (Isaiah 41:10)
  • You are capable of much more than you know. (Isaiah 40:29)
  • Be willing to take the first step regardless of emotions or fear (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  • Most times I remember the journey, not merely the destination.  Sounds cliché but certainly true in this case.

 

Sometimes I like to think that Mike was cheering us on in this latest of our grief work.

One thing I know for sure is that he would not BELIEVE that I took the risk and made it up that trail.  He had so much confidence in me. Just as any good friend would. Several times in his last days, Mike told me that he knew the journey ahead would be hard for me. So much uncertainty. He said he had it “easy”…that he knew where he was going whereas I would have to trust God in a deeper way than ever before. And so I do.  Even though Mike’s physical presence is gone, his essence remains. He has left much of himself behind – in so many ways and in so many people. He is in Haiti. And now he is in Zion. And even though my journey is hard. And it is scary. And sometimes I don’t feel like I can take another step, I remember that I am not alone. And I am thankful.

 

For I hold you by your right hand—
I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you. Isaiah 41:13