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

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31(+ 1) Days of Thanks – a True Team

TEAM

“A group of people with different skills and

different tasks, who work together on a

common project, service, or goal, with a

meshing of functions and mutual support.”

http://courses.washington.edu/ie337/team.pdf

A group of different people, who “work together” and offer “mutual support”. This is one of the most comprehensive definitions of the word “team” that I have ever come across.  Having worked as a coach for many years and as an employee of one of the nation’s military academies, I have always been on the lookout for how to be better at developing the team concept. One thing that is particularly important to me is to teach athletes how to care for their teammates. It seems like it should be a simple thing to teach, but that is not always the case. And I wish I could say that all of my teams were known to be caring and selfless towards one another,  but that is not the case either. But I have a recent example of what can happen when coaches and teammates invest in one another and care for one of their own. It is life changing.

This is a picture of our daughter’s college volleyball team taken August 2012. This was the day that the athletes and coaches went through their team building process to set the tone for the season. This was also shortly after Mike’s surgery in Boston and diagnosis of liposarcoma. Our daughter was a sophomore on the team at the time. She is second from the right in the back row. You can see a smile on her face but as her Mom, I can see the pain in her heart.

Mike’s cancer battle coincided with the volleyball season. Due to Mike’s physical limitations, he was no longer able to attend the matches. And so we watched many on line from home. When possible, I went to as many matches as I could. It was hard to take those first trips alone and to walk into the gym by myself. But it was always made easier by the bright smiles and hugs from players, coaches, parents, and the college staff. I felt welcome. Mike received cards in the mail from the coach weekly. Her daughter became Mike’s pen pal of sorts, sending him all kinds of pictures and notes to brighten his day:

Photo

These pictures were hung where they were easily seen and the inspirational messages were enough to make us smile and carry Mike through another day. In the meantime, our daughter was suffering much anguish in being away from her Dad during this challenging time. She came home on Sundays to visit and returned to campus with a heavy heart for another week. In the gaps, her teammates and coaches reached out to her and reassured her that they were there for her. In time, she learned to allow them to care for her with the kind of support that only true teammates can offer.

Mike’s health continued to decline throughout the volleyball season. Sadly, he passed away in the hospital the end of October, the last week of the regular season. It was a chaotic time. The day that Mike died, the state was facing the after effects of super storm Sandy. There were power outages, trees down, flooding, and destruction. But we had been  kept safe within the hospital walls. We literally had peace within the storm.  After our final good byes, it came time for us to leave the hospital, but we didn’t know where to go. Molly, and I did not have the energy to go home to a house without power or heat; and to the oxygen tank, walker, and hospital bed. So we ended up at our place of quiet – the lake. There was power there. And peace. We were so tired. I went to the bedroom and fell asleep immediately. I woke up to the sound of voices and dishes, and smelled food. Molly’s teammates and coaches had arrived. They made dinner. And since it was Halloween, they handed out whatever candy they could find in the house, eventually giving out granola bars. I laugh when I think of the whole scene. A couple of teammates stayed over. And stayed close to Molly. I don’t remember those days very well. But I do remember waking up at various times, always to the sound of the team. They returned again and again, to feed us and to show us that they cared. Sometimes I didn’t even get up to greet them. And that was OK. They came in, cooked and visited with Molly, and then left quietly. Always leaving a plate of food for me. I honestly don’t know if we would have eaten anything that week had they not been there. I have never experienced fatigue like that before. And this all took place at the busiest time of the volleyball season. A time when coach’s minds are on preparing their team for post season play and doing a whole lot of paperwork. It certainly was not convenient for the coaches or the team to make the time to care for us.

We waited a couple of weeks before having Mike’s memorial services.  Rebecca needed time to heal after giving birth to Caleb and our family in NJ was hit hard by the storm. We settled on the week of Thanksgiving; a busy week for everyone but we had few options. We were deeply touched by the commitment of the volleyball coaches and team to drive down for Mike’s wake. They came. And they stayed. THEY SHOWED UP. They ate with us. And then they drove back to school.  The next morning, they came again; to the church this time. They gave hugs and they stayed. THEY SHOWED UP. All this during a time when they were finishing up projects, taking exams, and making plans to travel home for Thanksgiving. Once again, they offered us the gift of their time, their love, and support when it certainly was not convenient for them.

I have not yet found the words that adequately express my gratitude for all this team has done for us. Their support carried Molly through the first year without her Dad. And they continue to care for Molly on a daily basis, walking with her through the many ups and downs of grief. They are patient, compassionate, and forbearing. And as they care for Molly, they care for me.

This is how I choose to end my 31 (+1) days of Thanks. To the coaches and staff of SCVB, past and present, and to the athletes; may you experience the mutual love and support that you have shown to us over this past year and may you know deep in your hearts how grateful I am to you for standing in the gap. #RollPride

“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

The Tunnel

“O my God, teach me, when the shadows have gathered, that I am only in a tunnel. It is enough for me to know that it will be all right some day.”  George Matheson

I came across this quote the other day. And then I saw this picture. It is a perfect representation of my experience with grief.  There are stretches of darkness and then the light breaks through and I can see the life and beauty around me.  And then I turn a corner, and once again am surrounded by the darkness. It is all so random.

A very wise young woman told me this week, “grief is a lonely place”. And that is so true. I can be among people one day, in the light and then without warning, a cloud descends and I am unable to stop the tears from coming.  And those who have seen me in the light are encouraged that I am doing so “well”.  After all, it has been six months. But what they may not know is that there are many times when I grope along in the dark tunnel, unable to see the light ahead and unsure where to place my next step.  This very wise young woman wrote a blog about this and you may read it here. I hope she writes more so she can help others understand why it is so lonely and how others can help. I look forward to reading more about that.

Another very wise young woman told me this week that it “takes a community to help one grieve”.  You can read this blog hereSometimes the twists and turns of grief are just too much. And we all just hope someone will “pick us up” and relieve us of the sadness, confusion, frustrations, and general symptoms of grief. But since it has been six months now, life has gone on for those not directly impacted by our loss. And yet we still need others to hold us up and walk with us for a while; to help us get around those speed bumps.  I hope this wise young woman will write more on this topic. I look forward to reading that post.

I am so blessed to have these wise young women in my life.  They cry with me and laugh with me. We talk, pray, hope, and dream together. We keep one another moving. We pick each other up. You see, they are my daughters. We walked together through the difficult days of Mike’s diagnosis, illness, and death.  Molly and I rejoiced with Rebecca in the birth of her first child and then ached with her the next morning in the death of her Dad. Rebecca and I cheered Molly on in her victories upon her return to college and cried with her in her trials of learning how to move forward as a young woman without her Dad.  And Rebecca and Molly have showered me with their unconditional love and care…just by being who they are.  I look at them and see their Dad – in their smiles, twinkling eyes, determination, and love for others.  These are brave young women and I have no doubt that they will carry on their Dad’s spiritual legacy.  

So we continue to walk through the tunnel.  Together. Even when others may not have the words or do not know the depth of our sadness, we know we have each other.  And as we each move forward, it is ‘enough for me to know that it will be all right some day’.