death of a spouse, Facebook, faith, grief, Jacob, loss of a spouse

On This Day…

According to Facebook statistics, every day more than 90 million people utilize their On This Day app to reminisce about moments they’ve shared on their Facebook page in previous years, and I’ve consistently been one of them. Sometimes the memory pops up in my Facebook feed. Other times I search for them, reminiscing.

But not today.

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Today, I made the decision not to look at the memory of six years ago, or at the very least, since I obviously got a glimpse, not to click on it and read the rest.

August has consistently been a difficult month for me since Jacob died in 2013. For my daughter Elizabeth, it is June, his birthday month. Which makes perfect sense, since she carried him underneath her heart and gave birth to him that day. We were aware Jacob’s cancer was terminal earlier in 2013, but he was doing fairly well until after his eighth birthday, when we saw his health steadily go downhill. No one saw it up closer than his parents, particularly his mother Elizabeth, who slept on the floor next to the couch where he spent the majority of his last days. The hospice nurse had told them in early July it would be just a matter of days. Days turned into weeks.

Certainly, painful memories have popped up in July, memories Facebook didn’t need to remind me of as they are so etched in my mind: My daughter’s posts on the Jacob’s Ladder page, posts that were filled with such faith and hope, she was touching the lives of thousands of others, just by sharing. My getting up repeatedly at 2:00 a.m. to drive past my daughter’s house to see if the lights were on and she needed me.

But today, when I saw that memory from six years ago pop up, I looked instead to the framed photos I can see from where I sit drinking my morning cup of coffee.

Jacob phonto

I made the conscious decision not to read the August Jacob’s Ladder memories, to not “go there,” revisiting my daughter’s pain, Jacob’s struggle to let go…hanging on, and on, and on, until the hospice nurse wondered why, before discovering one day the explanation; inexplicably the expanding lung that should have caused his death, had pushed the small heart to the other side of his chest.

And there I went, despite my good intentions. Do I imagine it, or is someone reading now thinking: There she goes, with the grief thing again. 

Secondary loss is real. While primary loss is the death of the person we loved, secondary is all the future losses as a result of that. I didn’t just lose a husband, for instance, I lost the primary breadwinner of our household. The father of my children. The partner who shared a wedding anniversary. The man who believed in me and my writing. Who held my hand and listened when I needed to talk. The person who took out the trash and changed lightbulbs. My experience of secondary loss is heightened at weddings, parties, even in church. I am so much more alone in a crowd.

So when I look at those framed photos on my cabinet, I see my beautiful grandchildren, yes, but I see something else. I see the child missing from future photos, the granddaughter, now nearly sixteen, growing up without her buddy, the boy whose big brother will never carry him on his back, like he does his little sister.

I also see my daughter, who cannot yet bear to pose her remaining children for a family photo because the absence of one is too painful. The daughter who once blogged regularly, becoming my spiritual mentor, who now finds it difficult to write anything at all.

Parents who have lost a child understand that, but would others? I know a woman who takes a photo of her empty porch every August because each year on the first day of school, she loses her son all over again. This year, it would have been second grade, this year third, this year fourth.

Is it true that there are those who cannot understand a loss until they have experienced it themselves? I firmly believe that. I acknowledged my parent’s wedding anniversary with a card to my mother that first year after my dad died. I may have even done so the following year, but only since experiencing the death of my own spouse, do I realize that she likely looked at the calendar every single June 25 for twenty-five years, remembering with a twinge of sadness.

Is it also true, as everyone says, that thoughtless comments to grievers are well-meant? “I don’t think I believe in Heaven,” someone said on my porch, sitting near me, within days of my husband’s death. Where did they think David was then, I wanted to shout, but didn’t.  Could the comment have come from their own doubt that needed reassurance? “If my husband died, I would never date or fall in love again,” I was informed when I expressed loneliness and an openness to loving again.  Was that judgement I heard in the tone, or my imagination? When Christmas is difficult for the mother of a little boy who loved the holiday, is it helpful, or hurtful, to tell her to “think of her other children and their enjoyment?” (Hint: It’s hurtful. She does think of them. It’s still hard.)

I’ve heard there is a way to turn off those Facebook “memory” notifications, but I don’t really want to. So many of them bring a smile to my face, a tender memory, a funny incident I shared ten years ago. A photo of me in 2009 pops up, and I think to myself “That was before. Before my mother, husband, and grandson died.” I feel sorry for the woman with the husband’s arm slung across her shoulders, her bright smile, clueless as to what was coming.

Then I reflect on who I am now, who I am because of those losses. The woman who wants to be a better person because of those good, loving people she lost. One who looks to Heaven for answers, who now knows what it is to have a personal relationship with Jesus, who glimpses small miracles everywhere, and believes we are here to walk each other HOME. The woman who facilitates grief groups  and grief retreats, who can authentically talk and write about grief because she “gets it.” Who talks and writes about creativity for the same reason; because of the creative mother she lost. I am the woman who writes these words in a poem, and believes them.

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So, while there is an option to turn off the Facebook notifications, I won’t. There’s too many good moments I want to revisit. For now, maybe for the rest of August, I’ll choose to look away from those “Jacob’s Ladder” memories.

Just like the person who doesn’t want to read about grief or secondary losses, or God and faith, can choose to look away from this blog post.

 

 

 

 

Bible verses, faith

The Word

“I haven’t chosen my word for the year yet,” I lamented to the group of women who attended my Women’s Christmas program Sunday night. I began the practice of choosing a word for the year after reading Debbie Macomber’s One Perfect Word in 2011. In the book, Macomber discusses how concentrating on a single word has become a tool for God to work in her life, and in the lives of others.

one word“I know what my word means, but I don’t know what word encompasses the meaning,” I continued. “I want to learn how to just live in the moment this year, to just be, but I don’t want the word BE. It has to mean relax, revel, appreciate…” My voice trailed off. Most of these women were strangers. They couldn’t know how impatient I was, how I struggled to entrust the daily workings of my life to God.

A woman who was sitting nearby smiled broadly. “I know the word. It’s mine for this year. I learned it in Bible study this week. It means to relax, to reflect, to love, to listen. It’s used over seventy times in the Psalms.”

I could barely contain my excitement. I loved reading the Psalms.

“What is it?”

“Selah. The word is Selah.”

I’d never heard it. How could I not be familiar with what sounded like the perfect word for my year?

Turns out, the NIV version I use doesn’t include the word in the text, but as a footnote. Nor do Bible scholars agree on the Hebrew word’s meaning. Some say the implied meaning is a simple musical “rest” or pause. More scholars tend to go with the term meaning “pause and reflect.” And that’s exactly how my Everyday Life Bible, Amplified Version, with notes and commentary by Joyce Meyer includes it.

Psalm 32:7 You are a hiding place for me; You, Lord, preserve me from trouble, You surround me with songs and shouts of deliverance. Selah (pause, and calmly think of that)!

A third interpretation would include both the others, and claims the meaning is “lift up, exalt, and magnify” The Lord.

Pause. Reflect. Rest. Lift up, and exalt The Lord. This year, I want to pause and reflect before I speak, write, or schedule programs and events outside of work. I want to rest in the Lord, allow him to guide me in all my endeavors. I also want to include restful activities; quiet mornings alone, nature, shared moments with the people I love. I want to lift others up. And I most definitely want to exalt and magnify the Lord in everything I do.

selah

Selah. I found my word for 2019.

faith, grace, prayer, stress

Take My Hand

Just weeks before my husband David unexpectedly died in 2012, we’d shared a conversation that was uncharacteristic for us; regarding what we’d want the other one to do if we died first.

“I’d want you to get married again,” David had said. “Because I know how much you love hugging and holding hands.”

I miss his hugs, his hand in mine.

handsHad he lived, David and I would have celebrated our 39th anniversary earlier this month. I’ve been without him for more than six years. I’ve faced a lot of changes in my life since then, both good and bad, but even good changes can cause stress.

According to the Social Readjustment Rating Scale developed by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, the stressful life events I’ve experienced just in the last six months put me at a solid 285 in regards to measured stress levels, too near the dangerous 300 level for comfort. Among those life events I’ve experienced; a virulent flu virus that lasted more than two weeks, an attack of Shingles, an unexpected loss of income, a subsequent need to change jobs, a daughter leaving home for a month-long stint at an organic farm in sunny California, and an “outstanding personal achievement.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word outstanding, submitting my manuscript one day ahead of deadline was a personal achievement, nonetheless, one that left me feeling somewhat at odds with myself. You can’t have worked on something for so many months without missing the intensity of the writing.facebook
Lucky for me, I didn’t have time to feel that way long. Two days after submitting the manuscript, I began a new job, as program coordinator for a spirituality center. This is the view from my office. When the window is open, I can hear the peaceful sounds of the trickling fountain.

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While I no longer have David’s steadying hand to grasp, in the past six years I’ve discovered a stronger one yet. It is God’s hand that led me to a workplace that not only allows prayer, but encourages it. Which is why I was comfortable asking my new co-workers to pray for me on Friday when I was sidelined by a concern regarding the sale of my house. One of them went above and beyond, composing a beautiful prayer specific to my worry and e-mailing it to me; the message a reminder to trust God’s plan and providence. Taking a deep breath, I read and re-read the prayer, as if drawing sustenance from it. All the months of working on a book, searching for a new job, looking for a house, sorting through things to downsize and prepare for a garage sale, watching a daughter leave home, getting a house ready to sell…alone. Without David. I was so tired. Emotionally drained.

Please, God. Just show me that you’re with me in this. In all of it.

After work, I just wanted to go home. But I needed to be someplace else.

I headed to a nearby building, where my required TB test would be read by a company nurse. Lacking an internal GPS, the last time I’d attempted to follow directions to the nurse’s office, I’d ended up in the lunch room. So it was with some trepidation I approached the front desk. A tiny woman was hunched over a newspaper, only the top of her head visible. When she looked up, I asked if she could page the nurse. Her eyes darting around nervously, she suggested I just head there. It occurred to me, as a volunteer, she might not know how to operate the phone system.

“I got lost the last time I came,” I laughed as I explained, and her face brightened. She jumped from her chair with an energy that belied her obvious age.

“Then I’ll take you there,” she said as she approached from behind the desk. She held out her hand. Taken aback, I hesitated for a moment, but her friendly smile left me no choice. It would be rude to refuse.

Hand-in-hand, we started walking.

“Now, just pay attention, and watch where I take you, so you can find your way back,” she said in a voice so gentle, I unexpectedly felt a lump form in my throat. Her hand was warm, her clasp firm, as she guided me through a room, down a short hallway, and through a doorway. I recognized the winding hallway lined with potted plants.

“I know where I am now,” I said, pointing to the end of the hall. “I just go that way and around the corner.”

“I’ll show you a better way.” The delight in her voice was unmistakable. She seemed glad to make my trip easier. “Just go right through this door, and you’re there!”

She didn’t let go of my hand until we’d stepped through the doorway together.

“But you made this so easy,” I marveled. “Thank you.” She smiled before turning away to return to the desk.

A room, a hallway, two doorways… Previous routes had included steps, elevators, a trip through a closed courtyard. I felt foolish as I blinked back tears, pondering the encounter.

The welcoming gesture of an extended palm. The unexpected warmth in holding a stranger’s hand. The gentle voice guiding me as if I were a child. The sudden ease in finding my way. This had been no random meeting. There was a message in it.

“I’m here. In the prayer from a colleague. In the stranger at the front desk. The hand you miss so much is with me, but I will bring you other hands. I am with you and I will guide you. Trust me.” 

Isaiah 41:13: For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (NIV)