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, Heal Your Grief, prayer, writing

Cha-Cha-Changes

What will be my last column for the Manchester Press appeared in today’s paper.

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Next week I begin working at a library where, coincidentally, I was already scheduled to speak. I’ll be conducting my favorite parts of the last library job I had; planning programs, doing presentations, outreach, helping patrons find the next great book, and talking books.

With the hours I’ve freed up with my new job, I’ll be adding back some of the classes, workshops, and public speaking gigs I gave up last year due to lack of time. I already have writing classes scheduled for Hawkeye.

writing classes

I hope to find ways to utilize the Grief Counseling certification I recently completed.

grief counseling certificateAnd, I’ll soon be planning the second annual Heal Your Grief retreat that will take place at Shalom Center in Dubuque this fall.

It seems appropriate that these changes come during the month that marks five years since my husband’s heart attack (March 15th was his stent surgery) and subsequent death after he came home from the hospital.

It also seems fitting that these two Bible verses were written in the journal I unearthed a few days ago, the one I’d begun writing in December 2011, just months before I would lose my husband:

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Proverbs 16:3 “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”

 

 

Angela Miller, Bible verses, book review, faith, grief, Heal Your Grief, hope, loss of a spouse, writing

Hope and Healing~

Are there books you have purchased multiple copies of, just to give away to others?  Two immediately come to mind for me; I’ve purchased extra copies of Angela Miller’s You are the Mother of All Mothers for mothers who are grieving the loss of a child, and also the Zondervan Hope in the Mourning Bible.  

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Yesterday’s mail brought what was probably the tenth copy I’ve purchased of this book. It seems like I’m always giving my copy away to someone I think needs it. Not only is it is my favorite version of the Bible (NIV), but the devotionals interspersed throughout are uplifting and inspiring. The only thing that would make it better is if it was softcover, because I prefer softcover Bibles.

The morning my husband died, I knew I needed two things; heart-felt praying, and God’s word. And yet, I wasn’t sure how to find either. I prayed for guidance, and God did not fail me. He brought the right people into my life; those who consistently and fervently prayed for me, and a young woman (who’s since become my daughter-in-law), who sent me notebook pages full of Bible verses. Also, just a few weeks after I lost my husband, I was asked to write some devotionals for a grief Bible. In order to write those eleven devotionals, I had to learn how to study the Bible for answers.

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In the meantime, I was writing and blogging about the dark path of loss that resulted in an incredible  journey of faith. Hope in the Mourning was released in 2013, the same year my book, Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace was released.

Writing, whether it was journaling, blogging, or working on articles and books, was very healing for me. I have since studied the science behind expressive writing for healing, and find it fascinating. A writer by trade, it seemed only natural that I’d chosen writing as my choice of therapy. Sometimes, I flip through the pages of the journal I began writing in the day after my husband’s death, and though it hurts to revisit that extraordinary pain I was experiencing then, I can see how the act of writing my way through grief may have saved me.

journals
James Pennebaker, a professor at the University of TX, has spent the last 40 years studying the link between writing and emotional processing. He’s studied those suffering from cancer, illness, and loss, dividing study participants into two groups: one that would write about emotionally charged topics, and the other about common, everyday things, for just 20 minutes a day for 3-4 days. In each study, he found that the people writing about emotionally-charged episodes experienced marked improvement in their physical and mental well-being. They were happier, less depressed, less anxious. In the months following the writing sessions, they had lower blood pressure, improved immune function, and fewer visits to the doctor. They also reported better relationships, improved memory and more success at work.

This is the research behind my two newest projects; I’ve signed a book contract for a journal for those mourning the loss of a loved one, and I’ve devised a workshop to help guide those who are just getting started in journaling, or who want to utilize expressive writing to help work their way through painful experiences. I presented the “Expressive Writing for Healing” workshop at the Heal Your Grief retreat in October, and hope to present it at other conferences. Besides these two projects, next month I’m registered to attend a workshop for those who work with the bereaved.

Because I’ve discovered something else, besides writing, promotes emotional healing~ helping others.