David, death, faith, grief

I Am Where I’m Supposed To Be

This afternoon I waited in a church pew until after the homily, when Father called me up to speak about the Bible Study I am beginning in April.

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When I finished speaking, I returned to my pew and sat through the rest of the Mass until everyone else was leaving.

It wasn’t the fact that I stood in front of a congregation and spoke about David, and loss, and needing Bible verses that is so extraordinary to me. As I stood in front of a crowd, reading things like this, I did not cry;

“The next morning, I found my husband non-responsive in his recliner. Sometime during the night, his heart had stopped, and I thought mine had broken in two. Our youngest was just eight years old. I had not been raised to memorize Bible verses, and studying the Bible had not been a part of my upbringing, despite having grown up in a devoutly Catholic home. Yet it was Bible verses I yearned for in those first days after David’s death.”

My voice did not waver or shake as I continued to share the reason behind my wanting to begin a Bible Study;

“How could I have reached the age of 50 before I held my own study Bible? I needed healing, and the road to healing was right inside this book. I prayed that God would help me find my answers. Within days of that prayer, a young friend sent me two pages of Bible verses she’d written down on notebook paper. “Something prompted me to write these down for you,” she wrote, followed by verses like this:  Psalm 147:3 God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  Psalm 68:5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

No, it wasn’t the fact that at the beginning of the very week of the one-year anniversary of David’s death I would speak at church that was such an extraordinary event, it was the fact that I stayed for the rest of the Mass.

You see, only my children are aware that I have been unable to stay for an entire church service since David’s death. The music, the sight of older couples holding hands, the poignancy of greeting other parishioners after the “Our Father” was just too much for me.  David loved greeting people; reaching out eagerly all around him to shake hands. David and I held hands during part of the Mass. Beautiful music and certain songs pain my soul.

Before I know it, my eyes are stinging, my throat and chest are filling with un-shed tears, and I have to leave. And though I will need to leave each service early tomorrow so that I can hit all four Masses, two in nearby towns, tonight I was determined to stay.

This Wednesday, it will have been a year since David died. There it is, written down in capital letters on my calendar; ONE YEAR. As if I’d forget.

I mentioned in my last blog posting how good it felt to have fun when I conduct coupon workshops. I enjoy my beginning writer’s workshops just as much. I am excited by the fact that in the next 45 days, I have 10 scheduled. I love doing them!

I’m also working on a book about grief and faith and have an outline for another book. The book that David encouraged me to write three years ago is being released by Familius Publishing in August.It is already available for pre-order on Amazon.

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My world is so much bigger than it was just four years ago. I laugh when I think that when my daughter perused my address book for friends to invite to a surprise birthday party for me in November of 2009, she had a hard time coming up with names beyond my family, my long-time friend Mary and a weight loss group I belonged to at the time. If her Dad was planning the surprise party today, there would be at least 30 more invitations going out, thanks to the women I have met at christian writer’s conferences and an increased involvement in the community.

After my short speech tonight, I sat in the pew, marveling at the changes in me just since David’s death. He wouldn’t have been surprised by my ten scheduled workshops; I’d just begun doing them a few months before he died. He’d observed how ecstatic I was after each one. I’d done two on the weekend that I brought him home after his heart attack, one the night before he’d died. While I am saddened I missed some precious time with him before his death, I remind myself of his huge grin when I stepped through the door that Monday night. Our eyes met and mine must have sparkling.

“Was it a good workshop? It looks like you had fun,” he’d remarked. I know I bent over to hug and kiss him, what might have been the last kiss we would share. I don’t remember if I kissed him before I went up to bed, exhausted.

“You are flying. This is your time to fly. You are soaring,” my husband was saying in early 2012, and I think he believed I could do anything I set my mind to. In those first few weeks after his death, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do much of anything ever again. Now, nearly a year later, I can’t help but wonder what God has in store for me next.

Sitting in that pew tonight, after a speech that was well-received, I thought to myself, This is where I am supposed to be. This is what I am supposed to be doing. Someone in here needs to hear this. Someone in this church needs that Bible study.

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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.” Jeremiah 29:11

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A Choice of Joyce~

Saturday morning I drove two hours to a library where I was scheduled to do a Couponing workshop. I never have any qualms about public speaking when it is a subject I am passionate about, and couponing (despite the loss of my favorite shopping companion) remains one of my passions. The other topics I am passionate about are, in no particular order; Jesus, writing, my children, and encouraging other women to follow their dreams and utilize their creativity in their everyday life.

I really enjoy these workshops, as well as my writing workshops. I keep tweaking them to make them more interesting (and helpful) to the participants. Sometimes, as I am gesturing wildly and talking animatedly, I wonder at myself. I realize that I do not care what others think about the “crazy coupon lady” or the wildly passionate writer in front of them. I’m having fun! I can put all inhibitions aside as I wax poetic about a subject I find myself an “expert” in. This is something I discuss in my writing workshops when I talk about the importance of building up a platform. Unfortunately, at this point in my life, I have also reluctantly become an expert on grief, one of the topics covered in my next book. (the other is faith) I expect at some point I will also be doing public speaking engagements on the subject of grief.

I remember a morning a couple of months before David died, when I came downstairs to find him sitting on the couch viewing something on television. “What are you watching?” I asked him, and he told me he’d been watching Joyce Meyer. Joyce Meyer is a inspirational speaker, author, and a teacher of God’s word. David had “discovered” her on his own, a significant achievement in a marriage relationship that for too many years was off-balance due to his quick temper and my control issues. In other words, until David’s cancer in 2006, I was a control-freak in our relationship. My prayer life was pretty much the same for many of those years, as I prayed to God (usually for help), and then promptly added a codicil to the prayer, telling God exactly how he should answer that prayer. Thankfully, through God’s grace, during David’s cancer treatment my husband and I learned how to love with the agape-sort of love in the Bible, becoming partners in every sense of the word. Not only that, but both of us found ourselves on a path of spiritual enlightenment and renewal, so that by the time David died, I knew better how to pray, though I still struggled with my own will for a few months until I learned how to listen to God.

I wish I could say that David and I were companions on the same path, that it had been a couple’s Bible study or a shared experience that brought us to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but I was finding answers at christian writer’s conferences and through the faith-filled women God put in my path. Particularly after my mother’s death in November of 2010, I had some very spiritual experiences I only shared with David verbally. I will never know for sure if it was one of my experiences that prompted him to begin searching for something more on his own, but I do know that he was very wistful when he once told me he’d never experienced what I had. He read the books I left laying around; 90 Minutes in Heaven by Cecil Murphey and Don Piper became a favorite, but he also enjoyed Heaven is For Real. At some point he’d discovered Joyce Meyer on television, and soon he began asking me to collect some of her books. I never read any of them, and even though I have since collected additional volumes, I still have not gotten into them. I only sat with him once during a portion of one of her programs, and though I understood why her down-to-earth attitude appealed to him, unfortunately I never took the time to watch a program with him again.

As I left the workshop on Saturday, I realized how happy I was. It felt really good to be happy. I thought about the butterfly note card I’d found in a used book I’d purchased. I have a special place in my heart for butterflies since David’s death, since he had been encouraging me to “Fly, soar like a butterfly,” in the months previous to his death. I’d recently taped that card to my desk.

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“…since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Colossians 3:9-10

The card is a reminder for me; God has plans for me in my new life as a widow. I still struggle with trying to control things, but I’m learning that when I let God lead me, things just fall into place. The way I feel after a workshop or the publication of one of my essays is more than a balm for my lonely soul, it is an affirmation that I am following God’s plan for me.

Even two years ago I would not have imagined public speaking as a part of my life, despite having enjoyed speech and drama in high school and having a father who did not hesitate to inform me I had a talent for talking and I should use it for good, and not evil. There were too many years in between high school and 2010, where I was so bogged down with bills and babies I could barely string two coherent sentences together. When I began doing workshops in the fall of 2010, I was certain it was a fluke that I was actually enjoying getting up in front of a group to do a presentation.

I was fairly new at public speaking when David sat in front of a Joyce Meyer program and commented, “That’s what I want for you someday. I want you to be a Joyce Meyer. You can do it.”

I was amused by his faith in me. I enjoyed my workshops, but I was just getting started in public speaking and though I certainly enjoyed it, I couldn’t see myself in the same light as Joyce, a dynamic, passionate speaker.

Then last March, not only did I lose my husband, my best friend, and my partner, I lost the person who had believed in me, who loved watching me fly, who believed I could be like Joyce Meyer. I had three weeks after his death before I would do another workshop, and at first, I wondered if I could. Then I knew I had to. For David. My writing flourished too. After my mother’s death, my writing had become a way to fulfill her dream for her children; the desire she’d had that each of her children get to heaven, each of them utilize their talents. After David’s death, my writing became a tribute to him, as well. The first essay published after his death was about him. Everything I have written since has been for him, every speaking engagement has been about his dreams for me.

I had a two hour drive ahead of me after Saturday’s workshop, but I was smiling when I got into my vehicle, basking in a feeling I can only describe as euphoria. Not for the first time, I felt as though I was following something much bigger than my mother’s advice to use my talents, my husband’s dream for me, and my own desires. I was following God’s plan for me.

 “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.” Jeremiah 29:11

As I headed out of town, my favorite radio station wasn’t coming in, so I flipped through some channels looking for something that could entertain me for two hours. That was when I spotted the set of Joyce Meyer CD’s I’d gotten several months before.

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I popped in the second CD of the series and soon Joyce was speaking on prayer, learning to listen to God, using our talents, and breaking free from the traps of anxiety and worry. I cried at some point, but I also found myself laughing out loud when Joyce went off on a tangent and had the audience laughing. No wonder David loved her! She was articulate, intelligent, and totally real, even peppering her speech with the occasional “ain’t.” David would have loved this, I thought as one hour passed quickly, and then another, and I went through disc number two and began disc three. At one point, off on another tangent, Joyce commented wryly, “I’m wondering just how I’m going to sell this CD. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and haven’t done this. Someone in here must need to hear this…,” and the audience laughed uproariously as she called out another “Whee! Free at last!” I imagined her twirling on the stage or looking ridiculous in some way as the laughter increased. “I don’t care what you think,” she added, and I thought about what my face must look like sometimes when I get carried away in front of an audience.

Someone in a vehicle needed to hear that message. Someone whose husband had wanted her to become “like Joyce.” I remembered then, what it had felt like when I went off on a bit of a tangent during my workshop that morning, bemoaning the follies of manufacturer’s who thought something like a “panty freshener” was a brilliant idea. I held up the Poise company’s innovative, but questionable product of “hot flash cooling towelettes” that I’d included in my drawing basket, and related a conversation I’d had with my teens about one of their other new products; “panty fresheners.” Touted as a product that last four hours and is placed on the outside of a woman’s panties, I grimaced and groaned as I related a conversation I’d had with my teens about the concept of deodorizers for your panties. The women in the room were tickled, some laughing hysterically. At the end of my presentation, I was gifted with hearty clapping. Much like Joyce, with her audience.

A year ago, I would not have imagined that this coming weekend I would stand in front of a congregation to announce the beginning of a Bible Study at my church and speak about the reason behind it. At each of the three masses on Palm Sunday, I will speak about David, and how the loss of my husband prompted me to begin this study. A year after David’s death, on a Sunday that begins the week of the one-year anniversary, I will be speaking of my beloved, of grief and loss, and about how we can find the answers to bearing life’s trials in God’s word.

It ain’t Joyce, David, but I’m getting there.

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The First Time…Without

“Have you gone anywhere yet…without?”

I knew exactly what the woman meant.

“I’ve avoided two weddings so far, but attended one birthday party, in a place he and I had never been together. But the first time will be my family Christmas party this weekend.”

She nodded her head, and her eyes filled with tears. “I went to a wedding, but I shouldn’t have. It was too hard.”

I’ve been seeking something, attending different grief groups. I went to one at the hospital where everyone was either much older than me or grieving a parent. I didn’t return. I know the grief of losing a parent; bad enough, but not the ‘ripping out of a heart’ pain of losing a spouse. I tried a Griefshare group at the church where the other two attendees were also grieving a parent. That facilitator called me after I missed the next meeting. “We missed you. You were such a help to the other women. I hope you come back.” I didn’t say it, because I do like helping others, but I needed help myself. I attended a church memorial service where afterwards, I ended up sitting across from two sisters who were also both grieving parents. I wished for time with the older woman in church who’d twisted her wedding band back and forth during the entire service (something I also do~when do I take off my ring, I wonder absentmindedly), and whose hand I clutched so tightly during the “Our Father,” but she’d disappeared after the Mass. I’d thought that this evening retreat for grieving spouses would be just what I needed.

It did do me good to be in a room full of people who knew the particular pain of losing one’s spouse. Our eyes would meet across the room or the table and one tender look would say it all, I know your pain.

By the end of the evening, however, it occurred to me that I “fell through the cracks” in widowhood. I was younger than the majority of the widows in the room, older than the three young ones. During the evening, an announcement was made about a group for “young” widows, up to the age of 45, and another group in the area for singles, ages 20 and up. I felt as though I couldn’t join either; I was older than 45, and I certainly didn’t yet feel “single.” Later, one of the young widows would invite me to their group “because you have young children, and it’s a whole different ballgame when you have young children.”

Yes, I have young children, and it was for them I decided I needed to attend a party that just a year ago David had attended with us. It has been nearly nine months and these kinds of thoughts still boggle my mind; a year ago, David was here. A year ago, I went Christmas shopping with David.

It started out fine; I arrived before my children because I was bringing the coffee pot. My siblings welcomed me with hugs and smiles that meant they understood how I might be feeling. As the room filled with more and more couples, I forced myself to walk around the room, clutching a cup of coffee more for emotional strength than sustenance. I’d retreated to a corner near the door when the last sibling arrived. My brother-in-law Dave casually hugged me with a sense of tenderness, and I felt my stomach lurch and the room spin a little. As he hung up his coat, I fumbled for the knob of the door. Once outside, I sprinted towards my vehicle, dumping the coffee in the snow. Within the safe confines of the vehicle, I sobbed, realizing the mistake of coming without my children. If I’d had the sense to grab my purse before fleeing the building, I would have driven away.

“You have no idea how well you are doing,” my brother John had complimented me just a few minutes before.

What did that mean; that I was doing well? That I’d come to a family gathering? That I’d remembered to bring food? That I was dressed, and my hair combed? That I was wearing shoes?

I did rejoin my family when my children arrived. Maybe no one had noticed my brief breakdown (the room was very crowded) or else they were just being polite and studiously avoiding my red-rimmed eyes. My children noticed. They greeted me outside with hugs. My brother-in-law Shawn noticed, and I appreciated his sage advice not to drink wine when I was sad (appreciated, but did not follow).  My sisters stuck close by me, and I wonder now if Denise was even aware of how she lightly stroked my arm as she talked to someone on the other side of her. I know I ate something. I had not eaten breakfast or lunch. I laughed a little, even joked about how I should have just gone outside and lain down in the snow. My sisters and I imagined how someone inside might have noticed. “Mary is outside in the snow, making show angels,” they might say. And how one of them might come outside to join me and comment wryly “That’s not a very good snow angel, Mary. There are no wings,” as I lay there, curled up in the snow.

I did not want the party to end. My children left earlier than I did. I wanted to sit at a table with my sisters, drinking coffee and pretending everything was fine, for hours.

Or maybe forever.

I didn’t want to go back home where my sons sat, waiting for permission to eat the chili I’d had the forethought to throw in the crockpot (is that doing well?) or look at the muffins and bread my daughter Emily had to make from baking powder and sugar that had clumped up from old age and dis-use. (Surely the fact that I have not baked since David’s death signaled I was not doing so well)

When it was apparent that the party had, indeed, ended, I bolted out the door again, without saying goodbye to everyone. In my vehicle, I cried as I headed to the cemetery, cried as I walked through the snow in ridiculously inappropriate sandals, and cried some more as I knelt in front of the tombstone. I was pleasantly surprised to see the bird feeder hung from a shepherd’s hook and another hook in the ground behind the stone. How kind of someone to have purchased them. (I later discovered it had been my daughter Rachel)

“Have you gone anywhere yet…without?”

I have, and I survived.

Perhaps that means I am doing well.