This past week I listened to some great Christian music. The song that has been in my head is What Faith Can Do by Kutlass. This song started playing on my Pandora feed just when I needed to hear it. I was feeling some pain and loneliness as I thought about Christian and I was doubting my strength to do all God had given me to do that day.
We all come to places in our lives when we fall on our faces, face health issues or financial uncertainty, or we lose loved ones and face unspeakable heartache. This song is about rising from the ashes to find beauty, never giving up, and not being afraid to take that first step to make a new beginning. God is always by our side and He hears our prayers, even the silent prayer from the heart.
Our valleys may seem deep and unending but the sun will eventually shine. God gives us strength to keep going and because of this we are much stronger than we know. He helps us get through difficulties to get to the side of victory.
Faith gave me courage to get out of bed every morning of the first year after our son passed away. I barely had the strength to pray, but I still did even if it was a simple “God, help me!” Faith gave me the strength to continue caring for my family even though I thought the weight of grief would crush me. Faith helps us see the silver lining during a health challenge and gives us never ending hope. Faith can move the mountains in our lives if we trust God completely.
I hope you enjoy the video. I enjoy almost all of their music and this song will always have a special place in my heart.
Recently, I saw a story on the news about Andrew Lumish, a man who has spent the last 5 years cleaning headstones of U.S. Veterans in Tampa, Florida. His story touched a place in my heart because our oldest son is buried at Highland Cemetery. We have a family plot with a beautiful headstone so it gives me comfort to know that we will all be together out there one day.
My husband stopped by to visit our boy last week and noticed that the newly occupied plot behind ours was in disarray. They did not have a headstone yet, just a temporary marker along with some flowers and other sentimental items. We also had a temporary marker on ours for months as headstones are very costly. Most of the items, along with the marker, were laying down flat like the caretakers just ran over them with a mower. Dave walked over and fixed it so the family wouldn’t find it in such a state. I cannot imagine how I would feel if I went to the cemetery to visit our boy only to find that someone destroyed everything.
There were some young men doing groundskeeping while Dave was there. He said that they were talking very loudly to each other over the headstones and swearing a lot. This made me very sad. I go to the cemetery for peace and comfort and obviously this was not the day to go. I only hope that they respect the light saber, Star Wars figurines, and Darth Vader sign that we have at Christian’s grave.
As a teenager, I thought it was cool to go to the cemetery at midnight with my friends so we could tell stories and scare each other. I never disrespected any of the headstones but I also didn’t think about what a cemetery really is – a place where we can go to feel comfort, grieve, or even talk to those we have lost. I admit that I talked to Christian a lot more during the year after he passed away. Now when I go, I tell him how much I love and miss him and what we have been up to. I also spend time in silence. There are many magpies, western meadowlarks, robins and other birds who keep me company too. I don’t like the sight of bird droppings on the headstone but I like to think that they are watching over my boy.
Luckily, Highland Cemetery locks the gates at night. It is in the most beautiful area where the sky is big and the hills are rolling all the way to the horizon. I only hope that people will follow the example of Andrew Lumish and my husband and respect the graves of those who have passed on before us.
Great Falls is a windy city. When the wind is not blowing, one is liable to tip over from not having that constant head wind holding them up straight. Last summer was one of the worst fire seasons in the state of Montana. During the span of two months, the wind barely blew. It was hot, smokey, and most of us had to stay indoors most of the summer. I have never missed wind as much as I did during the summer of 2017.
We do not live very far from an oil refinery. Most days it smells like sulfur, oil, and all kinds of offensive things. Thanks to the wind, the smell does not carry over to our neighborhood most days. The wastewater treatment plant is a little further than the refinery but on days when the wind doesn’t blow and they are cleaning up some extra nasty waste, the smell makes its way over. Eww.
When I was young, I used to complain about the wind because it messed up my hair. Thank goodness for Aqua Net. I used loads of it. We went on a picnic the other day and with each bite of food I took, I about ate a mouthful of hair too. It’s easy to complain about wind but most of the time I think about what it does for us.
Wind is a clean source of power, it cleans the air and makes the sky look bluer, it helps ships to sail, gives birds a break as they fly in place, flies kites, allows us to paraglide and surf, makes leaves rustle on trees, and helps us to cool off after a hot, summer day.
I don’t use Aqua Net anymore but I am also older and I accept that a perfect hair day is a rarity. I am thankful for tumbleweeds blowing across the prairie in the wind, hair in my face as we drive down the highway, and swaying trees so long as we do not blow away to Oz like Dorothy and Toto. Next time my hairstyle is ruined by the wind or I end up with dirt it my eye I will think about the positive side of wind.
I went to Gibson Park today to go for a short walk. The breeze was blowing constantly, as it always does in Great Falls, but it felt invigorating. As I walked on the oval path around the park, I heard baby chickadees above me as I passed under a tree, saw several squirrels prancing across the grass, and I heard yellow warblers and an American goldfinch.
First he peeked around the corner at me.
He stood next to me for a few minutes.
Afterward, I took a seat on a bench on one of the docks over the pond and watched the waves ripple across the water and the geese and ducks gently float past. After a few minutes, I noticed movement in my peripheral vision. First I saw a tiny head and then the neck and body of a Canadian goose. It was comical because it was like he was peering around a corner to see if I would notice him. Even after he realized that I did not have any food, he stood next to me to look out over the pond. He was so close to me that I could see his brown pupils and the softness of his elongated neck. Occasionally, he would turn around and peacefully observe me. I found this to be very comforting because up until I arrived at the park, I was having a difficult day. I truly believe that animals just get it – they know when we need comfort. I am not just referring to dogs – this is the reason why they are “man’s best friend.” I also mean birds, horses, rabbits, and many other furry critters.
Christian had a zebra finch named Kiwi for several years. Kiwi was a ornery, wild, little fella and Christian would park his wheelchair next to his cage every evening before we covered his cage up with his blanket. He referred to Kiwi as his best friend because he was always there. I think that Kiwi waited to die until the year following Christian’s passing because it would have broken his heart. It was a comfort having Kiwi around after our boy passed away because it gave us a tangible connection to Christian. A few days before Kiwi passed away, he kept hopping to the front of his cage and he would park right under the door and wait for us to come in and pet him. It was so strange because Kiwi was always very wild and didn’t want us to get too close to him. I think it was his way of giving us comfort before he died.
In the months following Christian’s passing, several rabbits hopped onto our back deck and they would sit right in front of the sliding glass door, sometimes looking inside. A few days before Christian passed away, there were close to 20 Eurasian collared doves on our back sidewalk. I have experienced a great amount of comfort from God’s critters over the last few years.
At Christian’s graveside service, we released doves. Our youngest son was able to hold one of the white doves, Sirius, before he released her. He was then able to open the lid on the basket so the rest of the doves could fly out. I first read about the doves in a newspaper article about the funeral services of Deputy Joe Dunn, who was killed in the line of duty. They released doves at his graveside service and he is buried just down the slope from our boy.
God gave us animals for comfort and companionship. Whether it is a cat, dog, parakeet, or birds at our feeder, if we take notice we will see that they really do care about us.
The year after Christian passed away was extremely painful, but thanks to the strength and comfort of God, we made it through a day at a time. Dave’s job became extremely demanding in the following month after we lost our boy. He went with the flow for the next several months but by summer, working 14 hour days was not enough for the company, so he had to leave. The following September, Dave suggested I call the company that I worked at before leaving in 2005 to care for the boys’ increasing needs. I called them, dropped off my resume, and everything fell into place. I was terrified because I had been out of the work force for so long but I was also thrilled and very thankful for the opportunity to work for my family again.
About a week into my return to work came the first anniversary of Christian’s passing. Dave suggested that I go to work because the distraction might be good for me. I lasted about five minutes. Over the first few months I experienced a lot of nervousness each morning before I left for work and I started to experience slight anxiety when I performed certain job duties. I thought nothing of it because all jobs come with stress and anxiety. By summer, my anxiety increased and depression started to weigh me down. I started becoming emotional about things that normally would not make me so upset. I began to worry about the most ridiculous things, which fed my anxiety.
I took the second anniversary of Christian’s passing off along with what would be his 22nd birthday. I spent the greater part of that fall in a state of sadness as I remembered the days leading up to his passing. By Christmas my emotional problems worsened and the anxiety led to panic episodes the following spring. I took a few days off and started seeing a counselor. This slowly started to help and I really thought I was going to start feeling like myself again.
About two months later, I started to experience tightness in my neck. I associated it with ergonomics at work and tried carrying things differently, sitting up straighter, etc.. By fall, my neck worsened and the spasms set in. I kept working hard and doing everything I could to keep up with the workload. I also started acupuncture and massage therapy. My condition worsened to such an extent that I was having trouble eating, driving, and putting my makeup on. I did not receive a diagnosis and treatment until March of this year. I was confident that the treatment would help and things would go back to normal again.
The first set of injections only made my condition worse and I had to take a month long medical leave. Before I requested the medical leave I had a major panic episode and my good friend and neighbor stayed with me for a few hours. Before she dropped me off at home she looked at me and said that “my kettle blew.” She said that at the botton of the kettle was grief and stacked on top of that was my illness, worry for my son and husband, and the stress of my career. She said I needed to deal with the loss of my son by joining a grief group and learning about the stages of grief. It was at that point that I realized that I hadn’t been grieving since I returned to work. The fear, anxiety, and massive change I went through interruped the grieving process. I ended up leaving my job shortly after my medical leave.
It is easy to associate depression with loss – losing a child is devastating and I experienced days and moments of sadness that I thought would crush me. Ongoing depression that does not let up, however, is a sign that a person is not grieving in a healthy way. I had days that were harder – the pain felt more raw and I would cry, but I really thought I was moving forward and healing from the loss. There was so much going on in my life, so much change, that the grief and pain ended up buried underneath of it all. Unfortunately, it took an illness to open my eyes and see that I still have some grief work to do. Perhaps this blog post is a way of moving forward.
It may seem easier at the time to run away from the pain, bury it by keeping busy, or to tell everyone we are fine, but in the long run it can have devastating effects on our emotional, physical and spiritual health. I encourage you to reach out to friends, family, your pastor, grief counselors, or write it all down in a journal. Don’t bury your pain. Go through it so the pain doesn’t end up being wasted. Perhaps making it to the other side of difficulties makes us stronger so we can in turn help others who are hurting. Christian was my son, friend, and my teacher. I love him too much to waste the pain of losing him.
Several years ago, my husband started playing Texas Hold ‘Em. We played poker in the past but it was always Five Card Draw and we gambled with pinto beans or pennies. He started watching the WSOP and playing small wager cash games. He would come home and talk about some of the hands and most of it went over my head.
When poker was on television and I happened to be sitting on the couch with a book in front of me, I would occasionally look up to see who Dave was talking about. In 2011 Pius Heinz was the WSOP Main Event winner. I started paying attention to the players that year because I enjoyed seeing Ben Lamb stare at the other players in the hands.
Christian had no interest in poker whatsoever but for some reason, he liked the way Pius Heinz dressed. One day, he even put on one of his hoodies and imitated him. That is the closest Christian ever came to being interested in poker. When Dave and Drew started talking about poker hands, Christian would always say “Mom, Dad and Drew are being boring again.”
Christian dressed like Pius Heinz
Dave has been fortunate enough to play in some of the smaller events during the WSOP. Over the years, I have learned about several of the players. When Dave told me he played a hand with Antonio Esfandiari I was very excited for him. In 2016, Dave made it to day two of his event and had his picture taken with Fedor Holz. I was thrilled for him, especially since I had watched Fedor play against Phil Helmuth on television recently. I remember watching this because Phil was becoming aggravated and started repeating that he was “on a rampage.” Fedor told Phil he reminded him of an angry Bob Ross. If you are familiar with Phil Helmuth’s reputation of being a Poker Brat, you would find a lot of humor in it also.
As much as I have tried to distance myself from poker, I have been learning to play at home. Since I am starting to understand the rules of Hold ‘Em and some of the strategies, I watched some of the Super High Roller Bowl, a $300,000 entry tournament, with Dave and enjoyed it. Dave asked me if I was ready to play in one of the monthly tournaments he plays in, and I replied “No way.” I do not understand the rules and strategies enough to feel comfortable playing in organized events. I would rather start by playing in cash games with friends and family.
Dave dreams of playing in the WSOP Main Event one day and I really do hope it becomes true. Even if it doesn’t, not many of us can say that we met Ray Romano while playing at a cash game at the Venetian or that we played hands with poker champions. I will continue learning and hopefully one day I will play in a tournament of my own.
When I went to visit Mom last month she asked me, “Did you see out back yet?” I said no and asked her why. “They finally cut that tree down,” she stated.
“What tree?” I asked as a feeling of dread began to bloom in my chest.
“The big one in the alley,” she replied, after which I went out the door to the backyard and all I could do was stare into the empty space of sky that was occupied by a massive cottonwood that towered over the houses at the top of the hill.
One of my favorite things about visiting Mom, along with talking with her over coffee of course, was listening the wind rustle the leaves of the cottonwood tree out back. I would sleep with the window open in the back room so I could wake up to the sound in the morning. If you do not have cottonwood trees in your area you may be able to find sound bits on YouTubeof the wind fluttering the thick, sturdy leaves of the cottonwood tree.
Mom was relieved, along with her neighbors, to not have to clean up the leaves anymore. Being as hardy as they are, the leaves of a cottonwood do not curl up and fall apart like other leaves in the fall. They become flexible from moisture but do not disappear as easily as other leaves. I understand her decision when it came to the mess, but what about the shade it provided? Many trees still remain in her neighborhood but I did enjoy listening to the chickadees as they hopped from branch to branch overhead. “Doesn’t the beauty and shade of the tree outweigh the fall mess?” I thought.
Over the years, many trees have disappeared from our neighborhood. I do not judge however, because I have no idea how it is to be a senior and having to deal with the mess. I can be disappointed in the trees being gone, however. I went out front to sip on my coffee on the front steps and the sun blasted my face with it’s heat. A massive pine tree next door used to cover that area. This pine tree was so large and full of birds that my dad called it the “Bird Hotel.” Sparrows, finches, chickadees, robins, and doves lived there along with a few squirrels. Our neighbors were kind enough to wait until the fledglings were gone before they had the tree removed. The tree was gone in less than an hour. I was furious of course – not at my neighbors but at how short of a period of time something so massive could be destroyed.
We planted three trees in our yard in the summer of 2014. I am happy to say that they are growing quickly and we have a robin’s nest in one of them. We are able to enjoy the scent and beauty of the blooms every spring and the birds enjoy perching in them. With the summers becoming increasingly hotter I wanted to grow some shade for our home and provide a place for my feathered friends.
I don’t think we can ever plant too many trees. They are beautiful to look at and give us a place to sit under on sunny days. I am not a treehugger but I am thankful for God’s creation and the comfort and joy it provides man and bird alike.
My grandmother, Joan Juanita Peterson, was laid to rest last Saturday. When we walked into the funeral home, one of the first things I noticed was her casket – pine green with gold pine trees along the edges. The first thing that came to mind was, “that matches her.”
Once we were all seated and the pastor started the services, the first of 3 songs started playing that grandma had picked out months before – all classical pieces. As I sat next to my dad with tears streaming down my face, I remembered the cassette tape she gave me when I was younger. It was by Mantovani. At the time, I was listening to Duran Duran and Bon Jovi but I remember enjoying and appreciating the cassette in private. I wish I would have kept it. The pastor shared great stories and memories of grandma and my heart ached for her three sons as well as my sister. Sherry took care of grandma in her later years, mending fences and roofs, painting, and replacing floors. She always bought grandma cotton candy at the fair. She also took care of my grandma in her final days until the end.
The graveside services were beautiful – warm weather, blue skies with soft clouds drifting by, and cows quietly grazing in the distance. I commented that it was a beautiful place to be laid to rest. The funeral director agreed, saying he also enjoyed going up to the cemetery for moments of peace at the end of the day.
At the end of the services I gently patted grandma’s casket and told her I loved her. There is a beautiful crab tree in bloom right over grandma and grandpa’s grave and it was full of pink flowers. I plucked one of the blooms and set it on her casket before I walked away to join my husband and son.
Everyone was hungry at the luncheon and I was humbled by the church and everything they did to help my family. They provided a huge table of food and a kind woman plated up my mother’s food so she could keep both of her hands on her walker. My two-year old nephew, who has also been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, ran around the church basement in his little suit with a mischievous grin on his face. Despite the sadness in my dad’s heart, this little fella did not fail to make Dad smile.
That evening a storm rolled in. When the rain started to fall a double rainbow formed. It stretched from the edge of the Judith Mountains to the front of the house. Over the edge of the mountains, lightning started to strike. The Judith’s took on an otherworldy, orange color and they lightly glowed in the setting sun. The closing of the day we said goodbye to grandma could not have been more beautiful.
The next day, my son said “Mom, the lightning was there along with the rainbows because great grandma was sassy.” Well said son, I thought. I cannot think of a better closing to the great novel of my grandma’s full life. You have inspired me to live more, love more and fear less; to be bold and be myself; and to refuse to take a backseat in life. Rest in peace grandma – you were a warrior and an artist who painted the most vivid picture of life.
Today’s song of the day is Could Have Been Me by The Struts. When I listened to the lyrics, I wanted to jump up and shout the lyrics along with the song.
Don’t wanna live as an untold story Rather go out in a blaze of glory I can’t hear you, I don’t fear you I’ll live now cause the bad die last Dodging bullets with your broken past I can’t hear you, I don’t fear you now
Wrapped in your regret What a waste of blood and sweat Oh oh oh
I wanna taste love and pain Wanna feel pride and shame I don’t wanna take my time Don’t wanna waste one line I wanna live better days Never look back and say Could have been me It could have been me Yeah
Don’t wanna live as an unsung melody I’d rather listen to the silence telling me I can’t hear you, I won’t fear you Don’t wanna wake up on Monday morning The thought of work’s getting my skin crawling I can’t fear you, I don’t hear you now
We all have songs that speak to our hearts. This particular song has since the first time I heard it. I think that three of the worst phrases along with “I can’t” are phrases that include the words coulda, woulda and shoulda. I use these words far more than I ought to and I want to say them less. If I live to be an old woman, I want to look back and know that I lived the best days I could in service and love. I hope to be able to look back and know that I changed the world in some way, even by encouraging and uplifting others.
We all have a song in our hearts and many of us are afraid to live out the melodies that God places in us. Fear can only keep us from living with purpose and without regret if we allow it to. Our pasts cannot keep us from having an excellent finish. When we refuse to allow fear and mistakes of our past to keep us from pursuing our dreams and showing up each and every day as our best selves, then we will not have to say “It could have been me.”
My grandmother of 92 years is in hospice care. I drove over to see her last week and was taken aback by how frail she looked. As I sat next to her and talked to her, I kept looking at her hands. I thought of everything her hands accomplished during her life – raising three boys; taking care of a home; breeding and raising beagles; growing, picking, and canning massive amounts of vegetables every year; shooting and processing deer every year; raising and caring for rabbits; boarding dogs; creating art and building things; and living a full life. Her hands became still on her blanket as she slept, and I watched her hands raising up and down to match her breathing as I thought of everything they accomplished during her life.
Grandma only said what needed to be said and she said it with truth and boldness. I honestly cannot remember her ever making small talk. The funniest thing I remember hearing her say to date was about a woman sitting in the waiting room with her as she waited for the eye doctor: “She talked and talked for 30 minutes and didn’t say a thing.” Grandma listened and I know this because she always had a remedy or an idea for just about anything. When Dave had to go into the hospital for a stomach ulcer, her advice was to have him eat some lamb. When I wrote to her about our finches and the eggs that were being laid, she gave me tips on caring for a female that was having a hard time passing the eggs. I told grandma once how much I enjoyed hearing chickadees and she told me that she always knew when a deer was around because the chickadees would start chirping. I am thankful for every moment I have had with her and I will always try to follow her example in many areas of my life.
Equally amazing is my sister and our good friend, both of whom are caring for my grandma. The sacrifices they are making, the dedication, and the love they are pouring out for her truly humbles me beyond words.
We are not here on this earth just to exist, waiting for Friday every week and dreading Mondays. We are here to love, create, serve, worship, lift others up, and bless one another. One of the greatest gifts God gives us is the opportunity to care for others – whether it is hands on caregiving, offering a smile to a stranger or encouragement to a co-worker, donating our time or resources to people in need or simply being who God created us to be with no fear holding us back – only holy boldness and beautiful hands.