Grief, Interrupted

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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.

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April from Kalispell drew this photo

 

Double Rainbow

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.

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Scars Strengthen Us

I read a story about four seeds in a book by Rev J. Martin called God’s Grace Is On The Way:  Let go, embrace love.  To sum it up, four seeds were taken up by the wind and dropped into a clearing in the jungle.  Their dream was to grow to be beautiful trees, towering over the jungle.  Three monkeys also lived in the clearing that liked to amuse themselves by throwing bananas at any plant that tried to grow.  This made it very difficult for the seeds to take root.  The seeds agreed that it would be better to wait for the group of monkeys to move on before they attempted to grow.

Weeks passed and one seed thought she should at least attempt it.  When she tried to grow, the monkeys pelted her with bananas.  She tried and tried, even after the other seeds asked her to stop trying.  She didn’t give up but kept trying harder and harder as the monkeys continued to attack the plant.

Then, one day, the monkeys hit her with bananas but none made her stoop over.  The little tree had taken so many blows that she was now full of hard knots and scars.  Her slim trunk had gotten thicker and more resistant and could now withstand the impact of a banana.  The monkeys were unable to uproot her.  She grew until she became the most majestic tree in the jungle.

When we are dealt a bad hand in life or end up facing all sorts of difficulties, it is easy to give up on our dreams and goals.  It could be bad news from the doctor, the loss of a loved one or financial difficulty that puts us in the middle of one of life’s storms.  The storms can be so bad that it is difficult to see the other side of the lake and we wonder how we will ever make it across to the other side.

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After recently being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I wasn’t sure if I could pursue my dreams any longer.  I thought about the loss of my son, Christian, his brother, Andrew,  who continues to fight his muscular dystrophy and my husband who lives with a heart condition.  After being pelted with several bunches of bananas I set my dreams aside.

When we make it to the other side of life’s storms we become more resilient and strong.  God can use us in amazing ways when we let Him give us the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other when life gets hard.  We can then be an inspiration to others who are dealing with their own difficulties.

We are all given gifts from God to make the world a better place.  Some of us sing, play instruments, serve, sew, write or draw.  Some of us are given the gift of inspiration.  It is amazing what a kind word or a little encouragement can do for the spirit of another.  No matter what difficulties come our way, we must never give up on the gifts that God graces us with.  He knows how important our gifts are so He will give us the strength we need to make it through life’s storms.

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A Year of Blessings

 

In the book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I am on gift number 548.  I started writing down God’s gifts last fall.  I have asked myself repeatedly why I haven’t reached 1000.  I admit that over the last year I have had a tendency to complain instead of offering praise to the Lord for His many gifts.

I did not fully understand the meaning of bittersweet until we lost our boy.  He suffered for the last year of his life and I felt relief (for him) mixed with profound heartache (for me) when he passed away.  Christian spent the last year of his life tilted back in his wheelchair to relieve his chronic pain.  He was able to read books on his iPhone because it was so lightweight and he played video games for limited amounts of time every day.  He lost the ability to play video games the night before he passed away.  He drove into the kitchen, held up his hands and said “Mom, my hands are not working.”  He didn’t want to be resuscitated or to live with a breathing tube and he hated hospitals.  Christian told me weeks before his passing that he wanted to die at home, in his own bed with his bird, Kiwi, in the room.

The pain we endured during the weeks and months that followed was unimaginable.  How was it possible that I experienced joy when I looked at the sky as it turned red and orange at sunset?  Why did everything look so much more beautiful after I lost my son?  It was like a layer was peeled away from my soul and everything that looked beautiful before now brought tears to my eyes.

Being thankful makes the pain more bearable – the pain of losing a loved one, of the violence in the world, the constant stream of negativity in the media – the pain of living in a broken world.  God gives us little presents each and every day and if we open our hearts and our eyes we will find them:  the chitter of a chickadee, the glint of sunlight on a soapy plate, steam rising from a hot cup of tea or an unexpected call from a loved one.

I have so much to be thankful for and I am making more of an effort to focus on blessings instead of burdens.  The Lord has given me strength to put one foot in front of the other on days when the loss feels fresh, He has blessed me with a loving husband and son, with an accessible home for Drew, a wonderful job, and a long awaited trip to California this past summer (thanks to my sister who came up from Wyoming to care for Drew).  God continues to bless us with His love, grace and healing.  He blesses me with the guidance and strength contained in His Word each and every morning.  As we thank the Lord for His goodness we become lights in a dark world and we give hope to those who are suffering.

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Lift Up your Eyes

“The Lord said to Abram after Lot had left him, Lift up now your eyes and look from the place where you are.” -Genesis 13:14

Lot and Abram had to separate because the land was not big enough to sustain all of their herds, helpers and goods.  Abram gave Lot the first choice on whether to choose the better land in the Jordan Valley or the less desirable land of Canaan.  Lot chose the Jordan Valley.

This story has great meaning in my life today.  It is far too easy to become discouraged because my sons were born with a life threatening disease without a cure.  God doesn’t want us to focus on everything we have lost.  He wants us to lift up our eyes and trust that He will lead us into a bright future filled with possibilities and joy.  It is impossible to notice His blessings and miracles when our eyes are focused on the ground or when our hearts and minds are stuck in the past.  God wants us to lift up our eyes and focus on everything we have, not on what we do not have.  When we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we will see that He has plans to bless us.

Only when we lift up our eyes can we see the blueness of the sky, the way the white clouds effortlessly float past the window, the bird on the branch, or the flower on the windowsill. When we thank the Lord for a new day the minute we open our eyes each morning, we invite His blessings into our daily lives.

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Looking up can bring us out of a state of depression and discouragement, and even help us to feel confident.  Today, I encourage you to believe that no matter how difficult your circumstances may be, God wants to bless you and prosper you.

New Roads Ahead

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As 2016 came to a close, I made a choice to let go of the past and keep my sights on what lies ahead.  I decided to do my best to only look back if I needed to smile or laugh.  I always love the prospect of a new beginning, a fresh start to the new year.  I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions; however, I believe in the power of intention and adopting new and empowering beliefs.

When we make a resolution for the new year or a new intention, what if we were to begin by believing that we are enough just as we are, that we are loved more than we could ever imagine or that we are worthy of the best things in life?

Rather than focus on the pain and difficulty of 2016, I want to take the lessons learned as well as the joyful memories.  I have learned the importance of gratitude, acceptance and compassion.  With each passing day without my son, I realize more and more how precious life is – a gift to be cherished and enjoyed.

The other morning, I came across the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.  I decided that the words of this prayer would mirror my New Year’s resolution.

francis-of-assisi_lr-2-900This prayer is an antidote to depression because it helps us to look outside of ourselves and in doing so, we may realize that our problems are not as monumental as they seem.  It also reminds us that by serving and loving others, we become God’s hands and feet.

Thank you for reading my blog in 2016.  I hope to post more frequently and most of all I hope to bring a ray of sunshine to someone’s day.  I hope you had a wonderful New Years and wish you a prosperous 2017!

God’s Love

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It is one of the most humbling yet empowering experiences ever to truly open our hearts and receive God’s love for us.  Sending His Son to us on Christmas day so long ago is ultimate proof of God’s love.

Why do our hearts break?  Because we have loved.  We love so much that our hearts feel that they could burst.  After Christian passed away, I felt my heart break.  Anyone who has lost a loved one or who has been separated from someone they love knows this pain.

When we accept God’s love for us, our hearts fill and when they break, perhaps this is how our love can flow out of our hearts to others.  We love others and ourselves with the love God gives to us so abundantly.  How would we live our lives if we truly accepted God’s love?  How much more would we be willing to serve others?  How much more would we invest in our God given talents and eventually use them to bless others?

God loves us for who we are.  God loves us despite our mistakes and failures.

The greatest gift we can receive this Christmas and every single day of our lives is God’s love.  The greatest gift we can give back is our hearts.