Respect for the Graves

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.

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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.

 

Compassionate Critters

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.

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.

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Drew holding Sirius a few days after the funeral.

 

365 New Beginnings

As I look out the window at the last day of 2017, I am thankful for the beauty and perfection on display.  The snow is deep and smooth and it covers everything in a graceful blanket of white.  The sky is a soft blue with whispy clouds and the birds gently eat at the feeders.

Like many, I am ready to say goodbye to this year and hello to 2018.  I have never been one for resolutions or crash diets, but I do look forward to a new beginning.  I am ready to leave the difficulties of this year behind and carry with me the lessons learned and the things God has blessed me with into 2018.  God has blessed me with His strength and mercy every single morning that I opened my eyes.  His Word has given me guidance through difficulties and challenges and has given me comfort on my most painful days.  He has given me a loving, supportive husband and a wonderful son.  I was a bride’s maid in my niece’s wedding this past summer, and my husband and I were able to take a long overdue vacation to sunny California.  God has given me His comfort when I missed my son the most – if I would wake up dreaming that Christian is still with us or if I dreamt of losing him again.  I have learned the importance of balance and rest of the mind, body and soul and how loving ourselves is the foundation to everything in our lives.  By loving ourselves, we become more open to receiving the love of God.  God pours His love into our hearts until they overflow so we can in turn love others.

What are my intentions for the new year?

To love even more…

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To thank God for each new day and for the miracles He so graciously bestows upon us…

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To invest in the gifts God has given me so I can bless others with them…

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To serve others more…

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To do more to brighten another’s day, whether it’s a smile, holding open the door, letting a vehicle go ahead of me in traffic or sending a greeting card or letter…

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To keep my thoughts centered on the good things in life while letting go of the rest…

Each day is a new beginning, a chance to enjoy God’s mercy and love while experiencing His goodness which He promises us in His Word.  I wish all of you a peaceful, blessed 2018 and that all your hopes and dreams come to life while love flourishes in your hearts and daily lives.

 

 

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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Feed the Birds

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The state bird of Montana is the Western Meadowlark

When we moved into our first home in 2001, our realtor bought us a bird feeder.  I had never fed wild birds before but soon after, I found a perfect spot to hang it right outside of our dining room window.  At first a few sparrows would show up, but if they saw any movement at all on the other side of the window they would dart away.  I was told that they just needed to get used to us.  The sparrows would take a few days to empty the feeder and I slowly became consistent in making sure the feeder was filled.

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In sub zero temperatures I would sometimes feed them twice a day.

It didn’t take long for all of the birds in the vicinity to find out where the grub was located.  I started to fill the feeder daily and there were times in the winter when they would empty the feeder in about an hour!  Over the years our checklist of sighted birds has grown.  The number of finches and doves has grown each year.  An american goldfinch passes through and so do red winged blackbirds.  We really enjoy the babies in the spring.

Feeding the birds is costly, especially when they gobble it up, and it can also be messy and a hassle.  The benefits outweigh the work.  My two sons were disabled and over the years it became more difficult to leave the house.  We learned to find pleasure in the simple things – watching the birds.  We have seen the finch population increase with each passing year and have also seen more doves.  Chickadees frequent our feeder as well and they are the friendliest.

The summer before my oldest son, Christian, passed away, we had an abundance of birds.  He loved grackles and we had an abundance of them feasting and causing mayhem in the backyard.  The mourning dove population exploded with most of them perching on the power line in the alley.  We also have Eurasian collared doves.  Most of the time less than 10 will be here enjoying the safflower seed off of the sidewalk.  In the later part of summer, I looked out back and to my astonishment, there were 20 of them back there!

We had almost daily visits from this hawk last winter.
We had almost daily visits from this hawk last winter.

The winter after my son passed away was the darkest, coldest winter we had ever experienced.  The sparrows and finches gave us comfort when they were brave enough to visit the feeder and risk being snatched up by the hawk that lurked in my yard.  Today they cannot eat the food fast enough because the babies are very demanding.  It is such a joy to watch the parent finches watch over and feed their babies at my feeders.  My son Andrew and I believe that Christian is sending us birds to comfort us and to let us know that he is okay.  Over the last couple of days, we have had 2 doves perch on the lift right outside the dining room window and stare at us.

A male house finch at liftoff.
A male house finch at liftoff.

If you have a disabled parent or family member who is unable to leave the home frequently, a bird feeder is an excellent idea.  It is an easy, joyful form of entertainment and is something we will always enjoy and find comfort in.

Someone we would most like to have met

I haven’t posted in a few weeks.  Christian’s passing was just before the holiday season began and it was a lot to process.  I was happy to have my mother and sister here for Thanksgiving and it did help things to not be as overwhelmingly painful.  We shed more tears around Christmas but did find great comfort looking at the lights on the tree.  It was a different kind of Christmas all right.  It did help to go the the cemetery.  A friend of ours beat us to it and left a couple of gifts for Christian.

IMG_0306And my mother had a company in her town make a Darth Vader decoration for the grave.  Christian was very passionate about Star Wars and had a lot of empathy for Darth Vader (a post on that later).

IMG_0489Thanks to the comfort and strength of the Lord and the love and generosity of family and friends, we made it through our first holiday without our oldest son.

Around New Years, I picked up the paper and saw a headline called Montana heroes lost in 2014.  The article link is http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/local/2014/12/30/montana-heroes-lost/21076535/ .  I decided to read through the article and thought in my mind that Christian was our hero in so many ways.  I was in disbelief when I saw Christian listed in the article!  I was touched, I cried,  posted it on social media and let my family know.

My husband did the best job ever in writing the obituary.  Christian cared for others, he loved others, he was kind, courageous and intelligent.  He also had a great sense of humor and had the best laugh.  His smile.  I could write about his smile alone.  It’s impossible not to smile when you see the light radiating from his face.

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There are so many people that changed the lives of those they were close to just by being themselves.  Christian was one of them.  He wasn’t able to fly a plane or publish a novel but he did many smaller things that meant just as much.  He made us laugh, he received an art award in 2010, he helped out his grandparents with groceries and he always bought us the best gifts.  He made an impact on so many people with his love, grace and humor.  If there was any way he could help, he would do so to the fullest of his physical ability.  Christian inspired everyone he came into contact with, even if it was just once a few years ago.  I miss him and hurt in a way I cannot put into words, but I feel tremendously grateful to have had him in my life.  He left me many of his traits and as I heal, I will honor him by continuing his love, kindness, humor, courage and grace.