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.
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.
He stood next to me for a few minutes.
First he peeked around the corner at me.
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.
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.
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.
On the evening before Christian passed away he told me that all he wanted was to be able to look at things without being in pain. He wanted to watch his finch, Kiwi, hop around or relax in his cage. He wanted to gaze at birds at the feeder, beautiful sunsets, and stars in the night sky. Little did I know these were some of the last words he would say to me.
Tomorrow marks three years since Christian left this world to be with the Lord. Many think that with time it gets easier, but in some ways that is not so. It adds on another year since I have heard his voice and seen his sweet face. The ache in my heart feels stronger at moments and I remember things I would rather forget.
A few days ago I came across Psalm 27:4 “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek, inquire for, and require: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate, consider, and inquire in His temple.” Even though I have read and meditated on this verse before, it moved me to tears. I remembered what Christian said and I wondered if he knew he was going to die.
This scripture, among others, moved me to make more of an effort to gaze at the beauty of God’s creation and capture it in photographs. I find beauty in seeing the dark outline of tree branches against an autumn sunset, a patch of light on the tract books at work, a house finch resting on the shepherd’s hook, flowers on my table, squirrels playing around a tree at the park and Canadian geese lying down in the grass. In honor of my son I encourage you to take a photo of something beautiful and post it on social media. Noticing God’s abundant blessings and sharing them encourages others to focus on the goodness of God and also spreads more joy.