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

 

Beautiful Hands

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.

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Some of my fondest memories are being in grandma’s backyard or in her garden.

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.

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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.

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.

 

 

Goodbye Summer

Fall is by far my favorite season.  It brings golden leaves, bluer skies, and cool breezes.  After a summer dominated by smoke and fire, it was a great relief to see two days of rain and cooler temperatures.  I looked out the window and noticed something different along with seeing a blue sky – the trees were swaying.  It took me a while to realize that we barely had any wind since the heat and drought set in late June.  The wind usually blows so much that we practically fall over when it doesn’t, so welcome back wind!  I will try not to complain when you blow my hair all over the place!

With summer coming to a close and fall approaching fast, I wanted to share the highlights of my summer in photos.  I went for a visit to Lewistown in June and enjoyed taking Mom to dinner at the local Mexican restaurant.  I enjoyed several walks with my family, before the smoke rolled in, on the River’s Edge Trail.  My husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by taking a trip to San Jose and San Francisco.  We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot and it was exhilarating.  Finally, in August I was thrilled to see Drew in a tuxedo for the first time for my niece’s wedding.

I admit that the smokey skies made their way into my spirit.  I forgot that the smallest of gifts are the most important:  a mourning dove perched outside of the dining room window, the chatter of chickadees on my way back to the office, golden spots of sun on the floor, ceramic pigs strategically placed around my house by my neighbor for me to find, time with my husband on the couch watching Suits, and a smile from a coworker.

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I came across the quote in the picture above during one of my morning meditation sessions.  When we live in our heads, our lives can pass by unnoticed.  We miss the bird placed on a branch in the perfect place for us to look up and see him.  We miss the cloud in the sky shaped like a heart or the uplifting lyrics of a song.  It’s better to let our fearful thoughts pass by like clouds in the sky than to end up underneath them for months, even years.  Remember the cartoons when a character had a raining cloud over his head wherever he went?  That is exactly what it is like to live in our heads.  This is something I am guilty of and I have realized that life is far too precious to go by unnoticed for even a moment.

Next month will be three years since Christian passed away.  The turning leaves take me back to the months before his passing and it can be very painful – like it just happened.  As the day approaches I want to see the world as I would want Christian to see it – a miracle in process, given to us by a God who loves us.

 

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!

1000 Miracles

Two years ago today, we laid our son to rest.  We witnessed the love and support of many – our loving family, friends we hadn’t seen in years, and friends who traveled over mountain passes to say goodbye to our boy.  A bouquet of flowers sits on my kitchen table – an array of orange roses along with white, orange and purple flowers I cannot name.  When I awoke and walked into the dining room, the scent of the flowers made a picture of Christian’s room filled with flowers after the funeral flash into my mind.  I felt the hollowness and the ache of my boy being away from this earth.

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I took on a challenge of sorts and decided to begin this last Thursday – the day our boy passed away.  I am writing down at least 10 things a day that I am thankful for along with reading and reflecting on a devotional by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts.  After 3 days, I have learned more than I have in months, maybe even years.

I learned why my mind darkened and my heart closed to God’s grace.

My husband and I went through some old photographs – pictures of my sons when they could walk and stand.  Swimming, vacations to Disneyworld and Las Vegas, horseback riding and spending time doing so many fun, simple things in Lewistown with my parents, sisters, brother-in-law and cousins.  Those were the days when my heart was full of light.  I felt, witnessed and lived God’s grace.

As the boys lost the ability to walk, brush their teeth or even feed themselves, my heart slowing darkened.  When I needed God’s grace the most I closed myself off from it.  I didn’t realize at the time why it became harder for me to notice the miracles I always noticed before Christian’s health really started to decline.

Yesterday, I read these verses:

“For that which is known about God is evident to them and made plain to their inner consciousness…For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made.  So men are without excuse…they did not honor and glorify Him as God or give Him thanks…and their senseless minds were darkened.” -Romans 1:19-21

My heart began to hollow out when I stopped expressing my thankfulness to God for His gifts big and small.  He gave us so much to praise Him for and continues to each and every day.  When we notice and confess the goodness He so readily gives to us, our eyes open to His divinity which surrounds us all of the time.  I know now why I began to see an extra layer to life after Christian passed away.  I began to notice things that made my heart want to burst – colors in the sky I hadn’t noticed before, sunlight on a sparrow’s face as he enjoyed seeds from my feeder, the sounds of the wind blowing autumn leaves still attached to a cottonwood.

I went on a walk yesterday and noticed things I had not noticed weeks ago.  I am sure I looked funny because I stared in amazement at the Missouri River and the way the moving lines in the water reminded me of an orchestra, the golden leaves gently fluttering on the trees, and dogs with happy faces running in the dog park.

The more thankful I become, the more I see, feel and live God’s grace.

Remembering God’s Grace

Fall had always been my favorite season.  The beauty of the changing leaves and the flight of the starlings amazed me.  Since losing my son however, the arrival of Fall has brought with it a sense of dread.  Now, seeing the flowers wilt and the branches become bare make my heart ache.  This Thursday will be 2 years since we lost Christian.  As the yellow and orange leaves scattered my front lawn, I remembered going outside to take his photo on his last birthday.

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When they came to pick up the signs we rented for Christian’s birthday, I felt an ache in my heart and I didn’t know why.  The fact that we would lose him 15 days later was the furthest thing from my mind.

As the 27th approaches, I want to remember God’s grace.  I want to remember the kind things people did and said after Christian passed away.  Sure, the pain will be there but God’s grace can be in my heart too.  We literally had a roomful of flowers and a stack of sympathy cards – some from people I had never met such as a woman in Lewistown who gave us $100.  I remember my friends, Tracy and Amanda, coming over to the house and offering to help with the food after the services.  A woman from Kalispell who lost her son to the same disease just weeks prior drew me a picture of Christian.  My dad drew a picture and my mother helped as much as she could.  Another woman who lost her son to Duchenne MD flew in from Columbia Falls to attend the services.  Sara from Infinity Lofts set up a dove release for us at the graveside and let my son Andrew hold and release the first dove.  My good friend Michelle drove up from Lewistown and brought me something vegan to eat.  Our friends Mike and Monica brought us our groceries for a couple of months until I was ready to go to the store myself.  We received care packages from friends in Wyoming and Hawaii as well as family in Montana.

 

 

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We went back up to the cemetery a few days later to release more doves.  Drew was able to hold and release Sirius again.

The pain was unimaginable but God’s grace kept us from completely breaking.  Remembering the love and kindness of others makes the pain a little more bearable and gives me comfort even today.