How many of us have taken for granted a rushed hug as we headed out the door to work? A hand rubbed across our back or shoulders as we rolled over to go to sleep? That quick peck on the cheek as you exchange kid duties with one parent coming and the other going? Those little things . . . I took them for granted.
Of course my children hug me, my parents do, my friends do, my friends’ children do . . . but it just isn’t the same. I’m so tired this week — teaching all day, coaching, shuttling kids, and an event every night keeping us out late. I wanted nothing more than to snuggle into warm arms for moment of comfort, but they aren’t here anymore. And now I realize all the moments that rushed through a hug or a kiss or a snuggle to move on to the next thing in life. That’s when life gets in the way of living it, right?
Make it your goal this holiday season to not let life with all it’s demands and schedules and obligations be what drives you. Instead, let time with loved ones, gestures of love, and a celebration of Christ’s birth be your driving force. Scale down on the gifts, the commitments. Scale up on the time spent with those you love. Tell them you love them, hug a little longer. Share the story of that fateful night in Bethlehem and watch Hallmark Christmas movies. Celebrate the season by taking a break.
Yesterday a particular picture caught my eye. You see, I have snapshots from across the years tucked into the frames of the kitchen and laundry room cabinets. Reminders to my children of the joyous moments they have had with family and friends. This particular picture was before their time . . . it was the photo from the first Christmas card my husband and I sent out as a married couple. There we were hunkered down in front of God’s greenery each lovingly holding a beagle with an arm wrapped around our Rottweiler who was seated between us. So many memories in that picture of trying to get all three pups to look at the camera and to keep from blinking in the sun; choosing our outfits so we were coordinated; the Christmas card – almost a right of passage as an adult. I had to resist thinking “and from that picture I am the only one left.”
Before I let the sadness in too far I looked at our young faces; at the innocent grins. We had the world at our doorstep and a bright future of adventure. We had endless possibilities.
The bible makes many references to the possibilities granted us through God:
Matthew 19:26 “And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Luke 1:37 “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Mark 9:23 And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”
And yet here I am and the possibility of being together on Christmas just doesn’t seem possible. And yet it IS. The presence of my husband is ALWAYS in my heart. The pictures, the memories, the traditions . . . he is part of all of them. God has made this possible. He has given me the gift of time; He has given me the capacity of memory; He has given my two amazing girls whose eyes reflect their daddy everyday. If we can only open our eyes, if we can look past the grief to what we still have we will realize how many blessings we have. Count your blessings first. Count your endless possibilities. You may find that the list is so long that you don’t have time to count your grief.
In this holiday season I think too often people forget the true reason we celebrate – the birth of Christ. His birth saved us; gave us eternal life. In the same way the birth of our deceased loved ones gave us something too.
Yesterday my husband would have been 40. So young but he departed even younger. Because he is not here should we not celebrate him? NO! Like Jesus, his presence is evident in my daily life. I see God and Jesus in each new birth; in rainbows and blooming flowers; in the smile of friends and the prayers of strangers. My husband I see each time I look into my childrens’ eyes; each time I walk through the house I see memories of times past; in the china pattern and the decor my husband is there. So yes, we still celebrate his birth.
My daughters and I played hooky from school yesterday and visited the zoo. We have been members as a family for many years and it was a place we enjoyed together. It was a gorgeous day – quiet and filled with smiles. My girls made cookies from scratch and we finished the day with dinner at an old favorite restaurant. My husband, their father, was in everything we did yesterday celebrating him. Just because someone is gone physically doesn’t mean we have to let them be gone in every way. Don’t mourn for your loss but celebrate their life. Give them tribute through living and being joyful. This is the greatest give we can give . . . the gift of life; the gift Jesus gave us so long ago.
Anger. That primal emotion that erupts unbidden from the very depths of our soul. That reaction we wish we could harness and make heel like an obedient pet. That fuel that burns uncontrollably. Anger. White, hot anger that even tears cannot squelch. That is what I feel. I guess some days I have to remember that it is a blessing to feel anything at all as depression has robbed me of many emotions. It has not robbed me of anger.
And with anger comes guilt. The idea that I have no right to be angry at my husband; to be angry at God. But anger is a very human emotion. And I do have a right to be angry as long as I don’t live there in anger. Maybe another widow or widower would understand. Other people try to but I’m not sure they can fully fathom the power of that anger. I am angry that my husband suffered depression before he died and that it made our lives so stressful. I am angry that the multiple treatments we tried didn’t work. I am angry that my children had to be exposed to his depression. I am angry that he died and left us. I am angry that sometimes my children will say they would rather be with him or prefer him or that he let them do x, y, or z because I don’t so obviously I am the mean parent. Try competing with a ghost. It sucks. A ghost can do no wrong and you sure as hell better not try to ruin the image of that ghost for a child clinging to their own kind of reality. No, have patience, the truth will come later. I am angry that I have to juggle all the responsibilities meant for a couple by myself. I am angry at my friends who live in matrimonial normalcy. I am angry when they have someone to call after a big event and I well, don’t. I could call a friend, my kids . . . but it’s not the same. I am angry that no one else in this world feels the weight of responsibility for my children with me; no one who can truly feel the same worry, care, frustration because they are no one else’s kids on this earth except for mine. I am angry that I am depressed. I am angry that I cry without warning. I am angry when I feel irritated and lose my temper with my kids or pets. I am just angry.
And you know what, I am going to stay here and be angry for a little while. I am going to embrace it and feel it. I am not going to try to justify my anger, I am not going to try to explain it. I am going to just be with it. Maybe by not fighting it, it will burn out and leave me exhausted and empty and READY to be filled with the emotion that comes next. Acceptance maybe? Guilt? Sadness? Will there be space for joy? There are no two roads to choose from in these woods – just one path straight through the darkest part of the forest.
I’d like to wrap all my wounds in scripture and find comfort there but honestly, sometimes I just can’t . . . or won’t. Not always sure which. My brother got married last weekend. It was beautiful; an absolutely stunning ceremony followed by an equally lovely reception. I hosted the rehearsal dinner. Halfway through my welcome toast I ended it and sat down. No one noticed. Everyone was oblivious to the pain and hurt cocooned in my chest as I watched my dearly beloved brother grin in love and happiness. Who knew one could feel such dichotomous emotions at once? I felt – and feel – so much happiness for him. We are very close and I want nothing more for him than to see him happy and well loved. But at the same time this evil bloom of jealousy and pain sprung. Why can’t I recapture that feeling of happiness? And what if he has to suffer the same pain I have?
When the “what ifs” strike and the swords of jealousy what does God want of us? See the truth is we are only human. We will get jealous. We will feel pain. We will feel anger. Do we strike out? Do we vent and rage? Boy, I sure want to sometimes! I want a target for my anger. A place to lay blame for my pain. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we are comforted with “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so you can endure it.” My brother’s pure joy and happiness was my way out. It overshadowed the devil’s attempt at jealousy. And the pain? That searing, sharp pain of a reminder of all I have lost . . . Romans 8:18 reminds me “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Yes, I feel the pain now, but not forever; and my husband is even now living in that glory free from pain and suffering; free from the bounds of depression. Yes, let us focus on the glory that is to come.
Time is a fluid thing . . . everyday has the same number of hours but admittedly all days don’t feel the same do they? The other night as I was walking out of my kitchen I glanced at the container holding all the children’s medicines. A bottle of cold medicine had spilled in it and it needed to be cleaned out before it could be put away. I walked past it and in the split-second glance I thought “Ryan will take care of that.” and kept walking. Except, . . . except. Ryan has been dead for over a year. That time thing. Like a vortex in time I for a moment was living in a world where Ryan was still alive and part of our household. A time when Ryan handled those types of messes and I handled the type that actually required getting the children to help. A time when our lives weren’t partially defined by what was no longer in it.
I’m not sure how many times my mind has played this trick on me, but it’s been a while and I was a few steps away before I realized what my mind had told me. And then realized it was wrong. And then grieved all over again. In some ways it’s like early onset Alzheimer’s . . . I relive the same grief over and over again. Not sure why it works this way but I have to imagine I’m not the only one. Is God giving me a moment of normalcy or a moment to remember why I should appreciate each day? Have I started taking life for granted again? In some ways, yes I have. Life moves on and we have to savor each day.
Yep, no nice way to put it. Sometimes it just sucks. I doubt that any of us walk into a marriage wishing for early widowhood or even widowhood period. When it comes in your 30s from an accident the shock takes a long, long time to wear off. You function on automatic the best you can especially when there are children to care for. But eventually that shock wears off. The numbness fades and all that is left is feeling. And those feelings are like none other. If you haven’t experienced it you can’t understand it, and you have experienced it you can’t find the exact right words to explain it.
Grief follows no direct course despite what psychologists would have us believe. We move in and out of the stages, not in any linear order, but as if chaos has overtaken our lives. There are days I’d like to just stay in bed. To close my eyes and block it all out. But I don’t. I get up, I take care of my responsibilities and I move forward. I try to stay engaged with life but sometimes it’s just not possible. And that’s when it really sucks. It’s like being the sick kid in the neighborhood watching from behind a window while everyone else plays and knowing I should be there but not knowing how to get there. I feel trapped, heavy like lead, and tired – bone tired. And on those days the I comfort myself with the fact that my children and animals are fed and cared for, loved.
I have an acquaintance who lost her husband about six months before me. Also a mother whose children were a few years older than mine. I saw her the other night and it was clear it was one of those “sometimes it just sucks” days for her. But I also know she has had a lot more of those than I have and I wonder what makes some of us more resilient. How is it that I am finding more joy in life than she is right now? How is it that I’m not drowning myself in alcohol to get away? Is it that I look towards God to guide me? That I carry Him in my heart and believe in His plan even when I don’t agree with it? I don’t know for sure but I think this is probably it. I haven’t lost sight of His love or lost faith in His plan. Some days I’d like to, but I don’t. Some days still just suck, but I know better ones are yet to come.