My dearest grieving friends

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There is so much I could tell you, so many things that I’ve learned, but I know that, unfortunately, this is a solitary road and you will often feel like you are walking it alone.

But I am writing this to hopefully remind you that no matter what you feel, you are normal. It’s been felt before, it’s been said before and it’s been thought before.

In the beginning you will feel very confused. You will be sad, but the sadness doesn’t yet take hold of your daily life. You are in shock. Some days you will wake up and it will take you a moment to remember what happened. Your entire world just came crashing down, it takes awhile for the dust to settle.

You will count the days at first. It’s been 4 days since I’ve seen their face. It’s been 7 days since I’ve heard their voice. Soon it will be weeks that you count and then months, but at some point, you will lose track and when that happens, something else inside you breaks. This is your normal now. Evidence that time really does make you forget and that will hurt. Get used to random things hurting. This doesn’t fade.

You will run into well-meaning people that will, honestly, try to make you feel better with all sorts of well-meaning words. Some things will help, but most often it will just make you want to run away from the situation, hide your face and your feelings from the world. Don’t feel bad about that. You have an open wound, one that needs time to heal. What most people don’t understand is that the looks of pity and the questions about the pain just reopen a wound that you are desperately trying to keep protected. This will get easier.

There will also be people who will tell you that they understand your loss because they lost something too. I could give you an endless list of what people have related my loss to. A job, a dog, a great-aunt who was 101. Sometimes this will make you angry, but try to remember this one thing, they don’t understand, because no one can. The relationship you had with your loved one was unlike an other relationship you have ever had and will ever have. No one can completely understand your loss. I can meet someone tomorrow whose daughter was tragically killed in a car accident at 17, and guess what? They can sympathize with me on a level that most cannot, but they didn’t lose their Grace Elizabeth, their first born, best friend, with the sweaty nose and heavy feet. I can’t fault anyone for not getting that. Your relationship was special and unique. This will eventually give you comfort.

The five stages of grief are not complete and are not gospel. They are a guideline, one that was established for terminally ill patients nearing death, not necessarily a grieving heart. I can say, from experience, you can go through all 5 stages in a matter of minutes and you can probably add like 10 more. Don’t get stuck in what a book tells you to feel. Don’t let anyone tell you what your grief walk should look like. Respect the journey. The highs and lows alike will be unique to you, but let yourself feel them all. Don’t allow yourself to check out. When it overwhelms you, be overwhelmed, it’s healthy and natural.

There will be days when it takes everything in you to simply get out of bed. This won’t necessarily be in the first months. Studies show that it take about 6 months for the initial shock of grief to subside, and some say that the 9 month marker is the worst. People will tell you the 1 year anniversary is terrible and still others will say the second year is the hardest. When it hits (and it might be multiple times) it will hit hard. It can consume you. There were nights, if I can be honest, that I hoped with everything in me that I didn’t wake up in the morning. That may seem incredibly selfish, considering what I have to live for, but when all you want is to wrap your arms around the one you lost, your life loses its value and eternity becomes very appealing.

I could write pages, probably a book, of things you might feel, of things I have felt. The days that seeing her picture makes me smile, or the days that I avoid seeing anything that reminds me of her at all. How good it feels when someone mentions her name or tells me a memory, but the sting that accompanies it every single time. Learning that it’s ok to laugh again. Letting God place particular people in your life, maybe completely unexpected ones, that end up becoming your greatest support. Learning who you are all over again. Staying in comfort zones, where people know you, they know your story, so you can avoid the overwhelming anxiety of talking to someone new and the possibility of them asking any questions that might require you to talk about it. The fear that you will never be the same again. The pain, that slowly fades, but still remains, with every breath, with every sigh and with every memory.

Write down a list of what you know to be true. It can be anything. The first thing on our list, a week after the accident, was that it was cold out. We knew that for sure. Our list went on, though, with other things that we knew were true. God was still on the throne and we still loved Him. We knew that we were surrounded by people that loved us. This will help.

My dear friend, you are not alone. Many have been on this road, I have been on this road. I’ve walked it, I’ve crawled it, I’ve been carried a time or two, and sometimes, still, I just lay down, unable to move forward at all. You are normal, this is necessary, but God is near

All my love, as we journey together.

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My dearest grieving friends

Stalemate

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My dad was a tool and die guy. He owned his own company and for most of my childhood, his shop was located in a garage in our backyard. We spent countless hours in that shop. Working on the drill press, or shining some steel that needed to be packed up and sent away. We could make a few dollars cleaning up the endless amount of steel chips that covered the concrete floor or sit by the Bridgeport and tell him about our school day while he worked. My dad liked to create things. It came with the work, I suppose. I remember one time he proudly came into the house to show Amy and I the new earrings he had made us. It was one of those moments where you smile and say thank you, knowing full well you would never wear a pair of earrings made of scrap steel to junior high. The teasing was bad enough as it was, without homemade jewelry.

My favorite homemade creation of his though, was a chess piece he made to replace the rook we lost. The rook is the corner piece, the tower. Although, if I remember correctly, our rook had a face and arms. He looked more like a statue from Easter Island, but we needed him. Often, after a long day at work, my dad would come home, eat dinner and then challenge either Amy or I to a game of chess. This didn’t happen every night, but when it did, I would quickly find something, anything else to do. I loved setting up the board, but I hated playing the game. A few reasons, I think. First, my dad never just let us beat him. He was not the type to worry about us needing a win here or there. He wanted us to know the game and fight for our victory. Second, I’m not a fan of competition. I don’t like the way it makes me feel. I understand that some people thrive in that environment, but I don’t. I know that about myself, and I’m ok with it. And finally, chess frustrated me. It wasn’t the losing, the check or checkmate that irritated me, as much as the stalemate games. The ones where you are left with no more options. It’s not good, it’s not bad, you didn’t win, you didn’t lose, it’s nothing. A stalemate. Restart the game.

Grief takes you on so many different roads. For months I was a wreck. I cried all the time. I woke up with puffy, swollen eyes each morning, and learned how to apply eyeliner on uneven lids like a prize fighter. There were months that I spent angry. Little things would make me upset. I’m pretty good at keeping my words in check, but I would hit our punching bag until my knuckles bled. Then there were days, sometimes weeks of feeling sorry for myself, hating the life I was living and wishing it had been me and not her. Often these roads, or stages like some call them, would repeat…still repeat. Sadness, anger, self-pity, and so many more, in that order or out of that order, lasting for days or months or maybe just hours. Looping around, for who knows how long.

But my least favorite road, the one that I’ve found myself on sometimes, completely without warning, is numbness. This is not listed in the 5 basic grief stages, so if you find yourself here, please know, it’s normal too.

In my life it looks something like this….

A very sweet friend of mine passed away last week. She was older and she had spent the last 8 months of her life in and out of rehab and in a lot of pain, but as I sat at her funeral recently, I felt nothing. No tears, no sadness, nothing. I’ve been here before, so I know when this wave subsides I will again feel the normal emotions that come when a person you love passes away, but for now, no win, no lose, stalemate.

This is not to say that I’m feeling nothing about anything. I found Grace’s old iPod the other day and after charging it, I was overcome with joy, amidst the sobs, when I found video and audio of her that I had never before seen or heard. Minutes of her voice, her smile, her laughter. Things I miss more and more as each day passes. So I feel, I cry, I’m sad, but only about this loss. While I’m on this path of indifference, it’s like I can’t handle any more than just this one thing.

These are the days I depend on the Truth, what I know to be real. The love of my heavenly Father and the love of my family and friends.

So many times since my dad’s death, I have wished that I could make the short walk from our house to the shop, sit on the work bench next to the Bridgeport and just talk to him about life and the twists and turns it’s taken. He would listen, like he always did, until I was all done, and instead of trying to fix the problems, he would hug me and tell me that he loved me. He understood that while he could fix the chess board or fix us a pair of earrings, he could not fix our hearts. That was something only God could do.

Sometimes in life, like in chess, a stalemate is called. There are no more moves to make and no clear winner can be determined. It might be frustrating and I might hate it, but I’ve learned, especially in the last 18 months, to just clear the board and start again.

 

Stalemate

Marble Hope

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It took much longer than I had anticipated. We sat down with the funeral director over 10 months ago picking out the shape, the color, what the words would say, which picture would be etched in the marble. Then spring blossomed and bloomed, the summer breezed through, and the fall left its color. The few times I would visit, the only marker was a small plastic plaque with just a name and two dates. One date carrying with it one of my greatest memories, the other date, my worst fears realized.

They told us it would take a while. They said the type of stone we chose would have to be shipped in from overseas, but I needed it to happen, and I can’t even explain why.

So on Tuesday, this past week, we got the call. The area had been shoveled out from the recent snow storm, and the stone was set in place.

I was hoping that it would give me peace, a sense of completion, I guess, and it did, sorta.

I waited until Wednesday to see it. The black marble heart is visible from the road. It stands out like my beautiful Grace did. The words, etched in the stone, Love God, Love Others, were the very words she lived by. And the picture, taken in the summer of 2015, reflects the joy that poured out of her on a daily basis.

It’s perfect. It’s beautiful. It’s exactly what I had hoped it would be…

But, it’s cold. It’s marble. It’s a stone and the emotion that overwhelmed me was not peace.

A sense of finality rushed over me. The last piece to this tragic puzzle had been put in its place. I have nothing left to accomplish for my girl. It’s done. Now memories become my task. Making sure I don’t forget her voice, her walk, the way her nose would bead with sweat.

And oddly enough, while I knelt in the snow, with my fingertips numb from the frozen stone and my forehead pressed against her picture, my thoughts settled on Christmas, at least why we celebrate this season.   

Death entered this world through the fall of a man, but death is not the end because of the birth of a man. God desired eternity with us and so we celebrate Jesus. Isn’t that really what we rejoice in?

The fact that even in grief, there is hope. Even in tragedy, there can be peace. Even in the middle of a cemetery, surrounded by empty, soulless tombs, the promise of eternity can cause a flame that will burn at the hearts of man, melting away the ice of death.

I found myself hoping again. It’s always there. Sometimes the hope can be strong and thick, sometimes, it just barely flickers, but it’s always there.

Hope for a future home. Hope that my arms will hold my Grace again. Hope that death holds no victory.

Hope…wrapped up and laying in a manger.   

Marble Hope