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Category Archives: Grief and Loss

The Blue Armchair and the Presence of God

The Blue Airmchair and the Presence of GodI could feel his presence as I entered each room. He had only been gone one year; past conversations and memories bopped around in my mind—random flashes of the past with no clear timeline. Dad making himself known in my heart and thoughts. His love was tangible. The house was pregnant with his solid faith and unconditional love. We missed him terribly, but we walked the legacy he set in place before us. With each step of remembrance, I felt his nod of approval, his pleasure.

It was the first time in his home since he had passed. I was so relieved his blue recliner chair was there, the leather worn in places where his hands used to push forward to fold out for a nap. The seat of it revealed the wear of a consistent presence like the dent in a blanket left by a warm dog after it gets up and stretches.

During some of our last visits, an external bladder pouch sat next to him on the floor, taking the role his cancer-ridden organ used to play. Sweet as he was, he used to ask if it would upset my children to see it. I was honestly glad they did. They remember the battle he fought so courageously and the toll it took. His robe would hang slightly open where the tube delivered its contents to the pouch on the floor. None of us minded. At the time, we were so grateful he was still with us.

I can’t look at that chair without seeing the red-white tufts of hair poking out over its high back or the freckled, hairy, lanky arms sitting on the armrests.  Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Part 2: How to Make Holidays More Joyful

when-youre-in-pain_-how-to-make-holidays-more-joyful-2Last week, I listed five very basic, non-festive ways to find more peace and joy during the upcoming holidays if you’re dealing with loss or a difficult season of life. This time I want to focus on how to get through the celebrations, parties, gifting, and busy schedule on the low energy you may be feeling.

1. Simplify your calendar.

Another way of saying this is: Choose your events wisely.

Do not overload your schedule. While this may be great advice during any holiday season, it is especially important when you are feeling depleted, sad, or stressed. You do not have to see The Nutcracker, attend your neighbor’s open house, or participate in five Secret Santas or white elephant gift exchanges just because you have in past years.

You also do not need to focus on anyone else’s expectations or worry about letting people down. If they are true relationships, they will have grace for your “free pass” year. Introvert or extrovert, you only have so much energy to go around when your strength is spent right now getting through the day to day.

While some people may not understand because their expectation levels do not match your reality at the moment, this is a good way for them to learn to respond with grace to those who are hurting. Or maybe you need space from people with inflexible demands right now. Either way, do not carry the extra weight around of pleasing other people.

Because I’m introverted, I limited my holidays outings to two occasions last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas: an open house at a friend’s house and a women’s Christmas tea. I also cancelled my involvement in Small Business Saturday at my church and a meal at someone else’s home. It was the best thing I could have done for myself. I had the enthusiasm for a few events, even though they were difficult because my father’s passing was still fresh.

I remember wanting to return home after the first five minutes at the open house because I met some very outgoing people who wanted to engage at a high intellectual level when I really just wanted to sit in the comforting presence of a few people I knew and sip something warm. I am very glad I made myself go, but I am also thankful I graciously stopped the conversation to be with low-engaging folks in the other room. I just needed to be with people, so I didn’t isolate, but I had no ability to fake holiday cheer.

Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. 

2. Be a minimalist in décor.

I have teens and a tween at home. Skipping all holiday décor was not a Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When You’re in Pain: How to Make Holidays More Joyful, Part 1

when-youre-in-pain_-how-to-make-holidays-more-joyfulLast week, I dove straight into some of the reasons my own holidays can be painful. Since I know many people struggle this time of year, I thought it might be nice to turn the pain around and find ways to make this season better.

Next week I will address holiday celebration more directly, but for now, here are some basic non-festive suggestions to ease the pain.

1. If you can be around a pet of any kind, do it.

Seriously, pet therapy is so healing. If you have resident furballs already, you know what I’m talking about. I have two Shih Tzus who love to hang out on our laps, but during my darkest hours last winter, I enjoyed my friend’s Golden Retriever and Yellow Lab. They sensed my sadness and immediately came to me. The Golden maintained a protective stance and leaned into me the entire time. The mere weight of that was comforting and ministered to me.

Is it any wonder that animals are so good for the soul? They were created by God, and He “knows” them.

Psalm 50:10-11, ESV

For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.

God uses animals to describe the coming peace that Christ (root of Jesse) will bring. Isn’t that beautiful?

Isaiah 11:6-10, ESV

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

If you are allergic to pets, try cultivating a houseplant. I was given one when my father passed, and I’ve really enjoyed taking care of it and watching it grow. My younger son and I also grow a sunflower every summer. Working the ground is always good, so planting bulbs is possible this time of year—but hurry, Baby, it’s cold outside!

2. Nature watch.
Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When Holidays Are Painful

when-holidays-are-painful-3It was a dreary, overcast day when I pulled into the parking lot at the counseling center in New Hampshire. I had made the 40-minute trip so many times before, almost on autopilot, but this time it had been about eight weeks since my last visit. I knew we were approaching November, the month that shook me down—several times in my life, actually. Around this time last year, I thought I’d be spending the rest of my life in fetal position crying out to God from under the covers; the devastation of loss and grieving without a funeral where family could gather to comfort one another almost did me in.

So I walked into the nurse’s office, sat down, and must have looked very tired. She asked me how I was and kept staring intently as if she didn’t believe me when I said I was doing well.

“It’s closing in on the first anniversary of your father’s death, you know. How are you preparing for that?”

Um, yeah, so I’m not, really. I’ve done everything I can to push it out of my head. As Thanksgiving approaches and I remember how shut out I felt this time last year from holding his hand one last time as he lost consciousness, I just want to skip past all holidays and land on January 1, 2017. (I wouldn’t mind skipping Election Day either. Let’s just try again this time next year, shall we? Restart?)

You see, November and I go way back.

We got off to a good start when I started dating my husband (now of 23 years) on November 18, 1990.

Almost two decades later, circumstances derailed me. In the midst of significant depression Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Letting Go: When We Enter a New Chapter

letting-go-when-we-enter-a-new-chapterThis past summer I spent a week packing boxes with dear friends of mine moving back East from the West Coast. We made many trips to used bookstores, donation centers, and the dumpster. We wrapped their lives up into 11 categories—little compartments of 49 years of marriage rolled into newspapers, bubble wrap, and cardboard.

Waiting to be opened on the other side of a house sale and cross-country move, each box was evidence of life well-lived—together, real, and raw—caught within memories, fondly received presents, mementos from vacations, mugs for special occasions, and dated photographs. A mere song on the radio triggered a reflective wave of “remember when.”

We laughed ourselves silly going through shelves of books at 2 AM—how difficult it was to part with those pages from scattered memories and loved ones over five decades. We sobbed over discovered treasures from their childhoods. While not always easy, life had been good to them. I could see the value placed in considering each piece of it.

So, I asked myself:

How do we pack a lifetime into one 12 inch x 12 inch x 12 inch square at a time?

And the overall decision awaiting us as we dragged packing materials into each room?

Keep, donate, or throw out?

My friend, the wife, had so much courage, incredible stamina, and amazing strength as she divided her life into categories and choices. How do you take a 49 year marriage and family life and split it into thirds? How do you give away your life? How do you decide what to save and what to let go of?

I don’t know, but as I watched her do it, I knew deep within me that it is something we must all do. Self-reflection and life sorting is not only healthy, but it also opens space.

I had to move into a new chapter recently, one I really didn’t want: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Our Journey For Joshua

Our Journey For Joshua

Once again, it is my great delight to share a piece from Tammie Wommack’s beautiful heart here at Espressos of Faith. Tammie lost her son Joshua in 2008 to suicide. Ever since, she and her husband Rick have been slowly healing and are passionate about sharing their journey, hope, and paths to finding peace and joy again with other grieving families. They are also fiercely committed to suicide prevention. Their story is an amazingly redemptive one. I hope your heart is encouraged and loved on by her sincere words.

Tammie and I first crossed paths in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, where we were both living at the time, rocked by different circumstances in each of our lives. God has reconnected us, and I’m so thankful for her courage, vulnerability, and willingness to be used by God to help others. May God continue to bless you, Tammie (and Rick)!

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As Rick and I travel around this beautiful country, moving from one destination to the next, we eventually find ourselves heading back to Clarksville, Tennessee, for many reasons: our precious grandchildren who keep us young, our friends who have been a lifeline and anchor for us on this grief journey, business matters that must be taken care of so we can stay on the road, doctor appointments, etc.

Our arrival to Clarksville is always mixed with so many different emotions. My heart, mind, body, and soul begin to prepare days before we get to what I call the “Joshua Zone.” I brace myself for the overwhelming rush of emotions that I know I will experience.

Grief is truly a very rough and long roller coaster ride. For me, the emotions are always followed by the temptation to drink alcohol so that I cannot feel that rush of emotions I know await me as I enter the city limits. I feel like I have to be constantly on guard.

The length of time we stay and the number of our visits has varied over the years, but the feelings are still just as strong now as they were the first time we had to travel back there after Joshua died. It seems I am never really able to let my guard down until we are heading out of the city of Clarksville, Tennessee.

While I write about my grief often, I don’t always talk about my temptation to Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Exchanging My Sackcloth for Gladness

Exchanging My Sackcloth for GladnessSometimes we think if our pain isn’t instantly taken away, God has somehow left us. God doesn’t abandon people. People abandon people.

And people walk away from God.

Despite my heart’s desire, I wasn’t able to see my father as he lay dying for about 10 days between Thanksgiving and the beginning of December. The choice was made for me.

The wreckage that has left in my heart and mind in the days since, just three and a half short months ago, cannot even be adequately described. Pain like this does not even have a name or definition. Grief doesn’t quite describe it. Trauma comes close. It’s like three elephants sit on my chest every day. Sometimes they get off to go get something to eat, but they usually wander back without warning and sit back on top of me again. It’s paralyzing.

Maybe you have made it through or are currently facing something similar.

I don’t know much right now, but I do claim this: I know more than I ever have how near God is to the brokenhearted because when the elephant sits on me, the panic that ensues only calms down when I remember Christ is holding my hand.

Please understand: I don’t stop hurting. It’s not a rescue.

It’s a presence, and it’s one I can fully trust.

Why? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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