Dear August, I’m not a fan

My car has a feature where you can change the rearview mirror from an actual mirror to a camera view from the rear of the vehicle. When I first used it, it gave me a headache. It was as if my brain knew I should have been seeing a reflection and this was just not right. I’ve adapted and really love how great the view is behind the car, but I never see myself in the rearview mirror, a fact that I like, I don’t really want to look at me anyway, but others might not appreciate as I have no idea how bad my hair may look or if there is a piece of spinach in my teeth. I also can’t see passengers or cargo in the back of my vehicle which is beneficial to paying attention to the road, but adds to my oblivity.

This time of year is hard for me. August 2008 my dad, who was undergoing chemotherapy for Lymphoma, basically got sick with a cold that spiraled out of control killing him on August 26th. Strangely I had a very intuitive 13 year old that announced on the 25th we needed to go be with him. He died a few hours after we arrived. August 26th has always been this strange day that lingered between my mother’s birthday on the 25th and mine the 27th, it was just a day between two celebrations, now its a sad anniversary of a tragic event in our lives. I don’t know when I began to dislike my birthday. I remember a picture from 13th birthday in a cute pinafore dress my mother made, holding a store bought cake (store bought was a huge deal in my childhood, my mom could make EVERYTHING!) with a tiny plastic record player. I remember being excited to turn 30, because I was so excited to be a real adult, no longer looked at as, “oh she’s just a twenty-something.” I remembered that everyone said turning 50 was such a hard thing, so the boys and I spent the 50 days before my 50th birthday doing 50 random acts of kindness, it was so much fun!

But at some point I’ve grown to loathe being the center of attention. August 27, 2008 towers in my memory of what a horrible day to celebrate a birthday, there was in fact no celebration whatsoever that year, not really an acknowledgment of it all. We were all with mom at Great Wolf Lodge when dad was home sick and mom left early because she knew if he didn’t got to church it was serious. By my birthday later that month we would spend the day making funeral arrangements and writing dad’s obituary. The memory of writing dad’s obituary on my birthday has rather drowned out any good memory I have of actually having a “happy” birthday.

I left Odessa after dad’s funeral, and never really wanted to go back. I wanted to walk away from it all and I pretty much did. I had a busy life with a 7th grader and 4th grader and a traveling husband. If I’m honest with myself, my husband became everything my dad had been to me and more. I was married to my best friend, you hear that all the time and it seems cliché but he really was. He was smart, creative and a great dad to our kids. I easily focused on the now. Fast forward to 2016. I’m working two jobs focused on paying for college and private school while still saving for retirement and then Russell drives home on July 27th sick. I would discover later that his fever was so bad he had the heat on in his van, in Texas, in July! He took my car to the dealership because of some problem I can’t even remember now, went to the doctor and never really got out of bed again. September 9th he was dead, his body ravaged with infection that would eventually cause his heart to fail. I arrived in the hospital in the wee hours of the morning to find paramedics had taken over CPR on a clearly dead Russell. Suddenly the loss of dad eight years earlier was compounded by the loss of the person who completely filled that void in my life.

It’s not that I have no experience with death, or loss. My grandfather died in 1981, his dad in 1983, my dad in 2008, my grandmother in 2009,my brother-in-law in 2010, his mother in 2012. It’s not that any of those losses were insignificant. It’s just that each of them I faced with him, I got through them with him, I leaned on him. Then he’s gone and I feel I have no person left in which to lean on now. Now I am the one on whom others lean, and I feel very, very, weak and inadequate.

It’s now approaching five years since Russell died. Looking back is still painful and raw. I find myself dreading the end of summer because of the memories that haunt me so. I find my self tender, sensitive and easily emotional. It still doesn’t feel real. I’ve found myself thinking was it really September 9th? Do I have the date right? All a vain attempt of my mind to still not believe that it is real, that this is my story.

The thing about it is … my life is good, because God is good. He’s written a story that has taken turns I never wanted but also traveled roads I never would have had the courage to choose myself. Five years later, I’m growing older, my life is full and wonderful in so many ways, yet, I still desperately want to share my life, not with just someone, with THE one I pledged to love until death do us part. Yet I’m not dead. And that is not an accident. I am discovering day by day something God has in store for me. I’ve learned that while that relationship was vital, it is/was not essential. What is essential is that I have faith to face another day, no matter what that brings. God has numbered my days and each one counts, whether I want it to or not. Because HE lives, truly I can face tomorrow. I wish I didn’t know that he’s been gone 1,825 days. I wish he could meet our new daughter, I wish he could walk her down the isle to marry our son, because she doesn’t have a dad anymore either. I wish he could see how hard Paxton is working to get the education he needs to be successful and what a wonderful man he has become. I wish I could tell him about how hard and wonderful the last year has been for Ryan and how after some really, really dark days, he is coming into his own. I wish I could type theses words without crying. I know wrapped up in all this is that I have both had and lost the best thing that ever happened to me because the God who sustains me orchestrated the plan and gives me the strength to carry on, joy to drown out the sorrow, health and provision to continue to serve him and the will to continue to not only put one foot in front of another but joyfully serve Him everyday, especially when it’s hard. I am able to look at the big picture and say, “I am grateful.”

Reflection on loss

Friday, April 23, 2021 I’m watching Murder Among Mormons on Netflix. I’m enjoying seeing the places and remembering the time we lived in the Salt Lake Valley from 1997-2000. One of the bombs detonated was on Naniloa Street, which sounded awfully familiar to me. Because I’m too lazy to get off the couch, I google my friend Lana who I thought lived on Naniloa, she’s been on my (recently unused) Christmas Card list since we lived there. Much to my surprise, her address doesn’t come up, her obituary does! Evidently she died on April 8, 2021, her son shared her obituary on her Facebook page, but for some reason I missed it. I woke up this morning and thought, I had a dream I was just watching Netflix, thought of someone and learned they had died, oh wait, that really happened. She did in fact live on Naniloa, but the bomb went off on North Naniloa and she lived on South. But it got me to thinking…

My first thought was lucky dog! Her husband died in 2017, my jealously largely stems from the fact that she is done living those years as a widow. Many days, I want to be done, but evidently that’s not the plan. Jane Fonda gave an interesting Ted Talk about aging and using that time wisely back in 2011. You may not be a big fan of Jane Fonda, but this is certainly 11 minutes not wasted.

A life deserves to be remembered and my friend Lana certainly deserves to be honored. I met Lana at a very difficult time in my life. Following a nomadic husband, I found myself much a fish out of water transplanted in the Salt Lake Valley. This Texas girl from New Mexico experienced great culture shock! It seemed like EVERYONE was white and Mormon. Nothing wrong with being Mormon, except I was not! There was no Mexican food (not even Taco Bell!) or coke with caffeine, no one drank iced tea. My husband moved us to Utah in December then left me and a two year old for eight weeks with nothing but a snow shovel. I was the laughing stock of the neighborhood. I got a lot of pity help. But I found a job and a wonderful friend in my boss their. I don’t really remember what the job was that I applied for, but her sister was interviewing me and Lana came in and took over the interview because, looking at my resume, she wanted me in her HR department. It was the perfect job for me and I loved it. Then Paxton was born, Then Paxton was kicked out of daycare. My family was 1500 miles away. My husband worked ALL the time. And Lana could not have been more wonderful. She loved me and cared for me like I were her own. She found a niece with one young child that loved Paxton while I came into the office two days a week and worked from home the other three, in a time when that was completely unheard of. She was my lifeline in some of the toughest years of my life. And while deciding to move back to Texas was the best thing we ever did, giving her my resignation is the one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I want to say I’ll never forget her, but we do forget. My husband has been gone 1,688 days now. For some reason he’s been in my dreams a lot lately. Not usually pleasant dreams, I dreamt he went to prom and didn’t take me, never mind I never even knew him in high school and never even wanted to go to prom when I was in high school, (In my defense, I eat lunch with a bunch of high school girls everyday and their prom is this weekend, therefore, there has been A LOT of talk about prom this week.) but as I reflect on life 1,688 days out, its beginning to seem like my life with him was just a dream, the memory feeling more and more distant. And that I do not love that. I often dream he’s left me, I guess my mind is still trying to make sense of the fact he is gone. Nevertheless I continue writing my third act even though I really wanted to leave at intermission!

Thank you for loving me Lana Warner and having the patience to grow this crazy Texan into a better person. I’m glad you made the script.

The anniversary I never wanted

At the fourth anniversary of Russell’s death I really wanted to be able to write something profound and significant and life altering.  But I got nothing!!

What I do have is  four years of experience with profound grief, a few significant lessons and a life altered.

Just some things I’ve learned:

When Russell and I were married in 1986, due to my rebellious nature, we didn’t say the traditional marriage vows until an ‘I Still Do’ conference in 2000.  One of the speakers had us stand and restate the marriage vows to each other.  It may have been the first time we said the words, “Till death do us part.”  It was definitely the first time we really meant it.  The point of the speaker was, don’t give up, don’t walk away, stick with it to the end.  But when he actually died, I realized, I lied, my commitment to this relationship did not end. There was no magic that made me realize I could celebrate a commitment fulfilled, a goal reached.  It’s not like the end of a mortgage or paying off your car.  Being parted by death just plain sucks, I hate it, why would we promise it?

Grief makes you see things you would not otherwise see.  You appreciate a good meal most when you’re hungry.  A weekend is most treasured after a long hard work week.  Nothing makes you appreciate a shower like getting really dirty.   Grief is like that too. The deep pang of losing someone you counted on makes you really appreciate the relationships you still have.  And the value of what you’ve lost.  It helps you better understand others who have lost as well.

Grief is not just about physical death. We grieve all kinds of losses. A lot of people have experienced grief through the COVID-19 lock down. Carol Kent in her book A New Kind of Normal talks about grief in relationship to the life sentence her son received. She had to grieve the hopes and dreams they had for him and their family. Illness and disease causes us to grieve a future forever altered. We even grieve the loss of dreams when things don’t turn out like we thought they would. Once you know grief, you see it everywhere.

Grief is not a constant. It’s not like the loss of sight or hearing that you are constantly aware of.  My friend Lee describes grief as a companion you walk through life with and from time to time grief taps you on the shoulder and says, “Remember me.” She is not wrong.

Grief has mellowed me.  I used to be the first to jump into conflict and fight for my point of view, fight for others, or just to be right.  But grief has taught me that time is short, having relationships is way more important than being right.  I value relationships that I  took  for granted before.  It’s not just a cliche, you really never know when an interaction will be your last. Many arguments and conflicts are simply not worth the effort for me anymore.

Grief is important.  Latasha Morrison in Be the Bridge. talks about how grief and lament promote healing and understanding.  She’s talking about racial reconciliation, but her point that grief and lament promote healing is universal.  As humans we need to grieve.  As Christians it allows us to cry out to God for comfort and healing.  It is a long dark road that we must walk and while others will visit along the journey, in the end you must travel it alone.  It is a part of our journey that cannot be avoided.  To stuff it or ignore it is only to postpone it.  GriefShare teaches you to lean into grief rather than trying to avoid it because avoided grief lies dormant only until it grows to a point it can no longer be ignored and reeks havoc on the life we are trying to salvage. 

Grief is both universal and deeply personal.  There is no map or formula to navigate it, like the waves of the sea or a strong wind you surrender to it and see where it takes you.  It is not the same for two people.  Our boys have grieved their father very differently, they had very different relationships with him, they are different ages and different stages of life.  The deeply personal part makes it impossible to say, “I know how you feel because I lost ____________ too” is just straight up wrong.  I can’t know how you feel because we aren’t the same, our relationships were not the same, it’s just not the same.  I can have empathy or compassion for your situation, but I can’t really know. And honestly, it’s a pain I hope you never really know.

Grief and guilt are really good friends.  In many ways, my life is better today than it was four years ago.  It’s really, really hard to say that.  It feels like it does not honor the value of the person I lost.  It doesn’t acknowledge that much of the better is because of him and the plans he made to take care of us even after he was gone.  It doesn’t acknowledge that I’d give it all up to struggle with him again.  But that is guilt which Psychology Today says is ‘self-focused by socially relevant.’  We have a choice as to whether guilt holds us back or holds us accountable.  I have to seek balance between self-focused and self-absorbed.  Do I feel guilty because I’m wrong, uncomfortable or maybe just scared?

The blessing in a new season doesn’t replace the pain of a past season!

Eric Mason

Grief is both natural and unnatural.  While it is natural to grieve what we’ve lost, it’s unnatural in that we don’t know how to do it.  I’ve heard many times, “I don’t know how they survived ________.”  The blank being loss of a child, loss after a short marriage, loss after a long marriage, loss when you’re young, loss when  you’re old, loss of a sibling, a twin, a murder, a catastrophe but the reality is you could ask a hundred people and get a hundred answers.  How do you get through a loss?  Just like life, one step at a time.  Then one day you notice  you’re further down the road than you realized and have arrived at a destination you didn’t know existed…life after loss. 

The days become weeks, weeks become months, the months become years.  I try not to count them as time marches on with little, if no, consideration of me.  Still I lament, “We loved you everyday we had you.”

On Grief and Friendships

Someone posed the question at GriefShare: Do you think grief re-writes your address book?

I love the trees when their leaves are gone. They point to the beauty around them, birds nests, sunrises, sunsets, blue skies and gray skies. They also reveal damage from parasites and damaged limbs that need to be removed. Photo credit: Me 3/1/2018 7:34 a.m. headed out on a morning walk.

We used to sing this song in Girl Scouts, “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” Grief changes you, it changes your relationships. We tend to view friendships as either forever or failures but God places people in our lives for a season and seasons change. Old and new are both treasures!

I used to think that friendship was give and take. That the people I’ve been there for would be the people that were there for me, but that’s not always the case. God is dynamic and so are our relationships.

I think He places people in our lives for a purpose. We remember those who have been there for us in the past fondly but there is no obligation, you don’t owe them, they don’t owe you. As a follower of Christ you realize that we are obedient to Christ’s calling in our lives. When he shows a need, a place we can serve others, our obligation is to honor Him by serving others. Friendships based on debt don’t work. I can like you, I can think fondly of you, but I can’t keep score of kindness offered and treat it as a debt to be paid nor expect any kindness I’ve extended to be repaid. I can only grow from it and pay it forward. Kindness makes both the giver and receiver better.

Sadly no caption needed! Gardening and photo credit … me.

I think He places people in our lives for a season. When a deep freeze hits in the winter some plants do not survive, some are permanently damaged, some bounce back. Plants require different kinds of care in different seasons and we’re like that too. Sometimes we need more water than others, sometimes we need fertilizer, sometimes we need constant attention to rescue us from the brink of death, sometimes we don’t survive and sometimes we thrive. But none of the seasons are forever. They may seem like forever when you’re in them, they may last longer than we want, but they always change.

The rings in a tree tell us about the climate and atmosphere throughout the trees life, no year is the same. Photo credit: stolen from the internet

I remember growing up my dad used to burn the lawn in the early spring. It was fun getting to catch the grass on fire and keep it in check with the water hose but it left our yard black and dead looking and horrible. But then it came back so beautiful with all the bad stuff burned away. I still look at pampas grass and think, “That would look so much better if it were burned in the spring.” The pain in our lives also breeds new life, sometimes we have to be burnt to be beautiful.

to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

Isaiah 61:3

I think we get into trouble when we expect things from a relationship that only God can provide. It’s in our relationship with God that we can survive and thrive with ourselves. Time alone with God fills a need only God can fill. When we expect that unconditional love, acceptance and grace from humans, we will be disappointed. Everything outside of God is temporary. You can survive the loss of a spouse, a child, a friend, a parent, a grandparent because God never abandons you. You can ignore him but that doesn’t impact His existence. We tend to look at other’s loss and think, “I don’t know how you could survive that loss.” The truth is neither does the survivor. You survive by putting one foot in front of the other and every day choosing to move forward.

I think that is living in light of eternity. When we live knowing that the only constant relationship is with our creator we can put our other relationships into perspective. We can see our spouse, children, siblings, parents and friends as the gifts from God that they are. Treasures for the time we have them. Time isn’t the only measure of the depth of a relationship. A spouse lost after a few years or 62 years is still a huge loss. A child lost at a couple of minutes or 70 years is still devastating. Depth isn’t quantified just by time.

I heard one time, I wish I could remember where, that we have 30 seconds to respond to a prompting from the Holy Spirit. If you don’t act on it within 30 seconds you’ll either forget or talk yourself out of it. I don’t know if the 30 seconds is accurate but I know that when you have that idea, action is required – act now! It could mean the world to someone else, it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship, it could be kindness from a stranger that makes their day better and it will definitely leave you better! Let God be the author of your address book.