WHAT NOW?

She met eyes with the newly bereaved mother, there was instant connection and they collapsed into an understanding embrace. The tears flowed and the pain returned her to the day she became that mother. She knew what was ahead, she knew it was treacherous terrain and she knew sometimes there would be stumbles and falls. Some days would feel like they’d never end and some days would vanish from her mind. She knew every road was different and the journey had no end. She knew there would be twists and turns and sometimes she would feel lost and alone. Yes, she knew and she knew it would take everyone and everything to reach a new and different place, one she never wanted to find. She knew, because she had been there before.

As I looked into the eyes of my friend, they were the eyes I had looked into hundreds of times before, as I met many just embarking on their grief journey. I remember my own vision seemed clouded and blurry and although I functioned quite well, I was just going through the motions. I wasn’t consciously deciding anything, I was merely a participant in my own life. Sort of an autopilot or robotic movement that moved me physically, but the emotional part of me was nonexistent. That was, of course, until I stopped and realized what had really happened and that life was changed forever.

When you are thrust into the world of grief, it is scary and unnerving. There are no guidelines, no rules, no timeline. It is as if you are dropped alone on a desert island and the challenge is merely to survive. It is not to have a nice home, food on the table, or a nice car. It is to wake up, get through the daylight hours as best you can, and to finally close your eyes hoping tomorrow will be easier, then gently escaping into sleep. New grief is like new shoes, uncomfortable, confining, often painful and all you really want is to slip back into the old ones. The fit was right, they were soft and maybe a little loose in places. You don’t want those to be thrown out, you may even protest a little. you loved those shoes, but now you are not given a choice and you are forced to wear the new ones, like it or not.

When the fog starts to lift, you become keenly aware of life around you. You watch people go about their day as if nothing ever happened. The world continues to turn and you feel like it’s revolving around you and you are stationary. Your feet are heavy, your legs feel paralyzed so you just stand there, still, immobile, frozen in place.

Eventually, you start to look around again and your next question becomes “what now”? Of all the newly bereaved I have been honored to sit with in their pain, every single one has asked me what to do to get better. There is no real answer to this question because it is different for every individual. So much love was felt and now so much pain. The first thing that I think you have to realize is this…Love never dies. Regardless of the circumstances, love is forever and deep love is going to be accompanied by deep grief.

The next hurdle becomes incorporating the loss into your everyday life. Many believe healing is “letting go” or “leaving behind” the person you loved. Nothing is farther from the truth. This was my biggest fear in the beginning. I was so afraid that any step forward was away from my daughter. I, through lots of hard work, realized it was the exact opposite. I learned to take her with me and she travels with me everywhere I go. She is at every holiday, every event, every milestone, the good, the bad and the unexpected. She is a driving force in my everyday life. Her force is from within while my two surviving daughters are my driving force from without. Her spirit is as strong today as it was the day she died.

This brings me to “what now”? That is the challenge I found the most daunting. I didn’t have a cause, I couldn’t build a building or provide a scholarship. I needed to find my “what now” and I starting looking into the eyes of those families hurting like mine. I started reaching out and trying to learn ways to help someone navigate this lonely journey. If I could help one person then that helped me to heal. I have been so blessed to share the best moments in life through my work as a nurse in Labor and Delivery and I have been blessed to share the worst moments of life through not only my work, but through my grief work. It is an honor to help bring a baby into the world. It is an honor to sit with someone in their hours of grief. It is an honor to hold a hand as a loved one passes. It is an honor to be the person someone looks to for comfort and advice in their darkest hours. I have been blessed to have all of these experiences and even though my own road gets a bit rocky at times, someone who understands has always been there for me. I am honored that you read my blog, just my take on the grief journey, the words of a bereaved mother, daughter, wife and friend.

On October 9, 2021, Alan Pedersen, father of Ashley, will take you on his journey from tragedy to triumph. He will share how he used his most devastating moment to find the “what now”. If you are local, please join us. It will be a day that you will remember forever.

GOD IS GREAT…

The fourteen year old fresh-faced teen got ready for church like she always did, crisp ironed dress, dressy shoes, hair combed and clipped to keep out of her eyes. It was a normal Sunday morning as she began the short walk to the little church on the hill. She couldn’t wait to see her friends in Sunday School followed by church. She loved her pastor, he seemed more like a grandfather to her or at least what she envisioned a grandfather to be. He was gentle and kind and had a way of telling stories that made you feel you were there, in the moment, living out the story with him. She scooted into the pew, sitting with friends and their parents, quickly grabbed the Hymnal and marked the pages listed in the bulletin. She then settled for the next hour of worship, song and feeling happy at being a part of this group of people. They were adults that taught her in Sunday School, chaperoned camp in the summer, led Training Union and anything and everything that was needed for the youth in the church.

As the service came to a close and the final hymn was started, she felt a push forward. That was odd she thought as she looked over her shoulder and saw nothing there. It happened again and she began to feel pulled toward the front of the church. People were going forward to accept Jesus and while she had been thinking about it, she wasn’t quite sure what that meant or even if she was ready. She felt it again, but more forceful this time. It was as if she couldn’t hold back and she slid out of the pew and walked the aisle to the waiting arms of her beloved pastor. Her life would change forever.

This young teen was, of course, me. This is a story I have only told to my closest family, probably 4 total people, until recently when I shared it with my Sunday School class. Why did it feel that the time was right? Why now? Why them?

Religion and faith have always been a very private thing for me. I don’t know what made me feel that way or was I afraid to share with others? The world is a tough place and I learned very young not to discuss religion or politics unless you wanted to see unrest. These subjects can become so passionate that it can destroy families and friendships. I don’t think I was afraid, but I just didn’t feel it was their business and frankly, I didn’t want their opinion. I was my own person and didn’t feel the need to broach the subject.

Today, I feel like I want to tell you about how I feel God has worked in my life. It’s totally ok if you don’t agree and I respect that, but I want to share my journey. If you don’t believe or are skeptical, please humor me, and read anyway.

That young girl grew up in a simpler time or so she thought. Her mother was something special and she knew it from the beginning. She had no idea how hard her mom’s life had been or how she persevered. She just saw goodness in her and in how she helped others. I believe God gave me this mom to show me love and compassion for others, love of family and loyalty to all who helped you on the journey. She gave me an incredible work ethic and a respect for the wisdom of the ones who walked before us. She taught us to take care of each other and to always remember to live life with purpose and intention. My mom taught me “God is great” to say before meals and “ Now I lay me down to sleep” to say as my head hit the pillow. She was truly my hero. I still say that prayer to this day, because everything she told me was true.

In 1970, the phone rang and informed my mom that the Marshall University football team had been killed in a plane crash. My brother was on that team. It was discovered in the next few hours that he had left the team the week prior and was not on the plane with his beloved teammates. I remember the shock and sadness that surrounded that time. I remember my beloved pastor showing up at our door, even though mom wasn’t attending his church at that time. I’m sure there was grief everywhere, but I don’t remember that part. What I do remember is praying my brother was safe and praying for all the families of his teammates and the little baby that was at our house that Sunday before who in an instant lost his daddy.

Throughout my life, I remember good times and tough times and in those tough times, I remember praying for whatever the need was. Sometimes I may have prayed selfishly for what I wanted or wanted to happen. I know I didn’t say enough thank you’s for all the good things in my life. I, like many, resorted to prayer and looked to God when I needed him the most. Now I know I should have been more diligent when things were good to show my appreciation. See, I know He is there, I know He cares for me and I know He will never let me down, but it falls to me to do the right thing, to make the right decisions and to depend on Him all the time, not just the lean times.

I have never been great at letting go and placing things in His hands. I am working on that. My husband always joked about me being “controlling” “Type A” he said. He was right about that and in the last few years I have learned a lot. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

I have learned you can’t control what happens to you, just how you respond to it.

I’ve learned that a long healthy life is not promised and you need to live each day to the fullest.

I’ve learned that no matter how bad things are, there is a silver lining somewhere, you just have to look for it.

I’ve learned that being a Christian is a life style, not just on Sunday, but everyday.

I’ve learned you don’t have to tell everyone you are a Christian, because your behavior is obvious to others.

I’ve learned that while I don’t want to make waves, it’s important to say how I feel.

I’ve learned to pray for the outcome I hope for, along with being able to handle a different outcome with grace and acceptance.

I’ve learned to say “Thank you” for my many, many blessings in what seems like a challenging life at times.

Most of all I’ve learned that no matter what happens, the world goes on. There are bumps on every highway and as time passes, they often get more treacherous and dangerous. Sometimes they cause you to run off the road, maybe have an accident. You couldn’t always see the road ahead, maybe you didn’t see the danger, or maybe you did and drove it anyway. Maybe, just maybe, you thought you were in control.

I’ve learned I’m not.

AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE…

The ball has started rolling down the mountain, first at a slow pace and a gradual incline and then suddenly it started picking up speed, twisting and turning as if on an old mountain road. It hasn’t reached the bottom yet, but I know it will. It’s just a matter of time. So I will wait patiently in anticipation, knowing it is imminent. That ball is just a big old mass of grief that always returns at the beginning of Spring.

My life changed on the first day of Spring in 2010. Lindsey, my 29 year old daughter, died suddenly. It was Easter week. In March 2013, my mom died at 85 years of age, we buried her on Easter week. Along came April 2019 and my beloved husband of 46 years died and the next day was Easter Sunday. You see, for me, this is a series of events that has caused me to collapse and recover, only to collapse and recover again and again. The moment I thought I had my feet firmly planted in my new life, boom it hit again. So today as I put new flowers at the cemetery, I started thinking about the series of events that have brought me to this place. I wasn’t sure how I felt and honestly, I felt numb.

As I took the long road home, I began to assess my life and what it’s like to be me. I became overwhelmed and as my eyes started to well up, I felt an intense amount of gratitude. In this blog, I want to express gratitude for everyone and everything that has brought me to this moment.

To the hoards of people who stood in line to see us when Lindsey died, I thank you.

To the friends that stayed by my side, doing anything and everything to get us through the day, I thank you. To the one that sacrificed her own health to be there, I thank you. To the one who came from out of town leaving her own family and sat in silence beside me, I thank you. To the one who never left my side, at times sleeping on my floor, I thank you. To the one who always shows up at just the right time and does whatever is needed, I thank you. To the neighbors and friends, old and new, who showed up with food, flowers, cards, a cherished hug, I thank you.

To the first person that hugged me and helped me find the Compassionate Friends meeting, I thank you. To the faces I saw and still see in that room that gave me Hope, I thank you. To those I met along the journey who helped me find my way, eventually giving me the strength to help others, I thank you. To those I met at conferences that showed me you could survive and thrive, I thank you. To the one that carries my daughters name around the country helping others, I thank you.

To the doctor that sat down and held my hand and shared a personal story of grief and survival, I thank you. To the doctor that encouraged me to give myself grace and accept help, I thank you.

To my coworkers who came, cried with me, sent cards, sent gifts and let me be me when I returned to work, I thank you. To the patient who asked me how many children I had on my first night back, I thank you. To the patient who asked if she could pray for me because she felt I had something heavy on my heart, I thank you.

To the person who taught me that grief is emotional pain and that you can let go of that pain carrying your precious loved ones memories with you, I thank you. To the Grief Recovery Methods founders, I thank you.

To the throngs of nurses with the tears flowing, who watched my first grandchild heading to the NICU 17 years ago with a grim prognosis, I thank you. To those who cared for my daughters with difficult and uncertain pregnancy complications, I thank you. To the NICU nurses who felt our pain and continued to do their job with amazing results, I thank you. To the Neonatologist that smiled at me and said, “she is going to be alright”, I thank you. To the doctor who never gave up trying to get a healthy baby, sacrificing her time off to care for my daughters, I thank you. To the doctors whom I’ve been with for over 40 years now and have supported me in every way and who always show up, I thank you.

To the resident with the bright red hair that sat with me at the hospital in December of 1981, after we had learned our 3 year old had a life threatening disease and might not survive, I thank you.

To the friend who reached out and got Rick appointments that would have taken months to get, I thank you. To the team in the clinic at VCU that offered him a smile and renewed hope, I thank you.

To the people who learned of Rick’s illness and reached out to offer help and hope, I thank you. To those who braved the long lines to speak to us and give us hugs and memories, I thank you. To all his high school friends and childhood friends who reached out during his illness, it meant more than you will ever know, I thank you. To the few that got to visit and took the time to sit with him and share stories, I thank you.

To his childhood friend who decided retirement meant going into the ministry, who visited and comforted us in those last days, even helping us renew our vows, I thank you. To the church family I have found and lift me up, I thank you.

To those who knew and loved my mom and share their stories, I thank you. To someone special who sung her favorite hymn in her last hour, I thank you.

To all those grieving a loss of any kind that have allowed me to share that space and their hearts, I thank you.

To those who read my blog as I share my pain, my joy, my triumphs along the way, I thank you.

To Rick’s family for loving us and supporting us, I thank you. To my family for the continued love and support, I truly thank you. To my grandchildren for making me smile and laugh and showing me unconditional love and joy, I thank you.

To my girls, Amanda and Tiffany, I think you are amazing and I thank you. At the end of the day, we may be here and it may be hard at times, but I believe, with all my heart, we will be together again.

So although Easter week is a challenge for me, it is the epitome of Hope. It is the promise of forever, it is renewed beginnings. To God for giving me this wonderful life and this amazing family, I thank you.

Wishing everyone a peaceful and beautiful Easter morning.

WEATHER THE STORM…

The minute I realized I was grieving an immeasurable loss, I began to read everything I could find on grief and grieving. It was almost an obsession to find the directions for navigating this emotion. I remember my daughter commenting “There should be a book of instructions for this. It should tell you what to expect as the days pass, how you’ll feel, what you’ll be able to do or not do, where you will be able to go and when the pain will start to lessen.” Will you be able to pick up life as you knew it before the loss or will life never be the same. Clearly, I know the answer to that now, but I didn’t know then.

I read about grief and healing and began to recognize myself in each and every chapter. Some mention types of grief, some stages of grief and some even have stories from grievers. The one thing they all have in common is this…Grief is something you can’t control. You can try and you can fight it and at times you think you have it under control…just to be brought to your knees in an instant, crying the tears you thought you no longer had. The predictable thing about grief is “It is unpredictable”.

A common theme in the many books, blogs, websites, podcasts etc. is an analogy to the weather. I have come to believe there is no better comparison than this.

Life begins usually in a very positive way. Birth, itself, is a miracle. I know this because I have witnessed thousands of births in 40+ years of nursing. It is most often happy and joyous, much like a beautiful sunny day . With the sun comes warmth and a feeling of hope. This usually means getting outside if you can, enjoying nature, playing with the children, all of the things that bring joy. People are smiling, families are together, neighbors talk over fences to catch up. The sound of laughter resonates from every direction. Can you see this scene in your mind? I sure can.

This is when life is going along, things are calm, somewhat normal even, then, boom life events happen and the sun disappears behind the clouds, the winds start to blow and everything you were feeling is gone, in an instant, gone. It is replaced with cold, damp rain and a feeling of uncertainty. Normal tasks become more difficult, smiles are replaced with sadness. You feel pinned in, you find it difficult to see the opening in the clouds. Isn’t this much like the way we feel in grief. It’s as if someone took our sunshine away and honestly, they did.

Eventually the fog lifts and the sun ever so gently appears again, bringing with it all the good feelings and sunny days, however, there are times that cold, damp rain is more like a tornado or a hurricane. It slips in unnoticed and wreaks havoc on our life. It rips off roofs and destroys foundations. It is like an angry mob destroying everything in its path, with no thought as to the aftermath. How will we pick up the pieces, how will we go on. How extensive is the loss? Sometimes it’s small and sometimes it’s insurmountable. Where is the book with the directions? Where do we go from here?

Doesn’t this remind you of the grief journey? Sometimes it is slow and steady and gradually you lose bits and pieces of your life. Other times, it is that tornado, ripping apart your life from the foundation up. Over the last eleven years, I’ve heard many ask if it was easier on loved ones if they knew death was coming and they had more time to say the things they needed to say or was it easier when it was sudden with no warning at all. The answer to that is this…It is all hard and whatever is happening to you is the hardest of all.

Life has its ups and downs. Life has its dreary days, but the thing about the weather is this…the clouds lift, the rain stops, the winds cease to blow and the sun returns sometimes bringing with it a rainbow. You see, we have to weather those dreary days in order to see the sun again. We have to feel the cold damp rain in order to appreciate the feeling of the warmth on our face. The storms will always come, but so will the sun.

Enjoy your sunny days, whether they be long or short, enjoy them like you never have before. Make memories. Feel the warmth and listen to the sounds of Spring. Cherish the moment so that when the storms return you will be ready, umbrella handy and the memories you stored of those sunny days will sustain you once again and keep your eyes peeled because you may even see a rainbow.

ALL HEART…

It has been a long time since my last post. I honestly haven’t had anything I felt was worthy of your attention. Grief is grief and I don’t want to repeat over and over what you already know. I want you to read this because there is something to take away from it. I want some tidbit to stay with you and somewhere, someday, it may help you through a moment, an event, a holiday or whatever you find to be a challenge. If that has happened for you already, I would love to hear your story.

Today I sit, looking out over snow and ice, and thinking about Valentines Day. Many say it is just another ploy to generate income for businesses, Rick called it a “Hallmark” holiday. The card industry usually does well as do the floral and candy shops. I started thinking and the symbol is of course the heart. It is about love and caring and the sentiment that you are special.

I was struck this morning about how much the heart symbol and the word means in our life. The heart is the reason we are here. Being a medical person, I was drawn to this realization that without our heart, we cannot survive. It is the single most vital organ in our body and if there is even a hiccup in function, we must get is fixed right away. The beating heart is why we feel alive.

For those who were fortunate enough to hear their baby’s heart for the first time, can you remember the exhilaration you felt? It is the very beginning of life and will be a part of everything you feel, say or do for the entirety of your existence. The heart becomes a reality at birth and that little human immediately occupies a spot in your heart forever. It doesn’t matter how long or how short the journey, your heart holds a permanent space for that love. No matter how many times you experience it, another spot opens up and the heart swells to accommodate it.

You are loved by your parents as I described, but your first experience will be your love for them. As you met eyes the first time, it was instant and your heart held that space. Your parents are your true foundation and although there may be bumps in the road, the heart is where you feel it the most. Not all parents are perfect, actually none of them are, but to you they are your world, simple as that. They set the tone for how you live your life, what you value, how you treat others. Their lessons are simple and to the point. My mom taught me the “Golden Rule”. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Can you imagine if everyone lived by that one simple rule, it would definitely be a different world.

Next is that love of a sibling, if you are blessed with a brother or sister. It is your first and always, lifelong friend. You bond over what you have in common and you bicker over what you don’t. You have a unique relationship that no one else understands. It is your first “best friend”. Often you don’t realize this until later in life, as you go your separate ways. Some sibling are close, some are not, but the tie that binds runs very deep and should never be ignored. Your sibling occupies another part of your heart. It’s getting a bit crowded you’re thinking, but the heart is phenomenal because it can hold all it needs to and continue to have open spots for the future.

This brings us to the love you develop for a partner, someone you start to share yourself with. It is first that excitement and anticipation which later becomes someone you can count on and someone you trust. It is like panning for gold and finally, there in the bottom of the pan is a small almost inconspicuous nugget that becomes your soulmate. Now of course, everyone isn’t that lucky and may have to pan a lifetime looking for that nugget. Those who find it are blessed indeed and the heart fills in all the empty spaces with this new love.

There are many other spots that can be filled with aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends. Friends may come and go, it’s like a temporary parking spot because as you meander through life, friends will take a space. Many are there for a short time and some will finally take a permanent spot. These are the people you don’t see everyday but will always hold a sacred place, and the mere thought of that time will make you feel warm and loved.

This all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? That glorious organ that is like an expandable storage unit for all that is good, but what about the times that life isn’t good. What happens when bad things happen? Where does all that stored love go. Well I can tell you this for sure. The heart can break and it may happen many times over a lifetime. That incredible, muscular pump that keeps us alive can also shatter into a million tiny pieces.

So what happens inside? A Cardiac Surgeon can often put you back together physically, but how do you repair emotional pain. Where does the stored love go? Is it like a glass vase that can be glued or a tire to be patched? No dear friends, it cannot be physically repaired because it is not a physical problem. It is all that stored up love, all those precious memories, all that is never going to be again.

Here is my theory. First you have to want to put the pieces back together. You have to want a future even though you have lost a precious loved one. I think this is the most difficult step. The overwhelming pain far outweighs the desire to survive. You have to work to overcome the pain, it’s like rehab for the heart. In order to build that heart muscle, you start by exercising, eating healthy and changing certain things that you can control. With emotional pain, you do the same thing. You never forget what it was like before and you never will. That is the most wonderful part of all. You never forget.

Now what happens to the space in your heart that holds the love for that person? It starts to scar and creates permanence. No one can take its place. Your heart is changed and you are changed. You will never be the same physically after a cardiac incident. You will never be the same after a loss. People want you to, because it’s easier that way. They can’t make it go away so they just wish it wasn’t there and you could be who you were. Not going to happen. You’ll never be that person again, but you will grow into a different and possibly more compassionate and understanding person. You will help mend those broken hearts with whatever you have to offer. It may be words or deeds or merely being present, helping them as their rehab is slow and arduous at times. You will watch them struggle with the treadmill of life, knowing if they let go, they will go flying off their path. You will let them be who they are now and not wish it could be like the old days. You will give them space to grieve, to cry, to laugh, to grow and to survive. This is what will help you on your journey when things just don’t turn out the way you thought.

Yes, the heart is an amazing thing and definitely deserves star billing in the cinema of life. It holds space for love as well as for pain and in the end, it is what makes life work. It keeps us alive physically and it fills us emotionally. No wonder it is a symbol of happiness as well as love.

Have a wonderful Valentines Day.

Our last Valentines Day together.

THROUGH A CHILD’S EYES…

The anticipation was almost more than she could handle. It was Christmas after all and in this little girl’s world, it was magic. She anxiously waited as her mom got ready and the two would head off to go Christmas shopping downtown. It was Richmond, Va. at holiday time, always a treat for the little girl with the rosy cheeks, and she never looked more forward to anything. As she plundered through her closet, she found her new Christmas dress, slipped into her black patent leather Mary Janes, combed her hair and donned her coat, carefully placing gloves in the pockets. Next to grab her purse, then scurrying to get her mom and head to the bus stop.

Her mom could sense the anticipation, and although Christmas had always been a challenge for her, she always went the extra mile to make it special. Money was tight and gifts were a real extravagance. She wasn’t sure how she could do it this year, but there was no choice. The sparkle of joy in the little girl’s eyes was all she needed for motivation. As they entered the Miller & Rhoads store, they were fascinated by the decorations, wreaths and garland, beautiful displays filled with tinsel and the promise of a very special day.

First step was always to go to the Book Department to see an old neighbor. The little girl was excited to see her in her work environment. She looked so important standing amid the novels and mysteries. After a few minutes, she was busy with customers again and the duo of mom and daughter headed off to see Santa. As they stepped on the elevator, the special one that went to SantaLand, the elevator operator wished them a wonderful time on their visit. It was as if she knew this would be a day she would always remember.

The entryway was filled with decorations, wooden soldiers, teddy bears, snowflakes, and polar bears and also people, lots and lots of people. Quickly they grabbed a place in line and the wait began. Now the lines were long, and many times started on a different floor, because at the end of this line was none other than the “Real Santa Claus”. The young believer knew there were mall Santas and others in Santa suits, ringing bells and seeing children, but this, THIS WAS THE REAL THING…SANTA CLAUS himself, straight from the North Pole.

Her heart was racing as she moved through the line, getting closer and closer, finally getting a glimpse of his beautiful white beard, his bright red suit and the light bouncing off of his shiny black boots. She was mesmerized, and there, to his right, was the magnificent Snow Queen, in the sparkling white gown that glistened in the light.

She could hear his voice now and as he turned to the Snow Queen, he called for the next child and each one he called by name. He knew their name even before he met them, because after all, he was Santa. He reached for the toddlers and placed them on his knee and settled back with the screaming infants, cuddling them close, while older children gathered around his chair. One by one, they told him what they wanted for Christmas as pictures were taken. He never made promises, but promised “Old Santa would try very hard to fulfill their wishes”, and off they went.

It was almost guaranteed that Santa would have to go check on his reindeer at some point, but he promised to return. The crowd would settle in for the much anticipated return, when suddenly a boot would appear in the fireplace, then another and then Santa looking refreshed and ready to hear more wishes. Before he could continue, he would ask for his mirror and brush and everyone watched in awe as he combed his white hair and beard. Finishing with a comment about how handsome he was, he settled into the chair adorned in gold and red velvet and called for the next wide eyed child.

It was her turn now and she approached the Snow Queen with pure awe. She felt the excitement all the way to the toes of her Mary Janes. When asked her name, she shyly answered and lo and behold, Santa turned and called her by name “Come over and see old Santa and let’s talk about what you want for Christmas” He reached for her with his white gloved hands and lifted her ever so gently to his knee. She gazed in his eyes and his beard was as white as snow. He had white bushy eyebrows and a bit of a crooked nose. “Have you been a good girl this year?, he asked. “Yes sir” she answered, voice barely above a whisper. There was always a special doll on the list with a few other things and with that, Santa placed the little girl firmly on the floor, pointing her in the direction of her mom anxiously waiting for her.

Next stop, the Tea Room, where the two would enjoy lunch together, discussing the visit and finishing up with Reindeer Cake. This was a rare treat as eating out was sort of a luxury for this little family. Back to the elevator with the nice person who asked where you wanted to go and actually pushed the buttons for you. The Bakery was next and there in the case were the most beautiful desserts the little girl had ever seen. Purchases would include a chocolate bar cake, homemade mints in pastel colors and sometimes there would be an eclair or a cream horn as a special treat. It was all packed ever so gently, in black and white checkered boxes and it was handled with care all the way home.

A visit to Santa would not have been complete without visiting Bruce the Spruce, the talking Christmas tree. There were special times that children could talk and sing with Bruce throughout the day as the magic continued. A little shopping after that usually crossing the street to the other major department store, Thalhimers. Picking up a few gifts, looking at the decorations and watching people scurrying around with huge shopping bags of Christmas treats.

As the day ended and the blue sky began to fade, dusk settled in and they completed the journey with a walk around the windows of both department stores. There were gorgeous, intricate displays with children and toys, elves and reindeer and all the pure magic of Christmastime. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of her year. And with that, the two bundled up and headed for the bus stop for the trip home.

I am sure you’ve guessed I am the little girl and I wrote this blog on December 13, 2020. The next morning the headlines read “Legendary Santa dies at 93”. I was crushed and heartbroken. It felt overwhelming with everything 2020 has dealt on top of my personal losses. It was then the excited little girl with the rosy cheeks came back to me. I remembered the innocence she had. Although as I grew up, I realized how difficult life was for my mom, I never knew that as a child. I didn’t know how tight money was or how hard holidays were for her, alone with three children. I wasn’t aware of how stressful it was to put the perfect dinner on the table at just the right temperature.

What I saw and felt was pure magic. I felt family and love and caring. I watched as each person opened the perfect gift, something with much thought behind it. I watched her do whatever it took to find that gift for each and every person. I saw the joy in their eyes as they sat around the dinner table, passing the favorite dishes and diving in like they hadn’t been fed in days. I remember the aromas emanating from the kitchen, I can still smell those today. Most of all I remember how happy I was and how perfect I thought life was as that rosy cheeked little girl.

So as you go to bed tonight, don’t worry about the children. They have something we don’t, which is the ability to only look ahead and that provides them optimism and comfort. Our children will be ok when the world settles down. Just make sure they see, hear and feel the love, because in the end, that’s what really matters.

To our “Santa“ Rest In Peace for the joy you brought to us will never be forgotten.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

BEING THANKFUL…

Here we are again heading into the holidays, but this year is definitely different. Our lives, as a whole, have been turned upside down by an invisible demon. Sure, there are naysayers, claiming it isn’t as bad as they say, but maybe they haven’t lost a loved one, a business, their job, their sense of safety, their sense of fellowship with others and maybe even a place to live or food to put on the table. You might find it difficult to be grateful this year, it might cause you to stop in your tracks to look for reasons to celebrate this Thanksgiving. You may feel lost and alone.

For myself, I look around me and everywhere I look, I see a piece of my life. My walls are covered in pictures of times gone by, the vacations we took, the laughs that we shared, all captured in a moment in time. I have scores of albums filled with pictures of celebrations like birthdays, weddings, award ceremonies, school field trips and on and on. These are treasures for me and probably the thing that keeps me on track.

Being thankful is about appreciating others and what they bring to our lives. It is about feeling warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It is about having a pantry and refrigerator full of food. It is the feel of the silky fur as my dog lays her precious head on my knee, her eyes saying “I know it’s been a rough day”. Being thankful is about feeling loved by someone and loving them back. It is the gaze of a child as they learn something new or make a new friend. It is about that first love when you are young that literally makes you smile at the very thought of them.

The sunrise and the sunset prove that there are things we just can’t explain and I’m thankful for those. Oceans and lakes, their beaches and sand, sand squishing up between my toes in bare feet, I am thankful for that.

The patient who told me I was the best nurse she could have ever had while she held her newborn baby. I’m thankful for her and the patients that told me they couldn’t have done it without me, even though I know they could. The patient who held her baby that never took a breath, but taught me lessons about a mom’s love. I am thankful for that. For those moms whose babies never came home, but let me share their special moments of saying “I love you”, I am so very thankful for them.

I am thankful for friends that build me up when I need it and kick me in the butt when I need that, I am thankful for old friends and new friends and for those I pass each day going about the business of life, I am thankful for smiles and hugs and simple things like that.

I am thankful for my faith and the belief that we’ll all be together again someday. I am thankful for family and health, something we often take for granted.

I am thankful for my Compassionate Friends that walked with me on my journey of child loss, showing me there was life left to be lived. I am thankful for everyone I’ve met along the way, the survivors of one of life’s true tragedies. I am thankful most people never feel that pain. Thank you to those who use their pain to help others traveling that road.

I am thankful for the most incredible mother a girl was so lucky to have. I am thankful for everything she taught me about life and love and how to appreciate even the most minute things. The things I most treasure are the lessons I learned from my mom. She truly made me who I am today with her spirit and tenacity, and she made me want to be just like her.

I am thankful for my very short 29 years with Lindsey. She taught me lessons I didn’t even know I needed to learn. In life she made me proud and in death she made me strong. Thankful that although our time was short, we had that time. I will miss you forever and I’m thankful I understand that.

I am and will forever be thankful that I met #26 in the hallway of George Wythe High School on that fall day. Rick, I thank you for choosing me to be your wife, the mother of your three amazing daughters and Mimi to our grandchildren. Although life is not what we envisioned, it has been an incredible and fulfilling life and I am truly thankful for that.

I am thankful to Amanda and Tiffany for just being there for me, in the good times and in the bad. We haven’t always had it easy, but we’ve always had each other. Oh how very thankful am I for that…

When you look around today and celebrate however you choose, find what truly makes you smile, makes you happy and makes you feel loved…and be THANKFUL FOR THAT..

ONE IS A LONELY NUMBER…

I never really knew what the lyrics meant when Three Dog Night belted them out in the late 60’s. I sang along to the catchy tune, never realizing that one day I would know exactly what they meant. It has been 554 days since I became “one”. It has been a long and lonely 554 days.

The most difficult part, for me at least, is when I open my eyes in the morning. As the grogginess clears, there is it, like a punch in the gut, Rick is gone. Oh I never forget, trust me, but the refuge of sleep is the only time that I don’t live it, breath it, grieve it, and miss it. I miss my life as I knew it and I miss Rick. Along with that, I miss all the plans we had for what should have been “retirement”, when life would slow down and we could do whatever we wanted together.

We had planned Spring into Fall on the boat, relaxing with Lucy and making memories as a new chapter unfolded. It would be a time to enjoy each other, life would be simpler, time would not matter. Weekdays we would take Lucy on therapy visits to cheer those who couldn’t get out. We would watch our grandchildren grow and learn and we would be at every event they participated in. We would cheer them on in whatever they did and we would be a safe place if they needed us. We would have shoulders and tissues for that first broken heart. There would be birthdays and holidays to celebrate for years to come.

The world would continue to turn and we would grow old together. Our hair would grey, our joints would ache and sometimes we wouldn’t be as clear with our thoughts, but as hard as that sounds, it would be ok because we would do it together. I had my “person” and he had his. With all the storms we had weathered, we would live out the rest of our life cherishing the memories made, in peace and tranquility…or so we thought.

Of course, as life goes, this plan, our plan, wasn’t meant to be. We would not rest on the back of the “Linzi-Lu” watching the sun set. Our sun went down on April 20, 2019 and from that day on, it’s just me “the One” in the song. I wake alone, I eat alone and I go to bed alone. Everything is different and I long for the days when we would bicker over silly things, only to end up laughing at each other. I long for the feeling of being a part of something special, something uniquely ours. I long for the future we planned together. We worked so hard all these years and when it could have been easier, it ended.

This blog is not for sympathy or to make anyone worry, it is just plain, simple fact. One is lonely and that is that. I am doing ok and I am living my life. I feel happiness when I am with my family or getting sloppy, wet kisses from my dog. I feel valued at my job and appreciated by many. I have enough to eat and a roof over my head and anything I really need. I have found a wonderful church family who teach me something with every encounter. Isn’t that enough you ask?

I guess the hard part for me and those in my same situation is this. Where do I belong now? How do I go through life without my “person”. There are no answers, just more questions. What is going to be is going to be. No one understands because they aren’t supposed to. You can only understand your own experience, not that of another. You only understand how you felt in a similar circumstance, so this is a trail you must blaze on your own. You are the only one that can change things for you. It must come from within, deep inside from the very core of who you are.

So what now? Try not to look too far ahead, it’s scary out there, try to enjoy moments in time, don’t expect too much of yourself. Do what you need to get through the day. Do what brings you joy and avoid what brings you pain. Embrace the obvious, the future is just that, the future. The only thing you can change is today. Try to go forward at a pace that works for you, baby steps at times, and giant leaps when you feel you can. Grief doesn’t go away, it doesn’t heal like a wound heals, it just allows you to live for now and love what was, all at the same time. Love is what brought you here and love is what helps you survive.

The maze is thinning now and the light is obvious at every turn. You know you can leave whenever you want, being able to return when you need a safe place, a place that lets you feel, let’s you cry, let’s you grieve what you’ve lost. Feel free to be afraid and feel free to express that fear. Feel free to take a moment with your grief away from the world. It is ok to miss that person and it is ok to acknowledge that. After all, you loved them before you lost them, you still love them now.

Darcie Sims said “May love be what you remember most.”

HERE COMES THE SUN…

I don’t think anything feels better than being able to see the sun come out after multiple days of rain. It brightens your spirit and lifts your mood and even makes you feel better physically. It gives you more pep in your step. It is as if it lightens the load, whatever it may be. You feel warmth even in the dead of winter. The light and the warmth are signs of hope.

I don’t think the world has ever needed hope more than it does right now. There is a meme almost everyday referring to 2020 being the worst year of life thus far. I can say without a doubt, it is not my worst year. I will admit it has challenged me in ways I never imagined, but it’s not my worst year. The challenges of 2020 are those of loss of freedom, loss of safety, loss of physical contact, loss of jobs and businesses, all of these devastating. Of these, what I think I miss most is the experience of seeing expressions on the faces of not only those we love, but those of perfect strangers. It is an unspoken language, a kindness we give to others freely and openly. It says “good morning” or “I’m having a great day” or maybe “ I’m not”, “I am struggling”. It can say “ Can you help me?” or “I’ve got this”. It can say “I’m overwhelmed” “I’m scared”, all the while without uttering a sound. Yes that is what I miss the most, kindness and compassion expressed in the simplest of ways.

This Pandemic will end someday and the clouds will part, the darkness will give way to light and the sun will once again shine brightly on our world. If this occurred today, what would that look like? In the beginning, I thought the virus had brought out the best in people. We immediately found strangers going to the aid of strangers, lifting them up, providing whatever they needed to survive. Today, I see a lot more of “how is this affecting me” and “I need to protect myself”. It is a complete change of course. With so much loss, isn’t it the perfect time to grant grace to those around us. Isn’t it the perfect time to use what we’ve learned in the last 9 months to love and appreciate the life we had before?

There are always going to be dark, cloudy days. There are going to be storms, tornados and hurricanes. There are going to be wild fires in areas that suffer devastating heat waves causing the land to be dry and scorched. There are going to be days without sun, without warmth and without light, but there should never be a day without hope. Without hope, we may as well keep the mask on forever, hiding our expressions from the world.

My worst year was 2010 and I found myself grieving for my daughter. Her death was a spiral of thoughts and emotions I didn’t know existed. It began my journey to find hope. I looked high and low, near and far, trying to find the answers to questions I had that no one could answer. Why, because there was no answer. It was a journey that evolved over time, involving many people along the way. It was filled with pain and uncertainty. It was dark and cold and lonely, but the one thing I found got me through the day was what I received from others. Whether it be family, friends or perfect strangers, the grace they showed me helped me in the darkest of days. I don’t think I could have survived without it.

I’m not happy without sunshine and warmth, whether it be through actions or deeds. I could be the recipient or the giver and in both cases, my life can change it’s course or I can change the course for someone else. Never underestimate the power of kindness, the tentacles of a kindness can reach across the miles. You may never know how you affected someone, but you will know if it made you feel warm and hopeful. Yes, we have a lot on our plate, but maybe, just maybe if we share the load, the light will show through. Someday the Pandemic will end and new and different challenges will confront us. Let’s learn from this and find ways to walk through the darkness together, seeking hope for better days, waiting for the sun to shine again…

My sunshine.

SIT WITH ME…

I haven’t blogged in awhile. Tried some poetry and really enjoyed it. Although no Dr. Seuss, I wasn’t embarrassed by it and I got good feedback. It’s time now to return to the subject of grief and how it not only changes your life, but changes that of those around you.

Have you ever looked at someone, knowing they’ve had something catastrophic happen to them and choose to avoid them? Honestly I think everyone has at some point. Is it helping you or is it helping them? I think the answer is twofold. If you avoid the subject because let’s say “they look like they are having a good day” or if you “might make them cry”, trust me, their day is never that good and you don’t have the power to make them cry. Those newly bereaved would probably agree, there are no good days, just some days are harder than others. It may be that aroma of their favorite food or the smell of their cologne. It might be riding by somewhere you used to frequent or passing the place where you got the news. Or…it could be that the sun is out or the ping of the rain on the windows brings back a gentle memory of times gone by.

Those bereaved for a longer time have these days too when just the slightest thing can conjure up a big ugly cry. You see there are days that you just don’t know how to feel. Do I look back at what was? Do I try to freeze time so I don’t have to face the future? Do I try to find a silver lining in my sorrow? We are individuals and what you choose will greatly depend on how you see your future.

Many don’t see a future after loss because the lesson to be learned is how to live without the person you love. The relationship may have been great or it may have been strained in some way. This opens a Pandora’s Box of complicated emotions creating even more of a challenge. You can even grieve for a person still living, but the relationship is not what you envisioned. Imagine building a campfire and each stick you add creates a larger and larger blaze and in the long run makes it more difficult to extinguish. As the flames burn out of control, you step back and make a decision, stay and fight or run from it. You know it won’t be easy, but can you give up everything else and watch your life burn to the ground?

As far as making someone cry, I guarantee you they cry often, but many times in secret, because truth is, they don’t want to upset you. The car and the shower are standouts as far as this game of Hide and Seek. A nice pillow works great too especially because you can muffle the sobs. As far as everyone thinks, you are fine. For some, they want you to think this and for others they feel even more alone.

How do you help someone who is hurting, especially in the current environment? It is a tall order and one that challenges us to our very core. The answer is actually simple, meet them where they are, sit beside them, don’t look for the right thing to say. There is no right thing. When you occupy this space the world is full of shadows. Everything is in slow motion and it is hard to discern what the shadows are and what they mean. Your brain is foggy and your body is tired. You don’t have the energy to do anything so you allow the images to surround you. You feel helpless and alone. The fire is raging and you sit right there in the middle watching it burn.

Then you feel a hand, a pat, a gentle hug, a whisper in your ear. “I am here for whatever you need.” In that moment, you feel peace knowing you will be ok, but not today. The fire will get under control and although the ash is everywhere, the ones beside you will be there to help clean up and rebuild a new a different tomorrow. It is the person walking beside you in the maze, stepping aside at times for you to test it on your own. They will eventually fade to the shadows and you will walk bravely, bucket in hand to fight the fire.

Author: Unknown