FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD…

Thanksgiving Day, for me, was a day of reflection. It wasn’t a day of celebration, but a day of coming to grips with a totally different life. We had a Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday, so more could be here. I didn’t really have the enthusiasm to do it, but my youngest daughter told me multiple times it was her favorite holiday. Point taken. My granddaughters kept talking about Meemaw’s mashed potatoes, so I did it. The blessing was tough on my oldest daughter and I saw the pain in her eyes. I cheated on dinner and most of it came from Cracker Barrel. I was glad I did it in the end, because it was time together we hadn’t had since Rick died.

I spent most of Thanksgiving Day alone, my choice, declining invitations that normally feel very comfortable. I became keenly aware of smoldering emotions that I did not want to take to someone else’s celebration. Although everyone understands, I knew I couldn’t handle it. The day was quiet, Lucy and I watched the parade, took a ride to play with Homer and Blue, and ate spaghetti. I really was ok, but my emotions were not. I reflected a lot on my life, as a child, as a wife, as a mother and as a friend. All of this kept taking me to the first weekend of March every year when “The Wizard of Oz” was shown on TV. You couldn’t see this movie any other time and I looked forward to it with great anticipation.

Why am I talking about a movie you are thinking. Dorothy lived a pretty benign existence on the farm and then one day out of nowhere, she was picked up by a cyclone/tornado and deposited in a brand new world. She didn’t ask for this and she didn’t want this, but that is where she found herself. All she wanted was for life to return to what she had known before, her family and friends intact and happy. Isn’t that sort of what happens in grief? Regardless of the circumstances, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a world we know nothing about. It is uncomfortable and painful and all we really want is to have back what and who we lost. I realized that this journey on the yellow brick road is much like the grief journey. It is the searching for something that we once had. For Dorothy it was a farm in Kansas and for me it is Hope and eventually Joy. Most grievers spend a lot of time trying to find their way, trying to figure out how to navigate this new world. The bottom line is, we, like Dorothy, must follow the yellow brick road for answers.

Along the journey, Dorothy meets the scarecrow, who instantly becomes her friend and her companion on her journey. The scarecrow’s desire is to have a brain. He sings and dances exuding happiness, but he is missing something. That missing makes him yearn for things to be different. He thinks if he had a brain his life would be improved. Yet the scarecrow is instrumental in all the decisions made to help Dorothy find her way. This is one of the most difficult things about the grief journey, searching for something, thinking you should be this or that, wondering if your brain is ever going to allow you to think clearly again, wondering if your ability to concentrate will return. The constant yearning for things to be different, and to eventually be ok with the differences is exhausting. So while the scarecrow is looking for a brain, the griever is looking for peace and understanding, a safe place, where the pain is not so intense.

Next is the encounter with the Tin Man, structurally a pile of metal pieced together with screws. He reveals he is searching desperately for a heart. He feels incomplete and unable to feel and is convinced a heart would change his life. A heart really does change your life because on the grief journey, your heart is broken. There is a lot of time and energy spent trying to repair it, but in the end your heart will always be missing a piece, the piece that belonged to your loved one. This missing piece cannot be repaired or replaced, but instead you start to methodically store your memories there, filling that empty space carefully, gingerly and eventually the raw pain softens. Throughout the journey, the tin man took care of Dorothy even putting himself in danger. In the end he had the biggest heart of all because he loved his little group of misfits and took care of them.

Of course everyone remembers the Cowardly Lion and what he deemed his lack of courage. At first, he couldn’t see past what he thought were his cowardly ways. He wanted more than anything to be brave and courageous and be able to stand tall among the other animals. In the beginning of the grief journey, we feel weak, scared, unsure, and all we want is our life back. We may feel weak and mere shadows of our former self. We don’t know the person we’ve become, nor do we generally like the new “us”. If we were leaders, we want to be leaders again, but what holds us back is the courage to take a step forward to healing. Many think healing means forgetting, but honestly, it’s the exact opposite. Healing is carrying our loved one forward and sharing whatever role they played in your life with those who didn’t get to know them, never letting them be forgotten.

The Cowardly Lion stepped up when he needed to, faltering at times and even rethinking his decisions, only to find he was much braver than he realized. He did it for himself and he did it for those that became important to him. In the end, he was proud of himself for taking a chance.

On the grief journey, we have to take a chance, to believe the new world we are thrust into, although not what you wanted or planned, can be a happy one. We have to take those steps forward or there is no future for us. Some days we falter, some days we backslide, some days we don’t even have the energy to try, but then comes the day we stand tall and kick that leg forward and find it feels ok. Another step follows and eventually we might even jog a little, but every now and then we have to stop and rest, take care of ourselves and sit with our grief. See, every single day is different and you never know what’s around the bend.

The story culminates with Dorothy finding the kingdom of Oz and meeting the Wizard. All her hopes and dreams are bashed when she finds out he is just a regular guy and does not have magical powers. Dorothy realizes that her ability to get home and find happiness really is up to her.

Isn’t that really what we need to do. There is no one with magical powers that can make this go away. It is a fact that we have to do this on our own power in our own time. We are responsible for our own healing, because we, like Dorothy, have the ability to live and be happy. It just takes the journey to get the answers.

So although like the Scarecrow our brain is affected, and like the Tin Man our heart is broken and like the Cowardly Lion we are afraid to take a chance, we look around us at our family and friends, those who have walked alongside us, and like Dorothy we keep searching.

Dorothy was different after her experience and so are we, but different can be ok if we learn from our experiences. Her journey had a happy ending as she found her way home, but I bet she was grieving her friends left behind. Although I’m not guaranteed a “happy ending” I know my brain, my heart and my courage will get me wherever I need to be.

Today the maze was lined with yellow bricks, strategically guiding me toward a goal. It was nice to have these guys at my side today, sharing and caring, and showing me the way.

GRIEF AND GRATITUDE…

This week is all about being thankful. How can you look around and see so much heartache, so much loss, so much suffering and be thankful? The world sometimes is plain overwhelming. Between TV and social media, we are exposed to tragedy all day everyday. There are people grieving everywhere. Those of us experiencing our own loss have discovered this thing we call grief. How do you carry grief and gratitude at the same time?

I believe you have to stop, look around, listen and pretty much everything you see will be a miracle. In my career I have been blessed to experience the miracle of birth with countless people. To watch a baby take its first breath is an experience like no other. The gleam in a new mother’s eyes is something you never forget. The tears that often run down a dad’s face are priceless. The satisfaction of “job well done” by the doctors and nurses lights up the room. When things don’t go as planned and young parents have to let their baby go, it is a gift to be present with them in that moment. Tears are shared as the moment is shared, never to be forgotten. As hard as it is to go through these experiences, it leaves you with true gratitude for being able to help during the most difficult moments of their lives.

Nurses at the bedside see human suffering every single day. Their days are filled with fear and uncertainty for their patients, uncomfortable tests and procedures, horrible disease processes that destroy their patient’s minds and body, and yet they go in every shift hoping to make a difference. Their own families change plans and reschedule holidays because patients have to be cared for and made to feel safe. As they leave each day, they feel grateful for their family and friends, their health, their ability to make a living giving to others, because truth is, one day you may need the services you are providing.

Watching someone suffer through a devastating illness makes you grateful for the simplest things. To be able to watch a sunrise or children playing makes you appreciate those that are blind and will never see the beauty around us. Listening to music, the sounds of waves crashing against the shore makes you appreciate those who are deaf and will never hear the sounds of joyful laughter. Taking a brisk walk on a fall day or strolling down the beach as the sun sets helps you understand how lucky you are to be able to move freely on your own, unlike the person confined to a wheelchair or bed. Reading and writing, watching TV or looking at social media, driving a car or simply balancing your checking account makes you realize there are those that suffer mental or emotional illnesses that are unable to accomplish getting themselves dressed in the morning. For my ability to see and appreciate these things, I am truly grateful.

When grief is your lifelong companion, you aren’t sure how to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. Grief is so heavy, it leaves you unbalanced and let’s face it, grief hurts. It is hard to look out into the world and think positive thoughts. That, my friends is normal. Watching the Christmas trees go up and the houses adorned with lights and yard decorations is painful for those missing someone they loved. Carving turkey and family get togethers are not the same nor will they ever be. The empty chair, the empty stocking, the empty spot in your heart is unable to be filled. What do we do to feel gratitude at a time like this?

I have found working through immeasurable loss that my mind is filled with the “good stuff”, memories made through the years. I don’t know how holiday time will affect me this year, being my first without Rick and my 10th without Lindsey, but I don’t feel resentment for those making plans and having fun. I understand that our journeys are different and their families deserve whatever happiness they can have. I was that family once, often unaware of the suffering around me, which honestly is normal. Life is hard when things are good and even harder when they aren’t. I am truly and unequivocally changed by the death of my daughter, and now my soulmate, but I am grateful for 29 years with Lindsey and 51 years with Rick. I am grateful to have my two daughters and my grandchildren in my life. I am grateful for family and friends and times gone by. I am grateful for my “Compassionate Friends” and all of those I’ve met on the “grief journey”. This group of people have changed my life.

This time of year was always my favorite. I was a “Christmas Nut”, one time having about 25 trees of all shapes and sizes, each with a theme. We were always big on tradition and Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner was a joyful time. As I walk the maze during this holiday season, I know to take care of myself, to do what I can and to politely decline what I can’t. Please understand, this journey is individual. If you know someone hurting this holiday season, give them the gift of remembering. Let them know you care, let them know you can sit beside them with no expectations. Let them know that no one is judging them as they trudge their way through their own maze and they can take as long as they need to. Give them the gift of a story or memory of the person they lost. Let them know their lost loved ones are welcome at Christmas dinner.

LOOKING AHEAD…

I’ve been contemplating what I wanted to write about this week and I thought I would change it up a bit. I’ve talked about my mom a lot and many of my readers knew her as “Meemaw”. This name came from her first grandchild and at the time, I didn’t like it at all, but that is what he called her and to all who knew her, she has been Meemaw since.

My parents divorced when I was just shy of four. I don’t remember much about that time or any specifics about their life together. I think my brothers have more memories of that time, but I only remember this woman who I felt could do anything she put her mind to. I saw her as a a pillar of strength growing up and knew without a doubt I wanted to be just like her. I truly thought my childhood was perfect because of her.

We lived in a little house in South Richmond with a huge lot next to it. I can remember my brothers playing football in that lot with friends from the neighborhood. There was also an area between the house and the lot where I still see my youngest brother playing marbles in the dirt. There were roads and tunnels, mountains and bridges, and lots and lots of time was spent there, just being a kid. Another structure that looms large in my mind is a huge cinder block garage where I would spend hours playing with my dolls and stuffed animals.

Across the street were woods filled with creeks, paths, and treasures. We could walk through those woods, play in those creeks, all the while feeling safe and knowing when to check in at home. Our dogs went with us everywhere as dogs in those days roamed free. My companion was a collie named “Sarge”. He was an icon of the neighborhood and everyone knew him. Everyday at 3 o’clock he would head to the city bus stop to meet my brother getting off the bus.

I have a vivid image of a kitchen table where we would eat our meals that mom had prepared all day. She was an amazing cook and the aromas from her kitchen traveled to another house, then an apartment and finally our house, as she spent her last days with Rick and I. You could sometimes smell cakes baking at 6 in the morning which made it difficult to sleep. Holiday time was filled with home cooking featuring all the traditional foods. In those days eating turkey was reserved for the holiday meal so that made it extra special. She would cook for two days, but hot foods were always done on the day it was being served. She could have 15 dishes, but when it hit the table, they were all right out of the oven and all the perfect temperature. Sometimes, especially the last few times she was able to make one of these meals, she would almost collapse, eating very little, but making sure everyone else enjoyed it. I treasure each and everyone of these memories.

Mom would also let us have pets, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, you name it, we had one. Goldfish came home from the school carnival, turtles were common, ducks and chickens at Easter and once even a baby alligator my father had sent my brother in the mail. I have such fond memories of these times growing up. I, on the other hand, am not sure how she accomplished this. I didn’t see the struggle she had on an everyday basis, raising three children on her own.

When I was in the 4th grade, we moved into a new house not far from our elementary school. It was so exciting, but at the same time, we left behind the woods, the empty lot and the garage where we started our life.. Sarge returned there many times in the first few months and mom would have to get in the car and go get him. Finances were tight, but I remember having everything I ever wanted. I truly thought she hung the moon.

In that house we experienced family and unconditional love. The next few years my oldest brother would be in the Cadet Corp. and become the drum major. We went to every event, parade, game etc. where he would march with his classmates. I remember bursting with pride when I saw him in the band or leading the Cadets. He also began playing with a band called “Little Harvey and the Kings of Soul”. It was magical for me and I think I looked up to him like a father at times. He was my “big brother” and I was so incredibly proud. I remember the day he left for the Marine Corp. and watched mom cry for weeks, worrying if he would be ok. We even traveled to Parris Island to see him graduate from boot camp. I always knew no matter where we all ended up, he would be there for me.

My younger brother tried the Cadet Corp., following in his footsteps, but it really wasn’t what he wanted. He was a rough and tumble kind of kid and always excelled in sports. He became Quarterback of the football team. Again, mom and I were at every game and every event watching him and beaming at his accomplishments on the field. He went on to play for the Championship in Jr. College, followed by his life changing football team at Marshall University. He was and is my big brother and those days were extremely special growing up together.

The young teenage girl stood before the audience, knees shaking, heart pounding, and listened for the results. Her mom had made it all happen, just like she always did. Her formal dress was just as pretty as the others, but her talent competition made her extremely nervous, as she didn’t sing or dance like the other girls she was competing against. They had been in these contests before, some even groomed for this sort of thing. This was a first for her, but she thought it would be fun. She had been a finalist after the academic portion of the pageant, so here she was. Honestly, she never even considered whether she could win Miss Teenage Richmond, she just jumped in, both feet, and entered. The judges passed the tiny envelope down the row to the emcee, who opened it gently and glanced at the row of teenage girls. As her name was read aloud, the tears welled up and flowed like lava down both cheeks. They gently placed flowers in her arms and snapped her picture as she strolled across the stage wearing the tiny tiara. She felt like a princess as if all her dreams had come true and there in the audience sat her mom, smiling ear to ear and right beside her sat her high school boyfriend.

The year 1972 was magical as I became Miss Teenage Richmond. There was a free wardrobe to pick out and plans to make. Going to Miss Teenage America was going to be an unbelievable experience and I had to make the best of it. How did I, a young girl from meager beginnings, get to experience such a life changing moment? To me, the answer is simple. Mom always made me believe I could do anything. I went on to compete in the Miss Teenage America pageant in Dallas-Fort Worth and it was sort of like a magic carpet ride for me. I met girls from all over the US, while doing photo sessions and working on the production. We worked hard and were treated like royalty for that week. I felt like a Disney princess in an enchanted world. The show was televised for all to see and there I was on National TV and in the audience sat my mom and my high school boyfriend, Rick. The store where my mom had worked as a clerk had given her a plane ticket and every department had given her an item she would need to make the trip. She had made the unthinkable happen, so it was her turn now.

These are treasures I keep close to my heart these days, memories of days gone by, a childhood filled with dreams and expectations. I truly do not know how I have been blessed with so many wonderful experiences in my life. What I do know is that it revolves around a simple word…HOPE. As a child we are filled with hope for the future. We are busy creating a world for ourselves and hoping for a future full of love and understanding. As we grow, we might encounter bumps in the road as we try to continue that journey unscathed. It is sort of like walking the maze I’m in today, looking ahead, hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel. Thing is, when you are young, you don’t keep looking back at what you’ve lost, you continue to look at what you have now and what you want for the future. Children run toward their goal where we often find ourselves trudging along as if we are being pulled into quicksand trying to hang on to what was.

So today, I will take lessons from the children. I am a person with a beautiful life full of memories to treasure and as I walk the maze today, I’m reminded to pull out those pictures of happy times whenever I need to be reminded that the road ahead may be filled with potholes, but going forward is the only way out.

MELTDOWN…

Heading into the holiday season, I knew there would be challenges, but I thought I knew what to expect. Today is Halloween, not a huge deal especially at this age, but for some reason it has reduced me to a blubbering mess. Oh I know it’s going to happen sometimes, I even expect it, but this week has been a bear.

The week began ok. I went to a Sunday School Social with people that have come into my life since Rick died. It would have been easy to stay at home and make excuses, but I have been embraced by so many, new friends and reconnections, that I felt I needed to make the effort. Although it was again a very lonely moment, it was good. It actually culminated in a wonderful conversation with someone who used to eat at our restaurant and that made me smile.

I went to work like normal and I felt restless, but not for any particular reason. On Wednesday I was attending a weekly meeting on “grief” and while we were in the midst of discussing feeling a loss of control or helplessness, I got a message that my tire was flat. Now that isn’t catastrophic by any stretch of the imagination, so I called my Roadside Assistance and set up service. I then returned to my class and had a moment of realization. I did everything I would have always done except one thing. I would have called Rick first, told him my plight and then proceeded down the same road. He would have immediately come to help, stood in the rain with me and helped me with whatever I needed. Instead, I stood in the rain and felt sad. Nothing is like it used to be and where I thought I was doing really well, along came a “grief burst” and then I cried for the next 24 hours.

Books are written about this and I was a perfect example of how you never know when you will feel the sadness and the missing in the very depths of your soul. You carry it everyday, in your mind and in your heart, but on the outside it takes on a different look. Most of the time it’s the “I’m ok” look and to be honest, you are. Then comes the wave and knocks you off your feet. It might be a day, a smell, a song, a memory or the sight of a mom with her new baby, an older couple at the mall or a sappy commercial. It doesn’t matter what the trigger is, it has the power to topple you like a Jenga tower.

I know life is forever different for me and I’ve accepted that. I just did not realize the things I cherished the most would forever be taken away. Those things are my security, my comfort, my constant companion through the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. I cherished the things I knew were important, like family and friends, a roof over my head and food on the table. What I didn’t realize was it’s the little things you don’t realize you have, someone waiting when you come home, someone sitting across the dinner table, someone to run errands with, someone to stand beside you in the rain. These are the things I guess I took for granted, not in a negative way, but because they were my constant, they were my life.

I miss my life, I miss my daughter, my mom, my in laws, my Husband of 46 years. I miss my life before so much loss. I miss the sight of my three daughters in the same room. I miss my mom’s cooking and her sage advice. I miss Rick cooking on the grill and making a huge mess in the kitchen. I miss it all.

So it’s raining in the maze this week, torrential downpours, it’s cold and the sky is dark, but I know the rain always ends. Sometimes after the rain comes a magnificent rainbow, sometimes a clear blue sky with merely hints of clouds left behind. For others, it’s a beautiful day, for you, it’s progress. You’ve walked through the storms and come out into the beauty of a new day. Sometimes you have to see the darkness to appreciate the light. You have to weather the storm to appreciate the sunny day ahead. I’m not sure why we have to feel so much pain in life, but I do know that the love we experience is worth walking through the storm.

LOVE YOU FOREVER…

The young mother sat nervously on the table as she waited for the tech to complete her ultrasound. Beside her, holding her hand was her mother awaiting a good report so she could go home from the hospital. The tech slathered her growing belly with gel and began the long sweeping motions looking for baby parts. She asked questions and made small talk for a bit, and then slowly the conversation diminished and the strokes of the wand became shorter and the area more concentrated. Suddenly, she turned off the machine, laid the wand aside and said she needed to talk to the doctor. Fear replaced the gleam in the eyes of the mother-to-be and her fingers tightened the grip of her mothers hand. Seconds passed and the doctor returned with a “look of concern”, furrowed brow and pursed lips. Things clearly were getting ready to change in that room. The next few sentences revealed the possibility that this 32 week infant may not survive. How could that be? Everything until one week ago had been perfect, no complications, no pain, and a normally growing fetus. Then “boom” it wasn’t perfect anymore.

Next came the cries of a desperate mom, the one you never forget. It reminds me of an animal suddenly caught in a trap, cries of pain desperate to free itself. Her mother held her tight as if to shield her from this awful blow. The baby needed to be delivered immediately and at this point it was unsure what the origin of the problem really was. Her mother kicked into crisis mode immediately calling her husband, who was doing a catering job at a residence. Next call was to her dad, the one who would be Poppy”. He was across town feeding The Temptations at a concert. Sisters were next, one downtown at work and one cutting someone’s hair at her salon nearby. Everyone was stunned. The fear in the room was palpable as her regular doctor was notified of the need for an emergency C-Section. Our baby was in trouble and every hope or dream we had, was on hold.

Seconds felt like hours as everyone started arriving, nurses getting her ready, doctors discussing the plan. There was a familiarity in the room as everyone knew this family. Her mother was a Labor and Delivery nurse and this was her unit. She looked at the faces full of fear and uncertainty, knowing she had seen this before and sometimes it had a good outcome and sometimes it didn’t. She stood by her son-in-law with her hand on his shoulder as the baby was born, praying for a miracle. Lifted into the air, a baby girl emerged, obviously sick, but breathing and beautiful. Passed off very quickly to the team, it was obvious there were challenges ahead for this little blond haired girl.

As the baby was transferred to the NICU, the hall was lined on both sides with tear streaked faces of the nurses, her mothers friends, the ones she had beside her when this was happening to another family. She knew she would never forget the opening of the OR doors with a huge window ahead, the view, a dark black sky and pouring rain starting precisely at 6pm, the time of birth.

The next few hours were torture, the young mother awakened from anesthesia, the destraught young husband, and the family, keeping the vigil, looking for hope. That night came with more bad news as the reality of prematurity set in, followed by a collapsed lung. The night was long, seconds became minutes and minutes became hours and sleep was something that seemed foreign. The next morning, the door opened revealing the doctor who had been treating her through the night and a specialist. The smiles they wore were so big they almost looked fake. ‘Your baby is going to be ok”, were the only words anyone heard that morning. “Your baby is going to be ok.”

Last night Kaitlyn Grace Williams went to Homecoming. She is now 15 years old and getting ready to drive. She was my first grandchild and the first baby in our family for a long time. We doted on her and treated her like a princess, watching her grow into an amazing young woman. When these moments happen, any milestone really, I have to fight back tears thinking of that night, hospital halls lined on both sides, watching the frail infant that may not survive. Sometimes, grief is like that, it feels like you may not survive, but you do survive and you do eventually realize “Everything is going to be ok.” Just like Kaitlyn Grace, you grow and you change, but you never forget where it all began.

The maze is not so dark these days, it is filled with light and most notable are the pictures lining the walls. There are memories of good times, family fun, special milestones and most of all, those we love and will love forever. See, love is forever, never ending, but then so is grief. Grief is really the price of love, because loving so incredibly deep creates missing that is just as deep. I will always miss them, but I would do it all over again, knowing the outcome, just to experience that love.

THINGS CHANGE…

First I want to thank you again for taking your time to read my blog. I am presently at 6186 views and I am so appreciative. If you have taken the time to comment, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven’t responded because I was afraid I couldn’t keep up and would create more stress for myself. Just know I have read and reread every comment here and on Facebook and it has made me very humble. I hope I can continue to provide something worth reading infused with an elixir of hope.

I often wonder who I am these days, the girl who thought life was “perfect” or the woman who has suffered incredible and unimaginable loss. I definitely have changed and sometimes I wonder what changes others see. As I see myself in the mirror, I always go straight to the eyes. I remember thinking my friends who had lost a child had sad eyes. Everything else was the same, but the eyes tell a story.

When I was a little girl and into my teens, I had a technique for coping. Whether it was school break, a holiday, vacation or anything exciting, I would pass the time by looking forward to these events. I relished every moment of celebration, taking picture after picture to preserve those moments in time. Holidays were particularly difficult for my mom, but she always made them incredible. Everything was special and it had nothing to do with money. It was all about the effort and love she put into it. I think I got my love of Christmas from her. It wasn’t the gifts, but the time together that I remember most.

So here comes Santa Claus like it or not. It’s a fact of life that every year is filled with holidays and celebrations. For those bereaved, the holidays hold a different meaning. The mind is filled with what was and the desire to look at what is and what’s to come is a daunting task. Those suffering loss often try to follow the same traditions, eating the same food at the same table in the same house. It is often an expectation that you attend gatherings and wear a smile, acting like you are ok. Well as the title of the book says, It’s ok not to be ok. You are allowed a pass, not forever, but for now.

I am trying to anticipate how difficult this year will be. I used to get “Christmas Crazy” and stay up all night on Christmas Eve, putting things together, wrapping and filling stockings. Rick would try to hang, but eventually he would give up and go to bed. I was like a kid and probably more excited than one. He thought I overdid everything and I’m sure it was a possibility. Tradition was extremely important to me and I did not want anything to change, but it did.

Thanksgiving was another holiday immersed in tradition. Everyone remembers Meemaw’s cooking and nothing showcased her cooking better than Thanksgiving. She would cook for two days and through the night, almost unable to make it to bed that night. Oh I can still smell the aromas wafting from that kitchen. It is something I will never forget. The year mom died, we ate dinner at Cracker Barrel.

Fall is full of change, there are festivals, football, and falling leaves. As the leaves change so do the seasons. Colors fade and everything turns to brown leaving behind naked limbs and the tree is unrecognizable. Isn’t that sort of what we experience in grief? First comes the event that changes your life, the color drains from your face and eventually you don’t recognize yourself.

It takes months for the leaves to return to the trees and the tree will be a different tree. It has new and different leaves, but all in all, it too, is a beautiful tree. I feel like I was that tree, strong and filled with color, and then Lindsey died and the color of my leaves turned to brown and floated to the ground. Left behind was a skeleton of what was.

Eventually, taking baby steps, I started growing new leaves filling the branches, slowly but surely. It was a deliberate act to return color to my life, to grow and to change for those who loved me. The new tree blossomed looking similar to its predecessor, but still a new tree. I came to like that new tree, it was different and while I longed for the return of the original, I finally was comfortable with the new tree.. Then Rick died and once again, the leaves died and fell from the tree, leaving behind the colorless, leaf barren landscape. Can the same tree be revived again and again?

While I walk the maze this week, I notice the falling leaves, but I also notice there is light shining through making the maze not so dark anymore. I remember then that the color returns eventually and creates a new and different landscape and the small blooms start to peak through. It takes a lot of time for new life to form, but in the end the blooms turn into new growth and that growth begins to be noticeable to you as well as to others. I am willing to do the work to make my tree bloom again, giving it meticulous care, water and food and most of all lots of attention.

Lucy and I will spend our first holidays together this year. Although I miss Rick more than ever, I will do what I need to get through these tough days ahead. Please understand if I occasionally ask for a hall pass. Sometimes taking a break is not a bad thing.

BEING ME…

It’s been two weeks since my last post and it seems like forever. I was out of town with a close friend at a scrapbooking weekend and to be honest, I came back pretty melancholy. I just wasn’t sure what to write about having been knee deep in memories for three solid days.

For those who are not familiar with scrapbooking, it is a hobby involving putting pictures in albums with decorative elements with the finished product being something special for generations to come. It is a treasure trove of memory after memory of growing up, family vacations and just about any event you have been involved in. Pictures are generally filled with smiles, beautiful scenery, and snippets of times gone by.

I did pics starting when we brought Lucy home, happy days in January, but as I moved forward, the realization of what happened during the next few months hit me hard. Not that I had forgotten, but the realization that it had been 5 months without Rick was like a truck full of boulders backed up and dumped right back on my shoulders. While I was working on the pics, I was ok. I was surprised I could do it this early on, but as I have mentioned before this isn’t my first time dealing with great loss.

I placed the pictures carefully and methodically on the pages, picking just the right things to accent each one. I moved through it like I always have, but I discovered I felt numb. I wondered “Is it possible to hurt so much and so deeply that you just can’t hurt anymore?” I think I answered my own question.

I believe loss of a child takes you to the depths of despair. It is a loss out of order and what should have been your future becomes your past. It’s not ok to lose a child. It’s not normal to lose a child and dealing with the enormity of it is overwhelming. I always wondered if it had desensitized me in some way. When I lost my mom, one of the other great fears of my life, I grieved in a different manner. I wondered if I handled it better because of losing Lindsey or was it the more natural course of life. She was very sick and very ready to see what was waiting for her on the other side. That gave me peace.

Now I have another great loss along with loss of hopes, dreams and expectations. In The Grief Recovery Method, it’s as simple as that. Everything we thought life would be is different. The retirement I dreamed of is different. The “growing old” together is different. There will be no more pictures of Rick and I traveling around the world, there will be no more pics of holidays and vacations with Rick. I guess that is what made me melancholy, the realization that such a wonderful life together has ended never to be the same again.

It has been 162 days since my life took a detour down an unimaginable path, full of twists and turns, and lots of unknowns. I am greatly affected by the little elderly couple walking to the car with their groceries. It hurts to be in groups where everyone is “coupled”. It a sharp pain that you feel deep in your heart. Everyone around you has continued their life just as they should. Time goes on no matter what you are feeling.

I asked myself sometimes ” How do I go forward?” There is no formula to navigate this unknown world , no magic that makes things “better”. There is only you. Your support system can be helpful, but they can’t do it for you. You have to take “griefs” hand, hold on tight, and keep taking steps. You will stumble and you might fall, but as long as you don’t stop I believe there are things yet to be discovered.

As I walk the maze this week, I pull out my compass, the one my mom gave me growing up. No, it’s not a physical thing, but a way of thinking. NEVER GIVE UP. Concentrate on what matters, do things that make you smile, don’t do what you can’t handle. While you travel the maze, take time to sit with your grief when you need to. You don’t have to explain yourself, you just have to keep trying.

So I sat with my grief last week and now I’m ready to work again. Compass in hand, emotions in check, plenty of water and food, I am taking steps. To where? Who knows, but toward HOPE for sure. Hope that my life can be full again and I can be a different me. I hope I like the new “me”and I hope she makes me proud.

It’s ok, you got this.