Observing Grief

Friends, these are uncertain times, are they not?  The majority of us are not used to waking up one day and having our whole world, really the whole world, change before our eyes.  From the way we interact, live, approach life, we’ve been given a reset button of sorts.  We woke up one day in the last few weeks and suddenly everything was different.

For one population I’ve had a front-row seat to watch this change unfurl, my kids.  We went to bed one-night expecting school and a “normal” routine the next day and instead woke up to school canceled.  That first day felt like a fun snow day of sorts, though the weather was an abnormally warm 70 degrees and sunny.  Instead of snow gear, they donned shorts and t-shirts and ran and played out back only stopping to retrieve their picnic lunch. I thought to myself, this quarantine is going to be great.

Then the reality of what we were facing began to hit.  The enthusiasm that we started with started to deflate and emotions ran high.  Our reactions to one another were less than becoming is the nicest way to put it.  Midway through the week,  as I was hiding in my bedroom from the kids, I began to pray, what invitation is there to see here?  What eyes do I need to see?  Reinvigorated by a good cry and few bites of leftover birthday cake we went through the rest of our day but this time I saw what was going on inside my kids, they were grieving.

Grief is a companion we’re familiar with around this home.  And since we’ve spent time getting to know grief I know it comes out in unique ways from different people, at different stages along the way.  My kids woke up one morning torn away from their friends, their teachers and their everyday community and way of life.  Yes, home is their special place, but the majority of their waking hours are spent in school.  They’ve been given very little explanation as to why this is, that they can understand at least (“because of the coronavirus, right Mommy?”) and they never got closure to say goodbye.  At the end of the school year or even before an extended holiday break teachers, would have been winding down and special celebrations had.  Our kids got none of that.  I also realized where I can send a quick text or Polo to a friend, our kids are too young for their own devices and social media so they’ve essentially been cut off from their community.

I’ve seen and read headlines of how to help kids cope with the fear and anxiety of this unsettling time but I haven’t seen much about dealing with the fact that they are grieving.  Not only is school missed, but sports and activities, birthday parties and just the fun of a meet up at the neighborhood playground.  Grief can come out at any moment and I’m trying my best to keep these new eyes of compassion to see when my kids need a hug and not a lecture.

I think it’s true that all of us are grieving in a way right now.  How do we give ourselves grace so that we can extend that grace to others around us who need it too right now?  Sometimes it might be a good cry and some birthday cake.

I come to the end…

It’s been a month of sad news, almost daily it seems.  The unexpected death of a dear, sweet man, who came back from the pit of death once before only to be led there once again, far too soon.  A young woman who’s womb will no longer be able to bear life as she and her family wait with bated breath hoping her one child will live.  A mother and father who wait vigilant at their young son’s bedside, a little boy younger than mine, who is battling for his life.  The solemn words, “stage 4” that punch you in the gut when they are uttered and wondering what the journey will be ahead.  A young woman’s life, who on the outside is articulate, strong, hospitable and full of love, but who’s heart on the inside is weighed down with grief and despair that is too hard to carry on anymore.  And for me, saying goodbye to yet another dear friend, and all this news stirring up the grief I have borne myself over these last years.

How is it with my soul?  I feel sorrow and I mourn.  The pain and brokenness of this life felt acutely on the surface.  And I cry out as the Psalmist did, why O Lord, why?

scenic photo of mountain during dawn

Photo by Rizknas on Pexels.com

I sat with Psalm 139 today.  It’s words familiar and safe, a warm blanket to wrap around a tired soul.  God’s answer to my why, today and every day, look up dear child, look up and know that I AM.  When the days seem dark, they are light to me.  When you do not know, I have already written it.  When you don’t even know yourself, I formed you when you were nothing, knitting every detail together into a wonderful work, a person of beauty.  I AM.

Lately, I’ve been embracing the word mystery.  To embrace mystery means to let go of control.  To embrace mystery means to sink deeper into Love.  To embrace mystery means to plant myself more strongly onto the foundation of Hope.  To embrace mystery is to trust.

“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them–they are more than the sand;

I come to the end–I am still with you.”

The Day a Houseplant Made Me Cry

I wrote this back in June before I started my blog.  It’s a writing that I keep coming back to and felt the urging to share.

Just when I thought things were going ok and this grief thing was just looming over at the side, it came down on me like a ton of bricks this morning.  Looking back at my week I can see now how it was getting closer and closer without me realizing it.  My anger and frustration had been mounting over the last few days.  I was short with everyone, even my sweet little one-year-old, snapping and raising my voice at the slightest infraction.  My poor daughter kept asking, “Why are you so angry Mommy?” in her four-year-old innocence.  Each of my kids was calling me out and my poor husband was walking on eggshells.  I chalked it up to my “time of the month” and surging hormones and decided to wait for things to pass soon.

I felt the frustration mounting this morning.  My oldest son was trying to pull me into his power struggle but I refused to bite.  I thought once I got him out the door and onto the bus all would be well.  Then my one-year-old, that dear, sweet, chubby-cheeked, curious boy pulled one of my houseplants right out of its pot.  The floodgates opened and the ugly cry began.  My daughter and son stood in disbelief that their mother was crying over a houseplant.  And as I was crying it dawned on me, I really miss my dad.

I bought a couple of houseplants shortly after dad died.  My dad loved growing plants of all varieties, inside and outside the house.  When I was very little my parents had a huge garden in our backyard with corn and tomatoes and strawberries and all kinds of things.  There was a houseplant in every room, ferns, violets, a ficus tree.  Being immersed in his gardening growing up rubbed off on me.  My indoor plants weren’t looking so good so after he passed I went out to buy some new ones so that I could feel close to him and remember him and maybe pass on this love to the next generation.

My new houseplant, that was really more than just a plant, let’s be honest, all of a sudden lay all over my kitchen floor, roots straggling out and soil everywhere.  I don’t know why but in that moment I felt so out of control of my life.  I remembered my dad, lying dead in his hospital bed.  As I scooped up dirt, I thought, nothing is going to bring my dad back now.  I can’t scoop his life back.  Why didn’t he take better care of himself in this life and why did his life need to end this way?

I calmed myself down enough to usher the kids into the living room.  My daughter went into action right away.  She wanted to know how she could help.  At four she already has such a caring and compassionate soul.  Many will know the love of God because of my daughter.  I asked her to watch her brother and then I went to work cleaning up.

As I scooped and swept I realized that grief was going to come hit me out of nowhere, at any moment and I couldn’t stop it.  Everyone was warning me that it would and it was something that I needed to experience and learn.  Instead of fighting it I let the tears continue to come.  I didn’t want to hold them back any longer for fear of the scary, angry lady coming back again.

I’ve said through this process, that I’m realizing more and more will be the rest of my life, that I’m going to give myself the grace and patience and time to get through it.  This was one of those times.  I don’t want to hold anything back or hide it and now I know to better listen to my anger as a sign.  I always heard that anger was a sign of grief, but I had just assumed that it meant anger towards the loved one or the way in which they died.  Apparently, it comes and disguises itself as normal everyday aggression as well.

Another thing about this process is I don’t want to hide it from my kids.  I decided in the days after dad’s death that I had a choice to make, to try and protect their childhood innocence and cry behind closed doors, or grieve right beside them, walking and explaining each step together.  My choice years ago to stay at home with my kids was a choice to do life together, and grief is life.  The most loving thing I could do for them was to share my grief because someday I’m going to die and how they see me grieve is going to shape the way they grieve.

When I was done cleaning up I walked into the living room where they were playing.  Tears still welling in my eyes, I explained that I wasn’t crying over the plant, I was crying because I missed their Pappy.  My daughter asked for clarification again, “Pappy will be in heaven forever now?”

“Yes sweetie, he will be, and I’ll get to see him again when I get to heaven but I sure do miss him a lot now.”

“Mommy, you don’t need to be sad, we love you.”

“I love you too, very much and you make me very happy.  It’s okay for Mommy to be happy and sad at the same time.”

And then we hugged.  A wonderful, strong, loving embrace.  I wanted them to feel safe and secure.  My dad always made me feel that way every time he hugged me.  It’s one of the things I miss most about him right now.  It’s another gift I can give my kids and pass along to the next generation.  Even though my life is out of my control, there are still a few things I can grasp onto that will not waiver.  And my houseplant, it’s sitting pretty, back in its spot on the window ledge, to bring peace, comfort, and beauty for another day.


The Gift of Grief?

So it’s been a rough week.  Some of my best friends were packing up their house and heading out of town off on a new adventure.  This will be about the sixth set of friends we’ll be saying goodbye to this year, but probably the hardest for me.  These were the kind of friends who become like family over the years shared together.  As I was over helping them put all their belongings in boxes, laughing and making some last memories, the weight of the anticipated goodbye hung heavy over me.

The day after our “sappy” goodbye, with all the last minute important things said I was a big weepy mess.  I kept wondering what is going on with me?  Sure these were good friends, but why such a basket case Kelly?  Get it together girl.  I couldn’t sleep so I listened to the voice that told me to start writing and start exploring these feelings. That’s when I realized, the subconscious will always work it’s way to the surface, the question is, will you recognize it?

What I finally began to recognize was that my dad is dead and that this will be our first holiday season without him.  Not only that, but the Monday after Thanksgiving marks the one year anniversary of discovering that his cancer had spread and knowing that our lives would not be same.  Sure I was missing my friends, but really, I’m missing my dad.

Grief is an interesting beast to explore.  It’s been unpredictable which I’ve learned from others is the only predictable thing about it.  I never know what will trigger my sadness or how long it will decide to stick around.  But despite that crappiness of it all, I’ve also learned that it can be a gift.

I’ve been learning to let the hole that was left in the wake of my dad’s death be filled with something new.  We all fill the grief hole with something; busyness, food, stuff, isolation, etc. and trust me I’ve filled my hole up with some of those idols too.  But luckily God and I had already started a journey a few months prior to saying goodbye to dad and my hole propelled me deeper onto that journey.

I’ve learned that sometimes we need to lose things in order to make room for something different.  Don’t twist my thinking here, God does not cause deaths to happen on purpose, but he is a God of redemption, he is a God of walking the suffering path, he is a God who rolls away stones so that new life can emerge.  Will we walk the suffering to reach the new?

On this journey, I’ve learned about what means to be hidden in Christ.  The same as being clothed in Christ.  The same as living into my true self.   I miss my dad terribly but I’m also really enjoying getting to live into my new self and getting to live deeper into my identity in God.