Category Archive: Family

Love – the heart of Christmas

family-of-6

Don and I celebrated both our extended family Christmases this weekend. I’m not certain why it seems many we know, including both our families, decided to celebrate so early this year. But as children grow and build their own lives, it becomes more difficult to schedule family time when all are available.

I loved being with our families–always do.

We laughed with delight when two-year old Cadence pulled out the stuffed Santa snowman Mom gave her, held it to her chest and beamed, hugging the little snowman tight. Irrepressible joy. Glee that had nothing to do with the size or cost of the gift, but with delight in its softness, its sweet face, the feeling of it against her baby skin.

And when Marcy opened her white elephant gift, we roared …. a huge coffee mug/toilet. Quite the conversation piece!

There have been years that included more tears than laughter … the first Christmases after a precious nephew, Dad, and my late husband passed away. Bitter-sweet. Bitter in the loss; sweet in the recollections of earlier times together.

I’m deeply grateful for the gift of family. The laughter, teasing, and tears we’ve shared through deep loss and great joy.  My brother Bob, who sat with Mom in the ER for nine hours a week ago while she waited for treatment and then for test results. Melvyn, who has driven to town whenever Mom or Dad underwent surgery. Arnold, who determined why Dad was having horrible nightmares in the hospital (sleeping pills). Each family has had its own challenges, ups and downs. But we love, believe in, and encourage each other–even when we disagree, which we do on some significant issues.

I guess it comes down to what’s most important–family or being right. And our relationship is far more important than the issues on which we differ. And as long as we remember that, our family will continue to thrive.

What’s your family dynamic this Christmas? Are you tense about issues that may arise, old wounds reopened, that “uncomfortable” uncle or aunt you have to spend time with? How do you handle that?

 

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ACCEPTING HELP FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF YOUR SPOUSE, Part I

The comfort of a friend

The comfort of a friend

Following my first husband’s death, I was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. I slept about eleven hours a night, and 3 or 4 during the day. The strain of caregiving and watching Jerry decline, along with the grief of losing him, took all my strength. Family, friends, and our community of faith were particularly significant during this time.

Jerry and I were in Florida, waiting for and then trying to recover from a transplant for eight and a half months before his death. After my return to California alone, friends and family cleaned my yard, laid new sprinkler lines, and helped reorganize the kitchen. I learned to say ‘yes’ to their requests to help. If you are too numb to respond, ask a good friend to help identify areas where people can provide support, and let the friend field questions for you.

My sister-in-law and niece prepared two dozen individual meals and placed them in my freezer the day I returned home. The handwritten scripture taped to each container encouraged me each time I ate one of their delicious, love-filled dinners.

Lee, a close friend of Jerry’s, replaced my house locks, fixed my garage door, and sold Jerry’s gun collection for me. During those first months Lee called daily, then every other day, then weekly, to check on me. He listened when I needed to talk, and didn’t try to fix me when I cried. I often laughed at his sense of humor, which reminded me of my husband’s quick wit.

While it’s sometimes hard to accept these gifts, don’t deprive others of the opportunity to help in your time of need–as you would do for them were the situation reversed.

i-feel-nothingYou may feel like isolating yourself. However, it is good to be with people who know and love you, especially on holidays. A girlfriend spent the first anniversary of Jerry’s death with me. Another called to ensure I wasn’t alone on Memorial Day. Rely on those friends who let you cry, express discouragement or loneliness, or just sit numbly through time together, all without judgment.

I understand the most intense pain of grief usually lasts between 12-18 months. Although you sometimes feel you can’t breathe for the pain, it will lessen over time. You may not want it to decrease. I remember thinking my grief for Jerry was my only remaining tie to him and I didn’t want to let it go. But a time will come when you begin to release a little at a time so that you can move forward into a new  and dramatically changed life.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18 NLT

 


 

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Preparing for Death of a Spouse: Using Family Medical Care Leave

hospital bed 1My late husband was critically ill. Because of a tracheotomy in his throat, he couldn’t speak for the last two months of his life. Touch became even more important than it had been. Knowing I was there, holding his hand, talking to him, being quiet with him, helped ease his sense of isolation. One day my brother was visiting and encouraged me to go back to my apartment for a much-needed nap. He would stay with Jerry. When I returned about two hours later, I saw my husband, lying in his hospital bed, eyes closed. My brother, sitting at his side reading, was holding Jerry’s hand. That image is indelibly stamped on my mind.

I was blessed in being granted an eight-month leave of absence (quite a bit more than required by law) to care for, advocate for, and be with my husband during his illness–treasured time for both of us. You, too, may be eligible for unpaid Family Medical Leave (FMLA) if your spouse is seriously ill.

FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE ACT (FMLA)

“FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. These employers must provide an eligible employee with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for any of the following reasons:

  • for the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee;man in wheelchair
  • for placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
  • to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
  • to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.” https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla

For additional information and eligibility requirements, see https://www.thebalance.com/family-and-medical-leave-act-fmla-2058514?utm_term=what+is+family+leave+act&utm_content=p1-main-1-title&utm_medium=sem&utm_source=google_s&utm_campaign=adid-b2d52b33-ace1-4b0c-a162-3a3e8c075923-0-ab_gsb_ocode-4573&ad=semD&an=google_s&am=broad&q=what+is+family+leave+act&o=4573&qsrc=999&l=sem&askid=b2d52b33-ace1-4b0c-a162-3a3e8c075923-0-ab_gsb.)

While a 12-week Family Medical Leave is generally unpaid, the Leave Act protects your job and requires that your group health benefits remain intact during its duration. Discuss your options with your employer’s Human Resources department. Perhaps you can use some of your sick time for pay during the Leave. Your employer may allow you to work from the hospital or home on some days. If you can’t afford to take unpaid leave, can you arrange for others to check on your spouse during the day?  Talk with his caregivers about effective ways to communicate if you continue working during your loved one’s illness.

This is a difficult, challenging time. I treasure the scripture found in Psalm 56:8:

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.” (NLT)

If God collects our tears, records them in His book, how deeply He must love us.

Next week we’ll discuss financial issues.

Gatherings

Sitting at breakfast, Don and I watched through the window as a quail flew onto our fence. Another flitted up behind the first; and a third soon joined them. We often see groups of quail, eight or ten little ones scurrying about collecting whatever worms or insects they find, while two or three adult quail sit on the fence, watching for trouble, guarding those focused on the earth.

My dear friend Susan Swain captured the beauty of our need for each other in her alcohol ink painting “Gathering.” (used by permission).

We gather for many reasons.

  • Celebrations like weddings and holidays.  On the July 4th weekend Twin Lakes Church provided a petting zoo, bounce house and slide, hot dogs and watermelon for all. Just a reason to be together as part of the family of God.

    Tents going up for conference

    Tents going up for conference

  • People of Faith gatherings – before moving to the Soquel hills, we were warned that this season was crazy along San Jose-Soquel Road because of the attendees at the Seventh Day Adventist conference grounds just down the road from us. In addition to the many folks who come with fifth wheels or trailers, rows upon rows of camper tents are put up in preparation, along with enormous white meeting tents. But we’ve always enjoyed this time. True, we’re retirees and don’t often have to be somewhere at a specific time. But the conference provides their own people to direct foot and vehicular traffic, and we’ve never been held up long. Rather, it’s lovely to see knots of people tailgating for meals around various trailers, walking in with their Bibles for worship and teaching.
  • Memorials – Last week I mentioned my brother-in-law, Wally, whose memorial we had attended. As family gathered, we told stories, shared memories, and reconnected with each other. We come from a variety of political, faith, and personal backgrounds; but we came together to honor one we all love.
  • And in tragedies like the recent shootings of young black men as well as the five police officers gunned down in Dallas; destruction by earthquake, fire or flood; we gather to grieve, to support, to help where we can, whether that’s rebuilding homes, or walking alongside those who are creating a new normal, changed forever because of loss.

We’re not created to live life solo, but in community. Whether married or single, we need each other–for fellowship, forgiveness, healing, accountability, support, help. “And one standing alone can be attached and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer; three is even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12, NLT.

Who are some of the cords in your life?

Remembering, with Thanks

O say does that star-spangled banner still wave ...

O say does that star-spangled banner still wave …

This weekend we thank those who have served our country, giving time, commitment, sometimes their lives in order that we could remain free. While I appreciate all who have served honorably, I am thinking especially today of our World War II veterans, who are slowly leaving us. My brother-in-law, Wally Loewen, is among those. Wally passed away just over a week ago at the age of 95, joining his Savior, Jesus Christ, his beloved wife Esther and their son Paul, both of whom preceded Wally in death three years ago.

And while I was raised in a conscientious objector tradition among peace-loving Mennonites, I respect and appreciate all who served in a variety of ways to maintain our freedom to worship, think, and speak freely. That thanks extends beyond the service men and women to the families who prayed, believed, hoped, loved, and sometimes buried them.

My husband believed it was his responsibility to serve his country, joined the Army, and trusted God to place him where he should be. Billeted in the Medical corps, Don went to sanitary technician school, where he learned how to keep food, hospitals and fields sanitized to inhibit the spread of disease. In chauffeur school, he also learned to drive all sorts of transport vehicles. During and after the end of the war, Don spent sixteen months in Okinawa, working primarily with mosquito abatement to prevent malaria spreading among the troops and on the island.

His older brother, Wally, went into alternative service where he made prosthetic limbs for returning servicemen. When Wally was transferred to Camp Barkley near Abilene, Texas, his new bride Esther didn’t know where he’d been sent. Determined to start her marriage WITH her husband, Esther persisted until she learned Wally’s new posting.  She promptly boarded a bus and followed, surprising him on her arrival. She repeated that persistence when he was transferred to Ogden, Utah. Gutsy lady, committed to her man and her marriage.

There’s an even greater freedom that Jesus came to give us. Galatians 5:1 states “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” His sacrifice frees us from the burden and power of sin and guilt, from the necessity of following a set of rules that bind us rather than setting us free. His atonement brings us into relationship with the God of the universe, Savior, Lord.

So this weekend, my thanks are first to Jesus Christ, who set me free from the power of sin and death; and also to those men and women who have faithfully and honorably served our country to maintain the freedoms we still enjoy.

Who are you remembering and honoring this weekend?