Category Archive: Grief

Agony … and Glory!

“Christ is risen.”

“He is risen indeed!”

The traditional Christian Easter greeting celebrates the greatest truth believers know. But how often do we also focus on the agony that came before victory?

It’s Thursday. Jesus flinches as spittle splatters onto his face, and groans in pain as the crown of thorns is pressed into his forehead. The open gashes across his back attest to the whippings he has endured. His mother, Mary, is barely able to see above the rest of the crowd as she stands, watching while they nail her boy to a rough-hewn cross. Reaching out with her right arm, she forces her left hand to cover the scream that threatens to break out of her throat. She rocks back and forth, heart shredded. “My son. My son.”  Wanting to take his pain; unable to do so.

Later she kneels at the foot of the cross, wringing her hands, keening as she watches her son dying. Never has she felt so alone. Then John steps up and lays a hand on her shoulder. Mary looks up through tears to see that John, too, is suffering as he watches his Rabbi’s body being torn and bruised and broken. She sees Jesus look down on them both.

“Behold your mother,” he says to John.

And “Behold your son,” to Mary.

And after Jesus’ death, after they have buried him in a borrowed tomb, she goes home with John, who cares for her from then on.

There is so much agony in our world. On at least three of five days last week I read about another school shooting, a bombing during Easter celebrations, and a fired employee returning to the workplace to kill. I hurt because some people I love are going through physical, emotional or mental pain. A good friend with whom Don and I have ministered in Mexico for the past few years went in for what was thought to be a non-critical surgery, caught an infection and died. Wars and famine abound.

But, as an old song says, “Sunday’s comin’.”

Sunday, when Mary’s world, John’s world, our world, was changed forever because Jesus conquered death and, in so doing, gave those who believe, life eternal–and hope now!

Yes, sorrow is ever-present in our world. But there is a day coming when joy will be the light of our morning and the song we sing at night. The day when Jesus the Christ returns for his people, and sorrow will forever be forgotten; pain a thing of the past; and peace, justice and harmony will reign. What a day that will be!

I pray that if you are hurting, lonely, confused today, you will turn to the God who gave us Easter Resurrection; and the promise (and experience) of His presence with us in the sorrows and agony of today.

Sunday’s comin’!

 

 

A Tearful Farewell

We said a tearful goodbye Wednesday morning. Our sweet, 14-year old Kelly has recently gone steadily downhill. It hurt to watch her stumble, her legs splay underneath her, her turn away from food, and sleep most of the day.

Don and I have prayed that God would give us wisdom as to when it was time to say goodbye. Several times we’ve thought we were there, but then she’s rallied. And Kelly has never been a complainer, so we watched her eyes, her walk, her food intake, her energy level. Monday we took her to the vet for blood tests. “I’m really not happy with what I see,” Kelly’s kind and competent doctor told us. It was time.

We took our Kelly-girl home for another day and a half to love on her and to say goodbye. En route home I said, “Don, I’d love it if we could take her to the beach one more time. But I know it’s supposed to rain tomorrow.” Kelly slept on my shoulder for two hours that night, something I don’t think she’s done since Don and I married, when she retreated to the bottom of the bed.

My sweet number 1 girl

Rain was heavy Tuesday morning, but the sun peeked out about noon. “Let’s go!” Don and I took Kelly and Paige down to the beach, where we strapped Kelly into her doggie stroller. Paigey ran alongside. We walked over a mile in glorious sunshine, a lovely breeze cooling us. Kelly perked up enough to sit up and watch life around her. It was a wonderful time and the sunshine, a gracious gift from the Father to assuage my hurting heart, allowed us to do something special for Kelly on her last day.

This little beauty has brought a lot of joy and laughter to our lives over the almost ten years I’ve had her.

  • She came to me, a good gift from God, when I was alone and lonely. During a time of grief, she gave me a reason to get up every day because she needed me. During cold winter months I often wakened to feel her little body cuddled under the covers against my thigh. She sneaked under without waking me. I never knew how she managed to breathe underneath the blankets, but she did; and I loved waking to her warmth.
  • Kelly’s antics made me laugh. Early in our life together I went straight to my laptop in the morning. Kelly looked at me from across the room. She opened her mouth and chomped her teeth – I hadn’t fed her yet! Message received.
  • She was my buddy and sweet companion, and I took her along whenever I went somewhere dogs were allowed. She sat quietly and unobtrusively at my feet in Bible studies, lunches, and one-on-ones, never disrupting except with her sweet cuteness, happy as long as she was with me. And if I lunched with a girlfriend and left the table to use the restroom, Kelly stayed behind, remaining in one position, her big brown eyes fixed on the door until I returned.
  • She had grit. When Kelly was just a baby, she took on a big dog who broke her jaw. In the last few years, my girl’s tongue hung out to one side of her sweet, crooked mouth. I think her imperfection made her even more beautiful. And when we brought her grandpup, Paigey, to join our family, Kelly definitely let her know who was boss!
  • I acquired Kelly two months after meeting Don. When we began dating, Kelly was always happy to greet him, to sit with us, to go on walks with Don and his gentle German Shepherd, Ginger. I once waved my hand to include Kelly and said to Don, “You know this is a package deal.” He smiled. “Oh, I figured that out a long time ago.”
  • Our precious princess has left us and we miss her. I am so grateful for this good gift God gave me when I needed her more than I knew.

“So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven.” James 1:17a (MSG)

I love you, Kelly girl! Your imprint will always be on my heart.

Have you lost a pet? What did you love about him or her?

 

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Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’ on the River …

That’s just what Don and I did as we enjoyed a river cruise up the Mississippi from New Orleans to Memphis a week ago. dsc08384 I’d not seen this part of the South before. Our American Queen antebellum steamboat was charming and romantic. Food was plentiful, and delicious. Multiple sitting rooms provided areas to sit and read, visit, or play games.

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Courting chair in the Mark Twain Salon

We flew into New Orleans a few days early, and met our friends Joe and JoAnn Payne at the city’s National WWII Museum Sunday morning. A WWII vet, Don got some extra attention. The exhibits are very well done and the stories of different service men and women expressed the challenges, tragedies and sometimes heroism of war. I was glad to learn more of Don’s service in the medical corps as memories were prompted during our visit, and by questions JoAnn and Joe asked.

Freedom Park in Helena, AK was one of my most meaningful visits. During the Civil War, runaway slaves traveling the Underground Railway knew that if they could reach Helena, they would be under the protection of the Union Army. The Park is a peaceful memorial to the deep need of people to be free. While camps set up for these families left much to be desired in the way of adequate food and housing, they did provide hope of a future lived in freedom.

Frogmore Plantation in Natchez, Miss., my second choice, is the only historic & modern, 1800-acre working cotton plantation in the South. Its owners have a passion to share the South’s history, and the plight of slaves–even more deeply personal as this couple invests in ministries to those caught in human trafficking.  We began our tour on an original pew in an 1800s African American plantation church, as the mistress of Frogmore took us back in time. Music filled the air as two marvelous local musicians regaled us in song. After that we looked through a number of slave cabins, and learned cotton production, then and now.

One day, as we sat on a bench alongside the Mississippi, a young man sat to our left, head on his knees. During Don’s and my conversations with each other and with passersby, he barely moved. Finally I reached over and gently touched his arm.

Showing us how to pluck the cotton out of their "bowls"

Showing us how to pluck the cotton out of its “bowls”

“Excuse me, sir, are you all right?”

He raised his head and looked at us. “Yeah, I’m ok. Just had a big night of partying last night and am resting up to do it again tonight. But it’s nice of you to check on me.” We wished him well. The next day we saw him–same position, same bench. I was saddened to think this was the rhythm of his life, whether just during a trip or as a lifestyle.

Jesus is the Light of the world, and on this trip we saw both the pain of darkness; and the light of hope when slaves were protected, through people we met who are working to relieve human trafficking. May we be filled with the Light of Christ so we will reflect that to those in our circles of influence, to the glory of God.

“If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way…All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.” (II Corinthians 4:3-4, MSG)

May you be blessed with the Light of Life this Thanksgiving week.

 

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He Doesn’t Waste our Pain

Healing following the death of your spouse takes time. Allow yourself the freedom to grieve in your own way and your own time. Ask for help from a pastor, therapist or grief support group. No one can tell you how long you should grieve, or that you should be “over it” by now.

Hope Returns

Hope Returns

But over time, you will again choose to move on. After awhile, I began to write seriously, volunteered with three-year-olds in Sunday School, and mentored a younger woman. A few years later I met the wonderful man who is now my husband. But I didn’t see any of that when in the throes of my grief.

And yet, God doesn’t waste our pain.

The late Senator Harold Hughes, an alcoholic depressive who was holding his gun, ready to kill himself when God stopped him, later claimed the promise that “… I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten.” Joel 2:25a (KJV)

My friend Susan, whose husband passed away a little over two years ago, just told me, “God is giving me new things in my life.” Not returning what was in the past, but giving new life, opportunities, interests.

bottle

God stores our tears; they are precious to Him and do not go unrecognized.

And if our God keeps track of all our sorrows, collects our tears in his bottle, and records each one in his book (Psalm 56:8) , they are not wasted. They may make us more tender to the pain of others; they may draw us closer to our heavenly Father who will never leave us; they prepare us to speak into the lives of others. If we acknowledge and consecrate our grief to the Father, not ignoring our loss or pain, we can submit it to Him for His purposes.

A new believer recently told me, “You encourage me because your life hasn’t been easy; you’ve gone through some very hard times, yet your faith has remained strong.” Praise God–He has not wasted my pain–and He will not waste yours.

I find comfort in the words of II Corinthians 1:3-5.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.” (NLT)

How have you seen God work through your pain to encourage others?

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After the Death of your Spouse – Part II

When you lose a partner, best friend, and lover, depression creeps in like a fog. You may lose social connections you shared as a couple and will need to make some new friends. Your husband may have taken care of the bills, house repairs, and yard. Planning and meal preparation, laundry, and carpools may have been part of your role. Now you have to do it all. Adjusting to single life is not easy, especially if you have children. Here are a few additional tips to help you wade through deep waters to your new normal.

Whatever your grief responses, they are NORMAL.  Grief comes in waves. Sometimes I jumped the wave, occasionally even crested it, then another capsized me and I didn’t think I could go on. You’ll experience the continuum of grief, which typically includes between five and seven stages depending on how you identify them.

Five Stages of Grief

                         Five Stages of Grief

  • Denial (This isn’t happening to me!)
  • Anger (Why is this happening to me?)
  • Bargaining (I promise I’ll be a better person if…)
  • Depression (I don’t care anymore.)
  • Acceptance (I’m ready for whatever comes.) 
    • from John H. Sklare, Ed.D, LifeScript Personal Coach

Confusion, loss of focus, and profound fatigue are typical and will pass in time. Accept your current scattered mind and, if possible, laugh at yourself. When my father was dying, a kind nurse told Mom, “When you put the ice cream in the dishwasher, don’t worry. You’re not losing your mind; you’re grieving.”

Seven Grief Stages

Seven Grief Stages

The chart below identifies grief in seven stages.

Because you will feel vulnerable and deal with all the painful emotions that accompany your enormous loss, it is wise to take some extra safety precautions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do not meet strangers at your home alone; provide only necessary information; avoid telling relative strangers that you’re widowed. When I sold our second car, I met potential buyers at a location away from my house. No one knew my address until I sold the car and gave the pink slip to the buyer. I also asked either my brother or a male friend to meet strangers together with me for additional protection/safety.

Culprits prey on the vulnerable, lonely, and elderly. Carpet, roofing and painting contractors, repair-persons, and especially solicitors, have no need to know you are alone. I wore my wedding ring and kept “the Nicolet residence” and “we” on my answering machine for a long time after becoming a widow.

Consider joining a support group. After a few months, you may want to participate in a grief recovery group through your church or a community organization. Talking with others facing a similar loss can provide a safe place to express your emotions, share information, and learn ways to deal with your grief. To find Christian resources and/or a support group in your area, contact www.griefshare.org.

Take care of little needs.  Despite my down comforter, I faced many winter nights when, chilled from the inside, I couldn’t get warm. One night, shivering, I called a close friend. She told me to “go to Long’s right now and buy a heating pad.”  With a coat over my pajamas, I did just that, and slept better with the added warmth. I also purchased a body pillow so I had something to hold onto. Your body experiences tremendous shock with the death of a loved one, so sleep when you need to, and can.

Recognize your limitations. For some time after Jerry’s death I continued to mentally rehearse different scenarios. What if we tried another treatment alternative? hadn’t had the transplant? What if we’d had the transplant done somewhere else? But Jerry and I made the best decisions we could at the time, in prayer and with the information we had. So did you. Forgive yourself if necessary.

Finally, take heart. There is hope. Relying on Jesus a day at a time to meet your needs, comfort you, and change your dreams is an ongoing process, and will not occur easily or quickly. I learned to count on God’s promise: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT).  Choose life, one day at a time.

 

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