Category Archive: Grief

Preparing

I’ve written four blog posts on grief and heaven since February 2nd. Was God preparing me for my mother’s passing April 4th?

Mom had prepared well for her death. Her communication regarding heroic measures and the disposition of her remains, and the Wills and Trust she and Dad prepared years ago have helped us, her children, make decisions in line with their desires.

Nonetheless, even with good preparation there’s a significant amount to be done after a death. During the COVID-19 challenges and Shelter in Place orders, how do we prepare a memorial service? And we grieve, family talks to each other by phone and FaceTime, and yet, that is nothing like the family being physically present together, telling stories that result in both laughter and tears, hugging each other, grieving together. I really want my family around me right now, but it’s not possible. And that hurts!

My brother watches the obituaries in their local paper each weekend. Most have a note saying something like “Memorial service information will follow as circumstances allow.”

Once again, this death has caused Don and me to look at our own preparations. What do we need to share with each other, or put in writing, in the event one of us should become incapacitated or die, as will happen at some point. How can we serve each other by making our wishes clearly and legally known, thereby taking some of the burden off those left behind?

hospital bed

These are some questions we have used to start the discussion about about our wishes in the event of critical illness or death.

  • If you are unable to make crucial medical decisions due to incapacitation, or your heart or breathing stop, do you want medical personnel to perform life-saving procedures? If not, do you have an Advanced Healthcare Directive or DNR (“Do Not Resuscitate”) form signed and on file with your physician(s)? (See http://www.answers.com/topic/do-not-resuscitate-dnr-order)
  • Where are the physical copies of your legal documents i.e. wills, trust documents, deed of trust for your home, automobile pink slips, and stock certificates? List banker(s), lawyer(s), financial consultant or CPA, insurance and stock brokers. For an overview of financial steps needed following a death, see https://secure02.principal.com/publicvsupply/GetFile?fm=EE12086B1&ty=PDF&EXT=.PDF
  • List bank accounts, credit cards, and locations. Where will you keep these confidential lists safe?  If you have a safe deposit box, where is the key? Is the other partner (or parent, sibling, spouse) listed as a designated signer on the bank’s form? Does he/she have a key? Should you list a non-family member in the event both spouses pass away at the same time?
  • Do you prefer burial or cremation? If burial, where? Can you pre-purchase the site? If cremation, where would you like your ashes spread or inurned?
  • If needed, teach each other how and when to pay bills and complete other tasks that may have been his or her responsibility before illness set in. For example, my mother had never filled the gas tank before Dad died. That was one of the hardest tasks for her.
  • Have you each specified in writing who you want to receive special personal items such as wedding rings, jewelry, art, tools, or furniture?
  • Have you discussed special wishes for music, favorite scriptures, pastor or priest you wish to perform your memorials, or other preferences for your services?
  • Where would you like pets to go after your death(s)? (My contract with the woman from whom I purchased my Cavalier King Charles Spaniels indicates that in the event of my husband’s and my deaths, Paigey will return to her. This ensures our dog will continue to be loved and well cared for, and that no family member or friend has to take in a pet they may not want.)

The good news – no, great news – is that a day is coming when …

…he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.

Isaiah 25:8 NIV

I’m reminded of my father’s comment when he knew he was dying. Mom reminded him that God was preparing a place for him in heaven. A building contractor, Dad’s response was “I’d like to see the specs.”

Well, Mom and Dad, you no longer need to see the specs because you are THERE, dancing at the feet of the God and Savior you have loved throughout your lives.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

John 14:1-4

My Redeemer Liveth

Sadness has shrouded my spirit this past week. While I’ve been glad that my mother is free of the restrictions of age, while I am thankful for the hope we have in Christ, I’ve missed Mom deeply.

Quite a few years ago Mom put some of her recorded songs on a CD for the family. Among them are her solo of “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth”, along with trios and duets between Mom, my older brother Arnold, her sister Mary, her brother Irvin, and me.

Mom, Irvin and me

After a welcome nap this afternoon, Don put on that CD–the first time since Mom’s passing. We sat, held hands, Paigey between us, closed our eyes and let Mom’s beautiful voice flow over and around us. Memories flooded my mind. Mom, Mary and I around the piano at my parents’ home. Arnold, Mom and I singing together, Mom’s clear soprano, Arnold’s strong tenor and my alto. Irvin and Mom dueting.

I grew up listening to my mother sing, at home and in church. She taught my older brothers and me parts and as we drove across the country we would sing four-part harmonies.

So listening to her CD brought back wonderful memories. I realized that in her last years Mom had lost much of what she loved … Dad, her ability to sing, her hearing, her desire to sew. She so longed to be with her Savior, to see my father again, along with her parents, brother and others who have preceded her in death.

Listening to Mom today, I felt some healing inside. Oh, tears will continue and I will miss Mom every day. But I realized she is just where she wanted to be, free of any constraints and rejoicing in the presence of her God and Savior.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which we celebrated this weekend, we can be confident in His love for us. We can be forgiven and share in eternal life with Him. This is the truth Mom sang about in “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth”. It is the testimony of her life, and what gives me hope even as I grieve.

One of my mother’s favorite scriptures was Psalm 143:8.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.”

I’m feeling hopeful again tonight. May you be blessed as you put your trust in the God of the universe, the Redeemer who lives forever.

From Death to Life

Once again grief roars into our family.

I keep wanting to pick up the phone and call her. Then I remember. She left us Saturday. Transitioned from death to Life. My precious 98-year old mother has longed for the day when she would see Jesus face to face. She’s eagerly awaited that great reunion with my father, who preceded her by eighteen years. Saturday evening her prayer was answered.

Mom and Dad’s Wedding. Her beautiful sister Mary is the bridesmaid on the left; Dad’s brother Jake is his best man. Mom’s brother, Irvin, is the ring bearer.

Mom lived independently until about a year ago when she moved into an Assisted Living Center. Over the past year her hearing has declined significantly so that conversations were often difficult, both in person and more so, on the phone. I treasured those moments when I saw her personality shine through her twinkling eyes, young again because of a shared memory, a laugh, a thought.

Mom could laugh – at herself or others – but never unkindly

Mom’s mobility also decreased significantly. Her legs were weak and she first needed a walker. Then she got an electric scooter which was wonderful in helping her get around the Manor and to meals in the dining room. More recently, Mom was usually in a wheelchair when she left her room.

A month ago Mom fell and broke her ankle. She’s been in a cast since, which limited her mobility even more.

I have so many precious memories with Mom.

She was a wonderful cook and homemaker. My brothers and I thought we were so clever when we came up with our own riddle:

Q: “What does Mom always look for and never hope to find?”

A: “Dirt!”

When I was quite little I spilled a glass of milk from my high chair. I expected a scolding. Instead, Mom picked up a towel, said “Oh well, that can be fixed,” and began wiping up the spilled milk.

I received Christ as my Savior at the tender age of eight years. But as a mid-teen I faced doubts–had I said the right words and was I really now a part of God’s family? When I finally confessed my fears to Mom, she helped me understand that God knew my heart. I didn’t need a specific word set if I acknowledged my need for forgiveness of sins and a Savior. She showed me John 6:37 where Jesus promised “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” And my soul was at peace, knowing I was accepted in the beloved.

Mom modeled love for Jesus Christ and for others. She was hospitable, gracious and kind. She was gifted with a beautiful, classically trained soprano voice and taught vocal lessons for many years. Whenever I couldn’t be home on an Easter Sunday I knew Mom would be singing “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah in church.

She modeled the disciplines of a walk with God–she loved reading her Bible, doing her Bible study and praying.

When my father died eighteen years ago, Mom refused to wallow in her grief. Deep as it was, she continued to meet with their friends, to enjoy their Sunday school class and church, and to invite others for a meal or conversation. One day not long after Dad’s death, I took Mom to a shopping center–I can’t recall why. As we walked and talked I told her I wished I could take her pain.

Gracious as always, she turned to me. “Carol, you have your own pain.” Despite her grief, she could look beyond herself to see my need in the loss of my beloved Dad.

Later, when both Mom and I were widowed, we took several overnight trips together. Our conversations during those times were deep, fun, meaningful. We talked about whether she had any desire to remarry (she didn’t, although she had a valued male friend for several years). We talked about my hopes and desires for my future. We explored other geographical areas.

We enjoyed seeing movies together.

Going to lunch together.

For many years Mom, my brother Arnold and I enjoyed singing trios together, until both her voice and mine waned. For a time we sang in the same church choir and I loved how her voice next to me challenged and improved mine.

Mom with her sister Mary, their brother Irvin, and me

When I was a child our family enjoyed family nights every Friday. Mom was our resident Chinese Checkers expert and winner. When my youngest brother, Bob, was five we taught him to make the popcorn and that was his job from then on. Since we didn’t have a television ’til I was in high school, Dad bought a movie projector. He and Melvyn often went to the city library and selected 16mm films we could enjoy as a family. Mel and Arn enjoyed playing with the movies–and watching downhill ski segments reversed so skiiers flew uphill backwards gave us big laughs!

Mom still enjoyed playing games until the last week of her life. She was part of a Wednesday night Rummikub group at the Manor. She loved it when she could win one or two games, and enjoyed the mental challenge and competition.

She loved her husband, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with all her heart and prayed for us faithfully. Her deepest desire was for her family members to know, love and serve the God she taught us about from our birth.

With the corona virus outbreak it’s been very hard not to be able to visit Mom in person. Bob and Sheila, Don and I have talked to her through her room window. But no touch, no hugs. Last Monday and Tuesday Mom told me she just didn’t “feel right” and was extra fatigued. Tuesday night an ambulance took her to Kaiser. Bob and Sheila and I waited in the parking lot, unable to enter the ER. Every 20-30 minutes one of us would check at the door for updates. Finally Mom was admitted and, because her x-rays showed spots on her lungs, she was isolated for two days awaiting results from a COVID-19 test. Mom did, however, have pneumonia and a serious case of sepsis (blood infection).

When the COVID-19 tests came back negative, Mom was admitted to end-of-life care and was allowed one visitor at a time. Over the next three days Don, Bob and Sheila, Mel and I spent time loving her, holding her hand, telling her it was all right to go Home. Arnold, unable to travel from Kansas, was with her on FaceTime.

I had the privilege of spending Friday afternoon, night and Saturday morning with her. I read Psalm 23 aloud and croakily sang several hymns, often breaking down in tears. I held her hand and kissed her and told her how much I love and appreciate her and that she would soon be with Jesus and Dad.

Saturday afternoon Bob spelled me and sent me home to rest. He loved on her too; and at 6:19 that evening she took her last breath on this side of eternity.

To use my nephew’s phrase, I am heartbrokenly grateful. Grateful for my mother’s long and loving life; for having her in my life for so many years; for her freedom from pain and suffering, limitations and loneliness. Grateful for God’s promise that because Jesus lives, I will be reunited with Mom when He calls me Home. And heartbroken because I want to pick up the phone and hear Mom’s voice, to hold her and hug her one more time.

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:21

I love you Mom. Give Dad a big hug for me, and I’ll see you both soon.

Meeting God–in Grief

I’m enjoying reading (again) “Meeting God at Every Turn” by Catherine Marshall. Marshall was the wife of Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate from 1947 until his unexpected death in January 1949.

Catherine relates her own two-year battle with tuberculosis, during which God taught her four significant lessons in her spiritual journey. When Peter died suddenly at the age of 46, leaving her with a nine-year old son, she relied on those lessons she had learned during her own extended illness.

Marshall shares that as she walked into her husband’s hospital room after his death, she felt both his, and another “Presence of transcendent glory, the Lord he had served through long years …” and she knew that “human life does not end in six feet of earth.”

That feeling of splendor didn’t last. At a certain point the two vivid presences left the room and Catherine saw death in all its ugliness. And death IS our enemy. I recall the moment my first husband passed from death to Life, and I knew he had left the room.

Catherine was given a message as she walked to the hospital room door–a message “with that peculiar authority I had come to recognize as the Lord’s own voice:‘ Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life’.

The message I received after Jerry’s death, not audibly, but with great clarity, was Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you hope and a future.

About eight days after Peter’s passing, Catherine was once again in the “valley where salt tears and loneliness and the fear of coping alone with the problems of everyday life are all too real.”

My crash came about three weeks after Jerry’s passing, when questions and doubts assailed my mind and spirit. What if everything I believe is a lie and I’ll never see him again? What if death is the end and there is no eternal hope with Christ?

I’m not comparing my spiritual walk with Catherine Marshall’s. She has gone far deeper with God than I have. But I was reminded of some truths as I read this chapter.

1) Grief is a universal, but God has promised that in all, He will never leave nor forsake His children.

2) Death is ugly. It is our enemy and it is ok to be angry about death (as long as we move past that at some point). But death is also the window through which we must walk to reach the other side, where glory and peace and joy and worship and the physical Presence of our God await His children.

3) God encourages and comforts us through His people. While our natural inclination may be to hibernate, to be unwilling to cry or allow friends in during a time of grief, God has given us those individuals to rally ’round and help us in times of need.

I had friends and family who listened and wept with me, who didn’t try to fix me, and who helped bring our yard back to a semblance of order after I had been away from home for the nine months of our hospital stay in another state. Others sold items for me, prayed for me and for our families, welcomed me despite my being a wilted lump of clay as I groped my way through days and nights of agony, loneliness, numbness. As they allowed me to be only partially present with them, I needed to invite them into my grief.

4) We cannot sidestep the work of grieving the loss of those we have loved and held close in life. And yet, inconceivably, grief and joy can at times co-exist. Knowing my husband was with the Lord he had loved and served in a place of indescribable glory, I knew he would not want to return, not even because of his love for me. Why would anyone leave heaven to return to this world with its joys and sorrows, its beauty and its pain?

5) When we grieve, we experience a oneness with the rest of humanity, and we can encourage others as we ourselves experience healing.

Are you grieving? Look for someone else who has gone through loss, someone you can unburden yourself to honestly. It may be a minister, a priest, a counselor, a good friend, or a grief recovery group. (Check out www.griefshare.org for grief recovery groups across the country and possibly in your area).

And if you have experienced even some level of healing, I encourage you to reach out to someone else to share the help and love you have received.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

II Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV

Marshall says “Part of the process of setting us free (‘…He might deliver and completely set free all those who through the (haunting) fear of death were held in bondage throughout the whole course of their lives’) is reassurance piled upon reassurance in Scripture that at the death of the physical body, the real person inside lives on without interruption.” (p. 111)

When I questioned the truth of God’s promises, the resolution came as God brought to my mind the words of Peter, when Jesus asked if His disciples would leave Him.

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.

John 6:68, NLT

And with those words, my doubts settled, my biggest questions answered.

At some point we will all experience grief, if we have not yet. Ask your questions–but find people you trust to listen and love you, rather than looking for those who would encourage your doubts. Our God is sufficient to handle our honest questions and fears.

Casting all your cares (all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all) on Him, for He cares for you (with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully).

I Peter 5:7 AMP

Forged in the Fire

“Lord, be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
our salvation in time of distress.”

Isaiah 33:2 NIV

I was 3000 miles from home, waiting for my husband to receive a transplant, then hoping and praying for his recovery.

Friends I’d never met before and I sat in hospital waiting rooms together. We asked about our respective loved ones, wept and prayed together, laughed over silly memories, held each other as one by one our loved ones passed into eternity. Friendships that have lasted were forged in the fires of adversity, pain, loss.

One of the few times my late husband was moved from Intensive to Transitional Care, he had a roommate. I pulled the curtain between the beds for some privacy.

I saw beautiful, tall Bonnie, whom I’d met in Intensive Care, walk around the unit, looking at room numbers. She opened the door to our room and walked to the next bed. Of all “coincidences” (right!) George, her husband, was Jerry’s roommate.

Bonnie and I greeted each other and sat with our respective husbands. At one point I softly began to sing. “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not, great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Chills ran up my arms as an alto voice chimed in from the other side of the curtain. “Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided, great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

And I knew I’d met a sister in Christ. Bonnie and I both lost our husbands that Fall, but our friendship has endured.

***

I met beautiful redhead Kathy and her husband Wally, lovely blond Lisa and her Bob, gracious Wayne, and their sweet mother Willene. Willene’s husband, their father, was dying. We too wept and prayed and laughed and held each other through those difficult months. And we’ve shared life since, with visits before Don and I married ten years ago, over facebook, emails and phone calls.

***

Fritz and Frank, dear friends for many years, moved to the East Coast two years ago. Fritz, a nurse, spent time in the hospital with Jerry and me, patiently teaching me how to read the monitors to assess his stats before I left the hospital each night.

***

Don and I saw these friends on the East Coast this week. It’s been a rich and renewing time. These friendships were forged in the fire of suffering. I’m thrilled…

  • to be together again;
  • that our friendships have endured over these fourteen years (and more with Fritz and Frank); and
  • grateful that in the darkest of times, God surrounded me with precious friends who walked through the valley of the shadow of death with me, and I with them.

Just this morning, Don and I prayed together before enjoying breakfast in our hotel. A lovely black woman sat at the table next to us. I noticed she was crying, quietly leaned over and asked, “Excuse me. Can I help?”

Julia swiped at her eyes and looked up at me. “No,” she replied. “You just prayed, and you said ‘Father’. We have the same Father.” And she proceeded to tell us of God’s good work in her life and that of her adult daughter over the past five months.

I’m blessed by God’s faithfulness, not only to me, but to friends we meet in these divine appointments. Friends who encourage me in my own relationship with God and with others.

“By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean …

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.

Hebrews 10:20-23, NLT

What divine appointments will God bring into your life and mine today as we become intentional about encouraging others to acts of love and good works? I’d love to hear how He is doing this in your life.