Posted in Celebration, Emotions, Family, God, Grief, Hope, Sacred

Cheers to You Cathy! (and your beautiful girls you loved so very very much)

“I am exhausted from trying to be stronger than I feel.” (Whisper Quotes)

April 14, 2017.  Good Friday.  “My beautiful daughters were killed in a head on collision on I-17 by no fault of their own. They died instantly and went home to be with the Lord.”

It’s been one year.  One year.  Hard to believe.  Hard to still fathom what happened and especially why it happened.  Losing one child is hard enough.  But losing both?  Horrible.

Cathy was one of my best and dearest friends in high school.  Our parents worked at the same mission organization and we went to the same church and youth group.  We both grew up in different parts of Africa so we had that in common.  We both had the middle name of Joy and we sang together in competitions under the name of Double Joy.  We had boatloads of fun, dated friends, were on our Bible quiz team, loved one another fiercely, and even got in some mischief together (like the time we were arrested because I pointed a dismantled BB gun out of the window of my car and an undercover policeman happened to see it…long story for another time).  I think my mom made me “break up” with her because of this (little did my mom know that I was really the one to blame and Cathy was the one who should have been breaking up with me).  Needless to say, Double Joy (and maybe Double Trouble) fit us perfectly.

After I left for college, Cathy went on in her career and then moved to North Carolina to become a highly successful mortgage loan officer and then top sales rookie for Aflac Insurance Company her first year.  During that time, she raised two beautiful girls, Karli and Kelsey, into wonderful adult women.  Karli went to Grand Canyon University and was about to graduate at the end of  April 2017 with a BA in Communications with plans to get her masters degree.  Kelsey was a Bio-Medical Premed student at Western Carolina University.  They both loved life, their Savior, their friends, their mom and one another!  Please read more HERE.

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In the early-morning hours of Good Friday, April 14, 2017, the girls were killed in a wrong-way crash.  Please check out the first news story HERE.  There are more links to come.

Photos, videos, condolences, tributes and a GoFundMe fundraiser immediately flooded social media on behalf of Cathy and her girls.  News stories from North Carolina and Arizona went viral.  Check them out HERE and HERE.

Three days later, April 17, 2017, Cathy posted:

“The past 72 hours have been more than I can bear and my sorrow and broken heart I can’t even share. So much I want to say but I still just can’t. My tears are many and my soul and body know no rest.”

The morning of the viewing:

“Tomorrow starts the worst 36 hours of my life.  I’m afraid to even go to bed because it means I have to wake up. I still struggle to breathe and function.  I ask for much prayer as I truly physically and mentally hurt more than I ever thought possible. Smarli and Smelsey, Mommy is here and will love you forever. My heart belongs to you both forever and my life will forever be unhappy because your smiles and laughter will not be seen or heard anymore on this earth. I’m jealous of those in heaven as they get to be near and with you: which is where I want to be. Mommy”

The day of the funeral:

“Today I bury my children, something a mother should never have to do. I ask for prayers every minute as I do the final task for my children today, the one last thing I can do for them as mommy. I will lift them up to the Lord and I will speak on their behalf.”

That afternoon, with the church packed to the gills, Cathy stood on stage for more than an hour, at times reading from notes, but more often speaking freely and telling stories about her girls.  She spoke haunting words to the audience, asking “Are You Listening?,” wanting others to heed the call of her girls’ tragic and undeserved deaths.  You can actually watch the Youtube video HERE.

Fundraisers all across Arizona and North Carolina popped up.  Richard Petty’s iconic #43 race car drove in honor of the girls.  Dutch Brothers Coffee in Arizona raised money.  A GoFund Me page was set up and more money poured in than expected.  Vigils were held.  Benches were dedicated.  Pictures were painted.  Videos were made.  Trees were planted.  Letters of support came from across the globe.

Only 10 days later, Cathy flew to Arizona and walked in Karli’s place at the Grand Canyon University graduation ceremony to receive her daughter’s diploma.  Check out this article and the following very touching interview.

 

 

In the painful weeks to follow, Cathy spent time with family, friends, Cathy’s kids (a group of several young adults who call her “Mom” and spent Mother’s Day with her) and her cats, found a plot of land to build K2 Ranch, a home she wants to invite others into in honor of the girls, and went to vigils and fundraisers.  She grieved often and openly, finding some purpose in their deaths.  Read more HERE.

Kelsey’s birthday, July 15, was marked by great grief and incredible joy as friends gathered to celebrate her:

“July 15, 1998.  Kelsey Mae Richardson was born. Intense labor and you entered the world screaming. Full head of hair, the famous eyebrows and the beautiful pouty lips: from day one you had it all. You grew into a incredibly smart, beautiful, full of life, talented loving young woman: only to have it all taken away in the blink of an eye.  From the moment I heard you to the moment I first held you, I loved you! As you grew and got mouthy, then extra sweet, then clingy, then adventurous and even more beautiful than ever, I loved you more. Your incredible mind made you uniquely different and as that developed I became your best friend: the one who really understood you and “got you”. Kelsey, I still “got you”!  You now have a future with the Lord God Almighty, and “He got you” way more than I do. HE is your protector now and your guide: watching you love and laugh as you run around heaven carrying Karli.  I know where you are today on your birthday, you are with Jesus, you are celebrating with the Most High. Tonight look down about dusk, I’m sending presents up to heaven to you tonight. You’ll love it and you’ll think to yourself: “aw, mom still has my back”. I gotcha Smelsey, I love you and miss you and I gotcha! Happy Birthday Kelsey, mommy loves you forever and always”

Eleven days later, the truth came out.  The girls had definitely been killed because of too much alcohol.  Cathy began to share their story anywhere and everywhere people would listen, at Kelsey’s college, on the radio, and through social media.  She desired (and still does) to inform others about the dangers and devastation of drinking and driving.

 

In late August, I had the chance to spend the day with this incredible woman.  We drove around with the top down in her fancy sports car and enjoyed the gentle breeze and the beautiful day.  She showed me her land and her plans to build K2 Ranch.  She shared endless stories about her amazing girls.  She took me to see Memorials that have been made and we even stopped in to visit local veterans at Richards Coffee Shop which houses Welcome Home Veterans Living Military Museum where she and the girls spent so much time and energy honoring those who have served and continue to.  We even stopped to see one of her clients that she “gave a talking to” about how his choices were bad for his health and his family, but that she was still going to try to get whatever money she could for him from the insurance company.  We ended our time with a wonderful dinner on a lake at her favorite local eatery and she still had time to drive me home and have a quick visit with my parents.  I was enamored by her.  Her grief was open.  Her spunk was not destroyed.  Her joy was unhindered.  Her love for others was evident.  Her heart was the same, filled with adventure and kindness.  She was all of those things at the same time and in the same moments.

More grief as her cat Ollie dies on September 12:

“I woke up to find the cancer had finally won the battle with my precious little Ollie. A year ago Ollie walked into my yard and rescued me. I didn’t rescue him, he rescued me. God knew this would be the year of my life that would forever change me, and He gave me this little guy to sit on me when I’d cry, sleep with me at night so I wouldn’t be alone, be silly and cause laughter and smiles. To be loved completely and greeted immediately: that’s my Ollie. What he gave was what humans just can’t give me this year.  He helped me to be calm when I was restless and lost. I love you Ollie and I’m so grateful for you saving me this year. Give kisses to Karli and Kelsey and tell them I miss them and love them.”

September 14, 2017

“Five months ago, God took you both home. I still don’t understand why but I’m trying. I struggle daily and some days are good and others unbearable. My heart is heavy but when I close my eyes I can feel your soft skin and smell your hair and feel it run through my fingers as I hug you tight and you hug me back. So brokenhearted today…”

September 17, 2017  Cathy spoke:

“I had the honor to speak at Western Carolina University on behalf of my beautiful daughter about the tragedies of drunk driving. It was a emotional night but I know God is using my beautiful girls for His glory and knowing this I will make it through life until one glorious day I have them both in my arms again.”

Cathy spent Christmas with her elderly mom, but it was an unimaginably hard day:

“1 year ago. Laughing and smiling and loving my life 100%!!! All I love around me. Never again will smiles be the same or a fully happy heart. God let’s me know they are happier than I can imagine but my heart is broken beyond imagination. Thank you for texts calls and emails. Knowing I’m prayed for and my children are not forgotten is one thing that warms my heart and makes me smile. May they never be forgotten. My soul will one day be full again when the Lord takes me home and I will feel them in my arms and hear their laughs and smell their hair and know that my babies are with me and we are together.”

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On New Years’ Eve, the reality of the night ahead pierced Cathy’s heart.  Too much drinking and possible driving tonight.  Other families will grieve as a result.  She warned:

“I pray you all READ and remember: SHARE this especially tonight.

This should never have happened. My incredibly smart, funny, loving and beautiful daughters should be ALIVE today! DRUNK DRIVING caused this, killed them and killed the drunk too! DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK TONIGHT!!! For EVERYONES sake DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK TONIGHT! No mother should get the knock on the door tomorrow morning like I did. If you think it can’t happen to you, it happens. DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK!!!!!!!!!!!”

Cathy’s birthday, January 7, is marked by another day of horror and beauty, brokenness and redemption:

“There was a plan that the girls devised, of how our older years would be and how the girls would take care of me.  Kelsey would work and make all the money.  Karli would watch all the children and clean Kelsey’s house and mine. I was the cook and financial planner. We would all live on 15 acres which Kelsey would buy with her “doctor’s” income.  Today, they are taking care of me but in a way that I wish I could change. I’d rather live in a tent than live without them! But today, they are building me a ranch house in the country to live and retire in. It will be handicap accessible and will protect and care for me.  Beautiful acreage and everything I could possibly ever need and want. They are providing for me and caring for me from above in a way I never thought of. It’s hard and emotional to build this.  I cry almost every time I go out to see it. People ask if I’m angry at God, and the answer is sometimes I am. I cry and I yell and I wonder why everyday. Yet, through all this He made sure I would still be cared for as I was left here on earth: they are caring for me and keeping their word and will forever provide for me till I see them again. My precious babies mommy loves you so much and I can’t wait till the Lord brings us back together again in heaven…”

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In February, we had lunch together as I was back in Charlotte to care for my mom.  She spoke of how she was doing, what was happening with the ranch, and listened to my stories with a kind heart.  Again, she was authentic and vulnerable, not sugar-coating her grief, but also filled with laughter, the same girl I had known my whole life.  It marked a wonderful three hours as we tried to eat healthy, but ended up having some treats, just like two 50-somethings would do when they went out to lunch.  So normal, yet so “not normal.”  It’s never normal to talk about your children’s deaths and all the after effects.

March 26, 2018, Karli’s 21st birthday, another speaking engagement and a cake made by a friend.  Another day of grief and beauty.

Good Friday, March 30, 2018:

“A few weeks ago I got permission from the new owners of our old home to remove a 10 year old Pin Oak tree that Karli and I planted when she was in 3rd grade. It was a sprig in a paper cup she brought home from school and insisted we plant. She watched over and watered and protected that sprig, and it actually began to grow.  I will be able to look out my back porch and see the tree that my little big girl and I planted years ago, and as it grows I will remember my little big girl who never gave up and believed that she could do anything she put her mind to.”

Same day, right before bed:

“Many of you have texted, called, messaged and done very kind things for me today: and I truly appreciate it all. It is Good Friday and last year the girls died on this day.  I struggle daily with so much. I remember day one, minute one, second one when each were born. How I long to go back.  April 14 will be the toughest, the actual day when 1 year will have passed without us laughing, hugging, talking, giggling, watching Scooby Doo, going to DQ and Pomodoros, watching movies with Gma, shopping and sharing in the life we had put together and loved so much. Karli I can’t stand it that I don’t get your constant Facetime calls, and Kelsey it’s almost unbearable to sit on the couch on Fridays now and know you aren’t going to walk through the door and surprise me with a weekend visit. God needed you and I don’t know why, but knowing how safe and loved you are up in heaven gives me the comfort I need to know I will see you again: I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN! Good Friday is a important day and when I think about it you both are so special and important it makes sense He would take you home on that day: you had to go and you both were so good and how honored to go home on the day the Lord did too. He will rise on Sunday, and because of that you rose out of your grave and are with Him: and someday I will be up there also and again we will laugh and hug and be together again, only this time forever. Nothing will ever again separate us once God brings us back together again. Pain and suffering, forever down here I will have, but Praise God for Easter as one day all suffering will end.”

 

April 7, 2018 “In one week it’s been a year. Breakdown today. I can’t take it.”

Sunday night, April 8, I sent her a message.

“I have felt so compelled to write a tribute to YOU this week on my blog. For a year, your heart has been laid out for all to see and especially the excruciating pain you have gone through. I have admired from near and far. I just want to give you a huge shout out, but wanted to get your permission first.  It will be a way to honor you, your heart, what you want to come of this and also your girls and their legacy. You are one beautiful soul, Cathy, and I want to honor you.”

 Her reply:

“Oh thank you Esther. How kind. I’d be honored and humbled.”

 

April 9, 2018  “Karli’s tree is doing beautifully if you look closely there are full buds on every branch of the tree is living just like Karli and Kelsey are living in heaven above mommy loves and misses you both so much.”

April 14, 2018  Cathy is currently in Arizona heading on a hike and a luncheon to honor the girls on the anniversary of their deaths.   A “Come Light a Candle Event” is taking place in North Carolina.  These girls were so loved and they are very missed.  This morning, her heart poured out again.

“I was reminded last week that Paul told us in Philippians that we all should run the race to receive the prize for the mark of the high calling. It hit me, it really hit me. God puts us here to run the race for Him and we are to run for Him and when we have won the race He put us on earth for, He takes us home.  God gave me two incredibly and wonderfully-made girls and by the age of 18 and 20, they had finished the race TOGETHER that God intended for them.  I sat there looking up to heaven with tears streaming down my face and all I could think of was ‘I get it!.’  They ran the race for the mark of the high calling and they won!  My children ran and they won!” 
So Cathy, here’s to you, sweet Mama, and to your beautiful and broken heart.  Your girls won their race and you are winning yours!  So many times, we wait until a funeral (really until it’s too late) to tell people how valuable they are and what they mean to us.  You did not do that with your girls.  You told them every day how much you loved them and what they meant to you.  I am learning that from you.  So today, I choose to tell you this:  YOU are the one left here and standing and sad and YOU are beautiful and important and wonderful.  I see you.  I hear you.  You matter.  You haven’t given up. You’ve been authentic and real in the heartache and struggle of it. You have questioned and trusted God through it all.  You’ve honored your girls in such a profound way. You’ve loved those around you.  I love you.  Cheers to you Cathy!
Posted in Anxiety, Beautiful Mess, Childhood, Emotions, Family, Freedom, God, Grief, Hope, Joy, Love, Parenthood

Launch Sequence (I thought it would be easier)

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”  (Frederick Beuchner)

Jared moved to Pittsburgh five days ago.  Since graduating last December, he’s been living in our basement apartment, working with his business partner to launch a web-based company, while doing odd jobs and serving at a restaurant.  As a nervous “millennial” mom, I asked him every so often if he was okay and was he going to be living in our basement when he was 30.  I don’t want to be that parent, the one everyone talks about, that does not “launch” her adult children properly (if there even is such a thing, but I can assure you, there are tons of articles about this very thing that make me a little crazy).

About a month ago, I got the phone call.  “Hey Mom, what do you think if I move to Pittsburgh with Joe?” (see business partner above)  Shortened version of my response:  “Sounds great, Jared.  You could live in Dad’s apartment while you get one of your own (for those of you who don’t know, Allen commutes there three days a week and has a one-bedroom apartment).   You could work for Uncle Charley while finding a job (Charley has a large landscaping company).  I think you will love it.”  Inside my head, I was doing a little cheer, because it would be the beginning of the launch sequence.  I could even hear the countdown in my head.   After all, Pittsburgh is the perfect place.  Allen grew up there.  His parents are there.  His brother is there.  His other brother just bought a farm and moved there with his wife and seven children.  Even his sister is moving to Pittsburgh one week a month.  And most importantly, Jared is a huge Steelers and Penguins fan and his favorite part would be that there would be no more game black-outs.  All the ducks would line up in a perfect row.  YAY!  But of course, part of me believed it wouldn’t come true (negative thoughts rearing their head).

As the month marched on, I was proven more and more wrong.  All the pieces kept falling into place.  Joe got a good job and Charley said yes to Jared.  Everyone in Allen’s family did a jump for joy when they heard the news.  Jared in Pittsburgh.  What a treat!  Even Charley, when he heard the news, said to him, “You finally came to your senses.”  So, on January 2, 2018, Jared packed up his car and moved to “Da ‘Burgh” as it’s known to the locals.  He started work for Charley just two days later on January 4.  All seemed super happy and positive.

Here’s where it gets a little sticky!  I thought I would be elated.  Doing my own jump for joy.  Proud of myself for getting another one out of the house, “launched” as I frequently say to friends (we even use the rocket ship emoji every time this happens to someone).   No more extra food-making.   No more dishes from the basement to wash.  No more feelings of being tied down.  Although those things did happen, other emotions flew in unannounced.   Sadness.  Worry.   Sentimentality.  No more “do you want a smoothie” texts with a reply “Would love one.  Thanks Mom.”  No more “where are you?” texts from him as he pulls in the driveway and my car is gone, causing me to feel needed and loved.  No more hugs as he comes up the stairs to get his laundry.  On New Years, the night before he was to leave, tears flowed unprovoked.  We shared the following texts.

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Life is filled with this.  We experience “BOTH AND” as I like to say.  On many occasions and even at the same time.  BOTH happy AND sad emotions.  BOTH difficult AND easy situations.  BOTH scared AND brave thoughts.  BOTH excited AND anxious feelings.  BOTH joyful AND sorrowful events.  This is one of the times.  I thought (once again, because I am slow learner) that I would only have all the good emotions since this is exactly what I want for Jared (and myself).  But that is not to be.  My heart is filled with a myriad of emotions and a cornucopia of thoughts.  And I am okay with all (okay most) of them (finally).

I lived a lot of my life trying to live in and for ONLY the positive and the good.  I shunned the negative and the bad.  It created much anxiety in anticipation of the “shoe-dropping” moments I dreaded might come true.  I have slowly come to realize that life is filled with it all.  And each part, either negative or positive, can be embraced, lived with and through and then incorporated into who I am and becoming.  It’s a much more whole and integrated place to live and be.  And believe it or not, my anxiety and fear about the dreaded “what bad thing is around the corner” has dissipated.  Bad things will happen.  Good things will happen.  I will be happy and sad.  There will be joy and grief.  It all may happen even in the course of the same event or moment.  BOTH AND.  A much more freeing place to live from.  I keep plugging away toward this place as my life marches on, repeating this mantra, “BOTH AND.”

All that being said,  I am BOTH sad AND happy that Jared has moved out of our little basement apartment into a whole new experience in Pittsburgh.   And Jared, I write this again (even though it’s on a graduation plaque in your bedroom downstairs) to remind you of my heart for you and my dreams for you.

May the Lord bless you, Jared, and grant you His favor FOR:

  • a life filled with knowing and receiving God’s amazing and unconditional love.
  • a wife, children and grandchildren who will love and respect you with passion and fierceness and that you can grow with as you journey through life.
  • success in the work of your hands. 
  • you to find your passion and that your work would bring fulfillment for you.
  • blessing financially so that your generous heart would be able to give freely.
  • a long and health-filled life, unhindered by disease and suffering
  • deep and abiding friendships that will build you up and support you on your life’s journey
  • you to have the peace of God that will guard your heart and your mind.
  • you to have the confidence to be yourself and hold onto who you are in an ever-changing world.
  • purity and integrity in your mind, body and heart.
  • a kind and gentle spirit who will continue to seek out those who need help and offer them yourself.
  • you to entrust yourself to the God who is trustworthy.
  • you to hold fast to God and be unwavering in your loyalty to Him, as He is to you.

I love you Jared!  You are one of the best gifts I have ever known and I will miss you.

Mom

P.S.  I loved your snapchat pic when you were pulling out of the driveway.

By the way, Jared’s web-based company is on the move.  For all of you who are of have up-and-coming college students, you will want to check it out!!  Look for a launch date coming soon!!

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Emotions, God, Grief, Holiday, Hope, Sacred

Advent (The Howl of the Not-Yet)

O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…

The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love.  The pain seems overwhelming: substance abuse in adult children, the possibility of a very scary diagnosis, a seemingly unfair and senseless job loss, a sibling carted off to jail in the middle of the night, an impending divorce and the unnerving future of being alone, a debilitating disease that prevents normal life-function, and mental illness that doctors are having trouble treating.  You get it.  You are hearing that kind of news as well.  And like me, your thoughts might be shouting, “How long?  How much?  Why?  Why right now?”

I love the holiday season.  From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions.  Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few.  A quick confession:  I like this paragraph more than the first one.  I want to live here.  I want all good things, happy thoughts.

The period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent.  It’s Advent right now.  Shauna Niequist reminds us that “advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning.  Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl.  There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”

For many weeks now, as you read above, I agree with Shauna.  I feel a lot like Advent.  Advent is NOT Christmas morning.  Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled.  Advent gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting.  Advent is “both and.”  Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable.  But advent also says there is hope, just as real and palpable.  Advent says “don’t skip over the suffering.  Don’t minimize the heartache.  Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.”  This is not an easy place.  And if the truth is told, I struggle with Advent.  I do not sit with the grief, acknowledge and feel it.  I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come.

I am slowly learning that skipping right to Christmas doesn’t work.  It doesn’t take away the pain.  It doesn’t make bad things not happen.  It doesn’t bring true healing.  Advent brings healing.  It is the place of real truth that speaks both heartache and hope, both suffering and a savior.

Sometimes God does His best work during the seasons of advent in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times.  And that hard work usually takes the form of those who “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who go to the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us of who God is and His undying love for us, for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.

There are more than two weeks until Christmas.   Let’s not skip to that place.  Let’s live in the not-yet, the place of anticipation.  Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love.  Let’s be okay in the waiting.  Christmas will come soon enough.  A baby will be here.  A Savior will come.  What is empty will be filled.  Heartache will be healed.  Yearning will be fulfilled.  What is broken will be repaired.  What we’ve lost will be found.  But in the meantime, we will wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.

Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

(It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Fourth Verse)

Posted in Emotions, Grief, Love, Sacred, Suicide, Taboo

Grief – A Friend’s Story (Railroaded)

“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” (Aeschylus)

I sat in the car on a long trip, asking questions and listening.  Hard questions.  Painful questions.  The friend I was traveling with had lost her teen son to suicide only 14 months earlier.  The sacred beauty that poured out was mesmerizing and heart-changing.

Most of my life, I avoided all things about death.  One of my close friends in high school lost her battle to depression and died by suicide when we were in our 20s.  After that excruciating pain, I vowed to avoid all suffering, especially death.  It worked for many years.  I was not confronted with the horror until last summer.  And as you read in my first grief post, it came on full-force.  So much loss.  To so many.  People I loved.  People I could not avoid.

I decided to go deeper.  Lean in.  Experience pain.  Go to the hard places with those I cared for.  Seek to understand and learn and change and grow and plunge into the depths of all that it means to be human (including profound loss).

During our car ride, I asked this friend to share her thoughts in written form.  I wanted to pour over, pray over, learn from and understand this shadowy part of life.   Two days later, I received a Facebook message from her, sharing her current grief and continued suffering, trying to make sense of what had happened to her.

I encourage you not to click away and avoid, but listen with your heart and share her sorrow with your soul.  Come into the shadows, where hardship is, but where beauty lies, where suffering is, but the sacred is revealed.  I warn you.  Grief is beautiful and terrible and wonderful and necessary all at the same time.  Here is some of her heart.  

Nothing about my life is the same since my son died. Nothing. Yes, he is gone, but it is much more than that. My friend asked me one day if I felt “railroaded.” Yes, that’s it. Railroaded.

Before my son’s death, I had two kids who attended school and played sports. I hopped from here to there providing taxi service as well as being a spectator of those sports. I spent my weekends on a soccer field or at a cheer competition or sang at church. A free weekend was rare. I was a business owner who worked 4-5 days a week. I worked out five days a week and watched what I ate. I had just lost about 35 pounds and felt great. I spent evenings on the couch with my kids watching our favorite shows. I organized a charity Christmas party every year that we as a family participated in and Dad was Santa. We vacationed one week a year in the tropics and one week at the Jersey Shore. I planned girls’ nights. I went out with friends. All summer long, friends would be over for BBQs and the pool.  I was the life of the party.

After.  I don’t even know where to begin. My daughter got one too many concussions and had to quit her sport. I do not have to taxi anymore. I am not on a soccer field or at a cheer competition on the weekends (unless we go to watch friends). I do still sing at church. That’s one thing that IS the same.

Work is tough. Feeling like I can’t function and am just not up to doing things, it falls through the cracks. I do what I absolutely have to, but my regular work schedule is thwarted.

I work out as much as I can, but often not the five days I would like. If I feel bad mentally, I push through and go, but if I feel bad physically, I often don’t make it.

I feel, like my friend said, railroaded.

Eating. Another area that has been railroaded. Food. It’s what people bring when someone passes. Food. For months after. Food. Please don’t get me wrong. I greatly needed and appreciated all the food. If it weren’t for those friends who brought meals, I’m not sure any of us would have eaten. It is just much harder to eat the way you know you need to. Days turned into months and months into more than a year.

Railroaded. There are still shows that I watch with my daughter. But it just isn’t the same watching things without my son. Sometimes during Survivor I still get teary-eyed.

The Christmas party lives on. It was just different this past year. It felt railroaded as well. It was hard to plan because my son’s birthday is in December and I couldn’t do it that day. We struggled for the right day, but we did it because the kids would miss it. Dad was still Santa.

Vacations. Another victim of the railroad. We all did go to Florida last year. My husband and I were tourists, and our daughter spent her time at a cheer competition. Even though we were all there, it didn’t seem like a family vacation. There was the trip to Costa Rica that wasn’t. Cancelled at the last minute. It was just too hard to go without our son and brother. There was the attempt at Vegas for Christmas. We were there less than 24 hours. Too much anxiety and pain. We ended up coming home and blessing some homeless people in the midst of our pain. The Jersey Shore. I miss it so. I spent one weekend in early June and have not been there since. I miss a beach house and boardwalks with our family and friends. No more boardwalks, just railroads. I miss true family vacations.

My social life. Railroaded. I don’t want to be Julie the cruise director any more, planning a fun night for friends. Sometimes I turn down invitations because I don’t feel good. I miss being carefree and going out with friends. I miss feeling good.

As I contemplated my friend’s word, I realized it meant even more than she intended. This all started the night my son died on train tracks. My life has been, in more ways than one, railroaded. I hope that some day I won’t feel so lost and off kilter. I know that through all of this, God has held me in his hand and He has not let me go. That is the only thing that is keeping me on the tracks.

My response to her:

This is a good start to getting your feelings out there.  It makes so much sense to me.  It’s good to speak of losses and to say them out loud.  It gives a beautiful glimpse at the real stuff that makes up grief.   It is so good for me to hear and learn from you and share your pain.  It brings me both sorrow and healing.  I pray your sharing would bring you some measure of healing.

For those of you who have loved fiercely and lost someone precious to you, I pray that you would find a safe space to share your true heart, the one that might be hurting.  I pray that those who listen would dive deep and sit still and share some measure of your grief and suffering.  I pray that in God’s vast wisdom, compassion, kindness, mercy and love, He brings unfathomable healing to each of us in the places only He can reach.

To my friend who was willing to put her heart out there today, thank you.  You have given me the gift of yourself and there is nothing greater.  I am asking God to give you many good gifts straight from His heart to you today.

 

 

Posted in Emotions, Grief, Thanks

TT (Season #01, Episode #02)

“The grateful heart that springs forth in joy is not acquired in a moment.  It is the fruit of a thousand choices.”   (Nancy L. DeMoss)

I woke up early this morning to the very shocking and sad news that a close high school friend, Mark Jones, went to be with His Savior.  He was one of the best people I have ever known.  Kind, gracious, loving, wise, and more.  His velvety voice ministered to me (and many others) as he shared it on Facebook each Sunday morning.  I am so sad.  It’s only been two weeks since we talked on Facebook messenger and I told him I was praying for him.

My first thought is that I am not going to post this today.  I just sit in bed and cry.  For a while.  In the moments that pass, I recall what Ann Voskamp calls “the hard thanks,” giving thanks when you don’t want to, when it’s difficult, offering sacrificial thanks.  It almost seems inappropriate. But deep in my spirit, I hear a voice that reminds me that it is right and good and healing.  Ann says, “Lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transfigure it into beauty.”  Mark was a gift to me.  My life would not have been as good without him.  Thanksgiving truly wells up in my soul as I think of him.  His mantra was “God is good all the time.  All the time God is good.”  He was beautiful.

So dive deep and continue with me on this never-ending journey of giving words to the gifts that have been strewn to us by a generous hand and loving heart, treasures from a God who longs to speak His presence into our very souls (and today, they seem way out-of-place because I wrote this yesterday, but still I give thanks).

  • BurgerQue Enjoyed a mouth-watering burger on a salad (no bun because, of course, I am skipping the carbs on an endless venture to lose five pounds…don’t worry, I ate a brownie for dinner on Sunday and gained it right back).  Best part was sharing this meal with good friends.
  • Rachel’s piano and voice recital (she’s only been playing for one year, but she killed it…check it out here) #proudmama #samsmithlaymedown
  • A husband who is loved by and loves his children.  (huge shout out to Allen Goetz) “My father didn’t tell me how to live.  He lived and let me watch him do it.”  (Clarence B. Kelland)
  • Our power-washer (with the help of Jared) that made our deck sparkly-clean.
  • Getting the last child graduated from high school.  WHEW!  (snarky aside:  we did not need seven speeches from people who hope that what they say in their three minutes of fame will change a life forever…wow, that didn’t sound thankful) #gowatchunghillswarriors
  • This morning’s rain storm and the happy dance I am doing because I don’t have to water all the hanging plants and deck planters.  Yippee!
  • A text from a good friend reminding me of her love and thankfulness for me.  All just became well in my soul!

I would love to be drawn me into your world and the treasures you have been given.  Please comment below.  We will share the easy and the hard thanks together.  One thing does not cancel out the other.  They just sit there next to each other.  I am off to cry some more.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Family, Grief, Sacred, Suicide, Taboo

Grief – One Friend’s Journal Entry (For Steven)

“True love between two human beings puts you more in touch with your deepest self.  The pain you experience from the death of the person you love calls you to a deeper knowledge of God’s love.  The God who lives in you can speak to the God in the other.  This is deep speaking to deep, a mutuality in the heart of God, who embraces both of you.”  (Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love)

Grief.  Most of us try our very hardest to shy away, or even run away from it.  We question what to say when someone is grieving.  We are unsure how often or even if to “bring it up” once life supposedly goes “back to normal.”  We don’t know what to expect from ourselves or what the other might need from us.  Should we come close or give the other space?  It can be a very confusing time for everyone.  And truthfully, if I can speak candidly about myself,  I don’t like to be in pain or be with others in pain.  It’s just downright uncomfortable.

The past couple of years have been filled with family and friends who are grieving.   And like most things in my life, I am not an avoider.  I want to throw myself headlong into the process, engage in it, learn from it, deal with it.  After all, it’s fairly new to me and I’ve heard that it’s horrible, sacred, beautiful intimate, and gut-wrenching all at the same time.

I lost my own sister-in-law, Denise Maret, just under a year ago, after a year-and-a-half long battle with colon cancer.  My brother and 19-year-old niece are left to raise my nine- and ten-year-old nephew and niece, along with the help of their grandparents.

My friend lost her precious brother to suicide.  He has left behind a wife, three children and two grandchildren and her heart is broken.

Our friend and former babysitter lost both her dad and her husband to cancer during her two pregnancies and she is left to raise two young children alone.

I reconnected with someone on Facebook who lost her only son to teen suicide.  This was the second time she lost a child, the other, a daughter, in early infancy.

A friend from church battled kidney cancer for many years.  His wife faithfully cared for him, only to lose him.  He missed his step-daughter’s wedding by only three short months.

One of my best friends from high school lost both of her daughters, her only children, in a tragic car accident on Good Friday.  They were only 19 and 20 years old, absolutely stunning girls, one only 10 days away from her college graduation.

You have your own stories.  So much horror.  So much sadness.  Grief multiplied.

This is probably where you want to click off, log out, go find puppy videos on the internet.  Me too.  At times.  But not today.  Come with me.  Lean in.  Learn along side of me.  Today, we will catch just a glimpse inside the world of my friend, Annie, who lost her baby brother to suicide at just 51 years old.  I promise you that it’s not all horrible.

When she first shared this journal entry with me, my heart was filled with horror, joy, sorrow, connection, injustice and comfort.  Yes.  All of those things.   Loss feels raw and sad and terrible and wrong, but also sacred and beautiful and precious.  Entering in to the pain allows our hearts to be touched with a deeper knowing and beauty that we will miss if we click away.  I ask that you would read on.

Annie’s Journal Entry on 6/17/2017.  Four months later.

Steven is gone.  He is gone.  He is gone from me.  How can this be?  How can he be gone, just gone?  I don’t feel disconnected from him . . . but definitely disengaged.  He is not here to hope, or dream, or plan for a future together.  All those things are gone.

My connection to a future here that includes him is gone, and nothing will take its place.  It is an empty space…and it will stay empty.  It is a space that holds his absence and my missing him.  My own future will always hold this empty space.  I am suffering.  I will suffer, but I will not be destroyed or left desolate by an empty space.

This empty space where Steven is missing is a sacred place.  I would rather have this sacred, empty space than no space at all.  Our love and connection to each other created a space for our future together.  If there had been no love and connection, there would be no space – – and I am thankful for it, for our empty space . . . for my empty space.

I am thankful for all the other spaces, the other spaces that are full – – beautiful, cherished spaces filled to bursting with love and life and memories.  Memories of the two of us.  All the precious moments we had together and apart-but-connected.  All the treasured memories we had together with others.  Those spaces are filled up and will stay full . . .
nothing will change that.

I don’t have you with me now my Steve, my beloved Steven, but I am forever grateful for you – my one time little brother, my forever friend.