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, God, sacred, thanks

TT (Season #01, Episode #04)

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.”  (Melody Beattie)

Which one of us, given the question, “Do you want more healing in your life?” would answer, “Actually, I want more destruction.”  My son, Josh, broke his hand a few years ago.  He was given a super teeny cast (the “Michael Jackson one-glove look”).   The doctor, as usual, (like I hadn’t heard this at least a thousand times before…after all, I raised four children) said, “follow my instructions and it will heal.”

We all know what it’s like to receive, from our wonderful and smart health care providers, that long sheet of paper spelling out all the instructions to make sure healing happens (and some of us… I won’t say who… do a better job than others at following them).  I knew this at the time.  I wanted Josh’s hand to heal throughly and quickly.  (After all, now he would have an excuse not to empty the dishwasher.)

Being the cynical person that I am, I wondered about the point of this miniature cast.  After all, look at it.  It’s ridiculously small and I’m not even sure it’s doing much of anything.  Did it even matter?  Could he get healing without the cast?

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However, being the rule-follower and anxiety-ridden person that I am, we followed the instructions to a tee.  We certainly did not want more destruction of the hand.  We both wanted healing.  And we both trusted that this wee cast would provide the right environment for it.

The right environment.  Hmm.  Now there’s a thought.  This bitty cast doesn’t heal his hand.  All it does, even super teeny, is provide the right environment for the healing to occur.  The cast doesn’t get in there and cause the bones to be “remodeled” (I know this term from watching 12 years of Bones episodes).  That comes because our bodies, given the right environment and care, have been designed by God to heal themselves.

More thoughts.  Can this apply to more areas than the physical?  Has God given our souls, minds and hearts the ability to heal if they are in the right environment?  I believe an emphatic YES.  Do they have to be huge?  I believe an emphatic NO.

This cast gave the room for healing.  What environments, even if they are not grandiose, but small, can I give to myself to make room for healing?

My whole blog is dedicated to hope and healing.  I would be amiss if I didn’t tell you that this morning, I need some of that myself.  It’s been a long, emotional week (as some of you who have read my blog know… and for those of you who don’t, check out anxiety post and murder post) and I am quite exhausted from it all.  I said to my husband this morning, “I just feel out of sorts and out of control.”  I sat down to write.  Process.   And guess what?  Next up (and I would imagine this isn’t a coincidence), Thankful Thursday.

I looked at my thankful app (that awful red notification circle was glaring on my phone).  I realized I hadn’t written one last night.  And to tell you the truth, I didn’t want to play catch up.  I didn’t really have anything.  Yesterday had been difficult.  But of course, God is wise and super loving.

The thought came out of nowhere.  Is thankfulness one of the environments that brings healing?  I began to look it up.  It is true.  There are about a million (okay, just a slight exaggeration) actual scientific studies to back this up (don’t want to bore you, but check this article out).

God reminded me that it might just be what I need this morning, even though super small, to bring some healing today.  No.  It’s not magic or formulaic (believe me, I have lived a lifetime of that destructive line of thinking). But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s GOOD.  So here goes.  Join with me.

  • My oldest brother turned 60 (and don’t get any ideas of how old I am…he’s the first born and I am the baby… like the super baby).  We got to surprise him and share Ethiopian food.  I was able to watch him become overwhelmed with the love of his family and friends.  He might have even shed a tear. Highlight of the summer.
  • A long lunch and talk with a friend from high school who I hadn’t seen for 30+ years that I thought might not go so well.  After all, she had her act together even then (in a kind of straight-laced, smart, preppy, godly way) and I certainly didn’t (in a bouncy, talk-too-much, all-over-the-place, boy-crazy way).  It was wonderful and beautiful.  Our hearts connected as we shared our similar journeys of brokenness and redemption.  A true gift for me.
  • Rachel’s wisdom tooth surgery and healing went off without a hitch (and this is no small feat in her never-ending saga of tooth infections and emergency extractions).  It’s the small things sometimes.  The not-end-up-in-the-emergency-room things.
  • Celebrating the wedding of our friends’ son.  Watching young love blossom.  Their commitments to God and each other.  The roasts (I mean toasts).  Shoe games.  Gorgeous weather for an August Saturday.  Reminders of our own love and commitment.  Continued thankfulness for Allen and our 26+ years.
  • A rainy Monday provided for the day I woke up with a sore throat.  Cozy rest.  A nap when I needed it.  Rain makes me feel safe inside.  Long story.  Thankful.

Here’s to asking God to do only what He can do.  I can’t bring healing to myself.  Only He can.  That’s his job.  And my job?  To follow the instructions of the Great Physician.  Listen to His heart for me.  Place myself in environments so that He can do His job.  It’s not a formula.  It’s not magic.  I’m not even sure how it all works.  But I do know this, celebrating and speaking out and reminding myself of all that I am thankful for is GOOD.  And I will take it today.

 

 

 

 

Posted in freedom, God, murder, prison, sacred

Kim (A Prisoner on the Outside, but not on the Inside)

“If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”  (Jesus)

My college roommate and best friend at the time murdered her husband on Valentine’s Day, 1998.  Even though it was a famous and well-publicized murder, I never knew until recently that she was serving a life sentence in a Maryland correctional facility.  We had spoken just a couple of years prior to the murder, but we lost touch, mostly because we had both moved and it was before social media (snail mail just didn’t cut it in those days).

Fast-forward to this past January when I spoke at a women’s group telling the story of my  continuing redemption and restoration.  I hadn’t thought of this friend for several years, but some things that we shared (not such good things) were a huge part of my redemption story and I shared them with this group.  Just FIVE days later,  I commented on a friend’s Facebook post and received a quick response, “Are you the Esther Maret that roomed with Kim Aungst in college?”  I recognized her as Kim’s high school friend, Rachelle.  Quickly, I private messaged her and said yes.  I couldn’t believe Kim’s name was coming up again.  I asked if she was still in touch and how I could reach her.

Her next message: “As for Kim, we are still friends but it is a long, sad, crazy story. She was convicted in 1999 of killing her husband. If you Google Kimberly Hricko, you can see part of the story. (I know some of you are clicking… don’t forget that you are reading what the media wants you to know and don’t forget to come back!!!) At first I wasn’t sure if she did it but she has since admitted she did. I am pretty much the only friend from that period of her life that stood by her. I just felt that regardless of what she did, she needed someone. She has since turned herself to Jesus and is helping others in prison. She has a daughter who I kept in touch with. She was like a niece to me. She is married and has a daughter.”

A few more messages were exchanged.  My body started to tingle all over.  I was overwhelmed at the heart of Rachelle who had unconditionally loved Kim, but my mind went to how this could have happened.  Two young girls sharing a dorm room at a Christian college.  Best friends.  The transfer after freshman year to separate schools.  One goes on to marry, raise a family and do normal things (that would be me).  The other kills her husband and is in jail for life.  I spent the better part of a week sorting through my feelings and decided to write her a letter, convinced that God had brought her back into my life.  Would she respond?

Mustering the courage to tell Kim that my heart was broken for her and that I wanted to see her, I penned a short letter, enclosing a picture of our family, telling her bits about myself, promising not to judge her, explaining that I just wanted to be hear her story and be her friend again.

It took weeks to get a reply (snail mail in jail is extremely snailish).  She wanted to see me.  Relief washed over me.  I met with Rachelle for breakfast and spent the better half of the morning getting reaquainted, sharing the stories of our lives and making a plan to go see Kim together.

That happened this past Thursday.  A four-hour trip to Jessup, Maryland (Rachelle almost not getting in because of  bra hooks that set off the metal detector), a one-hour visit with smiles, stories, and quick hugs, and a four-hour trip home.

Early Thursday morning, I  prayed that I would bring healing and restoration to Kim and that I would (wait for it…okay, it’s hard for me) listen, listen, listen.  But, of course, God had something else up his sleeve.

The moment I saw her sitting in the visiting room at the sterile table, my heart leapt for joy.  As we spoke, she was the same Kim, kind, funny, smart, interesting and my friend.  The three of us spoke for the hour, reminiscing, sharing stories of ourselves, our thoughts, our families, and she shared about life in prison.  It was fascinating, to say the least.   Here are little glimpses of her life:

  • She works and makes $3.45 a day as a layout engineer using CAD software.  She designs office space for municipalities and has even done some dorm layouts for the University of Maryland.
  • She has to buy all her own toiletries.  Tide Pods are $6.99 for a small box.
  • She lives in the most privileged section of the prison because of good behavior.  She has a TV (with an old antenna) and a DVD player.  She has seen reruns of the TV shows where she is featured countless times.
  • She has a pet cat named Lynn.  The local shelter has partnered with the prison to allow inmates to care for a dog or a cat which goes with them to freedom if and when they get out.  (litter box right in the cell)
  • She started a book club (that has now spread to three or four other prisons) where college professors come and teach.  Her favorite book is Life of Pi.
  • She speaks to victims’ families and allows them to ask her any question.  This is designed to bring understanding and the potential for forgiveness and healing.

The story of her heart was even more fascinating.  She has come to the place where she has taken ownership, admitted guilt, and sought ways to contact her husband’s family to ask for forgiveness.  She has hope that (and it would truly be a miracle) one day there might be some kind of healing between them.

I was confused and amazed as to how she had gotten to this place.  How had she worked through all the shame and guilt.  I mean this is big stuff.  Like huge stuff.  Way out of my league stuff.  Why is she okay?  And not just okay.  She actually used the word “blessed.”  I received a little peak at part of the answer.

We spoke about how God’s heart is NOT for retribution, but for restoration.  His desire is not to punish her, but to redeem her (or any of us for that matter).  She knows this life-changing truth at the core of her soul.  He loves her no matter what she has done.  He is restoring her.  Not to freedom on the outside (both literally and figuratively), but to freedom on the inside (both literally and figuratively).  WOW!  Just WOW!

It all hit me like a tons of bricks:  this is why Jesus came.  Freedom for the prisoners (Luke 4:18).  Not the outside kind, but the inside kind.  And no circumstance or failure (even premeditated murder) or brokenness is too much for Him.  He doesn’t discard anyone.  He never sees anyone as beyond hope.  He can free anyone, even normal me.  This is His main business.

I prayed very differently on Thursday night.  This time it was not that I would bring healing to Kim, but thanksgiving that she had brought a little more healing, freedom and restoration that day to little old me!  Surprise!

(By the way, I received her permission to share all of this.)

 

 

 

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.

Posted in love, sacred

The Ta-Da List

“What did you do right today?”  (You’ll find out – keep reading)

Based on the fact that there are about 17,000,000 apps and web sites out there to manage your to-do list, many believe that the crossing off of such a list is top priority.  Get ‘er done.  The feeling of accomplishment and thus a sense of peace is promised at the end of the day when it’s all finished.

However, if I’m like anybody else, and I know you people are out there, I was trained from a young age to spend time at the end of each day focusing, not on what I had accomplished, but on what I had done wrong, admitting it out loud and asking God for forgiveness.  No matter how much good I had given to the world, my last thoughts as I said my bedtime prayers were how I had messed up and what I hadn’t done well and who I had offended (in many cases, this happened to be the God of the universe…yikes).

This line of thinking followed me into my adult years and into my marriage.  I ended most days, as did my husband, with final thoughts of how much I had done wrong.  For reasons I don’t remember, one night I changed it up and asked Allen this question, “What did you do right today?”  Crickets.  More crickets.  Finally, after several minutes, he answered with something like, “I smiled at the store clerk.”  If I know him at all, he had probably been kind, sought justice, served those he worked with, and treated everyone he met with complete dignity and respect, along with all the daunting tasks he had crossed off his list.

Appalled at how much of our day was taken up with negative thinking about ourselves, we decided to make this a best practice for the end of our days.  We spent time each evening before we closed our eyes to sleep asking each other this question, “What did you do right today?”  Instead of only beginning our days (which I do as you can see from the picture above…it’s my actual current list for the day I write this) with a to-do list, we ended our days with a “ta-da list.”

Although this was a really nice way to end to my day, something I enjoyed even more was when I slipped into one of my children’s rooms and watched them as they slept (something that still happens from time-to-time, even though they are literally giants at this point).  My heart would be filled with love, joy and peace (after all, this was mostly the only time there was peace) and no matter what had happened during the day, both good and bad, it didn’t seem to matter any more.  I was completely and utterly in love with them.  I was just happy at the thought of them.

To tell you the truth, this sounds a little like the God I have come to know and love.  While the to-do lists and the ta-da lists matter to us, they don’t seem to matter much to Him.  He has bigger things on His heart that He wants to share with us, His children.  He longs for us to hear His voice in the depths of our soul as He says to us at BOTH the beginning and end of each day, regardless of either of those lists, “I will quiet you with my love.  I will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zephaniah 3:17)  This is what brings my heart the true joy and peace that I long for.

What did you do right today?   What can you say “ta-da” about?  I would love for there not to be crickets this time around.  Comment below and/or share the link with those who might need to hear this question as well.  I am off now to check some more boxes on my to-do list.

(One last thing, please check out my WORTH THE READ page and then tell me your favorite reads.  I would love to get to know you more!  You can either send me a note on my WHO ARE YOU? COME SAY HI page or comment below.)