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 anxiety, beautiful mess, Emotions, taboo

“I Just Had to Pee” and other Half-Truths (Fighting the Monster of Anxiety…A Day in the Life…Glimmer of Hope)

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”  (Desmond Tutu)

“Are you doing okay?” my husband asks at 3:30 am.  “It seems like you are having a hard time sleeping.”  “I just had to pee,” is my response.  Half-truth.  Statement that quiets the other’s worry.  Words designed to make everyone (including myself) believe that “I’m okay.”  This happens often with the struggle of anxiety.

I have fought with what’s best described as Generalized Anxiety Disorder since my late 30s.  More than 14 years.

If you knew me growing up, in my 20s and early 30s, you would have told others I was independent, strong, and care-free.  I was the teen who drove to Canada to see my boyfriend and slept in the back of my beat-up Ford Pinto without any thought to the dangers of a young woman alone at a rest stop.  I was the young adult who left home after college, delivering pizza while looking for work, and sleeping at friends’ houses with only about $20 in my pocket.  I was the young mom who allowed her preschool children to play in our cul-de-sac without supervision, never hesitating to think they might be snatched, hurt or fall into the river that was only 50 feet into the woods behind our house.  Not someone you would classify as anxious.  Far from it.

I will never forget that morning.   I woke up.  Just as I was getting out of bed, my left leg collapsed right out from under me.  I fell.  My heart raced and I panicked. I got up slowly and was able to walk normally, but called the doctor immediately. “What was happening? Did I have a brain tumor?” Not sure why that thought immediately came as I had never paid much attention to my health. I was crippled with fear almost in an instant. I was pretty sure I was going to die.

A battery of tests for brain tumors, lyme disease, and MS.  With each waiting period and diagnosis in the clear (my leg was probably just asleep when I fell), I thought I would have some peace.  I only got worse. The final diagnosis: a full-blown nervous breakdown. For three months, I lay in my bed, cried, couldn’t leave the house, and had what they call depersonalization, the feeling of being “out of body.”  I thought I was going crazy. It was the darkest time in my life.

Fourteen years of counseling, on-and-off medication, progressive muscle relaxation audios, my Headspace app, exercise, comforting Bible verses on sticky notes, deep breathing, prayer and begging God for relief, yoga, chamomile tea, close friends and a husband who shared my pain, changed diet, not watching the news or clicking on WebMD.  You get the picture.  Fighting it from every angle.  Seasons of relief and seasons of being back in the fight.  Fast forward 14 years to the past 24 hours.  I am back in the fight.

A day in the life of half-truths (the whole truth being said inside my head):

7 am “Good morning Allen.  I am glad Jared has work today.”   (“Will he get up on time?  Should I wake him?  He’s 23.  Don’t do that.  Bad boundaries.  But what if he doesn’t get up?  He will lose this job.  He won’t be able to pay his student loan.  He will get bad credit.  His future could be ruined.”)

8:45 am (knowing he is supposed to leave at 9) Send a text. “Want a smoothie before you leave?”  (“Hopefully he is awake and moving.  If he doesn’t respond, I can call him.  Don’t do that.  Bad boundaries again.  But what if….”)

9:45 am (“Sarah’s sonogram for the baby is right now.  They are rechecking some weird spot they found on his heart.  What if he has Down Syndrome?  It’s a soft marker for that.  Stop thinking that, Esther.  The doctor said it’s a super slim chance and all the other markers were fine.  You need to get over this.  Go to the grocery store.  And don’t text her.  Wait until she texts you.”)

10:45 am  Send a text.  “How did your appointment go?”  (“Is the baby alright?  Is Sarah going to have to quit her job to care for a special needs child?  Will she be able to handle this?  This would be horrible.  No, it wouldn’t.  Lots of people make it through and actually thrive.”  And on and on with the back-and-forth while I don’t hear anything for almost two hours.  Shaking at this point.)

12:37 pm Send another text.  “?”  Response:  “Everything is fine.”  (“Why do you keep doing this?  You are supposed to be over this.  See.  It was all fine and your worry was useless.  You have issues.  Maybe you should go back on medication.  Don’t want to do that.”)

12:45 pm (As you can see…relief was short-lived)  “Hey Rachel.  How are you feeling?” (said daughter had wisdom teeth out four days prior and had almost died of  a tooth infection as a young girl)  (“Does she have an infection?  Do we need to call the doctor immediately?  Please just say “better.”)

1:30 pm “Josh, did you hear from Uber yet?”  (“Why did we allow him not to get a real job this summer?  We should have been stronger with him.  Is that controlling?  He better start working.  I will feel so much better when he’s making money.”)

5:30 pm  From Allen:  “Any word about the truck selling?”  My response:  “Lots of people are looking at it and taking pictures.”  (“This truck is the death of me.  Why did we ever let Rachel buy it?  It will never sell.  We will be stuck with it.  I just need it gone.  This box needs to be checked off my list before she leaves for college.  Why isn’t it selling?  I will be okay when it sells.  What if it doesn’t?  I won’t be okay.”)

Dinner out with friends.  Distraction.  Bed time.

Fitful night’s sleep filled with dreams about above items.

3:30 am  Allen:  “Are you doing okay?  It seems like you are having a hard time sleeping.”  Esther:  “I just had to pee.”  (“If he only knew.  Don’t want to talk about it.  Maybe I should write a blog post to get this sorted out.  Would others read it?  Would they love it or stop reading all my future posts since I don’t have my act together?  Maybe it will bring this stuff to light.  Maybe someone will feel understood.  Is it worth the risk?”

As you can see, I believe it’s worth the risk.  I believe that I am not alone.  I believe that bad stuff thrives in the darkness, in the hiding.  So, here I am, bringing it into the light. A glimmer of hope arises in my heart that I have just taken another step towards healing.

You?  What do you need to bring into the light?  Where can you have hope?  Healing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, ministry, Missionary, taboo

Living in a Fishbowl

Living your life in the public eye is a greater burden than most people can imagine. (Justin Trudeau)

“For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.” (Psalm 92:4)

I promised you that we would dive into stuff that might be a little taboo.  Elephant-in-the-room things.  Behind-closed-door chatter.   You may want to click away if you don’t want your world shaken a bit.  Or feel free to stay here and get some nuggets of the true struggles and joys behind the world of those who live their lives in a fishbowl.  Maybe you are that person and you need the encouragement that you are not alone.

Whether it’s a pastor, a politician, a missionary, a CEO, a professional athlete, a musician/actor or even a small-town leader in the community or church, his/her spouse and family have many eyes on them (and cats ready to pounce…I am referencing the cute cartoon picture above).  Having grown up as a missionary kid where my parents and us kids felt the pressure of being role models and living (or appearing like we’re living) mistake-free lives, my heart has a special place in it for those who are living the dream (or the nightmare).

I came across a brave pastor’s wife who peeled back the curtain so we might catch a glimpse of what it’s like to live in this place.  (Obviously, there are pastors’ husbands out there as well, so don’t get all up in your grill…it’s the principle, right?)  Here are some excerpts from her blogpost entitled Things Your Pastors’ Wives Wish You Knew.  Please welcome Everyday Natalie to the Dolly Mama.

I find the role of a pastor’s wife to be both marvelous and challenging. Pastors’ wives carry a heavy load of responsibility as we care for our families and the people in our churches, and participate in activities of the church and community. There are high expectations for our families and us.

I posed an open-ended question to some pastors’ wives I know who live all over the USA, from different denominations, with various years of service to get some answers. I asked them how they would respond to this question: What do you wish people knew about being a pastor’s wife? I received varied responses about the secret struggles and joys of ministry.  I promised anonymity for all who answered, and was so thankful for their honesty.

Here you will find the things we wish you knew but can’t say out loud:

Struggles of Ministry

  • Friendships are hard for me.  I don’t feel that I can fully be myself. I have trusted and been betrayed, so sometimes I choose loneliness for safety’s sake.
  • There’s no way a pastor’s wife can fulfill the high standards people put on us. There is this pressure to be perfect.
  •  My husband has to be a husband and father before he is a pastor.  It seems that people want him to have a healthy family life while giving the church all of his time.  Both the family and the church need to show grace to one another while we live in this tension.
  • Because I minister to many, keep many confidences, and am very busy, it may seem like I don’t want to be as close to you as you want to be to me. But really, I am often lonely and desire to have a close friend.
  • I don’t enjoy being visible and up front. I only do it by the grace of God.
  • Almost every day I’m afraid of screwing it all up.
  • We taught our children to make good choices, but sometimes they don’t.
  • I am a people pleaser and worry/know others are judging my clothes, my hair, my family, the car I drive, and my home.
  • I don’t enjoy living in a fish bowl. There are some aspects of my life I prefer to remain private.
  • I enjoy talking about other things besides Jesus and church.
  • It is very hard not to take church criticism personally. It hurts, especially if it is toward my husband. At times, they come from people that I think I trust and feel safe with, people that I love. This makes it often difficult to trust anyone.
  • I find it hard not be resentful towards people who expect my husband to be available 24/7.
  • I do not have a thirst for power or even a desire to lead.
  •  My life is not perfect. My husband isn’t perfect. My marriage isn’t perfect. My kids aren’t perfect and most of all, I am not perfect.

Joys of Serving

  • I love my job, and I love my church.
  • I have been so blessed by gifts, money, love, and much prayer.
  • Let your spiritual leaders know how you are doing- it is an incredible encouragement!
  • Jesus is the answer to everything- really, He is!
  • It is an honor to minister alongside and I take it seriously. I want to love people as Jesus does.
  • It is a blessing and privilege to be trusted with other people’s secrets, joys, and intimate details.
  • I love when my when my husband shares insight from his study/sermon prep time.
  • I am challenged every day to depend utterly upon God.

Our hope, as pastor’s wives, is that you would understand we are regular people just like you. We are not special or unique. Please keep all the above responses in mind when talking to us and about us. We try our hardest to love God and love people the best we can.

www.everydaynatalie.com 

Please feel free to comment below and share with those who might need this encouragement today!  I already shared it with one of my pastor wife friends.

Sign up to get my emails if you haven’t already as well.  It’s right there on the side (if you are old-schooling it on your laptop) or the bottom (for you fancy tablet or smart phone users).  Easy-peasy!

 

 

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.