Grief School: Lesson #2 – It’s a Thing

It was just a fourteen-year-old Jeep. Yet, when it sold last week, you would have thought I was selling a kidney for the emotion that was stirred up.

Miles of wandering like a nomad when Hurricane Katrina left us homeless.

Miles of traveling back home to take care of a beloved Aunt who became ill unexpectedly.

Miles of horseback riding lessons.

Miles of soccer games.

Miles of tennis lessons.

Miles of hauling tack trunks and saddles.

Miles of road trips.

Miles of who knows what when that old Jeep was turned over to my older daughter at age 16.

Over 153,000 miles of my life was wrapped up in that Old Jeep. What’s the big deal? I’ve sold and traded vehicles without so much as the bat of a lash. Why was this time so different?

Here’s something you need to know about profound loss. At the moment of loss – odd, unexpected attachments form instantly. Sometimes, you don’t even know that they’ve formed until something threatens that invisible bond – like selling an Old Jeep.

Anything and everything that represents a link to a lost loved one can take on deep (and seemingly illogical) significance. It’s all part of the paradox of loss.

Ziploc bags, vacuum sealers and freezers become strange bedfellows to the bereaved as we desperately cling to a scent that lingers on a favorite tee. A snack left unfinished. Half-empty (or half-full depending on your view) bottles of shampoo, perfume, and wine. 

What do old toothbrushes, deodorant sticks, dirty clothes, old shoes, a garage door opener and a stretched-out hairband have in common? A loved one who is now gone was the last person to touch them.

The towels left on the bathroom floor that might have been “the last straw” one day become the first in a string of precious memories the next. A source of irritation one day; a desperate connection to loved one the next.

So, what can we learn from these strange, unpredictable, and incredibly strong attachments? 

Ask – Don’t Assume

In our eagerness to help in the wake of loss – it is easy to make an innocent mistake. Don’t assume that the shoes in the entryway need to be “picked up” in anticipation of a houseful of visitors. Don’t assume that the open bag of Gardetto’s needs to go in the trash. Don’t assume that making a bed or washing towels three weeks after the funeral will be greeted with gratitude.

But do ask first. Some people prefer to have things picked up quickly. Others will want things to remain unchanged indefinitely. You won’t know until you ask. And chances are – they won’t either.

I get it. We don’t want to “bother” the bereaved. Who needs to make yet another decision when already blindsided with decisions that never should be made? We want to make things as right as we can for them. We want to make things “easy.”

Trust me on this one. Sometimes, we don’t even know that something might matter until we are faced with it. Finding out after the fact that something was moved, changed, “fixed,” or thrown out can be traumatic. That glass of water next to the recliner might be part of the last scene that someone shared with a loved one. Those shoes in the entryway might fool a broken heart into thinking that a loved one is coming home just long enough for the heart and mind to come into sync. That pile of laundry will carry the scent of a loved one much longer than you’d ever imagine. A sibling, a parent, or a spouse might find great comfort curling up in the bed that a loved one left unmade.

Some attachments make sense. Others don’t. And, the bereaved will be the first to admit that the intense attachments to seemingly meaningless items don’t make sense. It doesn’t have to make sense. Cancer doesn’t make sense. Trucks with jacked up tires and drivers who ignore the safety of others doesn’t make sense. Suicide doesn’t make sense. Drugs don’t make sense. Our reactions when these circumstances invade our lives doesn’t have to make sense.

One of the greatest gifts you can give the grieving – treading lightly and going slowly.  Give the bereaved time to process along the way so that well-intentioned acts don’t become additional trauma to a battered heart.

One note to my fellow bereaved – it isn’t the end of the world, if your spouse eats the chocolate square that had taken on special meaning to you. The sun will still come up tomorrow, if someone cleans the bathroom counter thinking that they are making life easier for you. It’s gonna be okay if the Old Jeep finds a home in another driveway.

The love that binds us to these odd little affections is stronger than our odd little affections. The memories are not controlled by the chocolate, cheese, shampoo, perfume, dirty laundry, old shoes, or Old Jeeps. Long after these things have lost their power, love will drive the memories. Love binds these memories forever in our hearts.

Dear Father, when we are the one who has suffered, thank You for sending others to comfort us, to pick up our houses, to make our meals, to take our turn with carpool, and so much more. When we find ourselves being the one to pick up houses, make meals, run carpool, and so much more, thank You for guiding us to be the best comfort that we can to those who are suffering. In the midst of these upside down, inside out situations, we need your Spirit to help both the bereaved and the comforter to make sense of the senseless. Remind us always that our attachments are not to the things – but to the person. And death has no power over the love that binds us to our loved ones because of your ultimate love for us through the sacrifice of your son, Jesus Christ. For this we pray – Amen!

P. S. May the Old Jeep’s new owner enjoy many miles of memories.

SDG

Connecting the Dots . . .

As a kid (and even beyond), I was am a sucker for puzzles. Crosswords. Word jumbles. Word searches. Sudoku. I couldn’t even resist the humble “Connect the Dots.” Seriously, what is more satisfying that to watch a scene unfold from a smattering of random dots strewn across a piece of paper?

Growing up, the Bible was a lot like a smattering of dots for me. I learned it a dot at a time. The story of Adam and Eve. A story about Jonah and a big fish. A story about feeding a crowd with no time to hit the grocery. A tale of Joseph and his fancy coat. An account of how a boy named David took down giant named Goliath and another about Daniel escaping the lion’s den. A yarn about Noah, a flood, a dove, and a rainbow. Stories strewn across the pages of my youth like random dots – unnumbered and out of order. 

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Motherhood is a Dirty Business

Except for the first Mother’s Day after each girl was born, I’ve tended to write Mother’s Day off as “greeting card holiday.” You could blame it on my cold heart and staunch distaste for anything sentimental, but that wouldn’t be a fair assessment (at least on most days). Read more

No More Tears

Today – May 2, 2019 – marks eighteen years since we lost my daddy to cancer at the age of only 56. As I think about him and so many loved ones who have finished their race in this world – I can’t help but to think of eternity.

Video excerpt from a class assignment on the Story of Scripture . . .There’s a day coming when there will be no more tears.

While so many mysteries surround the next life, two things are certain to me. A day is coming when there will be no more death, pain, or tears. And, the veil between today and that future day is ever so thin.

Two pieces of my heart – my daddy and my Brooke

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the thirty-three years that I shared with my daddy. It wasn’t long enough (we never think it is), but I am still ever grateful for that precious time. Thank you for memories that are outside the realm of death. Thank you for an eternal world where You will once again live in our midst and we will be reunited with those whom we love so dearly. Please send your Holy Spirit as our Comforter so that we may await with hope that day when there will be no more tears. In the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen!

SDG

Who Does That?

Have you ever found yourself in conflict? Someone says or does something that hurts you – deeply. You are left wonder how to handle the situation. What to do next? Sometimes it is not a close relationship, and you let it go. You move on. Other times, moving on isn’t an option.

When this happens in my world, my initial reaction (too frequently) is revenge. A little taste of their own medicine. A little passive-aggressive tit-for-tat. (I’m a work in progress. What can I say?)

Then, once my initial shock, hurt, and disappoint pass, I tend to let it go. But not always in a forgive-and-forget sort of way. Sometimes, my attitude can look a lot more like “let it go” or “write it off.”

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Grief School Lesson #1: They Said What?

Grief isn’t taught in schools. Most of us learn about grief and how to grieve in the “school of hard knocks.” Baptism by fire, if there ever was. Because we are running around not knowing what to do or what to say, it often falls upon those who are grieving to “teach” those around them what to do and say. With that in mind, every now and then, we’ll open up the doors of “Grief School” here at Dances With a Limp. 

Ready for Lesson #1?

We take so much for granted in our daily lives. A trip to the grocery. Swing by the bank. Make a carpool run to school, the dance studio, ball park, or horse barn. Whip up dinner. We make our way through the day not questioning whether all the players – our spouses, children, friends, and so on – will show up for their parts. We just assume that everyone will take their places on cue.

It’s here in the theater of the ordinary that we are most taken aback when a principal actor is missing from our daily productions. 

I used to take shopping for a greeting card for granted. I can’t count the number of times over the last two years that I fled the greeting card scene before choosing even one card when often I was shopping for several. It is not uncommon these days to break this task into multiple trips because I can only take the greeting card aisle in small doses.

This week was different. I had to muscle through. My sister-in-law lost her oldest daughter, Britnee, this week. I needed cards for her and Brit’s siblings, my niece and nephews. There was no time for multiple trips over the course of weeks. Hearts are broken. Souls need soothing – now.

Reading through the options, I was reminded how inadequate words are for the loss of a child – or a sister or a brother or a parent or a spouse or . . . . Yet, we are wired to say something. Understandably, when the time comes, we can’t form a sentence. We struggle to reduce the unimaginable to a few poignant words. When our minds flail, those nuggets that we’ve heard repeated along the way just pop out. People have been saying this stuff for centuries, right? It must be good?Everything happens for a reason. God never gives you more than you can handle. She is in a better place. I know how you feel. It’ll get better.

They all sound true and kind. In fact, I’ve said these very words at one time or another. The reality is that these “tried and true” sentiments can sometimes sting more than soothe. Let’s take a look.

What does the griever think? What possible reason could justify this suffering?

Everything happens for a reason.

Let me tell you – there is no satisfactory answer to that question. There is no reason lofty enough to justify inconceivable loss. If pressed on the issue, none of us are likely to come up with a reason so worthy that we’d be willing to trade places with someone reeling over the death of a loved one. 

Though well-intentioned, this one stings.

God never gives you more than you can handle.

What does the griever think? What did I do to deserve this?

The not-so-subtle assumption is that God caused whatever loss your friend or family member is enduring. This is an extremely painful thought and can lead one down a dark road of misplaced guilt over what if I had been a better mom, spouse, sibling, . . .

Satan and the sin he introduced into world is the causeof our suffering. God doesn’t need suffering to achieve His ends. Fortunately, God is bigger than Satan or sin. He can work good from anything. That subtle difference causingsuffering and usingsuffering is crucial to someone who’s faith may be rocked by the unimaginable or for someone who is questioning faith all together.

Even when heart-felt, this one pricks.

He/She is in a better place

What does the griever think? No, he/she’s not.

Most of us tend to define “better” as “with us.” Even for those of us who are moved to tears contemplating the joy that awaits in heaven – this is just hard to swallow, especially when someone else speaks it. On my good days, I can acknowledge that heaven need not be an nth of what is promised in order to be better than this broken world and I can imagine what a day in heaven might be like for my loved ones. Even so, it doesn’t make anything better here and now.

This one can leave a mark.

I know how you feel.

What does the griever think? No, you don’t.

No two losses are alike. Two parents who lose the same child or two siblings who lose the same parent or another sibling – may lose the same person, but they do not suffer the same loss. When we try too hard to put ourselves in another griever’s shoes, we minimize everyone’s loss (our own included) by reducing it to “the same.” When death takes a loved one, we mourn the loss of how that person fit into our lives. We are missing that one-of-a-kind space that only the one we lost can fill. Even two parents or two siblings cannot share the same shoes; they can only walk alongside.

It’ll get better.

What does the griever think? No, it won’t. Or perhaps – when?

Even if this is ultimately the truth, saying this to someone who is suffering a death is presumptuous. Sometimes this idea of “getting better” can leave someone feeling as if they have failed (again) if they aren’t measuring up to the notion that they should be moving along and putting this whole nasty affair behind them. Most people don’t intend to impose a timeline or other qualitative measure on improvement but hidden within that statement is the suggestion that there is a time limit on grief or that improvement can be defined and measured. There is already so much guilt felt by survivors (usually for no good reason) that they don’t need anything else to make them feel shame during the grieving process.

Bonus: Anything that starts with “at least, . . .” If you find yourself starting a sentence with “at least,” just stop. There is precious little that will follow that will be heard as intended.

So, what can we say to make someone feel better? The honest answer is “nothing.” I meet many bereaved parents and hear their stories. My heart breaks. My words fail. Sometimes, there simply are no words.

Class, don’t fret. I won’t leave you completely empty handed. If you just have to say something, keep it simple and genuine.

I am so sorry for your loss.

I am so sorry that you are having to endure this pain.

I can see how much you loved [fill in the blank].

I don’t have any words to take away your pain. Just know how much I care about you.I

What words have provided comfort for you? Leave a comment so that we can all learn.

Dear Father, help us to help one another in our suffering. When we speak, let your Holy Spirit speak through us to comfort, console, and support one another. When there are no words, let your Holy Spirit open our hearts but not our lips. Pour grace onto the grievers’ ears so that when ill-chosen words may be spoken, we only hear the love that was intended.

Father, we pray that Britnee is in the tender arms of your Son, Jesus. We look forward to the day when we are reunited with her and so many others in your glorious presence. Until that day, cover us all, but especially Shala, Chase, Haley, and Trey, with your comfort and unfailing love as we await the day when there will be no more tears.

Through your Son, Jesus. Amen!

SDG

Thy Will Be Done

For most of my conscious memory, I’ve had a black thumb. Cacti didn’t stand a chance. Does anyone know how to perform CPR on an air plant? Do rock gardens need water?

Yet, I really enjoy the beauty of nature. Lush greenery and vibrant flowers literally breathe out life to us. The coolness that creeps off the shade of tropical foliage brings restoration. It’s so easy to see how gardeners are transported to another place has they dig through the soil and tend their plots.

Don’t be surprised if you feel this way too. Our souls are wired for garden life. In the beginning when God deemed things “very good,” there we were winding through plush paths lined with breath-taking flora. No weeds. Perfect temps (You can read the details yourself, but no one was hunting for a jacket in Eden). And at the end of the days, “happy hour” was spent hanging out with God himself. 

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