One Holiday Down, One To Go

Although it may not seem like the most jolly way to begin the holidays, how many will admit this thought crossed your mind this past week? It’s pretty common among grievers to say if not out loud, at least to themselves, “Whew, we made it!” And that doesn’t mean we made it through Black Friday getting the top gifts on our list at a good price! It simply means we made it through another holiday.

For those walking the grief journey, this time of year adds an extra blanket of heaviness on already weary shoulders. As we approach December telling ourselves “one holiday down, one to go” it can be a means of survival. It may be a way of assuring ourselves we can make it, one (holi) day at a time.

There is nothing that will make me miss my daughter any less. But perhaps telling ourselves we just have to get through the next 27 days before we can be on the other side, may help a hurting heart get through this time without our precious loved one.

While Christmas music playing on the radio and in every store we enter we can expect our emotions to run amuck. Although I’m no expert, but just another mom missing her child there are a couple of things I’ve found that can help.

Continue reading the rest here: Surviving the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The Empty Chair

As we approach Thanksgiving many of us will look upon the empty chair at the table. The hole deep within our heart will now be staring openly at us. Holidays are hard. If you are early on in your grief journey you may wonder how you’re going to get through the day.

The empty chair is a symbol of remembrance for a loved one who is no longer with us. Some families even leave a place setting on the table in their honor.

As you sit around the table perhaps you can exchange stories of past Thanksgivings when your loved one was still with you. Even if the stories stir up sadness, it’s okay if the tears are mixed with laughter and smiles as we reminisce about happier times.

The holidays may never quite be the same, but that’s because we are not the same. We are different now and that’s OK. This is the grief journey.

I will keep an empty chair at our table to remind me of the last Thanksgiving we shared together as a family before Melanie ran ahead to heaven. We will have some of her favorites, like cherry pie.  Last year it was just 3 of us and we ended up with 5 pies! 😊 Yes, one of them was cherry, and we all had a slice or two in her memory.

Thanksgiving is a time we are meant to reflect on all we are thankful for. As for me, I will forever be grateful for the years God gave me, however short, to be Melanie’s mama. I will choose to focus on the love and the laughter, not the loss.

A time of total joy and happiness is now a mixture of grief and gratitude. I have settled in my heart that I will forever have a mixture of feelings on the holidays and place no expectations on myself otherwise.

Strange as it seems, this is part of the grief journey. I will continue to lean on Jesus – my rock, my deliverer, the one who continues to carry me through. That alone is so much to be thankful.

Invite Grief and Gratitude to the Table

Here we are just a couple of short weeks away from celebrating Thanksgiving. If you’re grieving you may be feeling anything but thankful. Holidays are hard. As we get together with family you may feel pressured to smile and act like everything is fine when your heart is actually broken.

My friends, this year let’s do something different. Let’s invite grief and gratitude to the table.

It’s taken me a few Thanksgivings to realize that I do not have to act a certain way or be someone I am not during the holidays. I mean no disrespect, but I am not going to paste on a fake smile to appease others. It’s disingenuous and I’d be denying my own feelings just to make those around me feel more comfortable.

Everyone will go through grief at some point in life. Grieving is normal. What I think is abnormal is acting as if my loved one isn’t on my heart, and this is just another happy holiday.

When our loved ones run ahead to heaven we will forever miss them. Yet, there is something about holidays, anniversaries and all those special days when the sadness increases exponentially.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that grief and gratitude can co-exist. I can have both joy and sorrow in my heart.

Instead of acting as if everything is perfect and I’m not thinking of Melanie, I’m going to invite both grief and gratitude to the Thanksgiving Day table. If there is a memory I want to share about a past Thanksgiving I will do so without shame, and I encourage you to the do the same. I hope our family and friends will feel comfortable mentioning their name. May they realize it doesn’t bring us sadness but instead brings us joy to know they have not been forgotten.

Grief and gratitude are welcome here. We may shed a tear one moment and have a burst of laughter the next.  This is normal. This is grief.

Let’s Talk Self-Care: The Struggle is Real

No matter how hard I try it seems as if I still struggle with prioritizing myself and my needs. Let’s talk self-care for a moment. The struggle is real my friends. Some days I wonder if self-care is really achievable.

Perhaps this is more of an issue for women. What do you think? I am typically a very organized and focused individual but there still aren’t enough hours in the day, and there are days I still feel worn down. I have lists upon lists – digital and paper! The older I get I find I need a few more reminders, and quite honestly, since Melanie ran ahead to heaven I found that grief brain is a real thing.

Here we are and it’s already November while I’m still wondering what happened to October! For me this change of the calendar signals the beginning of the holiday season – which means more lists and more to-do’s. Instead of visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, my vision includes a lovely spa day with this mama in a fluffy robe (sans kerchief or Father in his cap) listening to relaxing music in front of the fire, sipping a glass of bubbly while waiting for my masseuse to come call my name. Ahh, a girl can dream can’t she?!

Seriously, self-care is more than a spa day, but it’s sure is a place to start. This year as we head into the holiday season I am determined to focus on the joy in my days. The next several weeks will fly by and Christmas will soon be here. In order to help focus on the joy in the midst of missing my girl, I need a reminder of a few of those “A-Ha” moments that helped me the last time I was feeling overwhelmed. Read the rest here: Self Care or Selfish and let me know if you have any great ideas to share on self-care. Hugs, Pat

Finding Goodness After Loss

As a parent who has lost a child I never thought I’d find any goodness in life after the loss of my only daughter. When Melanie ran ahead to heaven I saw my world in only shades of gray and wondered if I’d ever really see the sunshine again.

Although my coat of grief isn’t as heavy as it once was it’s not something I’ve been able to shed. I still wear my coat daily and quite frankly I think that’s OK, too.

The past few weeks I’ve been reminded how quickly life can change. Recently I was on vacation and soon after I found myself in the hospital getting prepped for emergency surgery. All is well now, but it shook me. Life is so fragile, and we never really know when it will turn on its axis. Recovering over the past couple of weeks made me think about something I wrote a few years ago, In the Blink of an Eye. Yes, life sure can change so quickly.

Grief and loss often cover us up in darkness and we need to search for the light. But I know in my heart, because of my faith in Jesus, that I’m never really alone. He is my shelter through every storm and the one who carries me when I am too weak to walk.

There are some who think we are wading in our grief too long. Some tell us it’s time to get over it and move on. Every time I encounter this I choose to give grace and forgive. Clearly those who say this have no idea what it is to be a warrior mom and have never lost a child.

As I continue to look for the light on the dark days I can still say how truly grateful I am for the life God has given me. Even in the middle of the hard times I can see the goodness in my life after loss.

While I have been healing and considering how quickly life can change, I choose to focus on the goodness around me. God has gifted me with a beautiful group of ladies who readily pray for me and lift me up any time of the day or night. They bring meals, send flowers, check-in and are truly the hands and feet of Jesus.

In between the hard moments of grief, I pray you will begin to see the shafts of light no matter how small the sliver. May this week bring you to a place where you can see the goodness of God and His hand touching you in unexpected ways.

Did I Do Enough

Since you’ve been walking along this grief journey I imagine at some point you asked yourself, did I do enough? Did you do all you could to help your loved one move from their disease to recovery? Did you do enough to offer support during their trials and tribulations? Did you do enough to guide them in the right direction? Did you do enough (fill in the blank)?

If you had a loved one who suffered from the disease of addiction you will want to hit pause and take a moment to read on. Today, I want to share a poem with you that came across my path a few months ago. I pray the following words touch your heart and release you from any guilt or questioning you’ve been holding on to within your heart.

You Did Enough

You did enough. I know you may not believe this now, but it’s true.

The next few weeks will inevitably be filled with a relentless stream of questions. Should I have been more involved? Should I have been less involved? Should I have called her just one more time? Should I have left him in jail a little bit longer? Should I have hospitalized her? Should I have forced her into treatment? Should I have stopped enabling him? Should I have just left him alone?

Truth be told, you might always feel like you could have done more to save your loved one. But please hear me when I tell you that you did enough. You did way more than enough. Loving him or her, despite their addiction, was the absolute best thing you could have done, and you did that so well. You loved them deeply. You saw past their pain and the ugly ways they ran from it, and you loved them anyway. Your love never failed and that will always be enough. Your love is the reason they kept fighting. And your love for them in this moment, and in every moment forward, is the reason they are resting peacefully.

You did everything right, even though it may feel like a lifetime of wrongs. So when you’re feeling at your weakest, immersed in the sadness of grief, please remember this:

It is not your fault.

You are likely drowning in a sea of guilt right now, but believe me when I say that nothing you did or didn’t do caused your loved one to become an addict. I know it’s hard to comprehend the baffling nature of the disease, but you did not cause this and despite your best efforts, you could not have prevented this. Addicts are born with a propensity toward becoming addicted. The addiction is triggered by a combination of many factors; elements over which you have little or no control. You are not at fault. You are not to blame.

I heard it said once that guilt is anger turned inward. Do yourself a favor and let the anger out. Direct it elsewhere. You are in no way responsible for the life he or she lived or the way they died.

It’s okay to be angry.

You reserve the right to be angry. Losing a child (or a sister, mother, brother, father, friend) to the disease of addiction gives you a justifiable reason to be angry. But please don’t be angry at them. Believe me, they didn’t choose this life. They undoubtedly made several bad choices, but they weren’t in their right mind. The disease had warped reality so thoroughly that they weren’t seeing the world as we see it. They were seeing a perception of reality that felt threatening, and their body and mind kicked into survival mode. And while trying to protect themselves, even though outwardly, it looked like self-destruction.

Be mad, but don’t be mad at them. Be mad at the disease of addiction. Use that anger to fuel a passion for helping other addicts and their families find a way out. Your son or daughter or friend or parent did not choose to leave you — broken, hurting, and empty. They weren’t the one choosing. And their disease didn’t care about you or even them. Get angry at the disease. Seek revenge on his or her behalf by spreading awareness, hope, and shedding light on the realities of addiction. The worst thing you could do right now would be to stay silent because silence feeds the disease.

Your story is worth telling.

Addiction is a family disease. Although you might feel as if this is not your story to tell, I assure you that you are as much a part of the story as the addict. You were in it together. As much as your loved one tried to shut you out, you were still in it with them. You were probably more emotionally affected by their addiction than they were. Addicts often begin using drugs and alcohol as a way to numb their feelings and they continue using because it works. For a while, the drugs effectively numb the pain. But you didn’t have a numbing agent to turn to while your family was walking through hell. You felt the gravity of the situation. You carried the weight of their addiction. You were the one who was thinking and feeling clearly and you have a powerful story to tell.

Shame might try and stop you from telling your story. It might tell you your story isn’t worth telling because the disease won, but listen closely: Your story can and will save lives. Owning and sharing your experience is the bravest way to fight the disease. The life of your loved one mattered, and their death has the potential to matter even more. Help to make his or her story — your story — matter.

Don’t shut people out.

Despite the overwhelming presence of addiction and the rapid rise in suicide and accidental overdoses, people are extremely uncomfortable talking about addiction. Your friends don’t know how to navigate this painful time. If they are shying away, that doesn’t mean they don’t care. They are just lost. They don’t know what to say or what to do; they need your guidance. You might not even know what you need right now, but when you start to figure it out, tell them. Let your people in. Show them how to support you. If you want to talk about your loved one tell them that. If you want to talk about their death or disease, talk to them. Your friends want to be there for you, they just don’t know how.

You will get through this, and the acute pain you feel right now will lessen. Their death will inevitably change you, but it doesn’t have to destroy you. Let the grief evolve you. Let your love for them propel you into a dimension of living you never knew was possible. But in the meantime, rest assured that the hearts of other families rocked by addiction are bleeding with you.

With love, a recovering addict, whose demons are the same as your loved ones.

Faithfully

This weekend my family and I traveled to the New England area to catch a glimpse of the Fall foliage. It was beautiful – the golden yellows meshed with bright oranges and vibrant reds on the trees were magnificent! If you have never been to that part of the country before put it on your list!

While we were there we also attended a Toby Mac concert in Boston. If you’ve never been to one, I recommend adding this to your list as well.

Toby’s newest album, Life After Death, are all songs written over the past 2 years as he has been mourning the death of his son, Truett. Someone blessed me with a copy of his album a few weeks ago and as I listened to each song I could relate to every word.

I wanted to share one of them with you today. It’s called Faithfully. The words are a sad but honest glimpse into how we feel after experiencing loss. In the end he shares where we find the hope we all so desperately need to survive walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I hope it touches your heart in a deep and meaningful way.

It’s been a long year
It almost took me down, I swear
Life was so good
I’m not sure we knew what we had
I’ll never be the same man
I’ll never feel like I felt before

It’s been a hard year
It almost took me down

But when my world broke into pieces
You were there faithfully
When I cried out to You, Jesus
You made a way for me
I may never be the same man
But I’m a man who still believes

When I cried out to You, Jesus
You were there faithfully

I’ve had a hard time
Findin’ the blue in the skies above me
And if I’m keepin’ it real
I been half-fakin’ the happy they see
I may look like the same man
But I’m half the man I was (Half the man I was)
It’s been a hard year
It almost took me down

But when my world broke into pieces
You were there faithfully
When I cried out to You, Jesus
You made a way for me

I may never be the same man
But I’m a man who still believes
When I cried out to You, Jesus
You were there faithfully

In my darkest hour, You met me
So quietly, so gently
You said You’d never leave
And you stood by Your word
So quietly, so gently
In all my pain, You met me
You said You’d never leave
And you stood by Your word

‘Cause when my world broke into pieces
You were there faithfully
When I cried out to You, Jesus
You made a way for me
I may never be the same man
But I’m a man who still believes
When I cried out to You, Jesus
You were there faithfully

When I cried out to You, Jesus
You were there faithfully

My fellow travelers, grief and loss are more than enough to take any one of us down. It’s a hard road we are walking but there IS hope if we place our faith in God. If you’re trying to climb out of the deep pit of despair due to the death of your loved one, you don’t have to do it alone. It’s not easy but it is possible when we do it together

Navigating Life After Loss

There was a time soon after Melanie ran ahead to heaven when I realized I had no choice but to push pause on my grieving. Unfortunately, the reality is when a person dies there is a myriad of important details which need to be handled. Funerals to be planned, people to be notified, insurance companies to deal with, notifications to be made. The list is endless.

The thing we really want to do is lay in our bed with the covers pulled up, and give in to the heavy ache in our heart. Unfortunately, there is a business side to death that doesn’t easily allow us to simply stop and truly grieve our loss.

It’s after the funeral when everyone has gone home that the real grieving begins. It’s then that we begin to wonder, how do we begin navigating life after loss? I think this is a million-dollar question and the best answer I have come up with is one day, one moment, one breath at a time.

One day you wake up and the reality of it all hits you. Your loved one is no longer here, and you begin to realize you’re on the grief journey. A road you so desperately wish had an exit where you could get off, never to return and have life go back to the way it used to be. If only…

Even though I will never understand why my daughter had to die so young, the one thing I remain strong and steadfast in is my faith in God. His ways are not my ways, and His thoughts are not my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). Faith continues to allow me to stand firm on the only solid ground I know and that is Jesus – my Cornerstone.

Navigating life after loss is an ever changing, forever winding, bumpy road. There have been numerous days when I sat back and reflected on another time when life was simple, lighthearted, and good. Worries were few, or at least not the life and death kind. I still long for those days.

When grieving, our mind begins to go into overdrive with the number of questions that bombard our thoughts. What is the right thing to do after your loved one dies? During the early days of grief, we may look at our lives and all we see are remnants from the world that has blown up before our eyes. It’s like being in a war zone. How we handle some of these things is different for each one of us. Some of the most common questions I’ve been asked are:

• When is the right time to clean out their closet?
• Do you give their clothes away or do you keep them?
• Do you keep their room and things “as-is”?
• When is the right time to stop wearing your wedding ring?
• When should I return to work?
• When can I begin going out socially?

These are all such great questions and ones that I’ve asked myself. I’ve talked with many parents who do all of these things and some who do none of these things!

Some parents keep their child’s room exactly as it was the day they died. After a period of time, that only the parent can determine, they sometimes begin to put things away and often times will donate to an organization. Navigating life after loss has no formal blueprint. Let peace be your guide and go with what you feel in your heart is best for you.

I know of some wives who keep their husband’s clothing hanging in the closet because it makes them feel as if they are still there. It’s the same thing when a spouse continues to wear their wedding ring. They still feel married and doing so makes them feel connected to their spouse.

Melanie was not living with us at the time she ran ahead to heaven, so I did not have to face some of these decisions. However, I was able to get all of her belongings after she died. About a month later I went upstairs by myself and went through every single item, piece by piece. After inspecting each one and holding it to my face, slowly inhaling her scent, I carefully folded the clothes and packed them away in storage boxes which I have kept. Every once in a while I will carefully open the boxes and breathe in deeply. Even after all this time they still smell like her. It’s all I have of her, so I doubt I’ll ever give them away. Today, I still have her backpack with all her favorite perfumes, lotions, and personal items which I wrote about here in Memories in a Bookbag.

We each have to travel our own path, navigating our loss in the best way that feels most comfortable to us. There is no time limit on when you need to clean a closet, remove items, or stop wearing your wedding ring. Instead, I encourage you to take your time in making any decision. We are not thinking clearly during the early days/weeks/months. What you may think you don’t want to keep today, you may regret a year or two from now.

As you navigate your loss may you lean into the One who can heal your broken heart like no other.   

The Road to Healing Begins with Normalizing Grief

Sadly, one of the most common things I’ve been told as I’ve walked this grief journey is this: “No one wants to hear about my loss, or how I feel anymore. No one wants to talk about grief.” Every time I hear this my heart breaks. Unfortunately, I understand all too well as there have been many times I’ve been made to feel the same way. How are our hearts supposed to heal if we are made to feel there is something wrong with us because we are “still grieving?” I believe the road to healing begins with normalizing grief.

There is no shortcut you can take when you find yourself here, and our time on the grief journey varies with each one of us. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and more importantly, there is no way to avoid this journey either. Instead of being made to feel guilty for how we are feeling, we should feel a freedom to talk about our loved ones and our loss.

This week I met a lovely young woman who bought multiple copies of my book, Beautifully Broken Finding Hope During Loss. She told me two different friends had each lost a child. One a 14-year-old and another only 12 years old. My heart broke for those mamas. I know what they are going through and the road they are embarking on. Child loss is an out of order death. There is not timeframe for grief. Mamas who lose their babies will grieve them forever.

The sweetest part of my conversation with this beautiful young woman was when she asked me, “How can I best help support my friends? What should I say, or not say?” The simple fact that she asked and sincerely wanted to know touched my heart so very much. I shared with her a few suggestions which included:

• Don’t be afraid to say the child’s name.
• Just be there. Sometimes there are no words, but simply sitting with your friend in her grief so she doesn’t feel so alone makes all the difference.
• Share a story you remember about the child.
• Send a note or a card that simply let’s her know you are thinking of her, praying for her, loving her.
• Make a note on your calendar and reach out on those especially hard days – birthdays and angelversaries.

Our conversation then drew in another person, as we began talking about how we truly need to begin normalizing grief.  We should talk about grief and death, just as we talk about life. Why can’t we become comfortable talking about when a loved one dies?  Grief is normal. Each one of us will walk this journey one day.

Talking about grief and some of the myriad of emotions we experience can help us realize what we are going through is indeed, normal.

Did you know that grief is so much like fear and anxiety? Unfortunately, no one tells you that when your loved one dies. Everyone is so busy trying to get on with life and get back to normal. Your normal has forever changed and your normal now includes grief. So, today if you find yourself feeling fearful and full of anxiety, take comfort in knowing this is very common and normal when walking the grief journey.

Grief can be extremely isolating and lonely. No one tells you that either. Please seek professional help if this becomes something more than you can handle on your own. Talk to someone about it – a trusted friend or family member, a doctor, your pastor, a therapist. Just don’t keep it all bottled up inside of you.

Remember, grief is grief and loss is loss. We must stop judging based on how a person died.

Be there for the person who lost their child to death by overdose or suicide in the very same way you would support someone who lost their loved one to cancer, heart attack or an accident.

Let us begin to talk about grief and not in whispers. Today, help someone begin healing their broken heart. And for all of you who are walking the grief journey just like me, I SEE YOU!

With Great Loss Comes a Major Change of Perspective

Have you found that since the loss of your loved one the things that were once so important to you no longer are? I’ve come to learn that with great loss comes a major change of perspective.

While talking with a friend over lunch last week we spoke about how our priorities and thoughts had shifted since we found ourselves walking the grief journey. The things that used to be so very important no longer are. Have you found this to be true in your life?  

When death knocks on your door your life changes in ways we never imagined it would. The things I once saw as mountains have become mole hills.  

There was a time I used to really sweat the small stuff. I was hyper focused on perfectionism both personally and professionally. I was always concerned about what people thought of me. Was I good enough? Smart enough? Thin enough? Pretty enough? Fashionable enough?

I wore my mask every day to hide my imperfections and cover all the things I didn’t want others to see. I didn’t want people to know my daughter had S.U.D. (substance use disorder).  What would they think of her? What would they think of me? Would they look down on me? Blame me? Label her? I was a poster child for the stigma that is associated with addiction.

After Melanie died I realized all of that “stuff” was hogwash! Totally unimportant. The only person I needed to answer to was God. It took the death of my only daughter to make me realize all of this “stuff” ultimately had no real bearing in my life. It was then that I removed my mask and all that came with it. It was so liberating!

Grief and loss are hard. Dealing with our grief takes courage. If you are early in your journey or if you just haven’t been able to deal with it, please don’t run away. Instead, when it gets too hard, lean in to the One that can help lift you up, carry you through the valley, and ultimately heal your brokenness.

Friends, we are never the same people we once were before our loved one died and that’s OK. This change in our perspective on life is like looking through the lens of a different pair of glasses. No longer cloudy, or rose-colored. We realize how short life can be and how it can change in the blink of an eye. It’s different, but we see things more clearly now.

Healing our grief takes a lot of work. If we don’t deal with it, grief can destroy our lives. As we begin to view things with that different lens, we can become comfortable within ourselves accepting that we are no longer the same people we once were. Be brave and take the step. You’ll be glad you did.

There’s no way around it but through it! Right up the middle like a linebacker! If we don’t do the necessary work it will show up at another time in another way. Be brave, my friend. We can take each step together. There truly is Hope During Loss!

Grief: The Price We Pay for Love

When researching grief there are hundreds of quotes to draw from, yet I believe there is none that so aptly describes it as this:

This quote is from none other than Queen Elizabeth II who passed away last week at the age of 96. As a beloved leader for over 70 years, she certainly had opportunity to witness both love and loss in life.

I was moved when reading of the Queen’s personal faith in God. She did not hide her light under a bush but spoke openly about it. This is one of the reasons I admired her so.

While the grief journey continues to be a tricky road to navigate, I take comfort in knowing that grief truly is the price we pay for love. On those days when I may feel particularly sad I reflect on this and remember I wouldn’t have it any other way. I loved my daughter in life, and I still love her, even in death. The love hasn’t gone away nor lessened over time and I can’t imagine it ever will.

Grief is the price we pay for love.

Have you had well-meaning family or friends tell you that it’s time to move on? After a period of time has passed, there are oftentimes expectations which are thrust upon us. One of the most common is that enough time has gone by, and we should be over our grief. Let me simply say, there is no time limit for grief.

Grief is the price we pay for love. Yet, while we walk this grief journey we can still move forward in life, experiencing both joy and grief at the same time.

For those who have lost a spouse, there are many thoughts on how to move forward in life. Please note that I did not say, moving on. Moving forward and moving on are very different.

Recently, I was speaking with my friend, Tom who lost his wife to the disease of Alzheimer’s. It’s been 3 years and Tom still wears his wedding ring. Is there a time or moratorium on when a spouse should remove their wedding ring? I think this is a very personal and individual decision. My mother wore her wedding ring until the day she died even though my dad had been gone for 30 years.

Tom remembers his dear wife, Mary Ellen and their life together every, single day. He explained that even though his wife is not physically here, wearing his wedding ring makes him feel connected to her.

As we all walk this journey called grief, let us endeavor to lift and hold one another up as we walk together. Each of our stories though similar are as individual as our fingerprints. How I am managing through the grief of my daughter may not be exactly how you would handle it.

I have a dear friend who leaves a message to her child on his Facebook page every night. It’s a way for her to talk with him. What a special way to remain connected to her beautiful boy.

Let us remember the words of Queen Elizabeth, grief is indeed the price we pay for love. Let us move forward with kindness, love, and respect, leaning into Jesus, the one true rock and strength of our lives. It is there we will find our hope during loss.

How Can We Survive the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

Hello my friends! Well, we just said goodbye to Labor Day and depending on where you live in the world, this is oftentimes the end of Summer as we begin to make our way into Fall. And whether we like it or not, it’s here again – time to plan for the holidays. How can we survive the “most wonderful time of the year?”

In our family it’s during this time when we begin talking about what we are going to do for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know it seems early, but in our local stores, Christmas trees began going up in early August! Argh! While we don’t celebrate Halloween, it seems all three holidays – Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas all get shoved together and become “HallowThankMas”.

For those walking the grief journey I know many who would prefer to just climb into bed and wake up on January 1st. I understand feeling that way, too.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday of all. It was the one time when we were always together as a family. I miss those happier, simpler times, before death came knocking on my door.

Since Melanie ran ahead to heaven each year has been different. At this stage in my grief journey all that truly matters to me is having my son and daughter-in-love here with us. Since Covid made that decision for us the past 2 years, it felt as if I lost both of my older children during this time and not just my daughter. It’s no longer the holiday, it’s being together which matter most to me.

If you’re contemplating what to do for the holidays and struggling about your decision, the one thing I encourage you to do is this: Do whatever feels right for you!

If that means you don’t feel like cooking for Thanksgiving, then don’t! Order in. If your home was the place where everyone gathered, perhaps this is the year to gather in someone else’s house. If the thought of the meal itself brings anxiety and stress, order pizza!

Christmas can be a stressful time of year, without being in the midst of grief. If you don’t feel like decorating for Christmas, do as much or as little as you like. But do only what you feel you can. Feeling pressured to celebrate and do something you aren’t truly emotionally up for isn’t good for anyone – especially you.

Each Christmas that has passed since Melanie died has been different. I have taken each one as it comes and gone with it. One of the things I haven’t done is decorate like I used to. After the first year, since I had a younger child in the house I felt prompted to make it festive, but it’s still not like it used to be. And do you know what? That’s OK!

Every year we used to have a gingerbread house contest. I thought about it last year, but just couldn’t bring myself to order them and do it. I kept remembering the last time we did it was with my girl and finally gave myself the grace I needed. It was OK.

Some people decide to travel on the holidays. I’ve always thought that would be a good idea and actually began looking at places in Hawaii last week.  I am a realist though and I am aware that being in a different location will not remove the pain of our loss. Although I’ve been told it does help to ease the hurt and quell some of the memories. We’ll see if the Aloha state becomes our Christmas destination.

Whatever you decide to do, dear ones, I hope you feel the freedom to do what feels best to your grieving heart. I hope you do not feel pressured to do anything you are not ready to do. Remember, even though others may think it’s “the most wonderful time of the year” it’s truly OK to not be OK during the holiday season. This is grief.

International Overdose Awareness Day

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. Each year on this day I create a special post specifically dedicated to honor the memory of all those who were lost to overdose and the parents who are grieving them.

My daughter, Melanie lost her life to the disease of addiction. Before that I never knew such a day existed. Sadly, this is the 3rd year I have been a member of this group that no one ever asks to join, and have met hundreds of other bereaved parents along this road.

If you have not had this disease touch your life directly I imagine you know someone who has. Regardless of the way your loved one died, grief is grief and loss is loss. We all hurt the same and miss our loved ones.

In 2020 when I first learned about International Overdose Awareness Day it was recorded that 81,000 people lost their lives to drug overdose during the previous 12 months.

Now, 2 years later this number has increased to over 107,000!

Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day I want to bring awareness to what is an often overlooked disease in our country.

Did you know that Substance Use Disorder is in fact an actual disease?

Are you aware that the disease of addiction touches people of all backgrounds, despite race, religion, education, or social class? People from all walks of life have suffered from substance abuse or known someone who has.

People who suffer from substance abuse are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends to many. It is up to us to make strides to reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse and bring about education and healing.

Today the Governor of the State of Georgia has issued an Executive Order to fly our flags at half-staff to honor the life and memory of individuals who passed away from drug overdoses.

This is a great, but small step in the right direction. However, there is still much work left to be done.

Healing My Heart: Step by Small Step

A few years ago, I found myself walking a path no one ever dreams of taking– the grief journey due to child loss. Although death is part of the circle of life, child loss, which is an out of order death is particularly heart-breaking.

When my daughter, Melanie ran ahead to heaven unexpectedly my heart was broken in a way I had never imagined it could be. Yet, God in all of his magnificence and wonder immediately covered me in a way that could only be described as miraculous. A scripture I had heard hundreds of times became more than words on a page in the Bible. It became real and was felt deep within my being.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:7

This doesn’t mean I didn’t shed buckets of tears, but on those dark days I continued to feel his presence. It was like a shield surrounding and protecting me.

It’s been said that grief is like the ocean. It comes in waves, and you don’t know if the waves will be strong or gentle. During those times when the waves threatened to take me under, I would cry out to Jesus. He knows what it feels like to lose a loved one. Even though he knew the final outcome, didn’t he weep when his dear friend Lazarus died? He knows what loss feels like.

When our loved ones move to heaven, no matter how much we may try, there is no rushing through the grief journey and there is no going around it.

Instead, we must walk through it and allow our Heavenly Father to heal our hearts, step by small step.

One day a few months after Melanie died I was having a particularly bad day. Grief can be a very lonely place. Everyone seemed to be going on about their own lives without a care in the world and here I was sitting outside on my deck with tears streaming down my face. It was during one of these low moments that I cried out to the Lord. I was missing my daughter so much and in the midst of my tears I asked him, how am I going to fill this huge void now that my girl is gone? Within a few moments, the sweet gentleness of the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart:

“I’ll never let you down. I’ll never walk off and leave you” Hebrews 13:5 MSG

Wow! What a wonderful comfort to know we are truly never really alone. If you have found yourself walking this grief journey too, be kind and gentle with yourself. Lean into The One who made you. God is walking alongside us, and when we need it, he will carry us through the valley of the shadow of death.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. Psalm 23:4 NLT

Lord, help me to remember that I am never truly alone. Even on my darkest night you are with me and are close like no other. You know what it means to grieve, and you are healing my heart, step by small step. Thank you for surrounding me and comforting me with your peace that truly does surpass my earthly understanding.

Worship Resource – Goodness of God https://youtu.be/y81yIo1_3o8

Times in Life We Never Forget

There are certain times in life we never forget.  Like the day you got married, or the day your children were born. Other times we never forget, but with a more solemn memory is the day our loved ones died. It was 45 years ago today that my dad was killed in a car accident. He was only 58 years old.  

I was just a teenager but it’s a day I will never forget. There were no last goodbyes, and no opportunity to tell him how much I loved him. Oh, how I wished there was time to tell him how proud I was of him – the father who loved me unconditionally, the man who served our country during World War II, and the man who did his best to provide for our family.

As I grew up and life moved forward I wondered if my life would have been different if my dad had lived to a wonderful old age. One day shortly before he died I’ll never forget how he comforted me during a difficult time. He wrapped his arms around me and said, “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll take care of you.”

While I was raised in the church and had given my life to the Lord as a young teen my dad never went to church with us. He believed he had done things during World War II that God could not forgive. So, when he died I never really knew if he went to heaven or not. It remained heavy on my heart for many years. As time went on I placed it on a shelf in the recesses of my mind and left it there, only taking it down every now and again.

It wasn’t until the day my daughter Melanie ran ahead to heaven, when I received an answer to the question I had pondered for so long.  Below is an excerpt from my book, Beautifully Broken Finding Hope During Loss which answered my question:

On February 18, 2020, at approximately 9:45 a.m. I turned on the shower letting it get hot and steamy. Our shower is enclosed in glass and when I saw the steam billowing out from above that was my queue it was ready. A moment after I stepped in, I turned and looked outward into the bathroom when in front of me I saw my father – my father who had died 42 years ago! I looked at him, and quickly began assessing what was before me. He looked so much younger than I had remembered him to be, and his eyes though looking toward me did not appear to look directly at me. In hindsight, this made me feel better since I am, after all, in the shower. I literally closed my eyes, squeezing them tightly shut and re-opening them. When I did, he was still there. He was dressed completely in white, wearing a long sleeve, white button-down shirt with a stand-up collar. The buttons were brown and were very small unlike what you would see on a shirt today. As my eyes began to follow his body downward, I didn’t see pants or legs but only what appeared to me as a very thick, heavy white coat. In this moment, I assumed I wasn’t seeing his legs because of the substantial steam covering the shower door. All of this took place in a matter of seconds. After blinking my eyes, it didn’t take long for the reality of what I was seeing to hit me…

If this sounds pretty unbelievable, I understand.  It was pretty incredulous to me, too! It wasn’t until 42 hours later, when I realized that during the exact time I had this encounter with my Dad two other very important and life-changing things had occurred:

  1. I learned that moments after this encounter my daughter took her last breath here on earth. I believe my dad escorted Melanie to heaven. She was not alone, nor afraid but ushered into the presence of our Heavenly Father by her grandfather. This is one of those times in life I will never forget.
  2. God in only his miraculous, undeniable way took something that only He could do and allowed me to see my dad in all his heavenly glory. Upon seeing my dad dressed like he was, there was no denying that he did in fact go to heaven when he died.

We remember the most beautiful moments of our lives, and on the flip side, we remember the most painful. Such is the circle of life.

Today, 45 years later instead of remembering the sadness of the day my dad was killed in a car accident, I will choose to remember how he lived and loved. As I look at the Bronze Star he received for his service to our country I will remember the war hero he was. I will take comfort knowing that he is in heaven, along with my mom and daughter. One day I will get to talk with him, wrap my arms around him and tell him how grateful I am that he was there for my girl when she needed someone the most.

What is Heaven Like? I Can Only Imagine

Since your loved one died have you found yourself thinking about heaven? I have to admit I never thought about it much … until my girl was no longer walking this earth. Once I could no longer see her with my natural eyes my wonder about heaven increased exponentially. Who will I see when I first get to heaven? What will heaven by like? I can only imagine.

Two days before Melanie died as I finished packing my suitcase for vacation, I paused to download a couple of books to my iPad. We were heading to the beach for a few days and as is my normal practice I like to read while vacationing. I purchased 3 books and even as of today, I cannot tell you what prompted me to buy this one particular book, Imagine Heaven, by John Burke.

About three weeks after Melanie ran ahead to heaven I was sitting in my living room feeling totally overwhelmed and in disbelief. It was then that I felt a nudge in my spirit to open my iPad. Once I did, I immediately saw the title, Imagine Heaven staring up at me. This is one of those moments I refer to as Godwinks.

As time has gone by I’ve asked myself numerous times, why did I buy this book? I have no answers. There was nothing specific that prompted me to make this purchase, nor did I have an interest in the things of heaven at that time. But God. He knew I would need to read what was within the pages of this book. It was yet another way for me to know he was there and he had been preparing me all along.

This book has provided some comfort, along with confirmation about what I have previously read about heaven. When we lose a loved one, we long for comfort and peace. I think it’s natural to wonder where our loved one is and what it might be like.

Many years ago, on the night before my mom died as I was getting out of my car to visit her I felt led to grab a CD from the console of my car. My mom had a portable CD player she used when listening to her favorite music. Yes, that’s what we had back in the “old” days! 🙂 The CD was by a band called, Mercy Me. They had recently cut an album with the feature song, I Can Only Imagine. I put one earphone by my momma’s ear and the other one by my own. As I lay my head down next to hers, I played it for her. As the song played she began to move and tried to speak to me. It was a moment I will never forget.

If you haven’t heard this song before I hope you’ll take a moment to listen today.  It will touch your heart.

Although heaven is still a place I can only imagine, I often wonder, who will I see when I get there? After seeing Jesus, the one person I want to see more than anyone else is my girl. I cannot wait to wrap my arms around my daughter and tell her how much I’ve missed her. I look forward to seeing my mom and dad, and many other dear ones who have gone on before me. Who do you want to see when you get to heaven?

Knowing I will see my loved ones again one day is what continues to give me peace and comfort. When you have confidence that life on this earth is not the end, it helps to hold on when this grief journey is weighing you down. This is not our home.

If you are struggling today, I encourage you to hold on to this promise – when we get to heaven: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4)

One day dear friends…

What Does Healing from Grief Really Mean?

One of the recent heartfelt questions I’ve been asked by other moms who find themselves on the grief journey is, will I ever get over this intense feeling of grief and sadness? Which has led to the next question: what does healing from grief really mean?

There have certainly been times when I’ve asked myself these very same questions. I’m not a certified grief counselor. I’m just another student of grief, learning as I go. But I am willing to share what I’ve learned along the way in the hopes that it may help someone else.

Let me first say I don’t think we ever get over our grief. We learn how to live around it. There is a time and season for everything and there is a time to grieve. Just because our loved one died, doesn’t mean for one moment that our love died with them.

I believe that God does heal our broken heart. It does take time, but time doesn’t necessarily heal all of our wounds either. As God heals our brokenness, we begin to learn how we can live with both joy and sorrow.

One of my greatest learnings is this: Grief IS love. Grief is all the love we had for our loved one that now has nowhere to go. So, what do we do? We may cry … buckets and buckets of tears. Those tears are a physical sign of all the love we still have deep within our heart.

Sometimes it’s easier to say what healing from grief is not.

Healing from grief is not about moving on after losing your loved one. As your heart begins to heal from your loss we don’t ever move on – we move forward.

I believe healing from grief means you get to a place where you have learned how to acknowledge your loss and create a space for it in your life. The grief isn’t as all consuming and intense as it may have been at one time.

When we are progressing through our grief we learn how to love the one who ran ahead to heaven with the same deep joy and passion we had for them when they were alive.

Healing from grief is not a one size fits all. There is absolutely no time limit and we each must walk our own path, moving forward, as we able to do.

As you’re walking, always remember, you are never alone.

Knocked Down, But Not Knocked Out

I’ve often said that walking through the grief journey is like the ocean; it comes in waves. While that is still true, I’ve often felt more like a boxer in the middle of the ring, fighting for my life. Knocked down, but not knocked out!

As I continue to move onward there are still moments that take me by surprise. Life seems to be moving along in a forward fashion when out of nowhere there could be a trigger: a song, a smell, a memory, a date on the calendar. It’s an unexpected blow, like a sucker punch to the gut and once again, I’ve been knocked down off my feet.  

I’m reminded that I’m fighting a giant. One I may not be able to see with my eyes, but certainly one I feel deep within my soul. Who is this Contender? His name is Grief.

When we find ourselves back in the ring, our senses become heightened and we’re left standing there waiting for the next blow. But take heart my friends, there is hope during loss.

One day we wake up feeling stronger, ready to fight for our lives. Just like when Rocky Balboa took the stairs and claimed his victory, we can look toward The One who can help us in our fight.

 

We can’t fight this battle on our own accord and the best part is, we don’t have to! We are not in this fight alone. So, what do we do?

We look at the Contender in front of us and realize he is nothing compared to the giant inside of us! We might be knocked down, but we are not knocked out!  

How is that possible? The giant inside of you is the Holy Spirit. It’s by his might and the power of God’s word that he will carry you through.

We are powerless by ourselves, but we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.

Alone, I’m simply a mom missing her daughter.

Alone, I’m simply another person who’s loved one ran ahead to heaven. 

Alone, I’m simply another person who has a broken heart and a crushed spirit.

But with God by my side, I’m a person who places her faith and trust in God to do as he has promised he will do.

He will fight my battles for me (Exodus 14:14), and he will carry me through the valley of the shadow of death. (Psalm 23:4)

He is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

He is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2)

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9)

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

My flesh and my heart may fail but God is my strength and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

Each one of these scriptures is a promise for you and me. Whatever you’re in the middle of battling grab hold of these promises and speak them out loud. Remind the Contender just whose you are – a child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Together, we can make it through this grief journey holding tight to our faith. We might be knocked down, but we will never be knocked out.

After Loss: Battling Worry and the What If Scenarios

It seems like I am continually learning lessons as I walk this grief journey.  One of those lessons is something I will freely admit I still struggle with. After loss, how can we battle worry and the what if scenarios that can plague our minds?

Recently, it became very apparent to me that the trauma of unexpectedly losing my daughter continues to have long lasting results. 

Over the past couple of weeks, each of my sons went through something that affected their physical well-being. Worry began to bombard my heart. A barrage of questions began assaulting my mind: What if he didn’t recover, what if he gets seriously injured, what if… what if… what if.  It even got to the point of, what if he died?

Before I knew it, I was traveling full speed ahead down the highway of worst-case scenarios.

Oh, how the enemy loves to play with our minds. He gets us all worked up until we are wringing our hands, not trusting in God but instead are full of anxiety and worry.

Although the moments are fewer and far in between, my mind still tends to wander into the “what if’ category when something happens with my loved ones. 

How can we best manage worry and the what ifs?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve real opportunities to place the faith and trust I claim to have in God to the test. After allowing worry and anxiety to creep in I finally hit my knees.

The first thing we should try to remember is, God is a god of love, kindness, and gentleness. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-controlGalations 5:22-23 

God would never speak negativity, worry, upset or death into us. We need to recognize where that is coming from.

The mind is the battlefield, my friends and the enemy is sly and coy. He likes to wreak havoc in our lives.

As soon as I got quiet before the Lord he reminded me that my children, were in fact, his children. He has loaned them to me, and He has promised he will keep watch over them. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” Psalm 91:11

Since Melanie died, worrying about my living children has become more pronounced in my life. I’ve always been a bit of a worrier, but it’s been exacerbated by the sudden loss of my daughter. I remind myself that although I like to think I’m in control of my life, ultimately God is in control, not me!

In the end, I’m learning that we are all still a work in progress. I’m learning how to let go of worry and the what if scenarios.  It’s not always easy, but I’ve also realized this is normal.  This is grief.

July – Bereaved Parents Month: Missing Our Child(ren)

The month of July has been designated as Bereaved Parents Month. As a parent who has a child who ran ahead to heaven, I believe there is never a time when we don’t miss our child(ren).

Personally, I don’t think someone needed to designate a month on the calendar to remind me there is such a thing as bereaved parents month.  I will never forget, but perhaps this month is more about creating awareness for others.   

As we near the end of this designated month for bereaved parents, I recently came across a poem I wanted to share with you. As I read through each line I could see myself in each and every word.

So, whether it’s July, October or February, I will always be missing my girl. Each and every day there is no need for a reminder that I am a indeed, a bereaved parent.  

When they leave for Heaven you’ll miss them a little everyday

But some days you’ll miss them a little more

You’ll think of them sometimes once, sometimes more times than you can count

You’ll be reminded of their laugh

You’ll try to remember what it felt like driving to their house knowing they would be there

You’ll wonder what it would be like if they were there on the other end of the phone for no reason other than a “Hey, how’s your day?”

You’ll think of them and try to remember all the good days but something will always lead you to that last day with, that last hug, that last I love you and that final goodbye

When they leave for Heaven you’ll miss them a little everyday

But somedays you’ll miss them a little more

You’ll cry on the days you miss them a little more

You’ll look for them a little harder

You’ll try that old phone number hoping it might just be one big mistake and they somehow answer

You’ll look over at the empty seat hoping that if you stare at it enough they’ll be there

You’ll drive to the places that you visited with them

You’ll say a few extra prayers and hope they hear them

You’ll talk to them and sit in silence hoping for a response back

You’ll wear their favorite shirt and listen to their favorite band

You’ll pray so hard that you could have them back just long enough to hug them so tight and say “I miss you so much today and everyday”

Because when they leave for Heaven you’ll miss them a little everyday

But somedays you’ll miss them a little more

Author Unknown

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