Anxiety + Fear = Grief: Still Figuring Things Out

After Melanie died, life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. Today, I’m still figuring things out. This grief journey continues to teach me things. Although I hoped I’d be much further ahead by now, I guess I’ll always be learning something about this road I didn’t choose to be on.

I’ve always been hard on myself. I’m my own worst critic, and with a Type A personality I’ve always strived for perfection. Oh, I’m certainly not perfect, only Jesus is, but I always strived for perfection in whatever I did.

Today, in the midst of this grief journey, I don’t have the energy I used to have. And quite frankly the things I strive for now are quite different than before Melanie died. Perfection has been thrown out the window. Some days we do the best we can simply to survive and get through the day.

The main thing I strive for today is peace. My goal each and every day is to maintain a peace and calm within myself and my home. Grief affects each of us differently and the output from it shows up in various ways. Anxiety and fear are among the two things I’ve battled since my girl ran ahead to heaven.

After your loved one died did you find yourself becoming more anxious or fearful? Have you begun to feel safest only when you are close to home? Are you afraid of driving for fear of getting into an accident?

Maybe you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop and afraid something is going to happen to your loved ones who still remain here on earth. Do you find yourself worrying that your other family members are going to die unexpectedly, too? Do these thoughts play out like a bad movie in your mind?

Do unnatural fears begin to creep in and stir up anxiety within you? Heart-palpitations? Hands-shaking? Sleeplessness? Bad dreams?

If you answered yes to any of these, take a deep breath and know, you are not alone.

Anxiety + Fear = G R I E F

But, if you’ve been agonizing over these thoughts and feelings take another deep breath. There is nothing wrong with you! You are grieving.

Sometimes the anxiety and fear also end up causing us to have trouble remembering things. Is this you?

Your mind is as foggy as a day by the San Francisco Bay. Things you used to be able to recall so easily, are not so easily remembered now. My mind used to be like a steel trap. Today, I could walk from one room into the next and completely forget why I was even going in there!

The good news is this is as common as rain in Springtime. Maybe not as nice, but truly common and normal.

What are some things that you can do to help during these moments? I’ve tried various things and I can’t say I’ve found one thing that is tried and true. Sometimes I have just had to walk through it. These are just a few things that have helped me when I’m feeling particularly anxious or fearful:

• Listening to uplifting music
• Crying – tears are actual scientifically known to be healing
• Journaling – getting my thoughts out and down on paper oftentimes brings light into the dark places
• Call a friend
• A few drops of Lavender oil to the inside of my wrists
• Drinking a cup of hot chamomile or lavender tea
• Going for a walk outside

This song came on the radio the other day and it really spoke to my heart. I hope it resonates with you too. It’s called I Will Fear No More, by the Afters.

Every anxious thought that steals my breath
It’s a heavy weight upon my chest
As I lie awake and wonder what the future will hold
Help me to remember that You’re in control

You’re my courage when I worry in the dead of night
You’re my strength ’cause I’m not strong enough to win this fight
You are greater than the battle raging in my mind
I will trust You, Lord, I will fear no more

What do you do when you’re feeling this way? Fear, anxiety, and grief brain are no fun, but knowing we are not in this alone makes all the difference.

Growing Through Grief

Today is the first day of February and I won’t sugar coat it – this month is a tough one for me. It’s the month Melanie ran ahead to heaven and I’m certain that no matter how much time goes by there will never be a day during this month when I don’t reflect back on all the “lasts.”

In 3 short days it will be 2 years since the last time I ever saw my daughter face-to-face. It’s the last time I felt her arms give me a hug, and the last time we kissed one another goodbye. It was the last time we shared one of our favorite meals together, and it was the last time I got to do one of those things mothers and daughters like to do together – shop.

As I reflect over the past 730 days since I last saw her sweet smile and her beautiful, warm brown eyes, I can’t help but to notice how much has changed over this time.

Last year was what I refer to as the “year of the firsts.” Each first so very difficult to bear. For some after passing the one-year mark of your loved one’s death, you may sense a slight shift.

The shift I’m speaking of is when the numbness of the first year begins to wear off and the reality of life truly begins to set in. As this evolves this doesn’t mean we miss them any less!

Perhaps it’s at this juncture when we begin to realize we need to figure out a way not only to survive but to live again.

For me, I grabbed hold of my faith like a person who can’t swim clings to a life preserver when they’ve been thrown into the middle of the ocean.

My faith in God has been my strength and shield. It’s where I continue to run to on those days when I’m missing my girl so very much.

During this second year the waves still came for me. There were days they threatened to take me under, and some days I let them. Yet as time continues to pass by, I have begun to notice something – the waves which previously came at me with tsunami force are occurring less frequently. Now when they crash over me, they still make me stumble but I don’t feel as though I’m being held underwater without air to breathe. Perhaps this is part of growing through grief.

I’m determined not to allow the day of Melanie’s death to overshadow the days she lived.

Over the past couple of weeks, the song Fires by Jordan St. Cyr, has awakened me in the middle of the night. Consistently a few of the lyrics have remained on my heart. As I enter this month I believe the Lord is using the words to this song to remind me I am not alone.

I’m changed by Your mercy
Covered by Your peace
I’m living out the victory
Doesn’t mean I won’t feel the heat

You’ve walked me through fires
Pulled me from flames
If You’re in this with me
I won’t be afraid

When the smoke billows higher, oh and higher
And it feels like I can barely breathe
I’ll walk through these fires
‘Cause You’re walking with me

I’ll take this month day by day. Reminiscing. Crying. Laughing. Pausing. Praying. Leaning into my family, my friends and my faith to lift me when I need it. As the song says, I know I’ll walk through these fires (of grief), but you’re walking with me.

Forgiveness – The 6th Stage of Grief?

Since Melanie ran ahead to heaven, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with many parents who have lost their children. Many of these losses have been due to the disease of addiction, along with suicide. Regardless of the cause of death, child loss truly is a loss like no other.

When Melanie died I can’t tell you how many people told me I’d done everything I could for her and I shouldn’t feel guilty. Telling someone that and actually feeling that way are two different things. No matter how much I did for my girl, there are still things I feel I could have done differently or at least better.

Believe me, I’m no martyr.  I honestly did the best I could knowing what I did, at the time. I was never a believer in the tough love movement and never turned my back on my girl waiting for her to “reach bottom” as some suggest we do.

For those who condemned me for my actions, whether to my face or silently, my belief is this: God never turns his back on us, so why would I ever consider turning my back on my own child? “I will never leave you, never! And I will not loosen my grip on your life!” (Hebrews 13:5 TPT).  

There is a fine line between enabling and supporting through addiction, but withholding love and turning my back on my child – NEVER!

When a family member dies due to an overdose or suicide, people look at you differently. Though I like to believe we are moving toward a more understanding and forgiving community, there still remains a stigma associated with these types of deaths.

Because our loved one more than likely died unexpectedly and without warning, there are so many questions that continually swirl around in your head, like the inside of a tornadic wind. What could I have done differently? How could I have stopped this? Why did this happen? Did I do enough? Did I do too much? How did I miss the signs? How could I have prevented this?

Often times we have a weight of heaviness on us that is not seen, nor felt by others. Imagine carrying around a full-size backpack chock full of heavy river rocks every single day.

Soon after Melanie died I learned there are typically 5 official stages of grief which we will go through, and unfortunately, we can go through some of the stages more than once.

You mean I may repeat some of these stages over again?! Oh, how disappointed I was when I realized firsthand this was so true. At one point on the grief journey, I remember thinking, if I can just get through this one stage and go on to the next one the pain will soon go away. Boy, I had so much to learn!

As time has gone on, I think there is one more stage we could add:

The 6th stage of grief should be FORGIVENESS – for ourselves and our loved one.

Since those questions can continue to haunt our minds and hearts and we can’t rewrite history, forgiving ourselves and our loved one may be the first step in beginning to heal.

Perhaps your loved one did some things that have caused you to harbor anger and unforgiveness in your heart. Or maybe you’re angry simply because they died and left you.

We can run to the Father and ask for forgiveness. Letting go of any hurt, anger, or resentment we hold against them or ourselves may help lead to peace. We can even speak out loud to our loved one and tell them all that we are feeling, and then perhaps then it can be released let it go. 

As we seek forgiveness I believe it will be like removing the rocks from our backpack, one at a time. We will eventually feel lighter, and a peace that we may have never known existed will begin to permeate our heart and spirit. Be kind to yourself today and give peace a chance.

It’s Finally Here – Release Day!

Today marks the official release of my book, Beautifully Broken: Finding Hope During Loss!

Thank you all so much for your amazing support! There has been such an overwhelming response that Amazon has already sold out of my book and my publisher is having to print more! If you don’t see it available at Amazon just give it a few days or you purchase immediately at:

I thought I’d share a few Praise Reports for Beautifully Broken: Finding Hope During Loss:

“Words mean a lot to me, they represent emotion, beauty, and ideas. Sentences help marry my heart and mind in a ceremony of grace and truth. My friend Pat in Beautifully Broken has done a remarkable job prayerfully weaving words into sentences, seamlessly together in a way that invited me into her love story. She has accomplished the difficult task of making Jesus the hero throughout the incredible challenges of loving her daughter well within horrific circumstances. It’s at this life crossroads of giving up or holding on to trust in God that Pat kept her faith. I pray and believe this book will help many, many families find hope, forgiveness, love, and peace through Beautifully Broken. And most of all, celebrate how Pat found joy in her pain, through the love of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” ~ Boyd Bailey, Wisdom Hunters

“For anyone experiencing the painful realities of a loved one battling substance addictions, Beautifully Broken offers “from the trenches” insights from one that has been there. Pat Elsberry bravely shares, with poignance and candor, her family’s personal journey with a child battling Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Most importantly, she shares intimate perspectives for healing and hope as she walks the grief journey.” ~ William F. “Woody” Faulk, Vice President, Innovation and New Ventures, Chick-fil-A, Inc.

Where’s My Promised Land?

This past week I was saddened to hear about the death of actor, Bob Saget. For those who may not be familiar with Bob, he portrayed the dad on the television series, Full House. I remember watching this show every week, and binge watched every episode again last year with my youngest son.

Along with playing the role of Danny Tanner on Full House, Bob was a comedian. Many of his friends said he had a dark sense of humor and a very colorful vocabulary which earned him the nickname “Dirty Daddy.”

This was a very different persona as compared to his role in Full House. However, everyone echoed the same sentiment: the real Bob was truly a kind, loyal and loving friend, husband, and father.

The internet has been flooded with thousands of posts and comments about Bob. Yet, of all the posts I read there was one that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

When Betty White passed away just a few short weeks ago Bob made a statement on Instagram. He recalled Betty’s belief in the afterlife as she believed she would be reunited with her husband. Bob wasn’t sure about this and said he honestly didn’t know what happens when we die.

I’m not an expert on the afterlife, but as a Christian I know what the Bible says. Since my daughter died in 2020 I have also thought very deeply about what happens when we leave this life and enter the next one.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe that the moment we take our last breath on earth we take our first breath in Heaven.

One of the things that has brought me so much comfort over the past 23 months is that Jesus has made a way for all of us to go to Heaven. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying” (John 11:25).

My daughter is not just a part of my past, she is also a part of my future. Jesus promised me that. Melanie believed in Jesus and so do I. I know she is in heaven now walking streets of gold and I will see her again one day.

Most people don’t want to talk about death or dying, but there is no one on this earth who can escape it. John Mayer told over 250K people on a live feed that he had never experienced grief in his entire life. He didn’t know much about death or grief or how to handle it.

It’s important for us all to think about death, eternity, and the afterlife.

This is something one needs to think about before it’s too late. On that final day, we don’t want to wonder where we are going, we want to be fully assured we are going to the promised land – Heaven.

I won’t give up on this race
Broken but I still have faith
That this old life is all part of a plan
And I can feel it in my soul
One day I’ll stand before the throne
With nothing left but hope in these two hands

Through all these seasons, I’m still believin’
You’re my promised land
In all my grievin’ I’m still believin’
You’re my promise land

Judgment and Assumption vs. Understanding

The longer I walk this grief journey the more I realize how difficult it is for people to understand those who grieve. It’s especially hard for some to do this without making their own judgment and assumptions.

As this journey continues to unfold I realize there are many who will never understand this road we have found ourselves on.

Oh, we could try to explain what it’s like to lose a loved one, but unless you’ve walked this road understanding is very limited.

Amazing to me, but even after all this time I still encounter judgment. Stigma. The look.  Have you ever experienced the look?  If so, you know exactly what I mean.  

If your loved one died of cancer, heart disease, Covid, or a car accident people have sympathy and understanding.

If someone has yet to have personally encountered death or grief, I can understand why there is limited understanding or sympathy. I would hope more people would learn how to at least have empathy, which is different from sympathy. Perhaps then grieving would not be so isolating or lonely.

Sympathy involves understanding from your own perspective. Empathy involves putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and understanding WHY they may have these particular feelings. In becoming aware of the root cause of why a person feels the way they do, we can better understand them.

Unfortunately, I have learned that if your loved one died of the disease of addiction, or perhaps took their own life, oftentimes you are looked upon differently. This is where the look enters in.

There are those who truly believe that addiction and mental illness are not real diseases. I have actually had people tell me, “This is something they did to themselves.” If you are one of those people or know one of those people please hear me:

Regardless of the manner in which someone died, everyone deserves love, empathy and understanding. Not judgment!

What can we do about it? Enlightening and explaining helps, but I have also learned to walk in forgiveness, which isn’t a feeling but a decision. I have chosen to forgive those who have been judgmental, due to their ignorance, and the assumptions they have made about me or my family. Only God knows the heart of a man (Romans 8:27) and our Creator is the only person we should be concerned with.

Friends, grief will touch us all at some point in our lives. How we engage with those who are grieving says more about us than it does about them. May we all extend love and when necessary, forgiveness to those who need it.

Whew! We Made It!

Whew, we made it! Sound familiar? Recently, these are the words I heard from countless others who were grieving the loss of loved ones over the holidays. I can totally understand where this comes from, but oh, how I wish it weren’t so.

Instead of Whew, we made it! I long for the day when we can say, “Whew, wasn’t that a beautiful holiday! Or, Whew, we had such a wonderful time gathering together this year!”

With that thought, I began to ask myself, how do we get there? I think the answer may be simpler than we can imagine.

One step, one breath, one holiday at a time. 

After Christmas I called a friend who had lost a second child this past year. She was on my heart and I just wanted to let her know she was loved and being thought of.

As we chatted our conversation segued into how we were really doing. In our effort to be sensitive to one another’s feelings, we paused then admitted we were actually surprised by how well we were doing. We were truly even afraid to speak the words out loud.

Let me clarify and say, we were not out partying and having a grand old time celebrating. But, for us – mothers who had lost children – we were not overcome with the overwhelming sadness we had previously experienced, sobbing uncontrollably and feeling like a two-ton weight of heaviness was laying on our hearts.

As we dug a little deeper she shared with me that it was her faith that was keeping her strong. Since her first child passed away her faith had grown so much stronger, and she realized it was that faith which was sustaining her now! It was this realization we came to:

We can grieve but with hope!

The hope we will see our loved ones again one day. We know our children are happy, safe, healed and loved in heaven. One day when we see them again, we might just say, “Whew, we made it! Thank you Jesus for taking care of our children until we got here and could all be together again.”

While I realize we are all in different stages of our journey, my heart’s desire is for everyone to be in a place of peace and comfort. My heart’s desire is to have the kind of  faith where we can simultaneously live with both sadness and joy, and not feel guilty for it.

My expectation of God is that He will keep his promise to us in Psalm 34:18, “He will heal the broken-hearted and save those who are crushed in spirit” and as we walk this journey, our load will become a little lighter.

The timing on this is as individual as a fingerprint, and we know it can change from one moment to the next, but as we venture into a new year I believe He is beginning to do that right now.

Is Your New Year Filled with Hope or Dread?

As I begin to pack away the Christmas ornaments on the tree my mind begins to think about the new year that looms in front of me. For grievers, many are thankful to have made it through Christmas and now we have New Year’s and all the worldly celebrations in front of us.  Tell me, is your New Year filled with hope or dread?

On one hand as the calendar turns the page and another year is before me I have a stirring of wonder in my spirit. What new and exciting things will we do as a family this year? What will the Lord unveil to me in 2022? What fun places may we be able to travel to this year? Will Beautifully Broken, ( make a difference and touch people’s hearts?

On the flip side of wonder, there are the thoughts of dread that run rampant through my mind, but none more so than this – as the new year beckons I know that soon thereafter the second anniversary of Melanie’s death will be staring me in the face. Weeks in advance and I’m already anticipating the day with dread. There is no way around it, and no way to avoid it. Yes, this is grief and it’s part of the journey we all must travel.

As the page on the calendar turns I have made a decision. If I must be on this journey then I am choosing to do so with as much peace and joy as I can surround myself with. Am I kidding myself? No, I’m certain there are days I am going to fall, but on those days I will crawl into the lap of my Heavenly Father. It’s in this place I can hand over my grief, my anxiety, my fears, and all my sadness. It’s in this place where I can find peace once again.

Whatever the new year brings I will face it head-on knowing I am taking my girl with me every step along the way. I’m not leaving her behind but bringing her with me. I will allow myself to remember the times she was here, and smile or cry, or both.  

May this New Year bring you peace and joy and may it bring you closer to knowing, no matter what, there is hope during loss.

Longing to See Beautiful Again

In just 3 short days it will be Christmas. I thought my heart was prepared to celebrate my second Christmas without my girl, but that’s simply not the case.

Although God continues to heal my broken heart, no matter how much time passes by there really is no preparation to escape the loss we feel for those who are no longer with us.

My morning routine always begins by spending quiet time with the Lord, along with reading from a couple of my favorite devotional books.  Today I picked up one I don’t read on a regular basis, Seeing Beautiful Again by Lysa TerKeurst. I found myself drawn to one that talks about when God gives you more than you can handle. How many of us have felt this way?

When we feel as if we cannot take one more step or tolerate yet one more thing happening in our lives, what can we do? We can run. We can hide. We can ignore it, or we can turn it over to God. As I read the following excerpt it made me think about how I was choosing to deal with my grief this week:

“He doesn’t expect us to handle this. He wants us to hand it over to Him. He doesn’t want us to rally more of our own strength. He wants us to rely solely on His strength.”  Lysa

I don’t know about you, but I want to see beautiful again.  My hearts desire is to be whole and healed and not be a fragmented shell of myself. I don’t want to walk under the weight of anxiety and stress, but peace – that peace that surpasses all understanding. Is it possible to achieve this after suffering loss and walking this long, arduous grief journey? Because of my faith I totally believe it is, with Jesus by my side.

There may be days when the roller coaster life of grief will continue to throw me into unexpected twists and turns, but I firmly believe one day I am going to see beautiful again. In the meantime I will continue to hand over to God all the things I don’t understand and rely on His strength instead of my own. It may not be easy walking this grief journey, but I refuse to give up, no matter how much time goes by.

May the peace of God touch each of your lives this Christmas ~ With His Love, Pat   

Christmas Memories

As the days inch closer to December 25th Christmas memories fill my mind and heart.

Memories can hurt and cause an ache and missing so deep within, but if we let them memories can also bring joy.

If we can choose joyful memories, then slowly glimpses of happiness like sunshine peeking out through the clouds after a rainstorm will begin to appear on the horizon of our heart.

Perhaps, even a smile will begin to frame our lips as we think back to a past Christmas when life was lighter, and grief not so present. Then maybe, just maybe, the sweetness of the memory will momentarily replace the hurt and aching within. 

It doesn’t mean we no longer miss our loved one, nor does it mean that we are leaving them behind. It’s in remembering the joyous moments where we can find ourselves feeling closer to those we miss.

Oh, I still miss my girl more than ever, but she also loved Christmas so very much. She was the first one to wake up. The first one to tear open a gift. The first one to count how many presents were under the tree as she separated them, doing this to make sure her brother didn’t get more than she did! 😊 This memory still makes me smile as I remember her beautiful light brown eyes and the mischief that always seemed to be sparkling within.

Today I sit here wrapped up in her blanket of love that I made for her during her last Christmas with us. As I remember, instead of sadness I am choosing joy. The joy that I feel knowing she was once wrapped up in this same blanket which makes me feel like she’s got her arms wrapped around me. Just remembering how much she treasured this blanket of love makes me smile.

Knowing Melanie is with our Savior, Jesus Christ, celebrating the day of his birth in heaven must be amazing, and something I can only imagine. So, although the missing never ends, I’m choosing to hold tight to all the Christmas memories I have of my girl, knowing one day we’ll be together again.

Bittersweet, Beautiful and Broken

This weekend we celebrated the launch of my book, Beautifully Broken. It was such a mixture of emotions – bittersweet, beautiful and broken all at the same time. We celebrated with friends and family, and the best part of the day was when my oldest son who lives out of state surprised us all by showing up at the event. His attendance meant the world to me as we could all be together to once again honor Melanie.  

Many have asked how I decided on the title of my book. Well, Beautifully Broken, is derived from a poem Melanie wrote the year before she died. It truly is the essence of who she was, and I’d like to share an excerpt from the book with you today.

I Am
I am broken but beautifully made
I wonder if I’ll make it after this
I hear my son’s voice
I see myself walking out of these gates
I want to be sober for the rest of my life
I am broken but beautifully made

I pretend like I have it all together
I feel like crying
I touch my chest because my heart is broken
I worry that I will fail and not succeed
I cry when I feel alone
I am broken but beautifully made

I understand I am stuck with this disease
I say have faith, this too shall pass
I dream about being in better places soon
I try to please those that don’t care about me
I hope to be happy with who I’ve become
I am broken but beautifully made ©

This was my Melanie.

While this was an exciting time, the closer we got to the book launch the bittersweet continually seeped into the crevices of this momma’s heart and spirit. My main thought always came back to this – If only I didn’t have to write this book and my girl was still here with me. Sigh.

In the weeks preceding the launch I felt as if I was being attacked on every side. I was physically ill and also began to experience anxiety in a way I had not had in a long time. I am so grateful for the friends and family who came alongside me lifting me up in prayer. The enemy does not like when we do anything good, and he especially doesn’t like it if we are giving honor and glory to Jesus while doing so.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6: 12-13 NIV)

Writing this book was Holy Spirit inspired and a true labor of love. Knowing this I remain firm in my stand and am excited to share our journey as God has directed me to do with authenticity and vulnerability.

As we all continue to venture down the path of grief, I am thankful for each of you. I don’t claim to know all the answers because I don’t.  But one thing I know for sure is that walking this road together, linking arms, and lifting each other up along the way makes the journey so much easier.

Surviving the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Over the past few weeks, I began to feel an old familiar stirring deep within my heart. It’s a feeling hard to ignore. Since Melanie ran ahead to heaven, as each holiday approaches I’m left with a hole that cannot be filled. The memories of times past begin to creep in and no matter what I do anxiety manages to creep in.   

We all know many refer to this as the most wonderful time of the year. But for those who are walking the grief journey, it can be far from wonderful.

The memories can still take our breath away, even if they are good ones.

Hallmark began the Countdown to Christmas, and if you’ve been following me for any length of time you already know I have always loved watching Christmas movies. Why? Probably because they are generally happy movies, filled with love and they always end in a happily-ever-after. So unrealistic, I know, but still a great escape.

Is it possible to get through this season and end up like a Hallmark movie? Doubtful. But what can we do, to help make this wonderful time of year a bit more tolerable?

Although I’m no expert, there may be a few things to consider to help survive the most wonderful time of the year:

  • Do something for someone else in memory of your loved one.
  • Consider putting up a special tree in honor of your loved one. Last year I made a sunflower tree and put a few ornaments on it that were special to Melanie. I liked it so much I kept it up all year. Every time I pass by and look at one of the sunflowers, I think of my girl and smile. If the thought of putting up a tree makes you cringe, then just don’t put it up! It’s OK.
  • Don’t feel obligated to attend every holiday event you’re invited to. Accept only those invitations you feel comfortable attending.  Maybe you can go and stay for 1 hour. But, if you don’t feel up to going, it’s okay to decline the invitation.
  • Change up your traditions. Did you always stay home? Then, maybe take a trip somewhere you’ve never been before.

For me and my family, the real reason we celebrate Christmas is Jesus. He is the reason for the season. It’s not the gift-giving, or all the pomp and circumstance that oftentimes accompanies it, and that is where my focus will remain. As my friend, Cheryl recently shared in a great post, let’s keep the Christ in Christmas!

Beautifully Broken

For those of you who have been following me for some time now you are aware I’ve been in the process of writing a book over the past year. Today I am happy to announce my first book, Beautifully Broken: Finding Hope During Loss has been published and is now available on Amazon for pre- order.

When I began considering what the title of the book should be it didn’t take long for me to decide on Beautifully Broken. Not only does this so aptly describe my girl, but it is also derived from a poem Melanie wrote the year before she died. One day soon, I will share it here with you all.

Beautifully Broken is not just another book about child loss or grief. It’s actually a book about finding hope during loss. Yes, there is sadness, and there certainly is grief – there is absolutely no escaping this journey when we lose someone we love.  But within the pages you will find encouragement and redemption – the kind which can only come from Jesus.

The most common question most people have been asking is, “Did you find writing your book to be cathartic and healing?” I can’t really say that it was, as I had to really dig into some memories and events I probably would rather have not unearthed.  Processing grief is very complex, but when God is directing your path the most important thing to do is be obedient to the direction of the Holy Spirit and trust.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6

While Beautifully Broken has definitely been a labor of love there were so many days I questioned myself. My friend Virginia, who is a new author herself and has a great blog, Following the Fortunato’s, hit the nail on the head in her recent blog post, Do It Anyway! Check it out here. She talked about the mean girl in her mind that kept telling her, no one is going to want to read your book. No one is going to want to hear your story. No one is…

These are the words I heard swirling around in my mind some days. There were so many days I came running from my office, falling to my knees, and asking the Lord if he was sure this was the direction I was supposed to go. On these days, it was definitely not healing, nor cathartic! Yet every single time I stopped writing and questioned God, it didn’t take long before someone came along with a word of confirmation and it was in a way that I just knew it couldn’t have come from anyone else but Him. 

During this week of Thanksgiving I am most thankful for each of you. Thank you for your faithful following, comments of care and support. I hope you will be inspired to head to Amazon and order a copy of Beautifully Broken for yourself or for a friend. Let love, healing, encouragement, and redemption pour over you. And, more than anything else, know this:

You are never alone. There IS Hope During Loss! 

Love, Pat

The Colors of Fall – A Small Reflection of My Soul

The Fall peaked here in Georgia this past week. The leaves on the red maple tree we planted so many years ago turned the most beautiful shade of red, orange, and yellow I’ve ever seen it produce. It appeared to exude a warm bright light and energy that brought such beauty to the space. The colors of Fall…a small reflection of my soul.

Melanie’s Meadow sits in the direct line of sight behind the tree, and each day as I made my way down the driveway it brought a smile to my face as I observed her meadow through the beauty of the leaves. I realized the colors of Fall, are indeed a small reflection of my soul, bringing some warmth, light, and happiness even in the midst of some underlying sadness.

A reminder, we truly can be both grateful for what we have and grieving for what we have lost.

Recently, I came across this lovely photo with all the beautiful stones stacked on top of one another. I first noticed how they were are all different sizes, each one individually, so unique and pretty. Some have lines, some have spots, and some are solid black with no color at all.   

Then, I immediately noticed how they are leaning off kilter, not centered, or standing up straight. The stones reminded me of myself and where I am on this journey of grief.

Some days I am still very much off-kilter, and not standing strong. Some days it’s hard to concentrate and my memory is nothing like it used to be before Melanie died.

In case you’re wondering – grief brain is real.

As I continued looking at this photo I noticed the beautiful heart at the base of the stones. The base is the strongest part, where it bears all the weight of what it’s carrying. Isn’t that similar to us? Our hearts are at the core of our being. For me, it’s the place deep within that God created and continues to heal.

Just like this stack of stones, even if I’m a bit off center some days, there is still strength and beauty within.  God isn’t finished with me yet, and for that I’m ever so grateful.

How Can We Survive the Holidays

It’s that time of year again. Fa-la-la-la-not. Oh, I know, that sounds so very Scrooge-like, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m not really a Scrooge, and under normal circumstances I actually love the holiday season. Unfortunately, since Melanie ran ahead to heaven, there is nothing normal about this time of year. I’m still trying to figure out just how to survive the holidays.

This is the second year without my girl, and Thanksgiving is just a mere 16 days away, with Christmas close behind.

A couple of weeks ago I got the bright idea that we should run away to a beautiful, warm island for Thanksgiving. Oh, I’m sorry, some people call that vacation, don’t they? For me, it’s more like running away and it sounded like a great idea at the time. Today, not so much.

So, how can we survive the holidays?  It’s so hard after loss, and truth be told, even though we may choose another destination, there probably really is no escaping it. I know I will take Melanie with me in my heart, along with our memories, no matter where I go.

For some grievers, traveling to another destination for the holidays is a great escape. Yes, it can be compared to running away, but sometimes being in a different location than the home where you shared so much, helps to ease a little of the ache from the void left behind. And guess what? If you choose to run away, there is no shame in it at all!

This year I thought the waves of grief might just remain at bay. Overall, my heart has been quiet and peaceful recently, and I had so hoped it would remain that way. Sadly, that is not the case. But, that’s exactly when it hits you – from out of nowhere. Grief is sneaky like that.

What do I want? I want to be exactly who I was before grief came knocking on my door. Unfortunately, grief doesn’t take a holiday.

So, what should we do? For me, I will do whatever my grieving mama’s heart wants to do. There may be some traditions I will continue to celebrate with my family. But there may also be others I will choose to eliminate if it brings too much pain in the remembering.

Please understand, I am no expert. I’m just another mom walking this road, missing my daughter more than ever, and figuring things out as I go. Maybe those of you who have walked this road longer can give us all some suggestions.

Whatever I choose, I know I won’t be walking this road alone. For that I remain grateful.

Focusing on Thanks Even When Your Heart is Hurting

Can you believe it’s already the beginning of November? Where has the time gone? The calendar reminds me it’s only 53 more days until Christmas, but I’m not ready to think about that yet. It’s November, the month of Thanksgiving, so instead, I’m trying to focus on thanks, even if my heart is hurting.

Truth be told, thoughts of the upcoming holidays began seeping into the cracks of my heart weeks ago. The dreaded anticipation of the empty seat around our table.

The questions and memories began assaulting my mind: Who is going to help me stuff artichokes? Who is going to beg me to get ham and a turkey? Who is going to help make my mom’s stuffing? Who is going to ask for cherry pie from our favorite bakery, along with 4 other pies, just because they are all good? Who?

My mother had a saying, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” It’s not something I hear much anymore but it sure does describe my girl. We could have only 4 people at our Thanksgiving table and Melanie would beg me to make both a ham and a turkey because she loved ham so much! The last year she was with us, it was only 4 of us and we literally had 5 pies, mainly because Melanie requested her favorite, cherry pie, along with another favorite, or two! 🙂 These memories make me laugh, even as I try to swallow the lump in my throat.

As a parent who has lost a child, there will never be a time of getting over this loss. There will never be a holiday when I am not saddened by the fact a member of our family is missing. But I’m equally certain Melanie would want me to carry on our traditions. I know there will be a time I’ll be able to do it, but I place no pressure on myself to do so this year.

I’m still finding my way through the valley of the shadow of death.

With Melanie’s unexpected death, came the realization of the frailty of life and how quickly your world can change. Death can come in swiftly, sweeping through with hurricane force winds, leaving you standing there in the midst of the debris.

Yet, I also understand, though my heart may be broken, one day it will certainly be whole again. Yes, that is something to be thankful for. Though traditions may change and shift, I’m thankful for the memories of my girl, which will never be forgotten.

There is much to be said about journaling and making a gratitude list. Give it a try. It helps shift your focus toward all the good in life. I’m so grateful for the family and friends God has blessed me with. Most importantly, I’m so grateful that ultimately my home is in heaven, where Melanie is, and one day I’ll get to see her again. For that, I am eternally thankful.

Grief is Complicated

Recently I went to the grand opening of a new florist that opened in our area. I was greeted by a lovely woman who happened to be one of the owners. She showed me around her quaint shop that offered unique clothing, jewelry and of course, flowers. After looking around I selected a beautiful “Grab n Go” Fall arrangement but asked if she wouldn’t mind adding a sunflower to it. 

While I waited we made small talk and she mentioned how she loved sunflowers. Without thinking, my very short and simple response was, “Sunflowers were my daughter’s favorite, too.” She paused briefly, looked up at me and said, “Were?” In a matter of seconds, and from completely out of nowhere, tears began to fill my eyes to the point where I couldn’t speak to answer but could only nod my head.

Yes, grief is complicated.

So, that lovely woman simply turned, grabbed a few more sunflowers, and placed them in the vase. As she handed it to me she said, “This is my gift to you today. May looking at them bring you joy.” Oh, my heart. I felt such a mixture of joy and sorrow all at the same time.

My husband and son were sitting outside finishing up their gelatos and as I approached they took one look at me and asked, “What happened?” I left with a smile and returned with a tear stained face. After I assured them I was fine, I told them of the kindness that was bestowed upon me.

Yes, grief is complicated.

Whether a person is in the early days of grief or years in, it’s perfectly normal for these unexpected grief bursts. Grief doesn’t make us flawed – it makes us human.

Death and grief eventually touch the lives of each and every one of us. There is no one on this earth who can escape the grief journey. There are some who may look at those of us who are mourning and think, “I’ll never be like her! I’ll never let that happen to me! I’m so much stronger than that!”

As the old saying goes – never say never! Grief is complicated.

Grieving is a way we show all the love in our heart for our loved one. Because love remains, there will always be a part of us that grieves.

I’m ever so grateful God promises to heal our broken heart (Psalm 34:18). Yet, I know there will always be a scar within me that represents the love and the void left behind since Melanie’s death.

Grief and love go hand-in-hand, and I’ve learned we can simultaneously have joy and sadness. I accept this as a part of who I am now. Smiling one moment, tearful the next. It’s all part of this complicated journey called grief.

Our Tears: A Pathway to the Healing of Our Heart

For those of us who find ourselves on the grief journey, I’m sure you’ve wondered if the tears would ever stop. For a time, I didn’t even bother to put on makeup, especially mascara. Why bother? It would only be a waste of product and energy.

How many times did you think the tears were all dried up, and yet out of nowhere, and for no apparent reason, they began rolling down your cheeks? In case no one has told you, this is perfectly normal in grief and it’s OK.

There was a time I only allowed myself to cry when I was alone, in the sanctuary of my own home. Although I felt a freedom to do so within the safety of my loved ones, I didn’t want to always be a “downer.” I had imposed an unspoken behavioral expectation and time limit on myself. I tried to appear stronger on the outside, than I actually felt on the inside. And truth be told, I didn’t want my husband and son to see me continually falling apart.

The moment my husband left the house to run an errand, I’m sure he wasn’t even at the end of the driveway when I would be drawn to what remained of my daughter. Ashes. Photos. A beautiful candle that had been gifted to me by a dear friend, that held a special childhood picture of Melanie on it. I would pick up the beautiful container that held her ashes, cradling it in my arms and hugging it closely to my chest, as the tears fell, and the sobs escaped from within. It was and still is my only way to give Melanie the hug I so long to give.

It was during those times when I would allow myself to release all the pent-up sadness and missing of my girl, in a way I would not allow myself to do otherwise. As I held her close, oh, the conversations I would have with her. Then, I would cry out to the Lord to heal this broken heart of mine.

Does God allow our loved ones to see us and hear us? I wonder, does she know how much I miss her? Does she know how I wish things were different and that she was here with us? It’s about the time I begin asking myself these questions when this next thought crosses my mind… 

My girl is at peace and in heaven. She’s in a place where there is no hurt, no disease, no sadness, no shame, no hardship, and no tears.

After many months into the grief journey my grief counselor told me I no longer had to be strong. It was as if I’d been given permission to fully grieve without taking on the care of what others may think of me.

I always considered myself to be a strong woman. As a single mom for many years, you develop a strength and backbone simply to survive. Back then I couldn’t afford the luxury of dissolving into a bucket of tears if something went wrong, as it oftentimes did. Perhaps that’s where this came from. So being given permission to let it go, was like removing the chains that I’d wrapped myself in.

Did you know that tears are actually healthy? Crying for long periods of time releases oxytocin and endorphins. These feel-good chemicals can help ease both physical and emotional pain. Once the endorphins are released, your body may go into somewhat of a numb stage. The oxytocin can give you a sense of calm or well-being.

My friends, if you are like me and trying to walk this hard road of grief with all the strength you can muster, I encourage you to stop holding back your tears. They are healing. They are powerful. They are not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of all the love in your heart for the one whom your heart loves and longs for. Our tears truly are a pathway to the healing of our heart.

Trusting God On An Ordinary Day, Until it Isn’t

Perhaps life has played out differently for you than me. The day Melanie ran ahead to heaven I expected it to just be, an ordinary day. I was on the first day of vacation, at the spa, getting a facial with a friend. I wasn’t expecting anything unusual to happen, and I definitely wasn’t anticipating my beautiful, young, daughter dying.

It was an ordinary day, until it wasn’t.

The other day as I was driving my son’s friend home, they were playing a game called, “Would You Rather?” It’s a game where questions are lobbed back and forth, such as, “Would you rather drive a Ferrari or a Lamborghini?” All of a sudden my son’s friend asked, “Would you rather know when you’re going to die, or would you rather know how you’re doing to die?”

Immediately, I felt a pit form in my stomach, as I thought about Melanie. I told them I’d have to pass on answering that one. I remained silent as I listened to them explain the reason why they each chose the answer they did.

Because Melanie’s death was unexpected, it was very traumatic for me and the members of my family. I’ve often contemplated the difference between an expected death and an unexpected one. Is it easier to walk through grief if you know it’s coming? Would it have helped if I knew when, as opposed to how?

Personally, I believe loss is hard whether you know in advance, or if it strikes like a viper out of the blue. It’s easy to place your trust in God during the ordinary days, but do you still trust him when it’s no longer ordinary?

A week ago, I attended a Celebration of Life service honoring the unexpected death of a dear friend’s son. Oh, how my heart broke for her and her husband, knowing what the road they are about to embark on will be like. Strangely, one of the first things my friend said was, “Today started out just like an ordinary day.”

I am no expert and no theologian, but I do believe this there are no surprises to God.

The day my friend’s son died, and the day Melanie ran ahead to heaven, was of no surprise to God. For him, it was an ordinary day. He was expecting our children to be there by his side, welcoming them with the loving, open arms of a Father. With that thought, I take some comfort. 

Our ordinary days are different from the Lord’s. While we may never fully understand why things happen like they do, if we place our hope and trust in God no matter what, he will make a way where there doesn’t seem to be a way.

We live in an imperfect world, where bad things happen to good people. While God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours, it comes down to trust. For me, no matter what kind of day it is, I will place my trust and life in him. My hope and faith will not be shaken or shattered.  

Let it Go, Just Like Queen Elsa

How often do we allow ourselves to feel pressured by others to feel a certain way? How often do we allow ourselves to feel guilty that we aren’t further along in our grief journey? It happens more often than we’d like to admit.

It doesn’t have to be this way, my friends. In case you need someone to tell you this today, go ahead and give yourself permission to let it go, just like Queen Elsa! This may be a kids theme but I love the sentiment behind the song – we need to be more like Queen Elsa!

There were many times I would encourage my kids to be independent and not allow others to influence their decisions and way of thinking. Well, how interesting is it that now as adults we sometimes tend to do the same.

Recently I heard from another bereaved mom who was not able to express her grief in her own home. Her family didn’t want to hear all her “doom and gloom, and negativity.” My heart broke for her.

In order to heal we must have the freedom to express every single emotion we feel, for as long it takes.

Especially during the first year of losing my daughter, there were more times than I can recall when I sobbed until I could barely breathe. There were multiple times I repeated the same stories about Melanie to my husband. Thankfully, he allowed me this freedom, with the utmost patience and without judgment.

We all grieve so differently. I can’t say this enough! The judgment and expectations need to end! We need to give grace and mercy to ourselves, and those we meet along the way who are also walking this path.

One day we can feel happy and full of joy, and the very next day we can be curled up on the couch, gazing off into the air, without an ounce of energy and a box of tissues by our side.

There is no time limit for grieving. Just like there is no time limit for love.

Yesterday a song came on the radio that I hadn’t heard in a while, I Have This Hope, by Tenth Avenue North. The words spoke to my heart so deeply I decided to pull it up on YouTube. I was amazed it had over 4.1M views. I’d like to share a short portion of it with you today. I also hope you take a moment to listen to the song, and I’d like to know if you’ve had these same thoughts like me.

As I walk this great unknown
Questions come and questions go
Was there purpose for the pain?
Did I cry these tears in vain?

I don’t want to live in fear
I want to trust that You are near
Trust Your grace can be seen
In both triumph and tragedy

I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

It gives me hope when I hear from others who have walked this journey ahead of me and have survived. I always remember, it doesn’t mean they no longer miss their loved ones, but they have allowed God to heal their heart. My favorite scripture since Melanie ran ahead to heaven is, “He heals the broken-hearted and those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18.

This is a scripture I remind the Lord about time and again. When I feel myself sinking low, I reach out to touch the hem of the garment of the only one who can lift me. There is no person on this earth who can heal us like the one who made us.

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