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

Are You Over Your Grief Yet?

Recently I was the guest speaker at an event and after it was over someone came up and asked me exactly that question: Are you over your grief yet? The question seemed to come from a pure place and seemed quite sincere, yet it momentarily took me by surprise.

It’s been a while since someone has asked me that question, but it took only a nano-second to reply.

As my dear friend, Shirley shared with me months ago, I believe grief is much like the Artofkintsugi. So, the most straightforward answer to this question is, “No, I’m not over my grief and don’t think I ever will be.”

Instead, I believe as time moves forward our broken pieces begin to be transformed into something new. God uses our brokenness to create something good and beautiful.

Truly, it’s unrealistic to expect others who have never walked this path to totally understand what we are going through. They simply don’t understand.

When we find ourselves in this position, what can we do? My best attempt is try to walk in grace and understanding, instead of anger and disappointment. Though, quite honestly, this was a learned behavior – not an automatic reaction!

When I first found myself trying to process the death of my daughter there were those who were very supportive and understanding. I will be forever grateful to those people. Yet, after what another deemed to be a “sufficient period of time” of grieving had passed, someone told me I needed to pick myself up by my bootstraps and carry on.

Unfortunately, those people don’t understand how the grief journey so clearly resembles the waves of the ocean. Up one day and down the next.

Today I view these as learning opportunities and take a few moments to explain.

I believe grief changes over time, but never totally disappears from ones life.  

My grief journey isn’t as intense and overwhelming today as it was when Melanie first ran ahead to heaven.  But it’s still there … simmering just below the surface like a geyser waiting to erupt at any moment. I never know when it may happen.

Some days it quiet and other days it bubbles up for no apparent reason. It could be something as simple as an old song that comes on the radio and reminds me of her. During those moments I let the tears flow. Simply put – this is grief, and I will not hide it.

Today, I try to focus on the good and the love we shared. I try to remember the funny times and sweet memories, keeping them in the forefront of my memory as opposed to the loss. I try to imagine what she might be doing in heaven and how I’ll get to see her again one day.

So, am I over my grief? Never. It’s become a part of who I am now, just like the color of my hair or the way I walk or talk. I’m grateful for the lighter, softer days of grief that have evolved from the broken, jagged pieces and look forward to a day when there will be no more sadness, no more tears.

Searching for Hope During Loss

Have you ever lost someone you love? Have you found yourself on this dark, lonely road called grief, searching for hope during loss?

From the moment I first heard the words, “your daughter Melanie is deceased” my life as I knew it was forever changed. If you have suffered an unexpected loss you know exactly what I mean.

Grief can seem like a never-ending battle. The feelings of disbelief, numbness, anxiety, fear, and hopelessness seem to abound. The every day fight to maintain some sense of composure can be exhausting.

You wonder if you will ever get back to who you were. Often what most people don’t realize is that we will never be the same people we once were – but, there is hope!

There WILL be a day when your grief will not be the all-consuming, overwhelming sense of hopelessness and sadness you feel during those early days and months of loss.

I promise. As others who have gone before me can attest, this is true. We will always grieve for the loss of our loved ones, but there is hope during loss.

If you’re searching for peace and hope, longing for comfort and encouragement come alongside me as I share my story with you.

Within the pages of Beautifully Broken: Finding Hope During Loss you will find honesty, transparency and vulnerability as I share our story.

Take my hand and come with me as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death together. Our story may be somewhat different than yours but I believe no matter how our loved one died, loss is loss and grief is grief. I believe you will see the light that began to shine through the darkest days, and witness the glimmers of hope.

This road has been hard but slowly the broken pieces of my heart are coming together. I know that by giving my heart a voice and faith a lead role in healing, the jagged pieces aren’t as sharp as they once were. This can be true for you as well.

Give it a try. You won’t be disappointed. You can pick up a copy here: Beautifully Broken: Finding Hope During Loss https://www.amazon.com/…/ref=cm_sw_r_awdo_navT_a…

Faith, Gratitude and My Dark Alley Friends

Soon after Melanie died a friend came by to visit. He brought me a beautiful gratitude journal. It was a very sweet gesture but if I’m honest, I thought it was an odd gift to give someone during this time.

If I had been one of those cartoon characters on television where a “bubble of my thoughts” appeared on top of my head it would have said, “Buddy, don’t you know that my daughter just died! A gratitude journal! Really? Gratitude isn’t exactly at the top of my list right now!” Of course, I didn’t say any of those things. Instead, I graciously thanked him for his thoughtfulness and tucked it away in the back of a drawer a few days later.

Well, it’s been a couple of years since that visit and recently as I was searching for something I found it in the back of my nightstand drawer. I began thumbing through it and saw that it was a lovely book. My friend had such good and kind intentions, but when Melanie first ran ahead to heaven I wasn’t in a place where I could appreciate it.

Seeing that journal was a sweet, gentle reminder about how God has been carrying me through my grief. He’s slowly and tenderly taken me through those early days when life was so very dark, and each day was filled with such heart-wrenching emotions I often couldn’t breathe. He’s brought me to a place where the waves no longer knock me completely off my feet.  

As I looked at the journal it reminded me how much I truly have to be grateful for. It’s hard to see gratitude when your heart is shattered by the loss of a loved one. I’m in the middle of walking through my 3rd year without my girl and although I miss her just as much today as I did then, I am finally able to see light shining into the dark places.

When we lose someone we love it takes a long time to get your feet back under you. If you are still in the place on your grief journey where the weight of it all is still so heavy, please let this be an encouragement to you. Eventually life can be good again.

Grief will always be a part of us, but if we allow it, our faith can begin to heal the deepest hurts we have.

As I look in the rearview mirror I can clearly see how it was my faith in God that has seen me through the death of my only daughter.

If I had written in that gratitude journey my faith would have been the first thing I am grateful for. Faith is the first and most important thing that has sustained me. I can now see how God carried me through the valley of the shadow of death. He promised to heal my broken heart, and little by little I can see how the cracks are being filled in with his healing balm. It doesn’t happen all at once or quickly. Healing is day by day.

The second thing I’m most grateful for are my dark alley friends who have helped me through this unbelievable loss. Dark alley friends are the most amazing friends that God gifts us with as they help us through our darkest seasons of life.

Girlfriends, you know who you are, and I want you to know I have so much love and gratitude for you all. Each of you in your own way have held my hand and my heart since that first dreadful day when I heard the words, “your daughter is dead.” The love and care extended to me with meals, early morning and late-night phone calls, texts, and visits is immeasurable. You’ve never made me feel as if I’ve been mourning too long because you know, with child loss there is no time limit. You never made me feel ashamed of my endless tears, outbursts, or repetitious stories of my girl. I will be forever grateful for each of you who prayed with me then and continue to lift me up in prayer today. I love you all.

Seeing that gratitude journal in my nightstand made me stop and realize that although I may not have written in that particular journal, (I have plenty of others I have written in though), it’s been my faith, gratitude and dark alley friends who have gotten me through these hard times. I didn’t know it then, but there was a little seed planted by my friend who gifted me with the gratitude journal and for that I am grateful.

Friends, if you’re struggling right now, sit back and take a moment. Breathe in and out. As the scripture says, “Be still and know I am God.” Let the stillness of the Lord be there with you in this quiet moment. Do you have a dark alley friend who has been walking with you? Have you seen God’s hand of faith lifting you up from the valley of the shadow of death? We may not understand why we find ourselves on this path, but if we wait I believe we will see the goodness of God light up the dark places of our grief.

The Dance of Grief

Every time I think about dancing I think of happy times, like dancing with my husband at our wedding. Or the fun times I had as a young girl attending the Friday night dances at church. But did you ever equate dancing with grief? I didn’t until recently.

While watching an awards show on television I was mesmerized by one artist’s incredible dance routine. Each move, every footstep was carefully choreographed. When all of sudden as he was gliding along with these smooth moves, out of nowhere he suddenly jumped into the air then tumbled down onto the floor. His body began making these jerky motions as everyone else began following him across the stage. I was left wondering what the heck just happened?!

His dance moves were much like the dance of grief. Up one minute gliding along smoothly, when in the next moment we find ourselves upside down in a heap on the floor. Depending on where you are on your journey grieving sure can resemble a dance, albeit not a carefully choreographed one either.

Since Melanie ran ahead to heaven I am grateful for the smooth, easy going days I have. Then, there have been days when I’ve felt like I’m twirling around on my head; not knowing which way to turn or how to get off this spinning hamster wheel of sadness.

Not only can every day be different, but moments throughout each day can vary. Maybe you’ve found yourself gliding along just like a ballerina, having a perfectly fine day when out of nowhere something triggers you and you find yourself on the floor, like the break dancer.

Just like dancing, there are so many rhythms to this journey. Oh, how we wish for a regular cadence to the dance. Instead, many times we are left with a booming staccato one moment, and a quiet interlude of waterscapes the next.

Friends, grief has its very own timetable. There is no set schedule and although we are told there are stages to grief, it’s important to realize you may visit and then re-visit some of the stages. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you – this is the dance of grief.

Grief brings with it all the feels – anger, loneliness, anxiety, blame, regret, questioning God. These may not be the official stages of grief, but they are all stages nonetheless.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it’s important to know that as time moves forward the ache isn’t as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. Allow yourself to feel what you feel. It is part of the healing process.

Should the dance becomes too hard, I encourage you to reach out to a grief counselor or a trusted friend who will listen. No one can take our grief away but there are those who will listen and sit with you in your grief.

Remember, grief is a reminder that you have lost someone you loved so very much. It takes time to heal the heart but healing will come.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds Psalm 147:3 NIV

Where Are You God?

At some point in our lives, we will all experience the loss of a loved one. Whether it be a parent, a spouse, or like me, the unexpected loss of a child. Death summons up the deepest of emotions and can make the strongest believer question their faith. Have you ever found yourself asking, “Where are you God?”

Recently, I’ve heard this question asked more than ever before. It’s a question that has no easy answer. It’s not like God is going to pop up, waving his hands shouting, “Here I am! I’m just sitting here by this fig tree waiting to chat with you.” No, it doesn’t work like that!

But God is here. He is as close to you as the air you breathe. He isn’t going to barge in where he isn’t wanted, but he is here, nonetheless. He is standing there, waiting close by for you to invite him in. I made the decision to invite him into my life when I was 16 years old, and it was a decision I have never regretted.

Unexpected and traumatic death has come and knocked on my door twice in my life. Yes, I asked, “Where are you God?” Yet, as devastating as these losses were it didn’t take long for me to realize he was right there with me, even if I didn’t understand why these things happened.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 MSG

When you’re asking, where are you God, it comes down to trust, faith, and hope. Trust that God is who he says he is. Faith that his word is true and holding on to the hope of Christ.  

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the same dream over and over again. In it my youngest son is walking along with me and in the next moment he’s gone. Vanished, like a puff of smoke! I had the same type of dream about my husband as well. One minute we were walking together in a crowd of people and the next thing he was gone. Each time I have woken up crying and yelling their names.

Momentarily I have awakened with such fear gripping my heart. Death, especially unexpected traumatic death can bring on a host of responses. The one thing that I depend on is my faith. It is what has made the difference between surviving my daughter’s death or barely functioning each day.  

During one of my quiet times I was reminded that God never promised we wouldn’t have trials. But he does promise he will be with us through them all. He would never leave us.

“I will never fail you or abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5 CSB

I know this isn’t the way for everyone, but I would ask you, “Where else will you go? Who will you turn to? What else do you have left?”

If you’re asking, “Where is God?” He is right here just waiting to be invited in. I encourage you to fix your eyes on him.

He will fill your tank when you’re empty.

He will lift you up and carry you when you cannot take one more step.

He knows your heartache and he will heal your crushed spirit.

Grief is hard. It’s the hardest thing we will ever do. This journey is not one of instant gratification. It’s something I have to work at every single day. I have to put in the time to spend in the word, and on those days when I feel overwhelmed if I can remember only one word it’s this: Jesus, the name above all names.

Trying to Process the Incomprehensible

Typically, the end of May is a time to celebrate the end of school and the beginning of summer. We attend end of school parties, graduations, and summertime vacation plans are made. Instead, this year as many across our nation begin this tradition, there are 21 families in a small town in southern Texas whose lives have been forever changed. Families that are left trying to process the incomprehensible.

If you asked half of Americans if they had ever heard of Uvalde 7 days ago, I imagine most would say no.  But exactly one week ago today ago a troubled young man entered an elementary school and senselessly took the lives of 19 children and 2 adults.

Today, the world knows exactly where Uvalde, TX is. May we all never forget!

This has shattered the hearts of many, especially those of us who have been walking through the overwhelming grief of child loss. We know the road that lies ahead for these families. Watching the news has shattered my heart and conjured up all those feelings of loss once again. We sit stunned and in shock while trying to process the incomprehensible.

On the first day following this tragic event I woke during the early morning hours and could vividly recall the first day I woke up knowing Melanie was no longer on this earth. It was an emptiness unlike anything I’ve ever experienced; a heavy, palpable void in the deepest part of my being that is still hard to articulate, even today.

Grieving parents know all too well the morning after. The day we wake up and realize this is not a bad dream.

So many thoughts filled my heart and mind for these mommas and dads who were waking up to this nightmare. We will never forget the crying that takes your breath away, leaving you barely able to move, let alone think.

My heart is joined with all those who lost their children far too early, including the 2 teachers. They may be adults, but they were also someone’s children.

There is no way to make sense of this tragedy and all the others that have happened before this. So, what do we do?

We will weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.

We will say our children’s names. We will remember the love we shared and we will never, ever forget. We are the memory keepers… until the day we can be reunited once again.

Labeling Grief: Normal vs. Complicated

Grief is difficult, intricate, and very complex. I think anyone walking this grief journey would surely agree. But did you know that someone actually labeled grief, normal vs. complicated? The reference suggests that the type of grief a person has is dependent on the amount of time one has been grieving?

Apparently medical science has labeled normal grief as the time period up until one year after a loved one dies. After that time if you are continuing to exhibit strong, intense sorrow over the loss of your loved one it is known as having complicated grief.

My first reaction was “Hmmm, I wonder if that person has ever suffered child loss?” Spousal loss? What about those who have lost both a spouse and a child? Is there really a time frame for grieving?

Everyone grieves in their own way and I believe each person’s time frame is different. Placing an exact time period, such as designating one year for normal grief, creates an unrealistic expectation. In turn that expectation is unnecessary and can lead to stress and feelings of inadequacy.

There are many mommas I know who are still grieving the loss of a child who ran ahead to heaven more than one year ago. Does that mean they aren’t normal? Absolutely not.

Granted, as time moves forward our hearts do begin to heal. Do we ever stop grieving our loved ones? No, I don’t think so.

However, what does change is the intensity of our grief. Typically, over time the intense feeling of loss lessens, though it may never totally disappear.

Although I initially disliked the fact that there is a labeling of grief, normal vs. complicated, I also recognize the real need for guidance from those in the medical community. Unfortunately, I know of too many who were unable to deal with the pain of their grief. Sadly, they decided there was no way out other than to take their own lives. Grief can be overwhelming and if you are having feelings of self-harm please, reach out for help.

There are many options to help us walk this difficult road of loss and allow us to learn healthy coping skills. Below are some signs and symptoms of complicated grief.  If you are experiencing any of these and are feeling overwhelmed, please reach out for help.

  • Intense sorrow, pain, and rumination over the loss of your loved one
  • Focusing on little else but your loved one’s death
  • Extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or excessive avoidance of reminders
  • Intense and persistent longing or pining for the deceased
  • Problems accepting the death
  • Numbness or detachment
  • Bitterness about your loss
  • Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one

Complicated grief also may be indicated if you continue to:

  • Have trouble carrying out normal routines
  • Isolate from others and withdraw from social activities
  • Experience depression, deep sadness, guilt, or self-blame
  • Believe that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death
  • Feel life isn’t worth living without your loved one
  • Wish you had died along with your loved one

At times, people with complicated grief may consider suicide. If you’re thinking about this, talk to someone you trust. If you think you may act on suicidal feelings, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor.

Please remember, you are never alone. We are here to support, listen and pray with you.

Anger: How Grief’s Silence Be Deafening

When I began blogging I told myself I wouldn’t post simply to post. If I didn’t have anything worthwhile to share I would simply keep on moving and see how I felt the following week.

Well, this week was the first time I actually felt as though I had nothing to give anyone. Instead of sitting down and writing on the days I usually do, I kept busy with other things. I thought I was okay with that decision, but instead of feeling at peace I had a strong sense of discomfort.

I’m going to be very transparent and vulnerable here … You see last week I had some words with God, and they weren’t so pretty. I was hurt and angry about something I thought I had already turned over to him long ago. I cried. I yelled. I lashed out. And then, I fell on my face, apologized, and begged for forgiveness.

Oh, Grief, how I detest you. You have made me into someone I sometimes dislike. How I wish I could go back to being the person I used to be, but that is impossible.

I know God has big shoulders and can handle anything I throw at him. But I sure wish I understood his plan.

He is the one who has upheld me over these long days, months, and years as I’ve walked this grief journey. To be angry with him is alien to me. I’m not a grudge holder. However, I know enough that if you let anger grow and steep within you, you limit how the Holy Spirit can move. It’s like slowly turning off the power to one thing that can keep you moving in the right direction.

Anger fueled my grief and deep within me had become eerily quiet. Grief’s silence then became quite deafening.

Well, it dawned on me that although I’d asked the Lord for forgiveness and thought I’d moved on, I’m not sure I really did. My heart and mind were still raging a battle within, and I realized I even felt a bit rebellious. 

It was kind of like, “Well, since this happened … and if you’re not going to do this, then I’m not going to talk to you right now. And furthermore, I’m not going to sit down and write anymore either! So there!” As these random thoughts unconsciously flew through my mind, all of a sudden I could picture my 5-year-old self! Ha-ha!

Every day when I wake up the first thing I still think about is my daughter. I immediately remember that she ran ahead to heaven. The sadness and missing of her will forever live within me.

I’ve been faithful to do what I believe God has called me to do. One of those things was to write Beautifully Broken: Finding Hope During Loss and blog each week. Sharing my grief journey is a way to help myself and others know we are not alone. Unfortunately, the enemy has come along and whispered in my ear, “But is it really helping anyone? You have nothing to share. No one wants to hear from you.”  

After a restless night’s sleep that was filled with a lot of tossing and turning, I realized that perhaps I hadn’t given this all over to the Lord as I thought I did. This grief journey, which can reek of loneliness and silence, can replay in the mind and heart over and over again. Grief’s silence can absolutely become deafening!

Maybe you’re wrestling with something in your own heart this week. If you are, I understand and I’m sorry you’re struggling. No matter what, I still know the only way to get settled and get back on track is to run to the Father. Thankfully, even when we get upset with him, he never turns his back on us.

The Aftershocks of a Holiday

I’m sure there are many of us breathing a sigh of relief this week.  Holidays are hard without our loved ones. There is so much anticipation and expectation associated with each one.

Mother’s Day can be very bittersweet. Maybe you’re a person without a mother. Or maybe you’re a mother without your child.  Either way, Mother’s Day is a tough holiday.  

Now that we made it through the actual day, how are you really feeling?

If you’re like me, maybe it’s the days following when the walls come tumbling down. Each one of us is so different in how we manage our grief journey.

Over the course of my professional career one of the things I learned early on was that I was good while in the middle of an emergency. One of the roles I held required me to be a member of our Emergency Response Team. As you would imagine this was a very high-level stress position. If there was an aircraft incident we were required to assist the families of those involved in the crash. Although there was a lot of training involved, thankfully, it was something we didn’t have to use often.

While I was in the middle of the incident I was able to handle whatever came my way. But just like an earthquake has aftershocks, which can be just as strong and fierce, it was in the days following the event that affected me the most.  

During one particular incident I was away from home for almost two weeks. The days were very long, with little sleep. We worked off of adrenaline and helped numerous people in any way possible. The day after I arrived home I woke up and felt like I’d been hit by a truck. All of a sudden the weight of all I had experienced hit me.

It’s the aftershocks that can take its toll on you – physically, mentally, and emotionally. We need to allow ourselves the opportunity to rest and heal.

Grief is very much like the aftershocks of an earthquake. Maybe on the actual holiday you didn’t want to make everyone around you feel sad, so you held your true emotions in check. You donned your mask, pasted a smile on your face, and made it all look good to those around you.

But it’s the aftershock of the holiday when the walls come crashing down. If this is you, my friend, I encourage you to let them fall.

We need to let our emotions out in a healthy manner. Let the tears flow. It’s a medically documented fact that crying is healthy for you. It releases oxytocin and endorphins. These feel-good chemicals help ease so much of the physical and emotional pain we are feeling due to our loss.

From another perspective, I love that our tears do not go unnoticed by God:

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book ~ Psalm 56:8

As the days move forward remove your mask, grab a tissue, and take some time for yourself. Allow yourself to reflect on the one you loved who is no longer here. Know that our hurts are not unseen by the one who can help heal all our broken hearts.

Wishing you much peace this week.

How a Mess Can Become Your Message

Have you ever asked yourself, Why Me? Perhaps you’ve wondered why your life has unfolded like it has. Do you feel as if your life is a mess?

Maybe you’ve looked around and it appeared as if everyone around you seemed to be living their best life, except you.   

I’m not suggesting we begin a pity-party, or have a woe is me attitude, but I do think these are all very normal questions and feelings. I believe they are especially valid if you are grieving.

When we are going through difficulties and heavy times in life, such as grieving the loss of a loved one, this is part of the journey. Friend, if you can just hold on for a little bit longer I believe this mess can be turned into your message.

When Melanie first ran ahead to heaven I asked God, why me? Why Melanie? I always came back to the one thing I know to be true – my ultimate faith and trust in him. What I know is this: I don’t see the whole picture of this life of mine and I need to trust in the one who does see the end from the beginning.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all. ~ Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG

There is a person in my life who has told me more than once, “Pat, it’s like you have a black cloud hanging over your head.” Although he doesn’t say this to be hurtful I don’t think he has any idea how those words sting. Do you know what the interesting thing is? I don’t feel as if I have a black cloud hanging over my head at all!

We live in a world where people – all people – have challenges in life.  Do some seem to have more challenges than others? Yes! But it’s not a black cloud – it’s called LIFE!!  God never promised us a carefree life. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

As I walk through my grief journey, I have come to see that grief and joy really can live side-by-side. I’m learning something new every single day, and he is turning my mess into a message. 

I don’t know the circumstances surrounding your loss or how you’re feeling today, but I believe even in the midst of the trials and turmoil of life we still serve a God who is good. Although I may not know or understand his plan I’m confident he has one that is good for me. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

After writing Beautifully Broken: Finding Hope During Loss, I feared being known as the “grief lady.” If someone’s child died, I had people calling and texting asking me to reach out to the family. Some of them were people I didn’t even know.

In the beginning I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was being placed in this role. Then, I realized that my story was not being wasted. God was using me for his good.

In the words of Katherine Wolf, we can live a “goodhard life.”  Every cloud, even black ones, has a silver lining.

I’m grateful that even in the midst of my grief, I do still have a very good life. With God’s help and leading I’m able to turn some of the sadness of losing my girl into something that can encourage and offer hope to someone else.

If you’re struggling today and wondering, why me, I encourage you to hold on. God can and will turn your mess into a message. He will use your story to reach someone else who is hurting. He isn’t done with you yet.

Will Our Grief Really Last Forever?

When we lose someone we love I think it’s absolutely natural to feel as though our grief will last forever. I know I have felt that way and have voiced this exact sentiment to others who have lost loved ones. But will our grief really last forever? I believe the answer to that is a resounding, Yes!

However, recently I read something that gave me a moment of pause. In saying that grief lasts forever what hope does that give us? For those who are in the early stages of grief I would never want you to think that the extreme heaviness you are now experiencing will always be this way. Since I truly believe there is hope during loss, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned along the way.

For those of us walking this grief journey, our lives will never be the same. But it’s OK. The change that has happened within us is normal. Grieving is normal! Often times others who have not walked this journey are quick to judge. Some of the most common assumptions are:

  • There is a time limit to grief. After “X” number of months or certainly after one year your grief should be gone.
  • You should be the same person you were before your loved one ran ahead to heaven.
  • Time heals all wounds. You will get over it.

All of these assumptions are just that – assumptions. Not one of these are true statements of someone who actually finds themselves on this road.

Which leads me back to my original question – Does grief really last forever?  Although I’ve already said I believe it does, there is a caveat and one that is so important to know:

Grief may last forever, but grief does change over time. It evolves. The soul-crushing, heart-palpitating, can’t-catch-your-breath moments of grief lessen and eventually don’t come as often.

This is so important to know, especially for those who are fresh in grief and walking through the early stages of this journey. I hope you will cling to these words with the hope they are meant to deliver.

We will forever miss our children, our spouses, our siblings, our loved ones – but we can and will one day make it through the valley of the shadow of death.

I remember those early days after Melanie ran ahead to heaven. I remember walking around numb and in the fog of total disbelief. I will be forever thankful for those who surrounded me, lifted me up, prayed for me and were simply there for anything I may have needed.

Thankfully, I no longer feel the bone-crushing sadness I felt during the first year. I do have moments where I am peaceful and feel joy. Then, there are other days when grief is still hard. A piece of my heart is missing and nothing or no one can fill that void.

There are days when you may think you will never be whole again and you will never be able to function. I want to encourage you to be kind and gentle with yourself on those days. Don’t try to rush through your grief and don’t feel as if there is something wrong with you if you’re not doing as well as someone assumes you should be.

Grief is as individual as a fingerprint. We all need to take as much time as is necessary. We can hold on to the fact that others who have walked this road before us, although forever changed, have survived, and even thrived.

Jennie Lusko, in her book “Fight to Flourish” talks about growing in the place where God has planted you. Like a tiny seed that is planted deep down in the dark, moist soil eventually it begins to make its way up toward the sun. Grief is like that. We can be in a very dark place for a season but as time goes by, we can begin to grow and flourish once again.

Grieving forever doesn’t necessarily mean we will always be in that dark, soul-crushing state.

We will carry our grief in our hearts forever but know that it does change. You WILL make it through these dark days – they will simply look different.

I truly believe God will take our broken pieces and use them to make something beautiful again. He promises to make beauty from the ashes and perhaps one way to do that is in sharing our stories and lifting one another up. We may find it even helps to heal our own broken hearts.

%d bloggers like this: