Triggers: Reliving My Nightmare in Room 221

Recently I heard a local news report which involved the Medical Examiner who attended Melanie when she died. Apparently his parents and 19 year old son were murdered. Sadly he found them. Soon after hearing this I woke up in the middle of the night with a very heavy heart.

There are still nights when I lay in my bed and think this is all a bad dream.  Someone else’s nightmare and certainly not my life.

Melanie cannot be dead. She cannot be gone. I think about her laying in that bed, in that hotel. I replay holding the phone to my ear all the while answering questions to faceless police detectives.

That is not my daughter. This is all a big mistake. I just knew the phone was going to ring in with another call and it would be her telling me she was alright.

I will never forget the voice of the Medical Examiner getting on the phone and asking if I was the mother of Melanie. He couldn’t even pronounce her last name. I corrected him. Then when he told me she was deceased, I agreed. Like it was ok.  NO, I wanted to scream. It’s not ok! It can’t be her!

In all of my dealings with the Medical Examiner he was very short with me, perfunctory and his tone seemed very unfeeling. In later conversations he said things which I found to be unprofessional and assumptive. Perhaps he behaved this way as a result of the line of work he’s in. Because of that I always gave him grace because I knew I was in a highly emotional state and he was doing a job I could never imagine doing.

Hearing the tragic news of his family’s death was a trigger for me. It had me journeying back in time, reliving the most painful moments of my nightmare in Room 221.

It’s important to know that feeling triggered isn’t just about something rubbing you the wrong way. For someone with a history of trauma, being around anyone or anything that reminds them of the traumatic experience can make them feel like they’re experiencing the trauma all over again.

Following are the thoughts that seemed to pour out from my heart as I lay there in my bed in the dark:

My dear Melanie, I keep thinking about how long you laid there. By the time I found out you were gone you’d already been in heaven for a little more than a day.  When the overwhelming sadness hits me I remind myself that you’re more than fine now. You’re happy. You’re healed, peaceful, and restored. But I miss you so very much. Still. Always. Forever. Nothing will ever quite be the same again.

The trauma over losing you still haunts me. I’ve developed anxiety. I no longer sleep well. It’s strange how I’ve become fearful of things I shouldn’t be or never was. It’s anxiety. Fear that the other shoe will drop. Who else in my life is going to leave and not come home? Who else is going to die on me unexpectedly? I just can’t bear the thought.

Home has become my safe place. Oftentimes I don’t even want to leave. I truly know in my heart that God keeps me safe but I still prefer not to venture too far. Every day I pray His angels have charge over me and my loved ones.

Will this awful feeling ever go away? 

There are many nights as I close my eyes to sleep I see you, laying on that bed in Room 221. 

Friends, triggers are a part of the grief journey. I never understood them before. Thankfully I quickly realized that this was what was happening to me. Triggers can set you in a backward momentum if you let it. How grateful I am for my faith and trust in God. As I call out to him, he is there. Ready and waiting to lift me up and carry me through these moments.

My heart is broken for the Medical Examiner. I understand all too well how he must be feeling. I pray the God of all comfort will touch his heart in a mighty way.

His life will be forever changed, just as ours is. As he walks his own grief journey I pray he will approach others in a kinder and more gentle manner when telling them of their loved ones death. May God envelop him with a peace that truly passes all understanding and may the same peace touch each of us as we continue to walk this ever evolving journey.

How Many Children Do You Have?

Sounds like a simple enough question, doesn’t it? Well, to most people it is simple. But, if you’re a parent whose child died this is no longer just a simple question. When walking this grief journey how do you answer the question, “How many children do you have?”

How many of you remember the first time this happened to you after your child died? How did you react? What did you say?

The first time someone asked me this question after Melanie ran ahead to heaven, I clearly remember my eyes filling up with tears, as my lower lip began to tremble. I could barely get the words out before the tears began to spill down my cheeks. Somehow I choked out my answer. Most of the time I’m now able to answer without this much emotion, although regardless of the time that has gone by, my voice may sometimes quiver, and my eyes may still brim with tears.

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone I had never met before, and we began making small talk. As our conversation evolved we began to talk about our family and he asked, “Pat, how many children do you have?” There it was – the question! Thankfully, this time I was able to answer without all the emotions behind it. I always tell people I have 3 children, 2 sons and 1 daughter.

Interestingly, he asked where my children lived. I casually answered by first telling him where my older son lived then said, my daughter lives in heaven and our youngest lives with us. The gentleman stumbled a bit and said, “What did you say? Where does your daughter live?”

Although it was awkward, maybe more for him than me, I repeated that Melanie lived in heaven. It made me wonder if there is a better way to answer this question. Believe me, I’m not answering in this manner for shock value, but I refuse to not include my daughter when people ask how many children I have.

Melanie lived. For me, she is still very much a part of our lives and family. For as long as there is breath in me I will continue to say her name and keep her memory alive. I absolutely refuse to not mention her because it might make it easier for others.

On the other hand, another gentlemen who drove in from another state to attend this meeting was driving behind me as we visited another location. The moment we parked he jumped out of his car and immediately asked me about the emblem on the back window of my car. It has angel’s wings, along with Melanie’s sunrise and sunset dates. He directly asked me who that was and what the relationship was. When I told him it was my daughter he immediately told me how sorry he was for my loss and began sharing with me about his newborn son. Apparently, there were some medical issues, and he was in the NICU for several weeks. Thankfully his child is alive, but he was staring death in the face for those weeks and had a small inkling of what it may be like to lose a child.

It’s amazing how two men on the same day handled the news of child loss so differently. We never know who is going to cross our path, or what the purpose is. I do know it’s important to share our stories because in doing so we may help someone else. I firmly believe God will use these things somehow for his good. I will continue to trust him to turn the bad into good and make beauty from these ashes. This is where trust, faith, and hope reside.

Grieve With Hope: What Does it Mean?

I first heard the term “grieving with hope” when my pastor called the day after Melanie died. I didn’t recall hearing that before, but today I cling to it like my own personal life preserver. Why? Because it means I will see my daughter again. It means that this isn’t the end. I will get to wrap my arms around her and tell her how much I love and miss her.

The term grieving with hope comes from a scripture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” NLT

Though I’m grateful for this promise the reality of it is this – while we are on this side of heaven there will still be grief. No matter who you are, at some point in your life you will encounter grief, pain, and sadness.

Even as Christians, the death of someone we love is still so very painful to us.  It’s not because we are afraid for them, it’s because of the empty place they have left behind in our hearts.

So, even though the Bible says we don’t grieve like the rest of men who have no hope, we will still grieve. Be comforted in knowing it’s ok.

Friends, we need to normalize grief. We don’t need the added pressure or stigma that we are grieving too much or too long. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – there is no time limit on grief.

As the waves along this journey continue to come, it’s my hope that you will reach out and grab hold of this life preserver before you.  May you grieve with hope knowing you will see your loved one again one day.

 “And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”  1Thessalonians 4:13 MSG

The Encounter

How often have you asked yourself the question, “How did we get here? How did we end up walking this grief journey? Could I have stopped it? Was there something different I could have done?” As I’ve navigated this journey these are just a few of the questions I have often asked myself. In today’s post I wanted to share an excerpt from my book, Beautifully Broken: Finding Hope During Loss.

When I woke up on February 18, 2020, I had an uneasiness deep within me. We were scheduled to travel to Naples, FL that afternoon for a much-anticipated winter break. It had been raining for weeks and I couldn’t wait to feel the sunshine on my face and the sand between my toes. As much as I had looked forward to this vacation, I received some news a few days before that was like a sucker punch to the gut.  My daughter, Melanie, who struggled with the disease of substance use disorder (SUD) had relapsed after being clean and sober for 18 months. While this was devastating news, I was also weary from all the ups and downs of dealing with the aftermath the disease of addiction can bring. I just wanted to put it aside for a few days of peace and quiet in the Florida sunshine.

I hit the ground running early as I took care of some last-minute work issues. While finalizing our packing, I realized I would need to make a quick run to Target after my shower to pick up a few things before heading to the airport. By this time, I had tucked away any uneasiness I felt in that secret place, where I had long ago learned to hide things in order to survive being the mom of a child with the disease of addiction. I focused on the tasks at hand, doing what needed to be done to stay on track. 

At 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 and when it did, I became filled with fear. I had once heard that when people are dying, many times their loved ones who have gone to heaven before them appear, to escort them home. Is this what was happening? Was I getting ready to die?

I immediately turned my back to him facing the corner of the shower and began to fervently pray. Any scripture I could think of that filled my mind came out of my mouth: “No weapon formed against me will prosper.” “I will live and not die and declare the works of the Lord.”  “I bind you Satan in Jesus name. You will not have me.”  After standing there praying for I don’t know how long, I opened my eyes and simply began showering. I’ve reflected back on this many times and not only did any fear I previously felt leave me, in fact I actually felt nothing at all. It was as if what I just witnessed never happened.

If that sounds unbelievable, I understand. It’s pretty incredulous to me, too.  It’s not that I simply put what happened aside and didn’t want to think about it –it was as if it had been wiped from my memory. This encounter with my father was not brought back to my remembrance until 42 hours later. But I don’t want to get ahead of my story.

If you haven’t put this book down yet or had a moment’s thought that I’m crazy, you’re probably not human. Just joking – well, maybe only a bit.  Nothing like this has ever happened to me before and I truly doubt it will ever happen again.  I also seriously questioned if telling this part of my story was the right thing to do.  However, I believe if I didn’t reveal this, I would have missed out on sharing one of the most profound parts of my story and that is, how God allows the most unbelievable things to happen because there will be no denying that He alone is the one who allowed it to be. As with most stories, before we can move forward, we need to go back for a moment.

Moment of Reflection: Has something seemingly unbelievable ever happened to you? What did you do?

If you would like to read more you may find Beautifully Broken: Finding Hope During Loss on Amazon as well as all other major retailers.

Grief: Five Little Letters That Change Your Entire Life

As some of you know, I had a 20-year career with Delta Air Lines. It was a wonderful time in my life, and I thoroughly enjoyed this period of my professional career. It afforded our family the opportunity to take trips all over the world and create some beautiful memories.

After Melanie ran ahead to heaven I found a note in her journal that said her favorite memories were when we went to Bermuda every year. We were actually planning a return trip there to celebrate her birthday before she died. As you would imagine the travel opportunities were countless, but the best things I took away from this time were the priceless memories with my family, and the lifelong friendships I made along the way. Some of these friends became my family.  

This week one of those friends sent me a message to share her thoughts about my book, Beautifully Broken.  What she shared struck my heart deeply, but none more than the very last line of her message:

Grief: Five little letters that change your entire life

Wow! That really hit home for me. There are many things that have the ability to change our lives, but none more so than grief.

As I reflect on the many ups and downs of life, and there have been many, there has been none so profoundly life-changing than the loss of my daughter.

Melanie ran ahead to heaven a mere 22 days before Covid hit. Grief is already such an isolating and lonely walk, but when you layer a pandemic on top of it I felt like I was on an island by myself.

However, when the history books are written this pandemic will be at the top of the list of major events that occurred in 2020. I know I’m not the only one who lost a loved one during that time as we’ve all heard of the countless number of lives lost to Covid alone. Our world began experiencing grief like we have never known in our lifetime and our world is forever changed.

Every day news broadcast, posts and announcements across all sectors became inundated with reports about how many people had died. So much loss and so many people grieving.

Grief, five little letters that change your entire life.

As time has moved forward one of the harsh realities is that no matter how much time goes by, life as I knew it will never be the same. I will never be the same carefree person I was before that life-changing phone call on February 19, 2020. There are days when I still struggle because that’s just how grief is.

I don’t know about you, but these moments especially hit me when I’m home alone. Just this weekend from out of nowhere the waves washed over me again. So many thoughts that barrage my mind and heart with no stopping them.

I miss my girl! I miss her laughter and her smile. I miss sitting together on the couch watching “girl” movies that my boys don’t necessarily want to watch, but indulge me anyway. I miss having a daughter to go shopping with, have tea with, or have Saturday afternoon lunches with. I miss our together time at the nail salon. I miss her dragging me through the shoe store to look at “the most beautiful pair of sneakers she’s ever seen, and just has to have!” 😊 What I miss the most are the simplest things, like our daily talks and seeing her name light up my phone just to say, “I love you, Mom.”

There were so many times I grieved my girl when she was still walking this earth. Watching your loved one as they struggle with any disease – addiction, cancer, mental health, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, you name it – grief and death are hard. You see, it doesn’t matter what the disease is – it’s the fact you are unable to do anything to save them! God knows, we would if we could.  

As the waves rolled over me, the tears came fast and hard. I thought about all the things I wish I’d done differently. Then as quickly as it came, it stopped. It was during that moment when the sweet gentleness, love and peace of the Lord swept over me. I closed my eyes and could see my beautiful girl with her long auburn hair, gently blowing in the breeze. I could just about hear her whispering, “I’m fine, Momma. I’m truly at peace now. Don’t be sad. This isn’t the end. One day we are going to see one another again.”

Yes. Grief, five little letters that change everything.  

I started @HopeDuringLoss to share my journey with others who were walking the same path. I’m so grateful for each of you. I hope as you’ve walked this road with me you have begun to feel a little less lonely, more understood, supported and encouraged.

As a woman of faith it is here, at the feet of my Heavenly Father, where I leave the hurt, the guilt, the overwhelming moments of sadness, the hard, sad memories, and the grief. I trust in the promises of God and know this is definitely not the end.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

What is Normal After Child Loss?

As I find myself entering my 3rd year on this grief journey I’ve contemplated this question multiple times. We all strive to be normal, but what exactly does that mean? And what is normal after your child dies?

Being normal was also the cry of my girl’s heart. I can so clearly hear Melanie’s voice and see the tears rolling down her cheeks as she looked out the window crying one day. “Mom why can’t I just be normal? Why can’t I just stop doing drugs when it’s what I so want to do?” Oh, how I wished I had the answer to that question back then.

For those of us who have lost a child, our normal is very different from the average person. After experiencing child loss what becomes your new normal may be these things: depression, anxiety, PTSD, marital discord, pain, guilt, physical and cognitive impairment, and stress. These things don’t paint a pretty picture, but I hope knowing these are all normal after child loss may make you feel better about yourself.

There is nothing wrong with you if you’re not feeling like the person you used to be. You are no longer that person.

Recently I read something that so succinctly summed up what it means to be normal after child loss. I wish I could have found the author who wrote it but it only says, written by A Grieving Mother. I’m sure it could have been written by any one of us.

Normal is having tears waiting behind every smile because your child is missing from all the important events in your life. 

Normal is feeling like you can’t sit another minute without getting up and screaming, because you just don’t like to sit through anything anymore.

Normal is not sleeping very well because a thousand what if’s & why didn’t I’s go through your head constantly.

Normal is reliving the day your child died, continuously through your eyes and mind, holding your head to make it go away.

Normal is having the TV on the minute you walk into the house to have noise, because the silence is deafening.

Normal is telling the story of your child’s death as if it were an everyday, commonplace activity, and then seeing the horror in someone’s eyes at how awful it sounds. And yet realizing it has become a part of your “normal.”

Normal is each year coming up with the difficult task of how to honor your child’s memory and their birthdays and survive these days.

Normal is a heartwarming and yet sinking feeling at the sight of something special your child loved.

Normal is having some people afraid to mention your child.

Normal is making sure that others remember your child.

Normal is everyone else eventually going on with their lives.

Normal is weeks, months, and years after the initial shock, the grieving gets worse, not better.

Normal is not listening to people compare anything in their life to your loss, unless they too have lost a child. Nothing compares.

Normal is realizing you do cry every day.

Normal is being impatient with everything and everyone except someone stricken with grief over the loss of their child.

Normal is sitting at the computer crying, sharing how you feel with other grieving parents.

Normal is being too tired to care if you paid the bills, cleaned the house, did the laundry or if there is any food.

Normal is asking God why he took your child’s life instead of yours.

Normal is learning to lie to everyone you meet and telling them you are fine. You lie because it makes others uncomfortable if you cry. You’ve learned  it’s easier to lie to them then to tell them the truth that you still feel empty and lost.

And last of all…

Normal is hiding all the things that have become “normal” for you to feel, so that everyone around you will think that you are “normal.”

Written by A Grieving Mother 💕

The Many Faces of Grief

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast featuring Rick & Kay Warren who talked about their son, Matthew, who took his life in 2013. I’ve heard Rick speak numerous times, but I had never heard Kay speak on the death of their child. If you have time, take a few minutes to listen. I believe you will be encouraged: Hope in the Midst of Grief, Depression and Loss – Rick and Kay Warren – HTB at Home – YouTube.  The more I experience, read and hear, there is no denying, there are truly many faces of grief.

As Kay shared her story the words seemed to come from a place deep within my own heart.  How many of you have faced that awkward moment when you run into someone, and they ask how you’re doing?  For me there is often that pregnant pause when I hesitate for just a moment wondering if I should answer honestly or just say I’m fine and move on.

As the years have gone by I’ve found I’m able to have good days, so now I usually say, “I’m doing fine, today” with an emphasis on the word today.  Not everyone wants to hear how you’re really feeling and it’s also not necessary for you to share your deep feelings with every person who comes your way. However, at this place on my journey it makes me feel better that I’m sharing my truth without over-sharing or just giving a pat answer (no pun intended).

As the weeks led up to Melanie’s recent angelversary I had a period of time when the waves were seeming to get the better of me. It seemed at every turn my eyes were leaking, as my husband sweetly says. 😉Thankfully, today is a good day. Yes, this is the face of grief. Up one day, maybe down the next.

After 9 years of walking her grief journey, Kay Warren coined the phrase “wonderful-terrible.” I love this! She said she truly has a blessed life, and after all this time she has many days where she feels wonderful. But, underneath it all she said there will always be some terrible because her child has died.

There is a hole in our heart where our loved one belongs that no one can fill, regardless of how much time goes by.  This is the face of grief.

Another amazingly strong woman, Katherine Wolf, shared part of her testimony at church recently. She uses the phrase “good-hard” to describe her life. If you’ve never heard Katherine’s story, please check it out. She and husband Jay wrote a book entitled, Hope Heals. Katherine didn’t lose a child like me, but she certainly went through the grieving process. She grieved her own life – the life she thought she would live before having a major stroke at the age of 26. Her grit and grace, along with her unwavering faith during overwhelming loss is so very inspiring.

H.O.P.E.  There is so much behind that word and something I so strongly believe in. When I first started blogging almost 2 years ago I prayed about what I should call my blog. It didn’t take long before the Holy Spirit whispered, there IS hope during loss and you’re living it. This is how Hope During Loss was born.

Friends, grief has so many faces and they are all not met with a downturned smile. Yes, there will always be sadness, but grief also shares the face of Determination. Faith. Trust and Hope. Layering these faces on top of the faces of Sadness, Heartbreak, Sorrow, and Pain may provide a realistic look at how grief is on a day-to-day basis as we move forward. We are always going to have wonderful-terrible, good-hard days, at least until we are called home to heaven and reunited with our loved ones.

Are You a Weary Traveler?

Do you sometimes feel like you’re dragging yourself through each day, wondering if you’ll be able to take the next step? If you’ve lost a loved one and find yourself on this road called grief, I’m sure there are moments when you are a weary traveler.

Weariness is part of the journey. Being broken is part of it as well. The good news (yes, there is some), one day there will come a time when we begin to piece ourselves back together.

Ever since Melanie ran ahead to heaven I refer to this road I’m traveling as the grief journey. As grievers, we may not be on a physical road, but we are on a journey, nonetheless. Webster’s refers to this type of journey as a way to describe in a figurative sense, a lengthy process or progress.

The road for a griever is often filled with sharp, unexpected twists and turns. There are also times when the road although not straight, has stretches of smoothly paved pathways. Oh, how grateful I am for those days.

But what about all those other times when our journey is more like a construction zone. Our minds are filled with the memories, the what-ifs, and the I wishes.

If you’ve ever driven through construction on a roadway I’m sure you’ll agree it’s chaotic, busy, and stressful. There are so many similarities to road construction and grief. We have to be on high alert to the constant changing of lanes (our thoughts), unexpected vehicles entering and leaving the roadway (people trying to help). The zigging and zagging in between the lane changes, the large cones, and the warning signs can cause the strongest of people to become weary and beaten down.

When life is wearing you down and you don’t feel as if you can take one more step, remember, this is temporary. Just hold on. Take a breath. Then turn your eyes and heart toward the Son and have confidence that you are not walking this road alone.

Weary traveler
Beat down from the storms that you have weathered
Feels like this road just might go on forever
Carry on

You keep on givin’
But everyday this world just keeps on takin’
Your tired heart is on the edge of breaking
Your tired heart is on the edge of breaking
Carry on

Weary traveler, restless soul
You were never meant to walk this road alone
It’ll all be worth it so just hold on
Weary traveler, you won’t be weary long

No more searching
Heaven’s healing’s gonna find where all the hurt is
When Jesus calls we’ll lay down all our heavy burdens
Carry on

Someday soon we’re gonna make it home

Dear Melanie: A Minute and An Eternity

My Dear Melanie,

Two years ago today you ran ahead to heaven. It seems like a minute and an eternity all at the same time.

Some have asked if it has become easier over time. I hesitate for only a moment, because truly how does it get easier when you lose a child? It never does and never will. There will always be a gaping hole in my heart which can only be filled by you.

Yet, my heart is not torn wide open in the same way as it was 730 days ago when it felt like a grenade had exploded within my chest. But God…

Without my faith and knowing you are safe in Heaven, I would never have made it this far. But God … He is the reason. He is my hope, my rock, my strength in the midst of the worst battle I’ve ever been in.

My heart has changed in so many ways and I will never be the same person I was before. This is grief, my sweet girl.

Recently, it dawned on me, that even though you didn’t lose a child to death, you did suffer the loss of a child. You experienced your own grief, so you have an inkling of how I feel. There was always a hole in your heart for your own children.

Mel, we talk about you all the time. All the fun times, the goofy times. Every time we make a pound of bacon we know you’re there wishing you could have just one piece, or 10! Every time Dad sees a dead squirrel on the road we know you must have been close by. Every time I see a nice-looking pair of Nike’s I hear you whispering in my ear “Buy them, Mom! They are soooo pretty!” Every time I brush my hair and that one little spot where the cowlick separates making it look like I’ve got a bald spot, I think of you! You were the only one who would tell me and fix it! When we are dancing around the house, I know you’re laughing your head off because you had the rhythm in the family and could really shake your groove thing! I even recently watched When Stella Got Her Groove Back all because of you!

Since we constantly keep your memory alive it still doesn’t seem real that you are gone from us. I feel you with me each and every day and carry you with me in my heart. No matter that Heaven and Earth separates us, you will always be my girl and I will always be your Momma.

As the day unfolds I will do my best to remember how you lived and not how your died. You are my Beautifully Broken girl, who is now whole and healed. I pray you are proud of how we are honoring you. Your life will not be in vain, my sweet girl. I will share your story and know that God will use it to make a difference in the hearts and lives of others.

As the song, Scars in Heaven says, There’s not a day goes by that I don’t see you
You live on in all the better parts of me. Until I’m standing with you in the sun, I’ll fight this fight and this race I’ll run. Until I finally see what you can see

Kintsugi: Broken Pieces Made Beautiful

When grief strikes, broken is one of the first words that comes to mind when trying to describe how we feel. Losing a loved one shatters our heart and mind, which can completely alter our lives. Grief changes us and we may never be the same person we once were.

Recently I was speaking with a dear friend who had just finished reading my book, Beautifully Broken: Finding Hope During Loss.  It had touched her heart deeply and she felt compelled to share some of her thoughts with me. As she read she felt that my life was the personification of Kintsugi. I had never heard of this before and wondered if this was a good or a bad thing.

I learned that Kintsugi was a Japanese art form. In the art of Kintsugi, the areas of breakage are mended with lacquer, then dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum using a technique derived from the words “kin” which means golden and “tsugi” which means joinery. When translated it means golden repair.

Kintsugi teaches that broken objects are not something to hide, but rather something to be displayed with pride.

In Beautifully Broken I share the story of my journey with my daughter Melanie, along with the grief journey I found myself traveling on by no choice of my own. No one would willingly ask to be on this journey, yet here we are. Within the pages of the book, I give my heart a voice and instead of hiding the sorrow and the tough times, which have made me who I am, I have allowed the light to shine into the dark places. Yes, I’d say grief and Kintsugi can be very similar.

If you are willing, God can take our heaviness and sadness, using our broken pieces and turn them into a thing of beauty. Kintsugi does the same thing when it takes broken, fractured pieces and turns them into a thing to be honored with pride. It teaches that our broken pieces make us stronger and better than ever before.

When we think we are broken and shattered, we can allow God to pick up our pieces. He will put them back together as we learn to embrace the cracks.

We may be changed forever, but our love endures and it’s that love we will carry with us always.

When we lose a loved one and our world turns on its axis, we may never be the same person we once were, but it also doesn’t mean we must remain shattered forever. 

We will remember the days they lived.

I’ve often refer to the state of my heart as a mosaic, which is very much like Kintsugi. Our broken pieces eventually go back together, misshapen with bumps and cracks. There will always be a hole in my heart which can only be filled by my girl. Thankfully our Heavenly Father will continue to heal the broken pieces until we can be reunited once again.

“To comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61:2-3

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.

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