The Missing Never Ends

My childhood friend came to visit this past weekend. We have been friends since kindergarten and we can honestly say, we’ve done life together. This was her first visit since Melanie ran ahead to heaven and we found ourselves saying, the missing never ends.

Melanie may no longer be physically here on this earth, but we felt her presence throughout the weekend. One of her special songs began playing in the background as we wandered through a fall festival event, then long forgotten pictures of her began to appear on Alexa.

The missing never ends.

There is so much about the grief journey that is hard, but there are also those times when we simultaneously smile and cry as a beautiful memory creeps in. Have you found that to be true when you reminisce about your loved one?

Today, marks two years since a dear friend died in a car accident. His wife continues to grieve his loss, and although God has begun to heal her heart, there is a large piece of it that will always be missing.  Jerry had a big personality. Everyone who met him loved him. He had the biggest, brightest smile and I remember his greeting to me was always the same, “Hello Beautiful,” which was followed by a ginormous bear hug.

My heart is joined with my friend today as she remembers him on his 2nd angelversary. The missing never ends.

Never forget, showing our grief is a way to express all the love in our heart.  This is normal and we should share about our loved ones in the same way we would if they were still walking the earth today. Say their name. Share a story. Close your eyes and picture their face. 

The missing never ends, but neither does the love.

Two Simple Words – I’m Here

Recently, a friend shared a post with these two simple words – I’m here.  There was something about those two words that made me stop in my tracks.

If you know someone who finds themselves on this sad and oftentimes lonely road called Grief, take a moment and think about how important two simple words might be to those who find themselves on this journey.

I’m here.
I’m here for you.
I’m here to sit with you.
I’m here to walk beside you.
I’m here to hold your hand.
I’m here to cry with you.
I’m here to pray with you.
I’m here to help carry you.
I’m here to hold your heart.
I’m here to simply just be, with you.
I’m here.

Never forget there is power and life-giving strength by just being with a person who is grieving. Many times, there simply are no words, but sitting with someone, walking this journey beside them is all that matters. They will know they are not alone.

If you’re out there suffering a loss, feeling as if you have no one, please know there is hope during loss and, I’m here.

Sharing My Grief Journey

It’s hard to believe I began sharing my grief journey with you here one year ago today. I started this blog as a means to share my heart and connect with others who were traveling the same road.  It’s been a rollercoaster ride, but I am so grateful for all of you who have walked along side me.

Grief is hard.  I’m in the second year after losing Melanie and I don’t believe we ever really get over the loss of our loved ones.

Our grief changes, but it never disappears.

The other day another bereaved mom and I were talking about how the journey has evolved. We are no longer in the bone-crushing, heart-palpitating moments of grief, where we can’t catch our breath due to our cries. But …

It still hurts. A piece of us is missing and can never be replaced. 

There are many days, when for a split second I believe Melanie is still here and I expect her to walk through the front door any moment.

Or the phone rings and the thought immediately crosses my mind – it’s been so long since I’ve talked to Mel, I hope it’s her name that’s lighting up my screen. Sadly, it’s not.

Grief is ongoing but I’ve also been able to find some beauty within.  The grief has only strengthened my faith and my walk with God is closer than I ever thought possible.

Some have asked, how can you be close to God since He took your daughter? My response to that is, how could I not draw closer to Him?  He is the one holding my girl now. She is with Him in heaven and that’s where I long to be.

Our family talks about Melanie all the time.  I hope you talk about your loved one, too.

Say their name! Keep their memory alive. 

If you meet another who is hurting, be that person who gives them a hug, an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on.

Be the hope for someone else’s loss.  Just like Jesus, I strive to give beauty for the ashes.

As you know, grief is a lonely walk.  But together we can lift each other up. Pouring my heart out on these pages over the past year, and hearing from so many of you, has made me feel a little less alone as we navigate this journey together.

International Overdose Awareness Day

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day and I am dedicating my post to honor the memory of all those who were lost to overdose and the parents who are grieving them.

Friends, I started this blog almost a year ago as a means to share my grief journey with those of you who were also hurting due to the loss of a loved one. My daughter, Melanie lost her life to the disease of addiction and as a result I have met hundreds of 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 still grief, and loss is loss. We all hurt the same and miss our loved ones.

In August 2020 it was recorded that 81,000 people lost their lives to drug overdose during the previous 12 months.  This was the highest number of deaths on record ever in our country. Now here we are one year later, and today that number has increased to 96,000 lives lost.

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, along with at least 16 other States, 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.

Honoring a Strong Woman

As I began to look ahead at my upcoming week I noticed on the calendar that one year ago, a dear and lovely friend, Mrs. Trudie Beach, went home to heaven.  I smiled as I began to think about her, when out of nowhere a question crossed my mind. Didn’t Mrs. B. lose a child too, just like me?

I quickly sent a text to my friend, who was blessed to have Mrs. B. as her mom, and she confirmed this was true. I wondered, why would I think of this now?

Mrs. B. moved into our neighborhood to live with her daughter and son-in-law several years ago when she began suffering from the effects of dementia. She was the quintessential Proverbs 31 woman – a woman of virtue, who embodied reverence, endurance, strength and faithfulness. She was soft spoken, and had quite a wit about her, too.

Since Melanie died 18 months ago, Mrs. B. probably wasn’t in a position where I could have asked her a question, but I thought about how she held herself. She always seemed to have joy and contentment. Oh, how I wish I had the chance to ask how she managed through the death of her son and still come out on the other side with such a gentle, kind and loving spirit.

At the age of 95 years young, Mrs. B. passed away after leading a full and accomplished life. She was among the first African Americans to break the color barrier and became a Head Ward Nurse at St. Jude’s Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama. After that she went on to get her Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice and then became a high school teacher. Two phenomenal careers, especially for a woman during that time in our country!  

One of my fondest memories of spending time with Mrs. B. was when we were all having dinner at our house and began asking Alexa to play some of our favorite songs.  Mrs. B. loved Mahalia Jackson and when we played Amazing Grace, it was truly incredible! Regardless of the state of her dementia, once that song began playing she started praising the Lord and singing each word.

As I reflected on that memory, that’s when it hit me! There’s no question Mrs. B. was filled with crushing grief when her only son died, but she was also a strong Christian woman who loved Jesus with all heart. Of course, that’s how she managed through this grief journey. It was all about her faith.

As we look back at Mrs. B.’s life it’s obvious that in order to accomplish all she did in her lifetime she had extraordinary strength and resilience. As a Christian woman she placed her faith and trust in the Lord, and I’m sure it was that same faith she tapped into as she walked through child loss. We all need a little of Mrs. B. in us.

I’m sure the reunion with your son was pure sweetness, Mrs. B. and I hope you have been able to meet my beautiful Melanie.  Today on this one-year angelversary, please know how much you are loved and missed.

International Overdose Awareness Month

August is International Overdose Awareness month. People from every walk of life will come together on August 31st, Overdose Awareness Day, to gather in honor of their loved ones who died due to this disease.

Did you know that in 2020 we had the highest number of overdoses ever recorded? 81,000 people lost their lives to the disease of addiction. 

Now, one year later, the number currently on record has exceeded 93,000

The reason I continue to blog, pouring my heart out on these pages is because of the enormous grief I have after losing my daughter to the insidious disease of addiction.

I thought I knew a lot about addiction, after all I walked this road with my daughter for years. Unfortunately, I have come to realize there is still so much I wasn’t truly aware of. There were many times Melanie would say, “Mom you just don’t understand unless you’re walking in my shoes.”

Do you think you know about addiction?

  • Addiction is a brain disease.
  • The first time is a choice. Any time after that is not.
  • One time can kill you.
  • You cannot simply “just quit” once you start.
  • No one wants to be an addict.
  • Addicts don’t just live on the street or under bridges. They are your next-door neighbor. Your straight A student. Your college graduates. Your teacher. Your nurse. Your room mom.  

Addiction touches people of all backgrounds, despite race, religion, education, or social class.  People from all walks of life suffer from substance abuse or know someone who has. No one is exempt.

So, this year as we continue the fight to bring awareness to this disease, help remove the stigma and spread awareness to this disease.

As you drive around your town you may notice homes, government buildings, fountains, and office buildings lit up in purple. This is a sign of someone bringing awareness to the disease of addiction. We will continue to petition our government officials to provide help to our loved ones. 

Melanie’s Meadow

Next time you see someone struggling spread some love instead of judgment. Afterall, with statistics this high it could very well be your loved one next.

Never Thought it Would Happen to Me

We all have challenges in life. We will all suffer loss at some point in our lives, too. No matter the specific circumstance you may find yourself walking through right now, has this thought ever crossed your mind – I never thought it would happen to me!

Maybe your loved one passed away unexpectedly in a car accident, like my father did when I was still a young girl. This was something that happened to other families. I never thought it would happen to me.

Maybe in your case, a tragedy involved your son, or husband, or perhaps a sister or a brother.

When Melanie was a little girl, I never thought she would have Substance Use Disorder. As I would brush her long hair, I had many dreams of what her life might be like. Not one of them included disease or dying before me. No, I never thought …

Today there are so many who are grieving the loss of a family member who is still on this earth. I’m sure in your wildest dreams you never imagined your child wouldn’t be speaking to you. If they only realized life is so short, but you never thought this would happen to you.

As a parent, did you ever think, not my kid?! I know many parents who still look at me with the look that clearly says, What happened to your daughter will never happen to mine. We live in a nice, affluent neighborhood, our child has been raised in the church, my son plays sports, my family member is in college. I’m sure they too think, it will never happen to me.

Unfortunately, bad things do happen to good people. While we don’t understand it, we live in a fallen world and what you thought may never happen to you or your family, may hit closer to home than you ever imagined.

Instead, perhaps we should all consider walking in compassion, with less judgement and extending grace toward those who are suffering. Because we never know what life holds for us. I never thought it would happen to me or my family either.

Time – Does it Really Heal All Wounds?

Have you ever had someone tell you, “Don’t worry. You’ll be okay. Time heals all wounds.” I have. It didn’t make me feel any better, and quite frankly I didn’t believe them. Does time really heal all wounds? Perhaps there is some type of healing over time, but it may not happen exactly in the way we may imagine.

Even though time continues to slip further away since the last moment I saw my girl, I can’t say time has healed the wounds of my heart.

Though I continue to place my hope and trust in The One who promised to save those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18), I don’t believe time will ever completely heal or remove the loss I feel.

Grief, sadness, missing, and loss are all now a part of who I am.

Instead of time healing all wounds, grief has become my magnifying glass. I now see how little I really understood loss and heartache.

Ashamedly, I admit I once was one of those people. One who looked at someone on this journey and thought, “What’s wrong with her? Hasn’t enough time passed by? Life goes on, shouldn’t she be over it by now?” This is what society tells us, but it’s so far from the truth.  

The magnifying glass of grief has allowed me to see things in a way I never did before.  

It’s like a person who has had cataract surgery. Before surgery your vision is cloudy and dull. But once the bandage is removed you now see all you were missing.  Colors are more vivid, and objects so much sharper. You can see things so clearly now!

It’s unfortunate we must go through a tragic loss of a loved one to see things differently.  

For all of us on this journey, we can confidently move through our grief knowing whatever place we are in right now, is the right place for us. If it seems as if it’s been too long for others, remember, that is their problem, not ours.  

For me, I endeavor to walk in more grace, kindness, peace and understanding to those around me. Time may not heal all wounds, but as time goes by I am determined to love more and judge less.

Grief: A Seesaw Journey

Yesterday marked 17 months since I was told Melanie was gone from this earth and I must admit, some days are still so darn hard. This grief journey reminds me of a seesaw, but without any of the fun we had as kids.

There continue to be countless days when it all still seems so unreal.  She can’t really be gone. Surely, she is just away and will be calling or stopping by any day now. But, it takes only a moment for the hard realization to hit me like a ton of bricks to the chest.

Some days I feel like a soldier ready for battle and other days I feel like a wounded warrior.

This is the life of a griever – up and down, just like the seesaw.

Over the past two weeks we were blessed to be able to see most of our kids and all four of our grandchildren. It’s been such a joy after not seeing them for almost 2 years due to the travel restrictions Covid brought.

Yet with the joy, came a harsh reminder, followed by an overwhelming sadness. Melanie is not going to show up, bounding through the door with her infectious smile and a big, warm hug. No, it’s not the travel restrictions of Covid keeping her away.

The tears have been coming a bit more frequently the past few days, but I know this too shall pass. Like the warrior within me, I will pick myself up and dust myself off, eventually.

Tears are part of our healing, so it’s OK to not be OK.

When you were a kid, did you have a friend who would come along and hop on the other side of the seesaw? They didn’t want to go up and down. No, they just sat there to help balance you out.

If we are fortunate enough, there are times in our life, when we have someone who will come along and offer to sit with us and simply hold still.

They may just sit and listen. Or perhaps, they share a story about our loved one.

I’m so grateful for those friends who continue to walk with me during this season of life, who still call or text frequently to check on me. And, I’m especially grateful for those who aren’t afraid to say Melanie’s name. Their steady hand along this bumpy ride is something I will forever be thankful for.

Yes, there are some days that may seem darker than others. But the light always shines brightest in the dark. I’m determined that even during these seesaw moments of my grief journey, when my light may be slightly dimmed, I will never allow it to be fully extinguished. 

My hope will continue to remain in the one thing I can truly count on and his name is Jesus.

The Second Year of Grief: Still Navigating the Waves

Everyone talks about the first year when you lose a loved one, and many often discuss getting through the “Year of Firsts” – the first birthday, the first Christmas, the first anniversary etc. It can leave you with a false sense that once you get through the firsts you will then be fine. That is a fallacy. But what about the second year of grief?

When someone you love dies, a part of you dies with them. You are never the same person you once were.

Many times, throughout the first year I often heard other bereaved moms express how the second year of grief was far worse than the first.  Inwardly I cringed as I couldn’t imagine feeling any worse than I did already. The thought of it frightened me.

As I continue maneuvering through this journey, it has become more apparent this is very different for each of us.  

For me, the second year hasn’t been worse than the first, but it has certainly been different. I am different.

Now that I’m skirting the 1.5-year mark, I’ve noticed how my grief has evolved.  Oh, it’s still there and it will be forever. It’s become a part of me.

Today, I’m thankful there are now moments of sadness instead of hours and days. There is never a moment when I’m not missing my girl, and there are still times when the tears flow like rain falling from the sky.

Grief reminds me of the energy created from a geyser. It’s always there, bubbling just beneath the surface. There is no way to stop it. We must allow it to be released.

During the first year I believe we walk around in shock. The second year it becomes more of a reality.

She isn’t away on vacation or living in another state. Melanie ran ahead to heaven. It sinks in more and more as the days pass by and there is no denying it.

These are the waters I find myself navigating. The waves continue to nip at my heels, but I refuse to let them take me under.

God has been faithful in upholding me and occasionally even offers us small signs of my beautiful girl.

Recently, my oldest son who lives out of state came to visit for the first time since Melanie’s Celebration of Life service. It was a beautiful evening and we decided to eat outside. I put some music on and only a few minutes into dinner, the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow came on. We all immediately stopped eating and looked at one another. This was the song my son selected when he made Melanie’s one-year angelversary video for me. Melanie was there with us.

My faith in God is as relentless as the surge of the waves. He has sustained me and never left my side. The good news is, what he has done for me, he will also do for you.

Whether it’s the first year, second year or twentieth year of walking this journey, until I see the light of heaven and my girl once again, I will never give up nor give in.

Grieving with Hope

Recently, a friend and fellow warrior mom lost her second son to the insidious disease of addiction.  Oh, how my heart broke for her.  It is hard enough to lose one child, but two is unfathomable.

Another longtime friend has been grieving the loss of her son for two long years. My heart breaks for her as well.

There is one big difference between these two friends.  My fellow warrior mom’s sons now lives in heaven.  My longtime friend’s son lives two hours away.

Two mothers, whose hearts are shattered. Both grieving the loss of their boys.

Did you know there are many parents today who are suffering and grieving the loss of a child, many of whom still live and breathe? 

We don’t talk about it very often, but you can grieve for a person who is still alive.

When Melanie was still here with us there was a period of time when I grieved my girl, even though she was still on this side of heaven.

Although her heart was still beating, Melanie was different. She was not the same person before addiction stole her from me, and for a period of time our relationship changed. I grieved the girl she once was, along with all the hopes and dreams I had for her and for our lives together.

Immediately after a loved one dies, we are surrounded by family and friends who run to give us comfort. People are eager to bring food, send flowers and lend support. We are encouraged to talk about the person we love and celebrate their life.

But when you grieve a loved one who is still alive, your pain is real, but it is minimized

More than likely, you are also hiding your pain because you don’t want everyone to know about the breakdown of the relationship.  You begin wearing a mask, so no one sees the real you and the hurt you’re carrying becomes like a cement backpack attached to your shoulders.

Unfortunately, if you continue wearing your mask and don’t grieve your loss, the healthy emotions will turn toxic and can then turn into resentment.

No matter what the reason, no one should ever lose a child.  Child loss is an out of order death, and is a loss like no other.

What do we do when one of our own is suffering? We band together. We link arms. We stand side-by-side, and form a circle around the one who is hurting. We become like soldiers on a mission to protect and defend. As Christians, we can pray. 

“Pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power] James 5:16 AMP

While the days have slowly gone by, my fellow warrior mom continues to remain on the forefront of my heart and in my prayers. She is a strong Christian and is confident her beautiful boys are in heaven.  Although knowing this helps, let’s not be mistaken, she will still tremendously grieve for her children.

The good news is, if you are a Christ follower, you can grieve with hope.

It doesn’t mean we will not be sad or cry buckets of tears. We will grieve with the hope we will see our children again one day and we will walk in His strength and let Him carry us through the valley of the shadow of death.

For my longtime friend, whose son is still on this side of heaven, she can also grieve with hope. She will hope that the relationship will one day be what she prays for. For with God, all things are possible.   

Memories: A Bookbag Full of Lotion, Body Wash, and a Hairbrush

When our loved one dies all we have left of them is memories. And, memories come in many different forms. Sometimes it may be a special photo, which brings both smiles and tears.

If you’re walking this grief journey alongside me you understand this double-edged sword.

Perhaps like me you will never have a photo of your child walking down the aisle. Or graduating from college. Or maybe you won’t have a photo of them holding their first child. So, what do we do? 

We hold tight to the memories and all we have left of them.  

Even if it means we hold on to a half bottle of body wash, lotion, or perfume because it was the last one they used.  Or perhaps you refuse to clean out their hairbrush, because the bristles still hold strands of their beautiful hair.  

I know some women who have kept their mother’s china and silver even though they never use it. Some guys have their father’s old tools tucked away in the garage.

My husband who has hair like The Rock, keeps his father’s comb, which is over 50 yrs. old and has missing teeth! He obviously doesn’t need it for his hair, so, why does he keep it? Memories! It’s a piece of dad, and all he has left of him.

These small, tangible things become our memories, just like a photo. It’s all we have left.

Don’t tell us it’s been long enough and it’s time to dispose of these things.

It may never be time, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Since Melanie ran off to heaven I am determined to hold on tightly to all I have left of her. Which is why I continue to keep her blue canvas bookbag, filled exactly as it was when I received it the day after she died.

It’s chock full of her favorite lotions, body wash, shampoo, and her hairbrush.

Occasionally, when I open it I can still smell her scent. And if I close my eyes tightly, I can hear her voice telling me, “Momma, it’s okay. I’m better now. I’m healed and I’m free.”

Navigating Memories When They Bring Both Comfort and Pain

I’m a member of a few private grief groups for parents who have lost children to Substance Use Disorder. These groups have hundreds of moms and dads with this same shared experience. We can be there to comfort one another and it helps knowing we are not alone.

As you would imagine, although we share the unfortunate common bond that our child died from this disease, it doesn’t mean that we grieve the same. We still differ in many ways, and we all have our own way of processing and walking this grief journey.

Please remember, there is no right way or wrong way to grieve. What brings comfort to one person may not be the same for another, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Some of us are comforted by looking at photos or hearing our loved ones voice on a saved voicemail.  Yet others cannot bear to even look at pictures, let alone hear their loved one’s voice.  

Allow yourself to move at your own pace and do what brings you comfort.

Someone who knew my daughter years ago recently sent me a photo of her I had never seen. The moment I looked at it I smiled but within seconds the tears began to flow. It was an instant where I was simultaneously filled with both comfort and pain.

We all have family and friends who have the best of intentions. They want to help. But for those who have never walked this path, they do not truly understand. I encourage you not to feel pressured by others to rush through your grief.

Taking the time to feel your heartache and sadness is part of the grief process.  It’s okay to scream into your pillow. It’s okay to let the tears fall. Your tears become your voice.

As more time goes by you may get to a place where you think you should be “over it” by now.  Perhaps some well intended person even shared that sentiment with you. But there is no getting over losing our loved one.

We will eventually find a way to begin to live with the loss.  Afterall, what other choice do we have?

God made each of us as individuals. As a woman of faith I believe He can and will heal our broken hearts. I refuse to lose hope or let it impact my faith.

There are those times when we must take it one day, or even one hour at a time, and simply breathe.

Many have walked this journey before us and may have great words of wisdom to share. They have been there. Perhaps listening to what helped them, may also help ease some of our pain.

Journaling, praying, walking, grief counseling, sharing, reading supportive grief related books are just a few ways to help us navigate this journey as we try to move more into comfort and away from the pain.

Until then, remember, there is hope during loss and you are never alone.

Stages of Grief: Grief Like An Earthquake

When Melanie first ran ahead to heaven my entire being was electrified.  Anxiety was at an all time high and any loud noise would startle me and I felt as though I’d literally jump out of my skin.

It’s only been 16 months now, but as time continues to pass by my emotions are no longer like the magnitude of an earthquake, but rather more like the aftershocks.

Yet sudden or unexpected noises still make me react negatively.

Recently as I was cooking my sweet husband approached me from behind. I must have been deep in thought because I didn’t hear him. Even something as a gentle kiss on my neck startled me to the point of jumping, while letting out a bit of cry.

Yes, it’s the small things that shake me now.

Remembering that my daughter died still bubbles just below the surface of everything I think or do. As I close my eyes to sleep each night it’s the last thing I think of. I wonder if that will ever change? On one hand, I look forward to the day I can drift off to sleep peacefully and not have her death be my last thought. Yet, I’m also just as afraid of the day when it happens.

Although some may not equate grief to a catastrophic event, I would beg to differ. Grief feels exactly like an earthquake. It is oftentimes unexpected, and comes with it’s own type of tremors and aftershocks, leaving cracks and gaping holes in our heart.

And just like an earthquake, the effects of grief come in all sizes, and may be different on any given day. Some days it may feel like a 10 on the Richter scale, and other days like a 2.

We just never know when it will hit or how hard it will be.

For those who don’t understand this, I’m happy for you.  For those who walk this journey alongside me, my heart is joined with yours.

They say time heals all wounds, but I don’t believe it.

What I do believe is when we walk in faith, God continually heals our broken hearts. I believe a scar begins to develop over the open wound in our heart.  As time goes by it may not hurt as much but the scar remains as evidence of what was.

The place in our heart which held all the love, hopes and dreams for our loved one can never be filled by anyone or anything else. No amount of time can change that. Yet I will remain confident in the One who has promised to walk alongside me in the valley of the shadow of death.

When the tremors reoccur and the walls threaten to cave in, I remember that the same One also leads me beside the quiet waters and restores my soul. This is where my hope during loss comes from and I will lean into the only thing I know that will save me from crumbling. His name is Jesus and my hope will remain in Him.

One More Day with Your Loved One – What Would You Do Differently?

How many of us have wished for just one more day with our loved one? What would you do differently? How would you spend it?

Were there things left unsaid? Or would you simply just hold one another and let the love in your heart fill in all the empty places within?

This week a new song was released by Casting Crowns, Scars in Heaven. I was in the middle of making lunch for a family get together when it began to play. All I needed to hear was the first line and it immediately had my attention. 

“If I had only known the last time would be the last time.”

13 words that had the ability to pierce my heart like an arrow to a bullseye.

I began to think, “What would I do differently?”

The tears had already begun falling as I continued to listen…

“I woulda put off all the things I had to do.
I would’ve stayed a little longer, held on a little tighter.”

Where did those words come from? How did he know the intimate thoughts of my mind and heart? How did he know that’s what I would do differently?

Now what I’d give for one more day with you. Cause there’s a wound here in my heart where something’s missing. And they tell me that it’s gonna heal with time”

It took barely a nanosecond before I was brought back to the last time I was with my daughter. We had a wonderful time laughing and talking as we ate lunch, wandering in and out of a few shops downtown. But then I had to go. Decision made, even though she wasn’t quite finished. A quick hug, kiss, I love you and goodbye. I always regretted what my mother used to refer to as “the bum’s rush.”

After the song finished playing I asked Alexa to play it again, on repeat. It was in the repetitive listening that a peace once again began to settle over my heart, a healing like the sweet Balm of Gilead.

As I listened to another verse, “But I know you’re in a place where all your wounds have been erased. And knowing yours are healed is healing mine.” I began to envision how my girl was no longer struggling, no longer held captive by a disease she had no control over.

“The only scars in heaven, they won’t belong to me and you
There’ll be no such thing as broken and all the old will be made new
And the thought that makes me smile now even as the tears fall down
Is that the only scars in heaven are on the hands that hold you now”

I think we all wish we could have just one more day. Always so much more to say, so much more love to share.

No matter how much time goes by I am reminded this grief journey is a lifetime sentence. It’s still chock full of tears, and unexpected moments when your heart will feel like it’s been hit by a semi. But, what I also continue to discover, even in the middle of the tears, there IS Hope During Loss! If you would hold on for just a moment, reaching out for the faith you have – even if it’s as small as a grain of a mustard seed – God will meet you where you are, wiping every tear from your eye.

For Melanie and all our loved ones:

I know the road you walked was anything but easy
You picked up your share of scars along the way
Oh, but now you’re standing in the sun, you fought your fight and your race is run
The pain is all a million miles away

The only scars in heaven, they won’t belong to me and you
There’ll be no such thing as broken and all the old will be made new
And the thought that makes me smile now even as the tears fall down
Is that the only scars in heaven are on the hands that hold you now

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

Life is a Journey – Not a Race

As some of you may know, I have been working on writing a book about my daughter and the grief journey I have found myself thrust into. I recently received the manuscript back from my editor and am in the process of completing the final updates and edits.  It’s been during this long process I’ve had to dig down deep into the well of memories I have about Melanie. To say it’s been easy would be a total understatement. 

Reliving how we got to this point has been painful, and at times, very sad.  Melanie had SUD (Substance Use Disorder) and for most, this is a very misunderstood disease. With each chapter written I have found myself, in my mind, walking down small, intersecting alleyways much like you find on the streets of Venice. You never know when or if one will intersect with the other. Some of the alleyways can be very dark and other times, as you’re walking the tiny cobblestone streets, out of nowhere you find yourself looking up into the most beautiful, bright, colorful piazza! Just magnificent!

Writing this book about our life reminds me of those alleyways – the dark and winding parts that lead up to the day Melanie died, and the beauty of her life intertwined within. When you have a loved one whose life has been taken over by SUD, there are many, many dark moments.  Yet, that was only a fragment of who Melanie was. Melanie was so much more than the girl who suffered with that disease. She had a heart and spirit made by Jesus and that is the girl I desire to remember.

So, while having to think and write about the tough times, I also found myself thinking about the moments Melanie left me smiling and laughing. One time when she was about 7 years old the two of us were out to breakfast, along with my boyfriend at the time. It was still early on in our relationship and he had never had children. Before breakfast was even served Melanie was playing around at the table and tipped over a very large glass of orange juice. With those beautiful brown eyes now looking like a deer in the headlights, she quickly hopped up and ran to the restroom to wash her hands. When she returned to the table, she very innocently asked “Mommy, what are those flusher things on the wall in the bathroom?” The look on my boyfriend’s face was priceless as we realized she went into the men’s room instead of the ladies room! Oh my!! All these years later I can laugh out loud at that memory because that was typical Melanie. She was a little bit of innocent and mischief all rolled into one!

Friends, our lives truly are a journey. It’s filled with hills and valleys. This is a true statement for everyone, not just those who find themselves on this grief journey. We’ve often heard the saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Life may not be an actual race, but I’ve found this saying to be true while walking the road of grief. It’s okay for us to take time out as we consider how best to manage our new normal. Figuring out our lives without our loved one takes time, and not just days, weeks or even months. Just like those who are training for a marathon, the same guidelines apply to us:

Marathons are hard – really hard! Losing a loved one is hard – really hard!
You’re never really done. We will never, ever forget our loved one, so there is always a part of our grief that will remain forever. We just learn to live with it.
It’s all in the plan. I will admit, I’m still working on this. I don’t understand the reason for this pain and why my daughter had to die at the young age of 38, but I wholeheartedly trust God’s plan for my life, and hers. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Roadblocks are inevitable. You may think you’ve gone through all the phases of grief and all is well, only to discover you may find yourself back at step number 3 (or 2, or 1!). It’s okay. It’s part of the process as we peel back each layer of the onion, called our heart.
Recovery is just as important as the race. Give yourself the time you need to recover and grieve as you need to. Everyone grieves differently. Do not allow anyone else to judge you or influence how long it may take you to recover.
Nothing is easy. A marathon isn’t easy, and neither is grief. In fact, it’s pretty awful at times. We find ourselves having to push through the dark times and when you do you realize you are stronger and more resilient than you ever imagined.

Yes, life is a journey, not a race. You will probably never be the same person you were before your loved one passed away. Be kind to yourself.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Wishing you peace and comfort as you gently take each step along your path.

The Many Faces of Grief

Usually when we think of the word grief it implies a negative connotation, and quite honestly, I’m sure we can all understand why. Websters defines grief as, “deep and poignant distress.”

During the early days of walking this grief journey I could think of nothing else other than the deep sadness and missing my daughter. The hollowness I felt inside. That very early stage and face of grief was like no other time in my life. Darkness, disbelief, and distress consumed my every waking thought.

As the days churned by the look of grief began to take on another face – loneliness. The missing and longing for what was, what could have been, go hand in hand like soul sisters. A place you sit, alone with your thoughts. Friends and family have gone on with their lives and you are left alone, in the brokenness of what remains.

These are all normal responses to grief.  Those who have gone before me on this journey continue to encourage that the darkness will not always be so dark. The pain, not so sharp. The emptiness and void left behind, although still remaining, will not be so wide and gaping.

There came a time I knew I couldn’t sit in that darkness forever and began crying out to the Lord. I needed help. I needed salve for my broken heart. I already knew there was no one on this side of heaven who could heal my heart and take the deepest sadness away. I knew I needed someone to help me walk this road and make it through the many faces of grief or I simply would not survive.

As I sat outside, I began to see and hear so much that was going on around me. The trees were green, the emerging colors of spring had popped up everywhere, the echo of a owl in the distance, the songs of the birds as they made their nests and tried to discreetly lay their eggs, and even the loud chattering of those annoying squirrels brought a smile to my face. I began to realize that these were also faces – faces of life taking place in the middle of the grief.  

Out of nowhere I began to hear the words to one of the most well know psalms in the Holy Bible, Psalm 23. I decided to look it up and began reading various translations. These were no longer words on paper, but they became alive to me.   

1 Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!
2-3 He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength.
4 Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way. (Ps 23:1-4 TLB)

Excerpts from another translation:

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
4 Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
5You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life. (Ps 23 1-6, MSG)

Oh my gosh, this was hope for my weary soul! So even though we are still walking this grief journey, and we are going through the valley of death, He lets us catch our breath and sets us in the right direction! Wow! He revives my drooping head! Yes, Lord, my head needs to be lifted up!

As time continues to pass and I remain walking this journey, I’m thankful for yet the other faces of grief. Compassion. Understanding. Empathy. Yes, these are also faces of grief, too.

These faces have become illuminated in my life more so than ever before. If given a choice I would not have asked to be placed on this grief journey. None of us would have asked for our loved one to be taken from our lives. But in viewing this in a positive way, I ask myself,
“Would the faces of compassion, understanding and empathy ever made its way into my heart as strongly as it is now, if I had not first had to endure the faces of grief, distress, darkness, sadness, or loneliness?”

When the worst of the worst has happened in your life, it gives many moments of pause. Instead of rushing from one thing to another I now stop and look around. I seem to take more notice of those around me who are hurting and in need.

I’ve learned that things are no longer so important. It’s not things at all, it’s people and the heart of those who surround us.

This journey may continue to be a winding, continuous loop, with ever-changing paths reminiscent of a rollercoaster, but remember, there is someone who is the lifter of our drooping heads! May today be a day where you realize you can stop, catch your breath, and be turned in a new direction. Let today be the day you can have Hope During Loss.

When Does the Fallout End?

My Dad served in WW II.  After we visited Normandy and saw some of the area where these battles were fought in the trenches, I can better understand why he never wanted to talk about his time there.

There are some days I feel a lot like my Dad. I feel like I’m on a battlefield, fighting. Not just for my life but the life of my family.

Grief is like war. It leaves casualties behind. Bodies strewn here and there.

Grief has no respect for anyone regardless of class, social standing, race, or religion. 

Grief comes at you like a sucker punch to the gut. It is not nice. It does not have manners and is not gentlemanly.

One minute you can be standing there, fine as wine. Your life seems to be back on track and running smoothly. Then out of no where – WHACK!! You find yourself flat on your back again.  Has this happened to you? It has to me – more than once.

Recently, I’ve realized that sometimes the indirect hits hurt the most. Like when you realize your children are struggling with the loss.  We often forget about the other family members who lost a loved one. Sibling loss is as real and devastating as child loss or spousal loss.

Just like my Dad, there are times I don’t want to talk about my grief and it’s impact on my life or family. My kids aren’t eager to talk about it either. And it can’t be forced. So what do you do when the fallout continues?

My first instinct is to run. Just like my Dad ran into the foxholes to get out of the way of the enemy, we should run, too. But in this case we should run into the arms of our Heavenly Father. 

The healer. The deliverer. The One who will never leave you or forsake you. The One who will carry you during the darkest of days and the loneliest of nights.

The next thing I do is use my weapon – prayer. My faith is the only thing that has sustained me during this battle, and remember, grief IS a battle. This week I woke up at 2:30 in the morning to these words replaying over and over in my spirit (Psalm 42:8):

So when I fight I’ll fight on my knees
With my hands lifted high
Oh God the battle belongs to You

These words are from the song Battle Belongs, by Phil Wickham. I hope you’ll take a moment to listen to the rest of the song as it goes on to say:

And if You are for me
Who can be against me
For Jesus there’s nothing
Impossible for You
When all I see are the ashes
You see the beauty (thank You God)

It’s 15 months ago today that Melanie ran ahead to heaven, straight into our Father’s arms. And I’m still here, counting down the months since she left, asking, “When does the fallout end?” 

Probably not until God calls me home. But until then I know I have a safe place where I can shelter.

I’m so grateful my dark days are fewer, my grief bursts less. And even though I know something will be up ahead on this windy road called Grief, which will cause me to stumble and cry out, my heart knows my Father will be there to catch me. He is especially there during the fallout – El Shaddai, The God Almighty. He is there for you, too.

Father, for all of us who are still in the battle and suffering from the fallout, I lift up each person to you today. I ask that you wrap your loving arms around each of us and let us feel your all encompassing peace and comfort. May your mercy be with us as we walk this journey and may we run, full throttle, toward you knowing you are a strong and mighty tower. Help us to fight the battle on our knees because it’s surely the place we can win this fight. There is no one like you, Lord and we trust you to continue to lift us up and fill the void in our hearts with your everlasting love and peace until we can see our loved ones again one day. Amen.

Rebuilding From the Rubble

Recently a tornado ripped through a local neighborhood where we knew several families who had their homes destroyed. A few of the homes were decimated, but many others were left partially standing. There was something about seeing those homes that made me feel a strange sense of kinship with them. Since the death of my daughter, there have been many times when I felt just like those houses – not completely destroyed, but parts of me that were left broken, incapacitated, and laying in the rubble.

As I continued to watch, people began coming from near and far offering to help. Meals were brought in, chainsaws appeared to help clear the way, tarps were thrown over roofs to prevent further damage. Many opened their homes to neighbors who no longer had a home.

Looking around the rubble, it was easy to see the damage, but as the days went by I also saw something else. Help and hope for the future.

There are days when I’m so tempted to look behind me and focus on the rubble that still remains. It’s tucked up deep inside me, but still there in a corner of my heart. On some days I continue to scratch and fight my way out of that pit where the path remains rocky and treacherous. Occasionally the thought crosses my mind how it would be so much easier to give in, instead of fighting the heaviness. But, I know that’s not God’s best and it’s not how I want to live.

So, I’ve been concentrating on rebuilding. Reconstructing and restoring my heart and spirit. Day by day, moment by moment. I still wake in the early morning hours and find my Heavenly Father waiting for me. He greets me each and every day with hope for the future and reassuring me there is indeed, hope during loss. He calms my fears and soothes the ache in my heart. It’s a void that no other person can fill – only Jesus.

There isn’t a day when I don’t think of my girl, remembering her beautiful smile and warm eyes. I take her with me wherever I go. Each day I’m determined to live and do all the things she will never have the opportunity to do.

I’m standing, perhaps not as straight as I once was, but I will continue to cling on to God’s promises. “I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will continue to perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return]. Phil 1:6 AMP

No matter how broken your life, Jesus is the giver of a new day. He is the God of second chances and he is a God of redemption and restoration. Only He can take your shattered pieces and recreate them into something new and beautiful. That’s the point of the cross. We can find new life and we can rise again.

Today, I hope you will find some comfort in the words to, I Have This Hope, by Tenth Avenue North:

Questions come and questions go
Was there purpose for the pain?
Did I cry these tears in vain?

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

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

Facing Your Giants

We celebrated our son’s birthday with our first family beach trip since Covid. He asked if we could go to Sanibel Island, a place we’ve been to several times over the years. It’s a lovely place to visit, yet the moment he asked to go there I felt a wave of anxiety wash over me unlike anything I’ve felt in several months. As beautiful as Sanibel is, this was where we were heading 15 months ago when I received the news my daughter died.

We were visiting friends in Naples the day Melanie ran ahead to heaven and hadn’t yet made it to Sanibel. Our son asked if we would take him back one day and we promised we would. When he announced this was the place he wanted to go for his special birthday I knew in my heart I’d have to keep the promise we made. I always knew this would be one of the giants I’d have to face, sooner or later.

As the days drew closer to our departure I began to experience so many emotions. Just the thought of flying back into that airport had me reliving all the details of the last time I was there. I knew the exact gate house we sat in waiting for the return flight home. I could clearly see in my minds eye the corner of the restaurant I squeezed myself into, with my back facing the crowds as I made those dreaded phone calls to family members. I’ll never forget the sound of my son’s voice on the other end of the phone as I listened to his heart shatter as I shared this devastating news.

I’m sure some of you may be wondering why I didn’t tell my son we couldn’t go there and choose another destination. Yes, I could have done that, but I didn’t because I refuse to allow the enemy to steal anything else from me.! “The thief’s purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10 TLB)

That’s what I long for – life in all it’s fullness and to live the way my Heavenly Father intended for me to live.

We must refuse to allow the enemy to keep us hostage!

I also love what my pastor, Louie Giglio says, “Do not give the enemy a seat at your table!

Facing the giants within you can set you free, and allow God to move you through the difficult situation you find yourself in. But first, you need to be willing to trust him, be obedient to him, and above all, have the courage to take the step out of the boat.

We ended up having a wonderful few days just being together enjoying the warm sun and sand. Yes, there were a few bittersweet moments but thankfully more sweet, than bitter.

On the last night as I looked out from our balcony I began talking to Melanie. I was thanking her for the gift of our beautiful Cameron. As I told her we were doing our best to raise him I looked up and there I saw it – up in the sky. A heart!

Oh, what a beautiful sign! I believe she was there with us, sending her love to our boy, and to us as well. 💜

Thank you Jesus, for giving us the courage to face our giants. Thank you for giving us the courage to step out of the boat, and not allow the enemy to take us hostage. We are so thankful you have not given us a spirit of fear but of love, power and a sound mind. With your constant love and never-ending support we will not give the enemy a seat at our table but look to you for restoration and healing. In Jesus might name, Amen.

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