Four years of grief….

McClelland005Weeks ago, I noticed that I was emotionally and mentally “slumping”. I was feeling very sad and anxious and I could not seem to figure out why. There was not anything currently in my life that have been the source of that. I thought that I was tired or maybe it was hormones. I tried to just pull myself out and be happy but it was not one of those things where you needed to not be upset and just be happy. It was deeper and more internal then that and there was no pulling myself out of it. Once I realized that, it dawned on me that the anniversary of Travis’ death was approaching. Even though it had not been in the forefront of my mind, the heart knows as does my body and my mind. Grief wanted to speak, wanted to have a voice and wanted me to listen.

I have learned enough on this journey to know that you have to give grief time and space to speak and you have to be willing to listen. Grief demands to be heard. If you do not, then the grief swells to unmanageable proportions in order to be heard. Your emotions will be out of control, your body will shut down and your brain will be on overload. It is not a pretty picture. I have experienced that many times. I do not like giving grief time and space because it is painful. But I have discovered that a majority of the pain is associated with my resistance to the grief, not the actual grief itself. When I stop resisting and allow grief to speak, is it painful but not as much as if I keep resisting.

Today, marks four years since Travis died. There are many moments in my life that I will never forget. The day I got my first bike. My high school graduation. The day I got my first job and started college. The day I got engaged and the day I got married, the days that each of my children were born. The days that marked milestones in my marriage and in the lives of my children. Some moments are happy and some moments are not. I will never forget the night that Travis died. It was the most painful experience that I have ever been through. You hear people talk about how peaceful dying is and how much peace accompanied watching their loved one die. That was not my experience. It felt like someone was cutting my chest open with a knife and removing my heart, all while I was awake. There are not many areas in my life that I will not talk about (those of you who know me well, can attest to that) but the night Travis died is one of them. I have talked about that night with one other person since it happened and only once. I cannot talk about it. I relieve it quite a bit especially when the date of his death draws near. It is in my dreams, my thoughts, my heart.

McClelland043This weekend, we were all together. We have realized that during times like this we have to be all together and out of town, away from the house where Travis died. The Inn, where Wyatt is interning, lovingly and graciously allowed Wyatt time away, even though they are at the end of a program, to allow our family to be together. I can never thank them enough for the gift that they have given us to allow that. Our family has always been close. We are always there for each other, cheer each other on, help each other up, celebrate each other’s triumphs and cry over each other’s sorrows and disappointments. With Travis’ death, that closeness has deepened. There is no one else, really, who gets the depths of loss and grief like we do. So in each other, we have someone who gets it, who you do not have to try to get to understand or explain it to. When times like the anniversary of Travis’ death (his birthday, his diagnosis date, etc) come, we tend to get together, hunker down and ride out the storm. Together.

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Grief is a complicated thing. In some ways, I hate grief. I hate what it represents, the loss, the hole, the vacuum. In other ways, I value what grief has taught me. What it has taught our children. We did not choose it but we have learned from it when we had no other choice. Grief makes you empathetic to death, to loss for everyone else around you. When I hear of someone who has died or suffered painful loss, even if I do not know them, I find myself weeping. Not just an emotional tear or two but deep, painful tears are shed because I know the pain that they are traversing and I grieve for them.

The saying that you will “get over grief” is not true at least in my experience. Grief is a constant part of me now. It is interwoven into the fiber of my being. The grief is still intense and still painful and always present. What has changed is the time span between the overwhelming intenseness of grief. It used to be daily, then a few days would pass before the intensity swelled, then weeks, and now months sometimes. Sometimes it goes back to weeks and days. I have learned (I think) to ride the ebb and flow better than I did in year 1 and 2, but it will always ebb and flow. There will always be loss. There will always be a hole in our hearts and family. There will always be a missing person at significant events and moments and even in daily life.

Travis, I love you more today than I did when I said, “until death do us part.” I miss you so much. I would give anything to just feel your arms around me one more time, to be able to kiss you and to hear your voice, especially you telling me “I love you, Tammy.”McClelland016My love

One more time…

  Men's Clothes in ClosetToday, I took Travis’ clothes out of the closet and packed them away. It was not planned or thought out for days and yet did not happen by accident either.       I had been re-organizing and moving things around in our closet over the past week. I did not need the space. We shared a closet for 15 years, the space was, always had been in and in my mind always will be “his”. There was a comfort in seeing his clothes hanging next to mine…where they were supposed to be. It is where they were meant to be, where they had always been.       Today, after I finished moving things around and had even said aloud to myself, “Okay, I think I am done in here.”, my eyes landed on his clothes. My thought immediately was that maybe today was the day that I pack them up. I stood there for several minutes contemplating if I wanted to or did not want to do this and why. No answers…it was not about moving on…it was not moving forward in my grief journey…it was not about healing. It did not really feel like it was about anything.       Then I began to cry. Deep, heaving sobs that caused me to grab the door frame and hold on as the emotions overwhelmed me. My thoughts ranged from this scenario not even being possible, feeling so unreal to the fact that I could not believe that I would ever find myself in a place of having to make a decision to pack up his clothes. As the emotion subsided a little, I do not remember a specific thought, just that I knew that I was going to pack them away. Even in that moment, allowing myself complete freedom to pull them out tomorrow, next week, next month or next year and hang them back in the closet if that is what I felt like doing.       The process was not one of yanking them off the hangers and getting them in the box as quick as I could so it would be over sooner, it was much different than that. I carefully and lovingly took each item off the hanger. I would hold it for a moment almost as if somehow my touch on his clothes could transcend time and space and he would feel it…I could feel him again. I smelled them. His scent has long been gone but I hoped that maybe by chance, I could still get a small scent of Travis. There was none.       As I gently and slowly folded each item, I ran my hands down the sleeves, imagining being able to run my hands along his arms one more time. To rub his broad shoulders and back, one more time. To wrap my arms around his waist and bury my face in his clothing and breathe him in just one more time. With each article of clothing, the process repeated. Each time I bent down to put another item in the box, tears would fall and leave tear stains on the items already folded in the box.       With each article of clothing, the mantra was the same….   one more time….   one more time….   one more time…       What I would not give for….one more time.  

Thousand Pound Boulder

This post may appear self-serving but that is not my intention. People who know me well can attest to that. It is about giving a glimpse into a realm that you may not experience and raising awareness of an effort to enter that realm in whatever way possible.

As a child growing up, I did not have an awareness of or exposure to any single parent households. All of my friend’s parents were still married. In high school, I remember one girl’s parents getting divorced but I was not that close to her. No one I knew had lost a parent or lived with grandparents. It just was not something that I was exposed to.

Upon graduating, let’s just say, I entered the real world via college and work. There were people everywhere that I met that had one parent, were raised by grandparents or were single parents themselves. I began to have this deep awe and respect, even though I had no clue about this realm, for single parents and often wondered how in the world they did it.

At 23 years of age, I began babysitting for a mom who had recently divorced. She was a nurse and had two boys, ages 5 and 7. As a nurse, she was paid more money for the night shift than day shift but had not been able to work that shift due to the two children. We worked out an arrangement. I would pick the boys up from after-school care (mom was already on the way to work by then) take them home, feed them, help with homework, bath, bed, the whole nine yards. I would then sleep on the couch that night. I would wake up the following morning, get the boys up, dressed for school and drop them off before heading to my day job (mom would arrive home after we left). I did this three times a week (or more if she picked up extra shifts) on the nights that she worked for about nine months. I remember when I had my last day working for her (I was getting married in 2 weeks). She was saying how much she appreciated what I had done. She began to cry and say that she didn’t know how she would have made it financially if I had not been able to take care of the boys. She had looked for a replacement to no avail. I had even asked all my single friends but no one wanted to take this job as it would cramp their social life. I remember thinking that they just did not get what a huge help it was to this family. Yes, I was paid for the time with the boys but the real reason I did it and kept doing it was because I knew that I was making a difference in the life of this family, in the life of this mom. I often think about that family and wonder where they are and how they fared. My awe and respect of single parents grew through this experience. As I began to serve in children’s, youth and women’s ministries and encounter other families, the awe and respect that I had for single parents continued to grow.

Life is complicated and filled with frustration and pressure even for single adults, no matter how good life is. Marriage adds another realm of complication, frustration and pressure again in the midst of good moments. Becoming parents, no matter how life affirming that is, blows the lid off of all the others. It has been said that parenting is the hardest job in the world. I totally agree. If you are single, take the frustration, complication and pressure of just taking care of yourself and your responsibilities and multiply that by a couple of hundred and that is the realm of marriage. In marriage, you share the burden of frustration, complication and pressure. Even though the burden is bigger, you have someone who helps carry the load, a companion who knows the weight of the burden just as much as you do. Now, multiply that by about another couple of hundred and you have the realm of parenting. In this realm, the children do not share part of the weight of the burden but again there are two of you to carry it. Multiply that burden by about a thousand and that is the realm of single parenting. Only the burden is now carried by one. Unimaginable, unfathomable and honestly on most days, impossible.

person carrying boulder

The reasons for how someone ended up in the realm of single parenting do not matter. The grief on top of the burden being carried is the same whether it is divorce, abandonment or death. Then, for good measure, throw on top of that the fact that the children struggle through their own grief and loss, again no matter why the loss. I have often said over the past 3 years (since I think most of this began for me when Travis became sick) that being a single parent feels like carrying a thousand pound boulder up a mountainside every day. There are no breaks, no respite from weight. Even if I put the boulder down and just sit there, it is an overwhelming presence of responsibility that stares me in the face and covers me with its shadow. Even in sleep, the weight is constant, although I may not sense it as much, it makes its way into my dreams. The undeniable weight of financial responsibility, parenting responsibility and household responsibilities is simply overwhelming with no time clock in sight to let you know when your shift is over.

It may seem easy at this point for someone to utter that I need to let it go, trust God more, allow someone else to carry the burden and so on. Those seem to be great philosophies but what do they mean? I cannot let it go, I have children that are my responsibility and that depend on me. It is what I signed up for when I decided to become a parent. Responsible parenting means that the boulder is mine and it is my job to get it up the mountain. Trusting God seems like a great option as well but again, what does that mean? I can say as much as I want that I trust God, ask  Him to help me with the burden but in reality, I still have to shoulder the weight and put one foot in front of the other. He may offer me peace and calmness inside or He may not, I still have to carry the boulder. It may be the way He has called me to suffer. Also, someone else cannot carry my burden, it is mine. They may help me by putting a hand on the weight to steady it when it begins to fall, holding my arms in place when they begin to shake from the effort, offer me water as I climb or simply walk alongside encouraging but the weight cannot be transferred. The philosophies that we want to say and maybe firmly believe because we have not experienced that realm, only offer us a way as individuals to not become involved. We have the tendency to become so wrapped up in our lives, our frustrations, our complications that we fail to see anyone else’s struggle with their burden or that they may carry alone. These people work next to you, shop next to you, worship next to you and live next to you.

It is easy to get involved at this time of year. The holidays make us want, for a brief moment, to help someone else who might have it harder and relieve our conscience for the year. Isn’t that just as bad as the philosophies we say? What about the rest of the year?

Take a single parent’s children to shop for school supplies or basic necessities like socks and underwear every year before school starts. Offer to clean their house, do laundry, pick up kids from school or stay home with a sick child so the parent can go to work. Take their children to ice cream or just be involved by giving the children another outlet besides mom to share and vent with. Gift cards to restaurants (eating out is extravagant for these families) or making ahead dinners to put in their freezer. Several people gave us money and specifically asked us to use it for vacations and trips with the kids (again, an extravagance). If you have a timeshare or vacation place, offer them time to stay there. One person purchased annual passes to Disney for us. It might seem extravagant but honestly, when we go to Disney or on vacation, I get to forget for a while that it depends on me. I get to leave that world behind, have fun with my kids, enjoy just being together instead of wondering what’s for dinner, how I am going to get a child somewhere, who needs shoes and so on.

It takes more in order to be aware, to be intentional, to be involved in a life that might make you uncomfortable, put a dent in your wallet or your time schedule but to the single parent it could be the thing that gets them to shoulder the burden the next day and keep climbing. We can all do more than nothing. Yes, it takes love and kindness to do anything at all for anyone at anytime of year. It takes courage and boldness to love intentionally and consistently, to walk out of your world and be willing to expose yourself to someone else’s. Became aware of those around you and make a choice to love intentionally and consistently, not just this month but the other 11 months out of the year too.

Jesus Wept

McClelland016Today marks two years since Travis left this earth to enter heaven. I do not think I even have adequate words to describe the journey of grief. One thing that I do know for sure is that the journey of grief is long, extremely painful and tiring. The thing that has troubled me the most is how not only the majority of society but the majority of the Christian community tend to view others who are traveling the journey of grief.

People seem to offer many cliches and platitudes to people who are grieving. Christians seem very prone to this as well. There is a previous post I did on “Christian Cliches About Death”. At the time, I had heard some of those phrases uttered to me. At this point, I have heard all of those and even more. As if somehow, someone’s words will take away our pain and our loss. I realize that most people do not know what to say or may feel that they have to offer some sort of Christian viewpoint or wisdom that will make sense of our suffering and condense it down to a “bumper sticker” phrase. Those words and phrases just seem to make my grief and loss more apparent and magnify my feelings of solitariness.McClelland040

During this part of my journey, as I kept encountering this mindset and attitude, my mind kept returning to the story of when Jesus’ best friend, Lazarus died. Most of us know the story. If asked what the shortest verse in the Bible is, we would be able to say, “Jesus wept.” Few of us in the Christian community have taken the time to truly examine not only Jesus’ reaction to grief in this story but His reaction to grief in general. This post is not meant to be an indictment or judgement but simply to offer a brief glimpse into a different view of how God would want us to love each other.

I am not sharing this story to be theoretically correct, more to highlight what I feel that Jesus’ heart was towards grief and loss. The full story is located in John 11, if you want to read it in it’s entirety. To summarize, Jesus receives word that Lazarus, His friend is dying. I think at one point in scripture, it even describes Jesus loving Lazarus like a brother. So this was no casual friendship. It was someone whom He had shared life with, shared his heart with and someone whose heart was intertwined with His. Jesus does not leave and go to His friend, He stays where He is. He does not show up the way His disciples think he should or even how Mary and Martha (Lazarus’ sisters) think He should. When He finally arrives, Lazarus has been dead for four days.

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Martha (the more logical of the two sister’s personalities based on previous’ accounts) meets Jesus first and says the words that most people have uttered a million times to God after a loss. “If you had been here, if you just would have showed up, then he would not be dead.” Underneath that statement is a churning sea of emotion composed of anger, betrayal, hurt, abandonment and grief. Jesus answers Martha with a statement of truth that meets Martha in her heart right where she was. He does not condemn, He does not judge or offer some platitude or question her faith. In His statement, He never promises Martha that He will bring Lazarus back to life but something in His response urges her to go get her sister, Mary. I am sure that Martha thought that Jesus would meet Mary with the same words that He gave her.

When Mary (the more emotional and heartfelt of the two sisters) meets Jesus, notice she repeats the same words as her sister but Jesus response to her was radically different. Again, no condemnation, judgment or trite words of comfort.

He wept.

Why?

Was Jesus weeping because He was moved alone by the grief that he saw demonstrated in Mary’s tears and in Lazarus friends? After all, did not He already now that He was going to bring Lazarus back to life? I think that it was more than that. I have been told that the word “weep” in this verse is translated to mean, deep intense wailing from the center of someone’s being. A weeping and crying that is not remedied by any solace or comfort but is deep and abiding. I believe that in that moment, Jesus felt the tissue searing, bone crushing grief of losing a friend, a brother, a loved one to death.

I wonder if in that moment, as God viewed and felt the grief of Lazarus’ family and friends and even of His own son, was that when He made the decision to give Jesus the permission to bring Lazarus back? Yes, it showed a great miracle on behalf of Jesus but Jesus had raised many people and had given them back to their families. This was not the first time. Why? I do not think it was only to prove Jesus’ power but also a means by which God choose to bring comfort and relieve suffering from grief.

What should we take away from this view into the heart of Jesus and God during a person’s journey of grief? First, I think that we need to realize that no two people will grieve the same or walk through grief the same way or receive comfort from the same things because no two of us are alike. I have met many others on their journey of grief, some from a loss of spouse, a child or a parent. There are some similar and basic components of grief but that is where the similarities end and even in those basic components, people will differ dramatically in their experience of them.

The second and most important thing is that Jesus met them on their journey right where they were and walked with them. We tend to fall into this mindset that the people who can best help others are the ones who have been in situation themselves. That is simply not true. The biggest comfort, help and solace that we have had in the past two years have been a handful of friends, who have never experienced a loss of this magnitude. People who have sat and cried with me, listened to me scream, yell and curse, and checked on me during my periods of quietness. They have encouraged me, talked of my love for Travis and his love for me, highlighted ways that I am successful in single parenting and how proud not only they are of me, but God and Travis are as well. In all of those times, the past 24 months, they have constantly said to me, “I don’t know what to say. I cannot possibly imagine what you are going through but I promise you this. I am not going anywhere. No matter how dark this journey gets, no matter how ugly it gets, I am here to stay and I will walk with you no matter what.”

It breaks my heart to get emails and FB messages from people saying that they know someone who lost a husband and would I be willing to talk to them or give them advice. My response back to them is usually something like this:

“The best thing you can do is allow yourself to be uncomfortable. To look someone else’s grief and suffering in the face and choose to get close to it. To not offer cliches or explanations but simply to choose to allow the journey to happen. To choose to walk this journey with them, no matter how dark and how ugly it gets, would be the greatest way you could ever love them.”

I think that was what Jesus was doing. I think that is what He would want us to do. I think that is how He wants us to love others. Not by words, but by actions.

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Broken Pot

Travis would have been 40 today…next Wednesday, the 25th, he will have left this earth and been with God and Jesus for 9 months.

Two thoughts have been foremost in my mind in the past few weeks as today approached.  First was that it was a little hard to believe that he had been here…with us…last year on his birthday.  Many friends gathered in our yard and serenaded him and our family that evening.  Many of you wrote letters that talked about Travis’ imprint on your lives.  The second thought is that he was really young to be gone already.  How are either of those things possible?  Yet they are.

Last year in October we attended, as a family, a grief camp.  Travis had only been gone 2 1/2 months and the the camp also coincided with the weekend that I had taken him to the hospital a year prior and where he eventually was diagnosed.  I know a grief camp does not sound like much fun and frankly none of us really wanted to go but I felt that it was important for us individually as well as a family.  One of the activities that held a lot of symbolism for us was called the “broken pot”.

They gave each family a clay pot that we took outside and had to drop on the ground to break.  This symbolized how our hearts, identity and even families break when we suffer a significant loss in our lives.  I remember even the sound of the pot hitting the ground causing me to cringe.  I thought, “I know that sound.  I have felt it inside in my heart.  I have seen it in my children…in Travis’ friends.”  We brought the pieces back inside and now we had to write on them.  On the pieces that curved inwards (the inside of the pot), we had to write words that described our grief, our loss, our pain.  Symbolizing the things that we tend to keep inside and let no one see. On the pieces that curved outwards (the outside of the pot), we had to write the things that had given us support during our grief, our loss, our pain.  After all the pieces were filled with writing, we had to reassemble the pot with glue, figuring out where each piece was supposed to be.  This activity was accompanied by many tears as it seemed to draw so much out of us emotionally even as we were putting our hands to something physical.  At one point, as the final piece was placed, everyone in the family had their hands on the pot holding it together until the glue solidified.  It impacted all of us in that moment, that it was going to take all of us…together as a family…to put this back together.  

Recently, as part of our continuing activities at the family and grief center groups that we attend monthly.  We repeated the “broken pot” activity.  Only this time, I did the activity with each individual child.  We encountered quite a few difficulties this time around with the activity.

With one child, we dropped the pot twice to break it.  Thus ending up with a quite a few very small pieces.  I thought about how often, we as a family and individually, have been re-broken along this road.  As each holiday passes without him, as shock and denial recede more, as we live life each day sometimes it seems the breaking happens more to pieces that are already broken.

In some instances, we became very frustrated because we just simply could not figure out how the pieces went back together.  We simply had to walk away and allow ourselves to come back later to work on it.  (We are still working on it.) 🙂

I thought about how often we have been emotionally overwhelmed by moments and have just had to walk away and deal with it later.  Deep, heavy emotions…such as grief, pain, loss…I am realizing take quite a bit of time to process and the layers of those emotions are quite thick and numerous.

In all the scenarios, we had a hard time coming up with words…something we did not encounter the first time.  It seems that as our emotions have run a deeper course, words are harder to find to fully grasp the depth of emotion contained inside our hearts.

In some ways, I can say, it feels like we just started feeling like we are sliding downhill pretty fast as the shock and denial have seemed to wear off to a greater degree.  In the beginning, I experienced a general sense of loss, of him being gone.  Now it seems to be more specific…the person that I would emotionally unpack my day with…cook dinner with…garden with…just “be” with.  I enjoyed life and activities not necessarily because of the activities themselves but because I was with him.  Travis had a way of just living life with you and being with him, for me, brought enjoyment to life itself.

We got through today with tears, sorrow, memories and good friends.  I know that somehow God holds all the pieces of our pot…He knows how they go back together…when they go back together.  There will always be a Travis’ shaped hole in our hearts…our family…our house…our days…our weekends…our years.  We will miss him and love him every day until we can see him again.

“In a sense, grieving is actually a show of faith.  We are trusting God to hold us in our most vulnerable time, when our feelings are raw, our life is in pieces, and our strength is gone.”–Experiencing Grief

Excerpt from book “Bridge to Happiness”

A friend sent me this excerpt from a book the other day.  It put in to words so many things that are in my heart and I wanted to share.

It’s a fictional story but was told in first person and the main character becomes a widow in an instant when her husband is killed in a car accident. They had been married close to 30 years but they had a wonderful love story and close, fulfilling marriage. In this particular scene, she had redecorated her master bedroom and was sharing her thoughts upon returning after the job was completed.

“I was no longer a wife. I was a widow. I hated being defined by loss. I’d rather be defined by all the years we had together–a real gift of my lifetime. I hugged myself as I looked at the new bed. I didn’t see Mike’s spot. I didn’t see him missing. And I lay down and I cried like before, but this time over what I couldn’t see anymore. I just cried and cried because this was goodbye………….I climbed into bed early and paused to look at our picture sitting on the nightstand in a new sleek sterling silver frame. It wasn’t hidden from me at all; it had been there from the moment I stepped into this new room. Our faces stared back at me, and I smiled. Picture in hand, I walked over to the bookshelves and moved some things around, then set the photo there. I crawled back in bed and looked at it from across the room. It belonged on the bookcase with beloved family photos scattered on shelves, between stacks of books, those glimpses of our lives captured so we could never forget…….Mike would always be my blood and bone, so much a part of who I am and the woman I have become. He is my history. He is love defined by my decades of life with him. I did not and do not walk away easily from him. I never could. I did not want to go on in a world without Mike. But I am here and he is gone. To not live my life to its fullest every hour, every minute and second would mean death has more meaning for us than life, than love, than all we were. He is not here to finish my journey beside me. But he is with me….in my mind and my heart, and my children’s heartbeats.”

I would say that I fall in the middle of this picture.  I have not yet come to goodbye nor am I ready to put his picture on the bookshelf among the other glimpses of life that have been captured over the years but I know that the day will come for me…for my children…where life, love and all that we were together and as a family will mean more than death.

Nothing Can Separate…

This past Sunday marked 8 months since Travis went to heaven. Sometimes I wonder how that is possible, it does not seem that long.  Other days, it feels like it has been a whole lot longer.

I would love to say that we are doing well but in all truthfulness and reality, we are not.  It’s hard…it’s a struggle…and frankly, it’s just painful. It makes me think of the line from Sleepless in Seattle where Tom Hanks says that he chooses to get out of bed every day and breathe in and out and one day he hopes to find that its not so hard to get out of bed or breathe in and out.  That’s the day I’m waiting for…for me…for my children…for all those who miss Travis.

In the midst of that pain and struggle is another struggle…my struggle with God, with His choices, with my view of Him, my experience of Him, my knowledge of Him.  There has not been much communication between God and I or even anything relational between us, at least from my end. Right now, I just find it hard to be in relationship with a God who seems a little reckless and haphazard in His actions.  I am trying to reconcile that notion with having a relationship with Him.  I still believe in His sovereignty, in the truth that His ways and thoughts are higher than mine but I can not seem to accept the pain and suffering that His ways have brought into my life and the lives of my children.  I do not understand.  I do not get it and frankly, it just makes my head hurt sometimes to even think about it.

That has brought me to a place where I just can not seem to function in this relationship with Him.  I just do not have the energy, emotion or desire to be an active part right now in my relationship with Him.  I have not felt any guilt about that, it is just where I am. I figure that He knows that better than anyone and He is okay with that. I had experienced levels of this during Travis’ illness but it has been more apparent since his death.

About a month ago, I was reading a book about a man who had lost his mother, wife and daughter in an car accident.  This is what he said, “For months I felt shattered as a human being.  I could do nothing for God and had little desire to obey Him.  Night after night, I sat in my living room, unable to say anything, to pray anything or do anything.  I was empty of energy and desire.  All I could do was let God love me, even though I hardly believed that He loved anyone, least of all me. I had no idea how I could ever really believe again or if I even wanted to. I had no will or desire for it.  But somehow I believed that not even my weakness of faith bothered God much.  God loved me in my misery.  He loved me because I was miserable.”

My first thought was, “Wow! Okay, so I’m not the only one and this is normal for where I am.”  Then the passage from Romans 8:38-39 popped in my head.  I have always viewed those verses, in the past, in terms of the fact that nothing I ever did would separate me from the love of God.   I do not know why I thought of it that way but I just did.  After those verses popped into my head, I heard God say to me, “Tammy, you may never participate in this relationship with Me again and I am still going to love you and pursue you.”  What?! I had to think about that for a while.

On one level, it made sense.  When Christ died and even before we acknowledged Him in our lives, God loved us.  He pursued us even though we were doing nothing in return.  Somewhere in our walks with God, we get hung up on doing “our part” in the relationship.  Yes, obedience is born and should be born out of love but sometimes I think there is a subtle shift in our thinking that assumes that our part in the relationship keeps God doing his part in the relationship.  That could not be further from the truth.

All I can really say is that in that moment, it felt like the pressure was off…a burden was lifted.  I have not resigned myself to walking away from God or my relationship with Him but suddenly Him loving me and pursuing me is not dependent on what I do or even my inability to love Him in return.  Truthfully, it never really was.

Where does that leave me?  The next excerpt from this gentleman sums it up well, “…Still a problem remained.  God may have promised forgiveness and unconditional love.  But I wondered if I could trust a God who allowed or caused suffering in the first place.  My loss made God seem distant and unfriendly, as if He lacked the power or desire to prevent or deliver me from suffering.  Though I believed my transformation depended on the grace of God, I was not sure I could trust this God.  Was it even possible to believe in God, considering what had happened?” I guess I am also waiting for the day when I can answer that question too.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”–C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Christian Cliches about Death

I realize that this post may be controversial with quite a few in the body of Christ but I felt it important to post anyway.  Just because something has always been quoted or said in Christian circles does not make it Biblically accurate.

Unfortunately, I have heard my own share of comments during this time and it has made me very sorrowful that the Body of Christ responds to grief and sorrow in this way.  I believe that this is something that God wants to teach us.  I am fairly certain that Jesus/God has not said and would not say any of the following statements to a person who has experienced loss.

The following is a writing from a pastor who lost his daughter:

When a person suffers the devastating loss of a loved one, you should–however well-intentioned you might be-keep your mouth shut.  Or at the very least, you should think long and hard before you say anything.  Here are some things I recently heard that did not help, and frankly were not true.
1)  “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” Not a saying from God, rather it’s a poorly-informed Job, who was later forced to revise his opinion.  As it happens, it was Satan who devastated Job’s life and family.
2) “You’ll get over it soon.” Wrong.  I hope I never get over the loss of my daughter. I don’t want to forget her love, her smile, her joys, her sorrows, and so many millions of other things that formed the sum total of her life.  I do not intend to get over it.  I intend to get beyond it by the grace of God, but in no way forgetting what happened to her at the end of her life in this world.  There will always be a Christy-shaped hole in my heart. Period.
3) “Sorry about your lost loved one.” This is well meant, of course, but bad theology.  Christy is not lost.  I right where to find her.  She is safe in the arms of Jesus.  One of our good Christian friends shared this experience with me from her charismatic prayer time, this week: “The Holy Spirit came upon the prayer so mightily.  My heart was not heavy, like it was before that prayer, and the witness the precious Holy Spirit gave us was that Christy has made it home.  I know she is home, but the prayer made it very real to us.” Exactly right.  She has gone before us, but is not a lost loved one wandering in oblivion.  She is a found loved one who has found her home in Christ.
4) “Well, at least you still have your son.” I am indeed very thankful our son and our Russian daughter alive and well, but I don’t believe in compensatory theology.  Having other children does not make the loss of Christy any less hard to bear.  As John Donne says, “Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am a part of mankind.” All the more so when it’s a member of my own family.
5) “God will make up for this with a twofold blessing.” Again, I don’t think God is a practitioner of some sort of new math or compensatory calculus, running the universe.  God has not been a naughty boy taking away my sweet-pea named Christy, and he has nothing to make up for.  I certainly do believe God works everything together for good, for those who love him.
So I leave myself open to such working, trusting it will make me better, not bitter.

Legacy

I have been reading Tim Tebow’s book “Through My Eyes”.  This past week I read the following section on “Legacy” in his book.  I was immediately brought to tears through his words.  If you had the opportunity to attend Travis’ memorial service, then you will understand how much this meant to me.

“…how much greater will it feel when we get to Heaven and Jesus takes off his headset, opens His arms, give us a big hug, and says, ‘Atta boy.  Great job.  You finished. I love you.’…but the people who can finish and finish at the same pace or stronger than when they started, those are the ones who are going to succeed; those are the ones who are going to be great.  Those are the ones who are going to have an impact in this world and on the lives of others around them.  How much more so in life to finish strong.  For yourself.  For the world.  For others.  For the God who created you…a legacy that left eternal fingerprints on the lives of others would be a legacy to be remembered in this world and the next.  The legacy God intended each of us to leave has to do with the impact our lives have had on the lives of others whom He calls us to serve…Our legacy should be about building in the lives of all those others, doing something for others that will not only last in their lives here, but for eternity…a life that is marked by always trying to do things the right way, building a foundation in others, something that lives beyond me, helps people, and, more important, causes them, in turn, to want to help other people.  Finish strong and you help not just yourself; you help others.”

Enlarging of My Soul

Travis passed away three months ago today.

It is hard for me to even type those words.  I sat here for several minutes not wanting to even put my hands on the keys, to put words to the reality.  Something in my heart cringes, pulls away like a wound is being pushed on.  I can not begin to tell you how often I have had remind myself in the last few weeks that “it’s only been almost 3 months.”

In so many ways the shock is beginning to wear off for all of us.

I had to replace our vehicle recently (another blog for another time) and I had this moment in the financing office where I had to sign the title to our old van.  I saw Travis’ name next to mine on the title and my eyes filled with tears.  I hesitated.  I thought, “I don’t think I can do this.  I can get rid of this connection.”  Don’t misunderstand, I have no affinity to the van as a thing, it was just something Travis and I owned together, it was part of our family.  Later that night, after the children had a ride in the “new” (new to us anyway) van and I was trying to get them all in bed, one of the children expressed almost the same feelings.  They began to cry and said, “I wish we had our old van back.  Dad rode with us in that van and he’s never ridden in this one.”  We both cried and held each other.  No words can be said and after we seem to have cried out what is there, we continue with life.

Our oldest started playing baseball again.  It has been extremely hard for all of us to be at the ball park.  We have joy and happiness for him but sadness and grief that Travis is not here.  This past spring, he sat at these very same fields with us watching our son play ball.  I almost dread his first home run or when he gets the chance to pitch a game.  While I will be excited and proud of him, it will be bittersweet for all us without Travis here.  Maybe he sees it all from heaven but it isn’t the same.

We have not been able to eat a meal at the dining room table.  That was a huge part of our family life, our family identity so to speak, 5 nights out of 7 we made sure that we were around the table eating dinner together.  We have tried several times but after the tears start, we all move to the kitchen.  It’s just too hard right now.

One of the other children is preparing for a recital.  They remarked that they are scared that they are going to cry in the middle of the recital because Travis had been there for the last one but he will not be there this time.

All the times I have had to mark “widowed” on an application.

In other ways, shock is still very present.

The other night I was trying to get dinner ready and get the children out the door for something and a thought quickly went through my head. “Travis will be calling any minute to tell me what time he will be home for dinner.”  Reality and tears quickly follow.

I still get out 6 plates for dinner even though I constantly remind myself that there is only 5.  When everyone has been served and one plate is left on the counter…reality sets in.

I still wake up in the middle of the night and reach out to Travis’ side only to find him not there.

I find that I still use the words “we” and “ours” all the time.

I am fairly new to this part of the journey of grief but there are a few things that I am fairly certain.

1.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve and no one else, even those who have experienced grief, can tell you “how” you should grieve.

I am not sure that I totally get that or understand it right now but I see glimpses of it.  I do the things that my heart feels drawn to.  There are times that I make myself get out and do something, hang out with close friends, talk about my grief with others, but just as many times do I feel solitude.   While there is an empathy that can be shared with others who have experienced grief, no one is the same.  Just as no operates in their marriage the same or parents the same, no grieves the same.  There are some standard “emotionally healthy” practices but everything else is on an individual basis.  I do not really like that very much.  I sort of wish there was a manual, a “how to” of sorts.  I feel a lot of the same lack of control that I did for the 10 months of Travis’ illness, now in relation to grief.

2.  Loss is not something we get over but something that becomes a part of us.  With that statement, I think I can also include the words: grief and pain.  If there is always loss then on some level there will always be grief and pain.

Loss seems to be something that is being woven into our lives.  A dark thread, for sure, but if we never have the dark threads how will we ever know how bright the other colors actually are.  Our lives were bright with Travis here but the things that he did for us, with us, who he was as a husband, father and man seem all the brighter now in his absence…because of the loss of him.

The following quote seems to echo this.

“I did not go through the pain and come out the other side; instead, I lived in it and found within that pain the grace to survive and eventually grow.” (A Grace Disguised)

3. Loss can enlarge my soul but I have to allow that to happen but not censoring or limiting my grief.

I do not have any personal thoughts on this one but I have been intrigued by the following quotes:

“Loss can make us more.  In the darkness we can still find some light.  In death, we can also find life.” (A Grace Disguised)

“…tragedy can increase the soul’s capacity for darkness and light, for pleasure as well as for pain, for hope as well as dejection.  The soul contains a capacity to know and love God, to become virtuous, to learn truth, and to live by moral conviction.  The soul is elastic, like a balloon.  It can grow larger through suffering.  Loss can enlarge its capacity for anger, depression, despair, and anguish, all natural and legitimate emotions whenever we experience loss.  Once enlarged, the soul is capable of experiencing greater joy, strength, peace and love.  What we consider opposites–east and west, night and light, sorrow and joy, weakness and strength, anger and love, despair and hope, death and life–are no more mutually exclusive than winter and sunlight.  The soul has the capacity to experience these opposites, even at the same time.” (A Grace Disguised)

There is a picture that it is given in this book that seems to have embedded itself in my mind and heart.  A picture that describes so much of where we are and where we will be at some point on this journey.

“I felt like I was staring at the stump of a huge tree that had just been cut down in my backyard.  That stump, which sat all alone, kept reminding me of the beloved tree that I had lost.  I could think of nothing but that tree.  Every time I looked out the window, all I could see was that stump.  Eventually, however, I decided to do something about it.  I landscaped my backyard, reclaiming it once again as my own.  I decided to keep the stump there, since it was both too big and too precious to remove.  Instead of getting rid of it, I worked around it.  I planted shrubs, tress, flowers, and grass.  I laid out a brick pathway and built two benches.  Then I watched everything grow.  Now, three years later, the stump remains, still reminding me of the beloved tree I lost.  But the stump is surrounded by a beautiful garden of blooming flowers and growing trees and lush grass.”

That is where we are.  All we see is the stump.  It is most prominent feature for us right now.  Sometimes we look out the window and expect to see the tree, just like always.  When we only see the stump, it is very painful reminder of reality.  The stump pops up in the oddest places and the oddest moments.  Emotional breakdowns out in public are quite common.  Being with friends that we shared together is another place.  Sundays are like scaling a mountain for us “emotionally”.

Hope speaks to my heart and the hearts of our children and says, “There will always be loss but one day there will be beauty too.  Hold on for that day.”

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