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.”

Advertisements

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.”

Transported in Time

The last 10 days or so have been extremely difficult.  It is funny how your heart remembers things that your head is not really focusing on.  October 9th marked a year ago that I took Travis to the ER.  He spent 10 days in NICU at TGH and then came home on the 19th.  Despite my best efforts to distract myself, my heart has relived every moment of those 10 days a year ago.  At the time, I do not really remember crying that much.  I remember just trying to hold it together, thinking that whatever we found out, it just would not be that bad.  Now that I am relieving those 10 days in hindsight, the tears fall very freely.

I did not even realize that October 9th would be significant to me.  I do not even remember where I was when it hit me what that date meant.  The correlation did not even occur to me until just a few days before the date.  Someone said the date aloud to me in reference to something else and it sucked the breath right out of me.  I remember the first thought being, “That can’t be true.  It couldn’t have been a year ago that I took him to the ER.”  The next thought was, “I never had any idea that when we walked into that ER, a year later I would be here without him.”  Then the tears started falling.

For 6 weeks, Travis had a continuous headache that never seemed to go away.  I would causally mention from time-to-time that he should probably see a doctor because that really wasn’t normal.  I didn’t really think it was very serious.  He was still working and participating in church and our family activities.  We had been through a lot in the previous 2 years.  We had followed a call that God had given us and things had not worked out they way we thought.  Things are not always easy when you follow God.  We knew that but those 2 years had been extremely difficult.  I knew that Travis, most of the time, felt very much like a failure as a provider for his family during that 2 years.  Looking back now, I can see other symptoms of the brain tumor.  Forgetfulness, lack on concentration, slight personality changes.  I remember thinking and even remarking to close friends that I thought he was depressed.  I can’t tell you how often I wish that had been the case.

The Thursday before the ER visit, he came home from work and began to vomit.  That was the first time that I began to think that maybe this was something serious.  The vomiting resolved though and he seemed to be okay.  As a person who suffers from migraines, I know how pain can make you sick so I chalked it up to that.  Friday, he was fine.

October 9th–Saturday morning, I was getting ready to head out for a meeting and I was going to be gone most of the day.  I was 10 minutes from walking out the door.  I came out of our bedroom to find Travis vomiting in the kitchen.  Something inside me really registered then and I had this very strong feeling that I needed to take him to the ER.  If you know Travis personally, then you know that was no easy task.  Thankfully, he didn’t fight me much on it.

Even as we waited in the ER, Travis would make remarks like, “They have an hour to figure it out and then I’m going home.”  The scans began to come back and it appeared there was something going on in his brain but no one seemed to be able to tell what.  A casual reference to being admitted to the hospital came up and Travis said, “I am not staying here.  I am going home tonight.”  After it became clear that he was going to be admitted, Travis words were, “They have one day to figure it out.  I’m going home tomorrow.”  I remember Travis’ parents arriving on that Sunday or Monday and his dad walked over to Travis’ bed in NICU and said to him, “I only have one question for you.  How big was the 2×4 that Tammy had to use to get you here?”  Everyone laughed because it was not really far from the truth.  Even in NICU, he kept assuring everyone that he would be home in a few days.

As the days dragged on and I left him in NICU every night and drove home to sleep alone, I kept questioning God.  “What are you doing?  What is going on?  Why aren’t you showing the doctors what’s wrong?”  I don’t really remember having a lot of peace or answers.  I remember trying very hard to keep my fears at bay.  That was pretty easy to do because Travis was healthy.  He had never been sick a day in his life.  Until that hospital stay, he had never had an MRI, CAT scan or anything else.  No one seemed to have answers for us.  It seemed to me that even God was not answering me.  I remember the day Travis had a spinal tap.  They allowed me to stay in the room with him.  I was at the head of the bed, holding his hands and stroking his head during the procedure.  Inside, I was crying out to God to do something, to end this now and let me go home with my husband.

Our children were scared, understandably.  One of the things that Travis said very early in that hospital stay was that we were not going to hide anything from the children.  We were going to tell them everything we knew.  I glad we made that decision then and that I honored that decision throughout the next 10 months.  The children will tell you that all they were really thinking everyday was that dad would come home tomorrow.

There was still no answer as to the cause.  Because Travis presented with no other symptoms but a headache, they had started with a long list of possible causes and began to rule them out one-by-one.  All the while, they continued to say to me “it is highly unlikely that it is a tumor.”  Even as the list grew shorter, I never entertained the tumor idea.  I was actually hopeful because I thought that we were getting closer to answer.

October 14th–I remember the day they told us that needed to put a shunt in.  The CSF buildup had begun to put pressure on the optic nerve and they were afraid of permanent damage if they did not do something.  Travis was very reluctant to have the surgery.  He did not want to do it but the outcome of not doing it did not seem that great either.  They let me into NICU early that morning so that I could be with him and walk with him down to the OR.  My heart was in my throat and I couldn’t seem to breath.  I did not see any of the surgeons before the surgery but I was not that worried because we had already discussed the procedure.  They had performed a different type of scan on Travis the day before, something I had been aware of.  It is not a scan used very often.  What I was not aware of was the fact that they had crossed everything off the list except tumor.  I also was not aware that the scan showed possible signs of tumor and the decision had been made to do a small biopsy when they did the shunt.  I received all this information after the surgery.  I remember being stunned.  I remember the doctor telling me that Travis would be the 1oth person documented to have a tumor in that specific region of the brain.  I think I went into denial mode pretty early, telling myself we would just wait for the lab results.  After all, maybe they were wrong.  I would not say anything to the children or anyone else until we knew.

October 16th–I was at the hospital with Travis when a doctor came in and introduced himself.  He was a oncologist and wanted to talk to us about radiation.  I remember feeling like I had been doused with cold water in the face.  If they were sending in an oncologist, then this was serious and they were pretty certain even without the lab results.  I remember panicking a little a that point.  I think I told him that I didn’t want to talk to him until we had the lab results.  He looked at me funny but respected my wishes and left.  As Travis slept, I realized that I needed to probably talk to the children sooner rather than later.

October 17th–That Sunday, I gathered the children in the living room.  I had asked some close friends to come.  Friends that I knew would be there for my children emotionally, no matter what.  I remember feeling dazed and outside of myself.  It was almost as if I was on the outside watching myself tell my children that their dad had an inoperable brain tumor.  There was a lot of shock that day and tears.  The question came that day for the first time, “Is dad going to die?”  Everything in me wanted to reassure them and tell them “no” but I knew that I needed to be honest as much as it pained me to do so.  My answer simply was, “I don’t know but we are going to try to do everything we can to help him live.”

The days after the surgery, Travis had been completely changed.  He was not responding like he had been before.  I think we lost our first piece of him then.  The surgery seemed to aggravate the tumor and that seemed to affect abilities that he had before the surgery.

October 19th–We came home that evening to our children and friends.  The children had made a sign welcoming Travis home.  A sign that hung in our yard for a while until it finally tore.  Some wonderful friends had agreed to be on hand to help get Travis up the stairs and in bed.  He had lost a lot of muscle tone and strength from the hospital stay.  I remember laying in bed that night with him next to me for the first time in 10 days.  It felt so good to have him home, to have him with me and the children but I was terrified.  I cried a long time that night because I didn’t have a clue as to what the next few days, weeks or months would look like for us and the ultimate possibility seemed unfathomable.

This is what my heart has been reliving for the past 10 days.  All the feelings of unfairness, loss, unjustness, anger and everything else hit me full force.  After the realization about the dates hit me, my heart was drawn a few days later to go to Lake Rogers Park.  This park has a very special place in my heart.  Travis would go to this park to talk to God.  Sometimes he did that as he walked around the lake.  Other times, he had a favorite bench that he sat on.  I always called it Travis’ bench.  This bench is where my heart was drawing me.

View from Travis' bench

View from Travis' bench

I cried and sobbed on that bench that day.  I journaled a little but mostly I talked to Travis.  I felt closer to him there then I had felt to him since he passed away.  I miss him more everyday.

Identity and Loss

Below is a homework assignment from my counselor.  The following thoughts about my identity and loss were written on 9/12/11.

Identity and Loss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I knew from the moment that I was given this as homework, I was not going to like it.  I tried to shut it from my thoughts but it creeped in any way.  I put it off because I did not want to face it.  There is a lot of hesitancy in me to “go there” right now.

Yet all weekend, God seemed to keep bringing things to me that spoke of this.  The phrase from A Grace Disguised came first:

“…I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter until it becomes part of who I am.”  I feel an immediate pain and ache in my chest with that statement.

Then God seems to call me to something deeper with the next phrase:

“…the deeper we plunge into suffering, the deeper we can enter into a new and different life…a willing to face the loss and enter into the darkness…”  It seems that this crossroad is where I stand.  I have a choice and I have known it for a while:  either walk into the darkness and embrace all that it encompasses or to run from the darkness and ignore all that it represents.

I think that the darkness represents part of the identity for me, an acceptance on some level.  Maybe it is more about letting the loss become a “part” of me instead of something that happened “to” me.  That involves a deeper level of grief and sorrow, maybe even joy, then where I am now.

Yet if Travis truly was a part of me and my identity, it makes sense that the loss of him would have to be a part of me as well.

I think the only way that happens is for me to enter the darkness.  What if I get stuck in that darkness?  What if I sink into that darkness and can not get out?  What if the pain of that darkness overwhelms me?  What if I do not find God in the darkness?

Yet it seems that the means God is providing for me to experience Him now is darkness.

The following seems to be the best picture I have found about loss and identity for what I feel right now:

“…Lovers still reach out in the night to embrace one who is no longer there.  Its like the phantom pain experienced by those who have lost a limb.  Feelings still emanate from that region where once was a crucial part of them, and they will sometimes find themselves being careful not to bang the corner of a table or slam the car door on a leg or arm long since removed.  Our hearts know a similar reality.  At some deep level, we refuse to accept the fact that this is the way things are, or must be, or always will be.  Simone Weil was right, there are only two things that pierce the human heart:  beauty and affliction.  Moments we wish would last forever and moments we wish had never begun.”  That is where my heart lives right now, in between beauty and affliction.  All those moments with Travis that I wish would have lasted forever and that moment when I took him to the ER where I wish it had never begun.

When I think about the picture of image of someone who has lost a limb, the first thing that you notice about that person is their evident loss.  You can not help it, it is just obvious.  Even if they have an artificial limb, it is not the same.  They have just learned how to live with the loss.

That picture is one that I feel like is me without Travis.  My loss will always be evident and obvious.  I will always have phantom pain.  I may learn to live with it but it will be part of me.  Not in a physical representation but in an emotional representation.