death

An Unexpected Feast: When Grief Meets Gratitude

Posted by | community, compassion, cooking, death, family life, flourishing, food stories, friendship, gifts, grief, kids, soup, Stories | No Comments

We dipped into hearty bowls of butternut squash soup garnished with sprigs of fresh parsley. We passed platters of golden roasted turkey, Nana’s green bean casserole, and homemade crescent rolls. My dear friend added a plate of her family’s special Salvadoran pupusas to the mix, while my famous pumpkin tiramisu chilled in the refrigerator for our grand finale.

What mattered that year was not what we were serving up on our plates but what we were serving up in our hearts. There was a deep gratitude that was almost palpable around the table after the grief journey we had endured as a family.

Just the year before, we had navigated our first holiday without my beloved husband. He was diagnosed with stage four cancer that May and soared to heaven in September, leaving our whole family and community reeling. I never imagined this would be my story. I didn’t ever believe the tasks of a widow-mama would be in my wheelhouse.

That first Thanksgiving we all had to recalibrate for we had lost our leader. I missed him helping me chop the celery for the soup. I missed his booming voice saying the blessing. I missed him entertaining the girls and laughing loud during dessert. His absence loomed large at the table. I had to dig deep to pull up the gratitude then. I had to train myself to name the small gifts – breath in my lungs, three brave daughters, sunsets chasing across the sky, and saving grace.

A year later, the landscape of my heart and our family had changed dramatically.

Just like the abundant food on our table, the blessings were abundant too. My fiancé sat to my right. He started the meal with a blessing-prayer, thanking God for our first meal as a family in the new home we just bought. My youngest girl with the golden hair, like her “Daddy with Jesus,” squeezed the hand of her daddy-to-be. She was bubbling with excitement for the wedding in January where she would be the flower girl.

My dear friend from El Salvador, her two sons, her husband, and his two sisters from India joined our table. They, too, had tasted grief that year as their dad had journeyed through cancer. These were friends who had become like family to us during crisis.

We shared tears and prayers. We drew close together in the gratitude.

After we had emptied the bottles of sparkling cider and most of us were pushing back from the table, there was a kind of hush…

To read the rest of this post, click here and join me at (in)courage.

5 Tips on How to Talk to Kids about Death

Posted by | death, family life, grief, kids, parenting, sharing faith, Stories, struggle | No Comments

I got a text from a friend of mine a few months ago. She explained that she was traveling to Texas to be with her grandkids whose other grandma had just died. She asked if I had any advice on how to talk to the kids. That got me thinking about some of the things I’ve learned these last three years as we have navigated my husband’s death from cancer and the deaths of several others in our community.

I want to first acknowledge that every grief journey is unique. It’s important to be attentive to individual needs and personalities. Everything I have learned has come through trial and error with my three daughters who were ages 2, 5 and 8 when their dad died. I sought counsel from friends who have navigated the journey before me and a trusted grief counselor.

Talking to kids about death can be difficult, but we shouldn’t avoid it. Death is a reality of our life. It’s not possible for me to shield my daughters from the daily dance with death and dying. I want to be the one helping them navigate their emotions and questions. I believe normalizing conversations about death has helped give my children permission to share their feelings and grieve in a healthy way.

Here are 5 tips to keep in mind as you navigate the sensitive topic of death with little ones:

  1. Be direct with your language.

It’s tempting to use vague language to explain that someone died, but this can be confusing for little ones. I have learned that being direct and loving is important. If you have experienced a miscarriage or the loss of grandparent, it’s good to say “The baby died” or “Grandma died” in a direct way. My girls had the unique opportunity to be with their daddy when he breathed his last breath. After he died, we all had to navigate how to speak about it to others. I urged them to simply say, “My dad died.” We tried to avoid saying “He passed away” or “We lost him.”

  1. Do something creative to help them share.

Kids may not know how to express their emotions at first. I have found that engaging my girls in something creative often helps open the door for them to share. Some grief counselors even use creative play with very little ones to help them process. My girls attended a support group through Hinds Hospice after their dad died. Some of their activities included art projects. Each girl decorated a picture frame and shared memories about their dad. It’s more natural to share while doing something together.

  1. Give them permission to cry.

Nothing has created a more powerful connection between my daughters and me than crying together. As parents our instinct is to want to hide our tears and hold it together in front of our kids. I believe it’s important to share tears with our kids when someone dies. They witness how important that person was to you. They also have permission to grieve freely. My daughters gained a sense of empathy in this process. They comforted me and each other when the grief was especially heavy. I’ve watched them do this with others now too. 

  1. Engage them in ways to honor the person who died.

Kids need to feel like they are part of the process. Each year I invite them to help me think of creative ways to honor their dad on anniversaries and holidays. For example, every year on his birthday they join me and we invite friends to do a special workout in their dad’s honor. Their dad loved running and fitness so this is a way we can honor him and his legacy. On the day of his Heaveniversary, we also do special things to remember him like taking a picnic to the cemetery and inviting friends over for a dinner party where we tell stories about him.

  1. Check in often.

Conversations about death and processing grief need to be ongoing. My daughters and I all have different things that trigger our sadness or instigate questions. I have learned it’s important to check in with each other often. We take opportunities to talk in the car on the way to school or even on family trips when we are away from our home environment. I try to schedule “date nights” with each of my girls one-on-one at least once a month so I have the space to listen and let them share.

Be encouraged, friend. You might feel inadequate to navigate these difficult conversations but just showing up is key. I always say a little prayer and ask God to give me ears to hear my children’s hearts and the right words to comfort them. This is our opportunity to share our faith with our kids in a deeper way. If we are willing to step into these hard conversations with our kids, however messy and awkward, we may crack open the door for God to bring healing for them and for us.

 

*I have developed a FREE download for people navigating grief with kids. This includes tips and resources like book titles, movies and other creative projects that have proved useful with my own girls. Opt in here and I’ll slip it gently into your inbox!

**I offer coaching sessions for parents who are helping their kids navigate grief. Interested in some one-on-one help? Message me here.

 

Book review: Picturing Heaven

Posted by | book reviews, death, gifts, grief, sharing faith, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The other night I went for a walk with my 6-year-old around the track at our local high school. The sun set far quicker than I anticipated, and we found ourselves strolling in the dark. Of course, it wasn’t completely dark because as we rounded the bend we looked up and saw the sky was lit up with stars. I smiled, savoring this sacred moment with my youngest girl.

We wandered into a conversation about stars, and then, as is common in our family, we started talking about Heaven. We chatted about whether we thought Daddy in Heaven could see the other side of those stars.

“I love my daddy so much,” came the sweet voice of my girl.

“I know you do, sweetie,” I said.

I have learned to let her share freely when she starts talking about her daddy. These conversations are a part of our rhythm. We wondered aloud if he could see us walking around the track. We imagined him talking with his grandma. My girl perked up because she knows she is named after her great-grandma. She remembered our chef friend, who died recently, and talked about him making cream puffs for Daddy in Heaven.

As I reflected later, I remembered that our initial conversations about Heaven happened with the help of author Randy Alcorn. After my husband died, I immediately tracked down a copy of Randy Alcorn’s Heaven book. My daughters were asking lots of questions, and I heard the book was a primer on all things Heaven from a Christian perspective. It’s a dense book packed with 25 years of research and answers to questions anyone might have about heaven.

I still use it as a bookend on my shelf, joining my other books about grief. I also bought Heaven for Kids.  After their dad died three years ago, I read chapters of the book aloud after dinner. Even though some of it was over my girls’ heads, those two books invited us into conversation and using our imaginations about what Heaven would be like.

Recently, I was scrolling through Instagram and happened upon the cover image of a new coloring book devotional using some of the content from Alcorn’s book. I ordered Picturing Heaven right away, thinking it would be a great gift for my. What I discovered is that God intended to use the coloring book to minister mostly to me.

This book features beautiful spreads illustrated by Lizzie Preston with special gold overlays and short devotionals by Randy Alcorn. The beautiful images to color attracted my attention initially, but it was the deep reflections paired with scriptures that invited me into the Heaven conversation anew.

What I like most about this book is that it breaks down some of the main themes from Alcorn’s Heaven book into easy-to-understand nuggets. For example, I was reminded in the first devotional that the “present Heaven” is the place believers in Jesus go when their physical bodies die, but it’s not our final destination. The Bible reminds us that we are destined for another place – a resurrected Earth.

Alcorn writes, “God’s children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth. We must not lose sight of our true destination!”

I have been reading this devotional with my family – my new husband and my three daughters, who are now ages 6, 8 and 11. We all have resonated with it on our own terms. We also love getting out our colored pencils and coloring the pages while we chat about the content.

I would highly recommend Picturing Heaven for any individual or family, especially those navigating grief. It would make a great gift to share with friends along with a nice set of colored pencils!

Interested in more book recommendations? I share some of my favorites in my weekly Glorygram. Sign up here, and I’ll slip it gently into your inbox. 

Making space for lament when national tragedy strikes

Posted by | community, compassion, death, fear, grief, politics, social justice, Stories | 5 Comments

A few weeks ago I drove up the mountains to pick up my oldest daughter from 6th grade camp. The highway began to bend and wind into the woods. The sight of the forest took my breath away. I was stunned by the devastation and destruction left by the forest fires in that area.

A grove of trees that just a year ago boasted a vibrant, red-green-gold was now marked by black trunks and brittle branches. The grove was sparse with fallen trees in the road and piles of ashes all around.

I couldn’t help but pull over and just stare in sacred silence. Like many places up and down our beautiful state of California, this area burned. This forest and the people who live near it have endured much suffering and loss.

Calvin Crest Camp, where I was headed, was spared but the fires snuck right up to their back door, and the evidence of the burning is all around. Fires still blaze farther north in Santa Rosa this week. Scrolling through Facebook, I am grieved by the pictures of friends’ childhood homes, hospitals and schools burned to the ground in that area.

Meanwhile, in other parts of our country and world, devastating hurricanes have put whole cities under water. Death and destruction permeate the landscape. Just a few days before I drove up to Calvin Crest, a mass shooting in Las Vegas left 50 dead and countless injured. I have been heavy with the thought of so many people trying to dig themselves out of the devastation.

So much loss. So much to grieve.

These last three years since my husband died from cancer, I’ve learned that if I don’t make space for the grief it will sneak up on me like a forest fire. Before I know it, my heart will be ablaze with grief, unstoppable and racing toward despair.

Because of the deep grief I’ve endured, new grief – like the death of another loved one, a natural disaster or national tragedy – piles up in my heart. It feels like grief stacked upon grief, and it’s heavy to carry. I need to be gentle with myself.

This week I am reminded of the importance of lament. We have moved away from the Biblical practice of lament in the North American church, but I believe now more than ever we need it. Lament is an invitation to cry out to God in suffering and pain. It’s a way to express deep sadness while also acknowledging God at work in the suffering.

In his book, Prophetic Lament, Soong-Chan Rah writes, “The American church avoids lament. The power of lament is minimized, and the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost. But absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget.”

I am challenged by these words to carve out space for lament. I do not want to forget the injustices I see around me. I do not want to forget those who are suffering. I do not want to share an article on social media about the shooting in Las Vegas and then move on to a heated debate about gun control. We dishonor those families when we rob them of the time to grieve. We do a disservice to ourselves when we attempt to march on to political discussions unscathed by the human tragedy.

The Bible offers up a model for lament in the Psalms and the poetry of the book of Lamentations. Psalm 40 is one of my favorite examples of lament. David writes opens the Psalm with words of thanksgiving: “I waited patiently for the LORD, and He turned to me and heard my cry for help. He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:1-2).

Later in the Psalm, David cries out to God in his own weakness and helplessness: “Lord, be pleased to deliver me; hurry to help me, Lord” (Psalm 40:13). Many of the Psalms express pain, grief, worry, fear and then the Psalmist is led into hope in God. I am grateful that the Bible includes examples of people expressing sadness and grief in times of tragedy and trauma. This gives us permission to lament as well.

Let me encourage you during these difficult times to hold space for grief. We all grieve in unique ways. For me, this means clearing my schedule for a trail run or getting out my journal to write some lines about how these losses are hitting me. For you, it might mean sitting in the quiet of your backyard to watch the birds or strolling through the neighborhood. It might mean letting yourself cry in your bedroom.

When many are grieving, I believe it’s also important to reach out to people and acknowledge the pain. It’s tempting to sweep the tragedy under the rug. Some of us feel sad and helpless, so we stuff it down and quickly move on. We need to fight this urge and intentionally check in with our people.

I’m concerned that in this age of social media we choose to do more of our processing on the internet when it’s our face-to-face relationships that need tending to. We need to listen to others, talk through what we are feeling, and carve out space for prayer. I like to do this by making a pot of soup or a cup of tea and inviting people to my table so we can hear the nuances in each other’s voices. And we can cry together.

My challenge to you is to think about ways you can hold space for lament in your own life. Give yourself permission to put it on the calendar or cancel some other activities. Invite a close friend into conversation or prayer about the state of our world. This is the way we can come together in community and push back the darkness.

**I have developed a FREE RESOURCE for readers navigating guilt and shame in grief. This little exercise has helped me so much on my own grief journey. Check it out here.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

Marathon Lessons: How to persevere when your race isn’t turning out how you expected

Posted by | behold, community, courage, death, finishing well, flourishing, grief, running, Stories, struggle | 6 Comments

We began to inch toward the start line. Throngs of runners from 100 countries around the world joined us for this epic race – the 40th Chicago Marathon. I tried not to focus on my nervousness and instead enjoy the experience of being there with so many people from all walks of life chasing the same goal.

About a year before, I started dreaming up ways to celebrate my 40th birthday. Choosing something for my 40th carried some weight and grief for me as I remembered that my beloved went to Heaven in his 40th year of life. Running the Chicago Marathon bubbled to the surface as a big challenge I wanted to work toward. I live in Central California now so journeying together with my family back to the city where I grew up seemed like a memorable way to celebrate.


I run races year-round, but my focused training for the marathon began in June. My friend and I disciplined ourselves to run before dawn and the stifling heat of the day descended on Central California. We enjoyed long weekend runs on the trails around our city. Those runs afforded me a new rhythm of quiet to connect with God, to process my grief, to breathe new life to my dreams.

And now, five months later, the big day was here. As the announcer signaled for us to start, I felt a surge of excitement. We began to navigate the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago. I tried to take one mile at a time and not focus on the entire 26.2 miles before me, which was still daunting.

The first challenge was finding space to run. With 44,000 runners, I had to do a lot of weaving and negotiating to find a path for my feet. The timing had to be just right.  You don’t want to cut anyone off, but you also don’t want to get stuck behind a group running a slower pace. Runners elbowed me and pushed me more than once. My hubby-coach ran next to me, and my training partner ran just ahead. I tried to steady the cadence of my breathing. The three of us struggled to stay together because of all the people surrounding us.

I started thinking about a passage in Hebrews I have been working to memorize with a group of women from my church. It says,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-3).


Remember the witnesses

These verses came to me at just the right time, providing inspiration for tackling the race ahead. At mile 3, we passed our family cheering crew – my parents, three daughters, my sister and brother’s family, and even some friends who have become family through the years. They motivated us on with smiles, high fives, hugs and hand-decorated signs. Not only were we surrounded by more than 1.5 million fans lining the streets of Chicago, but we were supported by our people, our witnesses.

I couldn’t help reflecting on how critical the support of my people has been through the years. My tribe has supported me at races, the births of my girls, graduations, weddings and more. They stood with me at my husband’s bedside when he battled cancer. They held me tight at the grave when we surrendered him to Heaven. Their encouragement buoys my strength.

As I ran the race, I could almost hear my Ericlee cheering from Heaven. I imagined him pumping his fist and calling out in that bellowing coaching voice. I thought of the others gathering in Heaven with him to witness my race. I saw my grandparents on both sides, many dear friends, and other heroes of the faith. This is the power of a community of support. I do not believe we humans are meant to run the race alone.


Weed out the thoughts that entangle

I felt a little slower than usual. I couldn’t find my pace and my stomach felt queasy. I made it past the half marathon point. At mile 15, I knew I had to find a bathroom fast. Just in the nick of time, I found one. After waiting in line, I got back out on the course with my team. I was disappointed because I knew I had lost precious minutes there. I felt weak.

My running partner said she was going to go on ahead. I have to admit this was hard. I don’t blame her a bit. In fact, I probably would have made the same choice if the tables were turned.  The competitive side of me just had a hard time accepting that I couldn’t push harder to stay with her.

I would say about 80 percent of running a marathon is the mental game. My mind started to spiral downward at this point. The temperature was rising. The sun started to beat down on me. I felt tired with each plodding step. I was disappointed in myself and felt ashamed that my husband had to run such a slow pace to keep me going. I started to compare myself to others in my mind.

Then those words rang out: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” I was hindered by my self talk. My sin was in my attitude, my comparing, my jealousy, my shame. I felt like a tangled mess. I wanted to just lay down in the middle of the street and ugly cry.

I knew I had to rally. My husband offered to carry my hydration vest for me. I literally had to throw that thing off my tired shoulders and figuratively throw off my negative self talk as well.


Run with perseverance

I didn’t realize it until later when my hubby told me but I started saying the words to the verse out loud: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” I kept thinking about that word perseverance. It means persisting in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement.

I reminded myself that I believe in doing hard things. I want to model that for my daughters. If I have learned anything in my grief journey, I have learned that the best way to navigate grief is to lean in, to take the next step, and the next. I made it to mile 20.

On mile 22, God sent me an angel. There was a woman on the side of the street giving the most rousing victory speech. Her words spoke truth and life into me. She reminded me that the marathon is about grit and glory. I believe that we are to be glory chasers, giving glory to God even in the most difficult times. Here was my chance. I had to run the race marked out just for me.


Follow the pacer

I’m not going to lie. Those last 4.2 miles were not easy. I was hot. I could feel the chafing beneath my shirt. I kept drinking water but still remained thirsty. Everyone around me was walking. I was tempted to stop, but I couldn’t. Shawn started running just ahead of me then. I knew what he was doing. He was pacing me. He knew I needed someone to follow, someone to chase. I fixed my eyes on his neon yellow “Run Big” shirt, and we ran.

And these words were running through my mind: “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Some days are just hard. Sometimes the race is not what we hoped for or expected. It’s easy to focus my eyes on my shortcomings and disappointments. Hebrews 12 reminds me where to fix my  eyes – on Jesus. He’s the pioneer, the first, the one blazing the trail, my pacer for life.

We had one last hill to climb and then we turned the corner. That bright red banner screaming “FINISH” was my invitation. I shifted to that last gear, and ran my guts out.


And in the end, it turns out the marathon was not just a birthday challenge to accomplish. The marathon was an important teacher for life. I learned to remember the witnesses, weed out the thoughts that entangle, run with perseverance and follow the Pacer.

All for His glory!

 

Interested in connecting with me more personally? Sign up for my Glorygram – an email just for insiders, including publishing news, encouraging stories, recommendations for books, recipes and more!

The uninvited guests: Battling guilt and shame after loss

Posted by | brave, community, courage, death, grief, parenting, Stories, struggle | No Comments

**I’ve developed a free resource to help people combat the lies that guilt and shame bring. Click here if you’d like a copy gently delivered to your inbox.

 

After my husband died, we had many friends and family who came to visit. People brought us meals, cards, and abundant gifts for my girls. But there were two uninvited guests who kept showing up at my door at the most inopportune times. Their names were Guilt and Shame.

After an intense and harrowing four-month cancer journey, I was especially haunted by guilt that I didn’t do more to save my husband. I agonized over whether or not we had chosen the right treatments.  I questioned God if I should have done this or that to make my beloved more comfortable in the end.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I found the peace I needed to release my guilt. A friend reminded me that when my husband was diagnosed with cancer he was already in stage four. There is no stage five cancer. There was not anything I could do to “save” my husband at that point. In fact, now I realize it’s arrogant for me to even entertain the idea that the treatments we choose will “save” a life. We do our best and follow His leading, but the number of our days is up to God alone.

I also felt guilt about not allowing more visitors to see my husband in his final days. I know many of our friends and family felt guilty for not seeing my husband or reaching out to him before his death. No one realized how aggressive his cancer was. I felt very protective of him in his final days. I knew he was very weak and wasn’t himself. I had to make that hard call to limit the visitors. Later, I took on the guilt of our friends and family who did not get to say their final goodbyes.

When I became a widow and an unexpected single parent, I began to feel guilt and even shame about asking people for help. Without my life partner, I suddenly needed assistance with common household tasks and repairs. Some of these things I weathered through by myself. I learned to do things like taking out the garbage and locking the doors at night – tasks my husband always covered. On some things, I allowed friends to help me. One friend came to fix my garbage disposal, another walked around my home and found things that needed to be repaired.

In that season, I grew an empathetic heart for single mamas. I realized how difficult it is to arrange childcare and to taxi drive kids to events when you’re the solo parent. I would ask for help, but sometimes I felt guilty. I’m grateful for the friends who generously offered up time in their busy schedules to love on my kids so I could attend meetings and work.

I felt guilty for leaning on my friends so much for emotional support. Of course, my tribe wanted to be there for me but it was an emotional shift for me because I was used to being there for them. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable and invite them to sit with me in my grief.

In the last few years of this grief journey, I’ve discovered through research and friends’ experiences that it’s common for widows to feel guilty after a spouse dies. It’s also characteristic for children and other family members to take on guilt. We have a lot of time on our hands to mull over what we could have done differently and guilt sneaks in. For some, this becomes an even deeper battle against shame.

Brene Brown, shame researcher and author of Daring Greatly, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” She differentiates in her book that guilt is best understood as the attitude “I did something bad,” while shame is believing “I am bad.”

For me, I realized I really had to put my self-talk in the check. There were times when I was particularly sad or feeling insecure because of my grief that I found myself swimming in self-doubt. I wondered if I could go on. I doubted if I could be a good mother to my three girls who desperately needed me to lead and love them well. I wrestled with simple decisions. I found myself resenting household and mothering tasks because I had to do them alone. In those times, my guilt could quickly move to shame if I let it.

When I find myself sitting at the table with shame and listening to her lies again, I have to remember the weapons of what Brene Brown calls “shame resilience.” She says “shame derives its power from being unspeakable” so the first weapon is to call out or name guilt and shame. I learned to just tell my people, “Hey, I’m having a hard time asking for help today but can you help me with…”

My second strategy is one I learned years ago through Beth Moore’s Bible study, Breaking Free. She taught a method for visualizing and taking captive any controlling thoughts. The idea is that you recognize the lie you are hearing in your head and you stand up against that lie with God backing you. Then you tear down that lie from the walls of your mind and put up truth from God’s word. Finally, you make that lie bow down to the truth.

Beth writes, “Taking thoughts captive to Christ doesn’t mean we never have the thought again. It means we learn to ‘think the thought’ as it relates to Christ and who are in Him.” Beth’s method and values help me put things into perspective. Feelings of guilt and shame are natural for all humans but what we do with those thoughts and feelings is important in allowing us to move forward.

I want to encourage you fellow widow mamas and others on the grief journey to bathe yourself in the grace and compassion of Christ in this process. Let these words from Hebrews 4:16 wash over you: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Friends, we are not meant to walk this journey alone. Today, with God’s help, I’m inviting Courage, Resilience and Grace to my table.

 

**I’ve developed a free resource to help people combat the lies that guilt and shame bring. Click here if you’d like a copy gently delivered to your inbox.

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Celebrating a Heaveniversary: 10 ways to honor a loved one’s death

Posted by | courage, death, family life, grief, kids, running, Stories, struggle | 4 Comments

It surprises me every year at this time. We are finally settling into a school routine and a fall activity rhythm. I’ve hit my stride with my creative work and the groups I’m leading are kicking off. Then out of nowhere I start to get this slow ache deep in my soul.

Grief sneaks in.

And somehow my body and my soul know before my brain that this was the week. Three years ago, these were the final days when my husband was fighting for his life. My memory skids and careens and bumps over the memories. The call to hospice. The oxygen tank. The way my bedroom was turned into a hospital room. The desperate prayers whispered in the kitchen or the bathroom, in the darkest hours when none of us could sleep.

I prayed a prayer I never believed I could. I begged God to take him, to release him from his pain. I looked into his hazel eyes and told my beloved the girls and I would be ok.

And on September 9, 2014, my beloved husband soared to Heaven.

Such beautiful sweet redemption for him after an intense cancer battle. And unexpected relief for me. I did not have to watch him suffer anymore. I had confidence he was running the streets of gold with a new body in Heaven.

Three years later, my soul still knows. My body still remembers. This Saturday we will celebrate Ericlee’s 3-year Heaveniversary. The girls and I decided last year to name this sacred day his Heaveniversary. I was tired of the awkward phrases like the “day he died” or “death day.” I want this day to be an anniversary when we remember a husband, father, coach and friend, and his amazing legacy. Death was not the end of his story; Heaven is.

Are you longing to celebrate a loved one and their legacy? Do you have a Heaveniversary fast-approaching?

I polled some of my widow friends and asked them how they celebrate their husbands’ Heaveniversaries. The following is a list of creative ideas you might consider to honor your husband, your wife, your mother, your aunt, your friend or others on their Heaveniversary. For us, it has been about discovering meaningful ways to remember each year.

  1. Bring a picnic to the cemetery. It’s a tradition for many families from different cultures to visit the grave site of a loved one on their Heaveniversary. We put a twist on this last year by bringing a picnic. I brought pizza and sandwiches from my husband’s favorite spot. We spread a blanket over the grass. Grandma came to sit with us, and we shared stories about him and other family members who were buried at that cemetery.
  1. Release balloons into the sky and send prayers to Heaven. My friend said she took her three children to the cemetery and they released balloons into the sky in memory of Daddy. There’s something beautiful and sacred about letting go and watching these balloons fly to the heavens.
  1. Take a day to go to the lake or another place your loved one would spend a lot of time. Another friend said she took her daughters to a nearby lake, which was her husband’s favorite place to be. They brought lunch and relaxed together. Sometimes getting away on a trip can be the best way to celebrate.
  1. Visit a favorite restaurant and share memories around the table. We might be tempted to avoid special places during the year, but a Heaveniversary is a perfect day to return to a favorite restaurant or a place you shared your first date. Bring friends or family and share memories around the table.
  1. Look through some of your loved one’s treasures together. We have several boxes in our garage with my husband’s favorite childhood treasures, some of his clothes and cards people sent with special stories about him. A Heaveniversary is an opportune time to get these out and to share them.
  1. Peruse pictures and create an album together. The majority of our pictures are digital now, which means less time to select the best photos and assemble albums. When you take time to peruse pictures and put together a special album, you participate in meaningful remembrance of your loved one.
  1. Gather some friends to watch videos together. One of my daughters’ treasures is their dad’s old iPhone. They found all kinds of silly videos he made of them when they were little or workouts he used to do. Last year, we saved those videos to our laptop and hooked that up to our TV to watch them together. We loved the opportunity to hear his voice and laugh again.
  1. Do something active in honor of your loved one. My husband was an athlete and coach. He loved to get outdoors for a hike or run. One way to celebrate his legacy is to do something active in his honor. You might do this with friends or family. You might even sign up for a race and run in your husband’s honor. The training can be a time for grieving and remembering.
  1. Journal your memories. Sometimes I worry that the best memories of my husband will be forgotten. Carve out some time on this Heaveniversary to write down a few memories of your loved one. They don’t need to be perfect or polished. Writing them down helps you remember and record these memories for family in the future.
  1. Host a Heaveniversary dinner. We started this tradition last year and other widow friends have done the same. We invite some of our treasured friends to our house for a special meal. I intentionally invited some of my husband’s friends who we don’t see as much anymore. After dinner, we gathered in our living room to share stories about my husband. What I thought might be a somber day turned into a true celebration.

One thing I’ve learned these last three years is that I need to be intentional about carving out time and inviting my family into practices of remembrance. I can’t wait for others to stand up and offer their thoughts spontaneously. I need to find courage to lead.

Even three years later, my mind is often triggered by memories of my late husband. He appears in my dreams or I find myself saying something the way he used to say it. These make me pause. The grief never goes away but the path somehow grows easier. A big part of this journey has been taking time to lean in together as a family and remember the man he was, and to continue carrying his values into the future.

This Saturday, we will host another Heaveniversary party to remember my Ericlee. We will laugh, we will cry and we will celebrate.

 

**Interested in reading more about why it’s important to give yourself permission to grieve? Check out this post.

***I would love to send you my FREE guide on Navigating Grief with Kids full or ideas and resources. Opt in here.

 

Featured photo via VisualHunt

Grief journey: How to lift your eyes in the brokenness

Posted by | death, family life, fear, grief, Guest blogger, parenting, Stories | 2 Comments

The following is guest post written by my new friend and fellow Hope*Writer Tara Dickson. We met through a writer’s group and I found myself resonating with her story. I am privileged to watch her navigate her “new normal” as a widow mama and grandma. I hope her story ministers to you today!

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Life doesn’t look the way I expected. Does it for anyone?

My husband left this earth and walked into Heaven a year ago February. An incredibly fit and healthy man, the brain cancer he battled for a year and a half was the last thing we expected on the New Year’s Eve he was diagnosed.  

Can we just stop? I want a do over. How can I can keep from walking into this New Year and all that it holds?

This was not what I wanted my life to look like. Alan would have turned 46 the day after he exhaled earth and inhaled Heaven.  Our children weren’t tiny but they all still needed him. Our oldest daughter had just walked through an extremely painful season in her life a year and a half before. Her daddy, her rock, spoke truth over her at every turn, reminding her to trust herself to the Father. He had coffee with her every morning and held her new baby as she mourned her broken dreams.  

Our oldest son had just started college, while our younger son was in high school. They were both trying to figure out what manhood looked like. Then, there was our youngest daughter. She was 13 when her daddy was diagnosed. She is a natural peacemaker, which means she felt everyone else’s feelings on top of her own.

I still remember the day we were sitting around the dinner table and Alan was telling his sister of how he wrestled with the Lord about his healing. He worried about what would happen to us if he was called to Heaven.

Then, with supernatural peace, Alan told her the Father had reassured him He would and could take better care of us than Alan could possibly imagine doing himself.  My flesh wanted to say, “Wait! When did this conversation happen? I am not okay with this!” It wasn’t many months after that Alan did pass on to Heaven.

Grief is hard, beloved. It breaks your heart wide open and lays you bare. Open and empty for the beautiful work He wants to do. It laid our hearts open to hear his voice call us to move to a new state, and brought good changes that affected each one of us.

The ache in our hearts was real, like a big stone resting on my chest, even making breathing hard.  No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t lift it off.

Spring break started the weekend Alan left this earth. We took that opportunity to get away from the beds we couldn’t sleep in and the questions that followed us around town. The ocean was calling me with waves that reminded me my God is bigger than any storm.

It was the end of February, still too cold to swim but walking the beach kept my body moving. The sand between my toes reminded me that I was still living even though my heart was broken. The constant tide pulling the waves in and out shouted at me that life was moving on even if I felt stuck.

I never find unbroken sand dollars; Alan always did. He was much more patient than I was. That day as I walked along the beach looking on my right and left, I glanced down and in a pool of standing water I saw a small perfect sand dollar. I gently picked it up and held it high the rest of our time on the beach, carefully protecting its delicate beauty.

However, in the throes of washing off sandy feet, ordering lunch, holding Ava, my granddaughter, and going to the bathroom, I inadvertently stuck it in my pocket with another shell. You guessed it, it broke. I discovered it later when I was searching my pockets for something else. I wanted to weep but there were no tears.

As I picked the broken pieces out of my pocket trying to see if it could be pieced back together, the inside of the sand dollar turned up in my hand. The oh-so-tiny, but very present “dove of peace.”

Then the Lord reminded me that when beautiful things are broken there can still be peace in the midst of it all. How can this be so? Through God’s grace and by His word.

The fiercer the battle, dear ones, the more important it is to make sure our hearts our filled up with His truth.  When our hearts are wrung straight out in the pressing of our circumstances the truth of God is what spills out and it extinguishes the lies of the enemy. I have seen my heart spill out doubt and fear as well as joy in the mourning and trust that when I am weak He is strong.

Hebrews 4:12  says, “The word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

That walk on the beach may have been the beginning of God teaching me to “Lift up your eyes” to His presence but it hasn’t been the last. He will use anything in our path to reminds us, that His word can penetrate the deepest parts of our soul and spirit. Where there are lies, it will uproot them and plant truth. Where there is unbelief, it will pluck it up and plant faith. Where there is despair, it will cast it aside and plant hope.

So, join me dear one, in lifting your eyes, to the one who longs to reframe everything. Let Him be the lifter of your head and let Him take your broken things and  help you find peace in the midst of them.

 

Tara is a recent widow and mother to four children. She is Nana to Ava Rose and newborn, Aria Violette.  Walking through grief has brought Tara back to her first love, children’s literature. She is finishing up a children’s series and is committed to bringing hope to children and adults alike through her writing. Tara loves a good cup of coffee and bringing life to any space, but nothing tops being a mom and nana! Find her on Facebook and  Instagram.

 

 

Photo credit for sand dollar: johnkoetsier via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Are you on a grief journey? Check out these articles and my weekly Glorygram for more encouragement on your journey.

 

Learning the language of goodbyes with kids

Posted by | community, death, family life, finishing well, friendship, grief, Haiti, kids, parenting, relationships, Stories, transitions, world travel | 4 Comments

The original version of this article was published on my ministry blog, Gilmores for His Glory, on August 8, 2012.

________________________________________________________________________________

We have said a lot of goodbyes in our lifetime. Sometimes it feels like too many for my heart to bear. This is one of the sacrifices of building a life in two different countries and befriending people from around the world.

I still remember our first full summer in Haiti. My girls were so little. There hearts were so fragile. We kissed and cried in the Fresno airport when we said goodbye to grandparents and dear friends. Then we began our long journey to our new home in Haiti.

That summer my girls bonded with new Haitian friends and many Americans too. The kids at the orphanage next to our mission house became like siblings to them. They spent long afternoons jumping rope, eating mangoes and playing soccer. Each week a new American team would come to serve, and each Saturday we would stand in the driveway and send them off with hugs.

After they would leave, the girls and I would retreat to the bedroom. My mama instinct was to hold it together, but it wasn’t always easy. More often I would gather my little birds in my arms and we would cry together. We would lean into the loss.

Some of our closest friends live in Germany, the Philippines, Haiti, Florida and Maryland. We have cousins in Spain, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington. We visit and this necessitates goodbyes.

I used to wonder if all these goodbyes were too hard for my babies’ hearts, too hard for my heart. I strategized about ways to shield them from the sadness, the longing, and the wondering when we would meet again.

And I found myself asking God some hard questions:

Why must we always say goodbye?

Why risk loving someone deeply when parting will be inevitable?

Since that first hard summer in Haiti, my girls and I have endured many goodbyes, including perhaps the ultimate goodbye. On September 9, 2014, we stood at the bed beside my beloved husband and kissed him goodbye before he graduated to Heaven. It’s a goodbye that still sears my heart, that still makes me ache to my very core.

In this deep longing, I have dug up my answer about goodbyes.

I could draw back. I could avoid goodbyes altogether. I could keep to myself, shelter my kids from friends and family relationships. I could numb out. I could stay put, never travel, never follow my dreams.

I could turn my back on my calling.

I could keep my relationships surface so it doesn’t hurt so badly when people go away.

I could.

But is that what I really want for my life? Is that the mission? Are those the values I want to teach my kids?

Eventually, I realized that the sweet sorrow of goodbye is meaningful. I know the deepest love because I’ve risked that pain. My girls are learning to love well. Our time with people now is quality. And that is a risk worth taking.

I know Moise and Nella and Angeline and Dartiquenov and Cindy and Carla and Marcy and Jeremy deeply because I’ve said yes to the goodbyes. My kids love Gary and Rose Katia and Amanda and Esther and Corban and Hannah and Giovanni and Sophie because we’ve embraced goodbyes.

I can relate to the emotion-filled words of Paul in his letter to Timothy: “I miss you a lot, especially when I remember that last tearful good-bye, and I look forward to a joy-packed reunion.” (‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭1:3-4‬ , The Message‬‬).

When life is full of goodbyes, life is so much richer.

Now we linger over our goodbyes. They are important to us. We’ve made them into see-you-soons and meet-you-theres.

We’ve promised texts and letters and blogs and photos and Facetime dates. And when we promise, we make that extra effort follow through.

My family has learned the language of goodbye. It’s a heart language. At the close of the summer, my heart is tired, but my heart is full.

We will keep traveling, and we will keep loving, and we will keep releasing our people gently into the Father’s arms for safe keeping.

Who have you said goodbye to this summer? How do you approach this sacred releasing of people? We would love to hear from you in the comments! 

Running therapy: how grief crashes like ocean waves

Posted by | brave, courage, death, fear, finishing well, hope, running, Stories, struggle | One Comment

 

The ocean has always been my happy place. Ever since I was a little girl I have found refuge near the water’s edge. There’s something about the crash of the waves, the salty air tickling my tongue and the breathtaking sunsets that draws poetry out of me.

I have run over a diversity of terrains these last few years but Saturday was my first time running an actual race on the beach. I participated in the “Rock’n Around the Pier” Half Marathon from Morro Rock to Cayucos Pier. I found out this memorial run was started to honor runner and teacher Brian Waterbury who died of melanoma cancer in 2003. This out-and-back trail run was quite literally on the hard-packed sand along the Pacific Ocean.

We rode a charter bus with about 35 friends from our Fresno running club, The Express. When we disembarked the bus, we were greeted by the misty, cool air of the Central Coast. This was a welcome contrast to the temperatures that have soared in the triple digits this month in the Central Valley. Fog seeped over the hills and spilled out over the ocean, creating an ethereal mood at the start of this race.

I generally run with my ear buds pumping a carefully-curated playlist of music but there was no need for music when all creation was singing to me. The waves, the wind, the birds. We weaved through kelp, crunched over sand dollars, avoided crabs and leapt rivulets of water.

“Make the race your playground, not your proving ground,” says Lauren Fleshman, a former American track and field athlete. This quote holds particular weight for me. Although I am competitive by nature and training, I have come to experience running as a kind of grief therapy.

When I am running, I feel free. I dig deep and God breathes healing.

My play was interrupted Saturday by two back-to-back phone calls. One from my mom, and one from my brother. I’m not in the habit of answering the phone when running but two phone calls from family alerted me that something might be wrong. My brother let me know that my uncle had died.

Just last week we received word that my 31-year-old cousin died of a heart attack in her sleep. My mom attended memorial services last month for her dear aunt, a close friend and a former student. Our family has experienced so much loss in such a short time.

Of course, these losses stand against a backdrop of losing my husband in 2014 to melanoma cancer. When you’ve experienced this depth of loss, any future losses tend to stir up old grief wounds.

A symphony of waves crashed at my side while waves of grief crashed anew in my heart. This was grief upon grief. It’s hard not to live in fear when grief stacks up. It’s hard not to let your mind wander to the next tragedy, to get beaten down by anticipation of the next death.

Then my feet hit the soft sand. I was running but getting nowhere fast. I found myself gasping for air – the anxiety rising up to choke me. My chest burned. The salty air stung my eyes. The tears started to come. I had to slow my steps to steady my breathing again.

In through the nose, out through the mouth. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

I felt like Moses and the Israelites standing in the darkness before the Red Sea. “…and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21). God was working through my darkness to hold back this sea of grief. If He could harness the wind and these ocean waves, He could surely help me navigate these rough waters.

Then I saw my husband Shawn. He had finished the race and returned looking for me. I felt the hope rising. I found the rhythm of my feet again. I strained and squinted for that arch that marked the finish. Shawn kept telling me it was there but I couldn’t make out the black letters through the mist.

I could see the Great Rock – Morro Rock – rising glorious and majestic before me, and I ran toward it. The words of the Psalmist were suddenly on my lips: “My rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God” (Psalms 62:6-7).

Are you being drowned by waves of grief? Are you squinting through the mist for a finish line? I encourage you to run toward the Rock. The waves of grief will come and go, ebb and flow, but the Rock will provide that refuge.

Finally, I saw it. I picked up the pace. I felt my strength and fight returning. My feet kicked to the next gear. I ran for the finish line. And just beyond towered the Rock.

**Are you navigating a grief journey? Could you use some words of encouragement? I’d love to add you to my Glorygram list, which includes a weekly dose of courage and recommendations. Read more about my Grief Journey here.

Stepping into the sweet spot of ministry

Posted by | behold, compassion, death, flourishing, gifts, passion, social justice, Stories, struggle, world travel | 3 Comments

The original version of this blog was published on August 28, 2013 on my blog “Gilmores for His Glory,” which followed our family’s everyday adventures and life doing mission work in Haiti. I’m returning to these lines, this story, today as a reminder of where I have been and where God is taking me.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

I had one of those moments the other day. I was sitting in our pick-up truck headed back to our mission complex in Haiti to make dinner for my family. My dear friend and right-hand man Walquis was driving, trying desperately to avoid the assortment of chickens, goats, motorcycles, kids and huge holes in the road. A group of women from our Haitian Bead Project were in the back of the truck singing a worship song in four-part harmony. Dust swirled on the rocky road before us. I looked out across the sugar cane fields with Mount Pignon in the background. 

Then it dawned on me: I’m in the sweet spot.

Something deep inside my heart was almost singing, “I love this.”

I recalled the scene in one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire, when the runner and missionary Eric Liddell says, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”

That’s how I felt in that moment. I felt God’s pleasure. I felt this warmth rising up in my soul and spreading all over my body. I was unwrapping an amazing gift. 

I’m 36 years old, married to a man who is a courageous leader, a disciplined athlete and a faithful daddy. We are raising three girls who are growing and learning every day what it means to cross cultural lines, to live like Jesus and to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots. I have an amazing circle of friends who encourage and support me on this wild journey.

Speaking in Haiti

My “job” is spending time with women in Haiti, teaching them how to create jewelry and sharing my faith with them. The other part of my job is marketing their work and sharing their stories of transformation with friends in the United States.

Somebody pinch me. These are all realized dreams.

I just didn’t realize I was there. Somehow I forgot that these are all the things I have specifically prayed for through the years.  

How I got here

I certainly did not arrive at this place – the proverbial sweet spot – overnight.

I definitely did not follow any road map or take the path I originally planned.

Much of this journey has been hard. I’ve whined and kicked and screamed quite a bit actually. I’ve questioned the calling. I’ve devised plans to make my life more comfortable and predictable.

Our life is far from idyllic. Even as I type this I am sitting in an airplane balancing my laptop on my knees while nursing my youngest. We have been on standby living in airports from Port Au Prince to Fort Lauderdale to Dallas to Phoenix for two days. Mama’s “Mary Poppins bag” is just about empty with only a few more diapers, some stray peanuts, a plastic finger puppet and a pad of post-its (mostly scribbled on) to keep my girls busy.

I’m wearing the same pants, underwear and tank top I had on yesterday – with a different sweater to spruce it up. (My traveling fashion secret.) My kids clothes are stained with toothpaste and pizza grease. Our Haitian braids are looking frizzy, our eyes red with travel.

Most people would not call this life I live glamorous. 

Orphans in Haiti on porch

What I had to leave behind

Every day that I work in Haiti, I am reminded of what I leave behind. I leave behind my air conditioner, my hybrid cars, my nicely-fenced backyard, my iced fraps and my pillow-topped king-sized mattress. I leave behind my skinny jeans and makeup and high-speed internet.

I leave behind dreams of publishing books and sending my kids to swim lessons and Vacation Bible School with their friends.

I leave behind a predictable calendar, a consistent income.

Some days what I leave behind digs deep, leaves tread marks on my heart. I leave behind my family, my closest friends.  

I leave behind safety.

I leave behind planning and retirement.

I leave behind so much but I also gain much more than I ever imagined.

Braided

I have learned a new language. 

I have befriended people I might not otherwise.

I have participated in amazing stories of transformation of women, mothers, daughters, and grandmothers.

I have climbed to the top of mountains and looked out over vast oceans.

I have tasted a dozen varieties of island mangoes.

I have awakened before dawn to the sound of angels singing in the church just outside my window.  

I have offered a handmade dress to an orphan girl who wore it like a princess.

I have spooned a plate of rice and beans for a young man dying of hepatitis.

I have prayed with a blind woman, mother of 7. I have watched her down a glass of water, whetting her parched lips, before she returned to the streets.  

I have held a newborn baby with brown, round cheeks and chubby legs. All the while, her defying the odds.

I have gained the courage to stand up in the middle of conflict, to embrace miscommunication and racial tension.

There is so much to gain when we risk loving, when we risk leaving our comforts, when we risk saying Yes to God.

Haiti kids for MOPS

What the sweet spot in ministry is really all about

In the game of tennis, when that little neon ball hits the “sweet spot” it results in a more powerful hit – not to mention that ping noise that makes the tennis ball sing.

I’m starting to see that hitting the sweet spot in ministry is never about what I’m doing or accomplishing or how I’m impressing or leading. The sweet spot is that place where I feel wholly alive using my God-given gifts and at the same time humbly submitted to following His lead.

This summer I had a taste of it when I was given the opportunity to speak at a women’s conference. I looked out over an audience of grandmas and mamas, and I shared my story. The story of my difficult, beautiful mess. And somewhere in sharing my story I was sharing the story of Hagar and Ruth. I was sharing a story of El Roi, the God who sees the invisible, the God who comforts, the God who casts out fear with love.

I loved sharing these stories. When I shared these stories I felt His pleasure.  

This may be surprising coming from the girl whose nervous knees would knock hard against the piano during recitals, who used to take a seat in the back and used to hurl before speech class in college. Public speaking is the last career I expected to pursue. Working with women and children who reek of poverty and disease is a place I never imagined I’d find joy. The rural mountains of Haiti is the last place this city girl expected to find home.

Riding donkey in Haiti

One of my favorite parts about writing is that when we scribble something down in a journal or share it on a blog we have the ability to return to it later. My writing has always served as a kind of “Ebenezer stone” for me. In 1 Samuel 7, the Israelites must face the the Philistines in battle. Samuel cries out to God for help. God’s response is quite dramatic when He sends loud thunder to frighten the Philistines and the battle is won by the Israelites. In verse 12, it says Samuel placed a large stone between Mizpah and Shen as a landmark. He named it Ebenezer as a reminder of the ways God helped them.

As I was reading through the archives of my blog the other day, I happened upon the above story about the “sweet spot.” I remember writing this post in 2013 and marveling at the place God had me. I reflected on all the challenges he had brought our family through.

The post itself was an Ebenezer stone. I was laying down a rock and thanking God for helping me find a “sweet spot” where I could feel His presence and He was using me in my giftings.

Of course, I had no idea my husband would be diagnosed with stage four cancer a year later. I had no inkling that Ericlee would graduate to Heaven the following September. I did not know our time serving in Haiti would be cut short. I did not anticipate how I would have to grieve the loss of my Haitian community and serving in my “sweet spot” there.

Looking back, I now see how God used my time in Haiti to grow new passions, interests and gifts in me. He gave me a heart for serving women and helping them grow in their faith and knowledge of the Bible. Over time, he grew a confidence in me to speak in public settings. I know those are not things I would have pursued if God had not led me to Haiti and given me space there to practice.

In this season of life, I feel called to live and serve in Fresno, California. God has opened many new doors for me to speak in schools and churches, for me to share my grief journey with women’s groups, and publish books for children.

I’m returning to Haiti at the end of this month to speak at that same women’s conference in Pignon, Haiti. This time I’ll be sharing a new set of stories of how God has proved faithful to me even in the death of my husband, the grief journey, and the redemption of my family.

I believe there are times when we will feel like we are in the “sweet spot,” when we will feel wholly alive as we help others flourish. It’s important to mark these moments. It’s also important to realize that these moments may just be God cultivating our seeds to help us bloom in a new place and a new calling in the future.

How sweet it is.

10 creative ways to honor a loved one’s memory (and clean out the garage)

Posted by | cooking, creativity, death, family life, gifts, grief, hope, Pinterest, Stories, transitions | 3 Comments

Have you recently lost a loved one? Do you know someone who has? Perhaps one of the biggest challenges after the funeral is figuring out what to do with all the stuff left behind. Last week I posted a blog about “Sorting through a loved one’s treasures.” I shared my personal story of sorting through my late husband’s belongings after his death. That sorting was much harder than I anticipated mostly because I had to make so many difficult decisions about what to keep and what to give away or donate.

While it was easy for me to purge my own excess clothes and my kids’ toys, it was excruciatingly hard to decide what things of my husband’s to pass on. Should I keep his T-shirts, his shoes, his journals? What about his G.I. Joe collection, his CrossFit equipment, his childhood photo albums? And all those boxes of books from his days teaching and coaching? What would be meaningful for my girls to have in our new home? What would we want in the future? My mind swirled with a thousand questions and angles to look at each piece.

Here’s the reality: I couldn’t keep everything.

Before moving to our new house, I did the bulk of the sorting. I cried a lot of tears. I shared a lot of items with family and friends. By the end of that month of sorting, I was exhausted physically and emotionally. The final items I packed up into about 10 boxes and brought them with me.

I have a confession. Those boxes are still sitting in my garage and we can’t park my car in there quite yet. It’s a work-in-progress. I’m giving myself grace today as the courage rises in me to tackle the sorting again soon.

As promised, this week I’m returning with some practical and creative ideas on how to preserve a loved one’s memory without having to put up with a garage full of stuff. There are hundreds of ideas out there if you search Google or Pinterest. This is a specially-curated list of unique ideas I completed or plan to create in the future.

If you know someone grieving the loss of a loved one, these also could serve as meaningful gifts you could help make or buy.

  1. Make a photo memory book. My husband loved photos. He had albums from holidays, sports events, memorable trips and teams he coached. Photos are difficult to throw away but albums also take up a lot of space. One idea is to scan some favorites and put them into a digital memory book. Think of it as a “Best of” album. I love to use Shutterfly or Picaboo. Once the photos are uploaded to one of these sites, you can choose your own layouts or have the program assemble the book using premade templates. This is one way to consolidate and preserve photos without having to store a lot of different albums. You can view the book online or order a printed copy.
  2.  

  3. Frame a recipe or letter. Recipes are not just instructions on how to make something. They also tell a story about the person who made the food. If your loved one left behind recipe cards in their handwriting, you might consider framing it as art for your kitchen. You can do the same with a special letter or card. This is a precious way to showcase your loved one’s handwriting. You never know when you might want Grandma’s secret sauce recipe or that favorite cookie recipe your mom made at Christmas.
  4.  

  5. Sew a Memory Pillow. I asked a friend of mine who likes to sew to help me make these special pillows using a pattern we found. You can take button-down shirts your loved one left behind and cut them to make into pillow cases. We each selected one of my husband’s favorite shirts. My friend sewed them and we slipped pillow forms inside. My girls especially loved this because the memory pillows are something to hold and hug when they miss Daddy. Some people put special tags on the pillows. We love the ones that say, “This is a shirt I used to wear. Whenever you hold it, I am there.”
  6.  

     

  7. Decorate with books. My husband had a large collection of books and combined with my own collection it was way too much for our new home. A recent trend in home decorating is the use of old books. I got this idea to select some of my husband’s special books like his Bible, favorite devotionals or even coaching books to stack around our home for people to peruse. Books tell a story of a person’s interests and loves. If you prefer not to have fingers staining the pages of the books, you might tie them together with raffia or twine and stack them on the mantel, place them in a vintage bird cage or in a glass case.
  8.  

  9. Download pictures and documents to a drive. We had pictures and videos my husband took stored on all different devices. One of my goals is to consolidate all these digital images and even documents written by my husband on to one hard drive or thumb drive. It might not sound very aesthetic but I know these may be important in the future as I am trying to share my husband’s legacy with my daughters and perhaps grandchildren. The devices can be disposed of or sold and the treasured files will be preserved.
  10.  

  11. Piece together a T-shirt quilt. My husband was an athlete and he had quite a collection of T-shirts from special races and sports events. As a gift, his mom had a T-shirt quilt made using his favorite T-shirts. This is something that can be used daily, or displayed, or even passed down to future generations as a memory of his athletic achievements.
  12.  

  13. Assemble a memory box. This is a great project to do with little ones. You can buy a wooden box, use a small vintage suitcase or even a shoe box to create your memory box. Some people decorate the outside of the box with the loved one’s name or paint it a favorite color. The box can be filled with special items like photographs, keepsakes like a yo-yo, a medal, jewelry, a ticket stub, a favorite pen or cologne. I hope to work on this with my daughters so they each have some things that will remind them of their dad and time they had together.
  14. Order a piece of handwriting jewelry. I recently ran across this idea of taking something handwritten by a loved one and making it into jewelry. A quick search for “handwriting jewelry” on Etsy, for example, results in a lot of options of vendors who can artfully complete this project for you. I think these would make beautiful gifts with a message “written” by that loved one or even their signature.
  15.  

  16. Share the wealth. Many people have collections of certain items from china to figurines to baseball cards to other items. If you don’t want to keep an entire collection, you might select a few items and then divvy up the collection to family members who can display them or appreciate them in their own way. For example, my husband had a large collection of Christmas ornaments. Our first Christmas without him we invited over some close friends to help decorate our tree. We let all of the kids select an ornament to take home to remind them of my husband. I can still see the delight on the little boys’ faces as they held tightly to their Superman, G.I. Joe, Spiderman, Luke Skywalker and other ornaments.
  17.  

  18. Create a time capsule. As mentioned in my article last week, there were some items left behind by my husband that I just couldn’t decide whether or not to save. Give yourself a gift in the future. Pack these things into a box labeled with your loved one’s name and the words “time capsule.” You might have more energy at a later date to make those kinds of decisions and discover then something you really wanted to keep. This was a reminder I didn’t have to complete all the sorting in one season. It was very freeing for me.

 

Do you have more creative ideas you have seen or used to preserve a loved ones things without filling up your whole garage or storage unit? I would love to hear about them. Please leave a comment below or feel free to come back and share if one of these 10 suggestions works for you!

Last month I did a series on “Navigating Grief When Life Moves Forward.” In case you missed it, I encourage you to check out some of the articles or share with a friend who is grieving:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“?

I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

Left behind: Sorting through a loved one’s treasures

Posted by | community, death, finishing well, grief, Stories, transitions | 9 Comments

 

I pull in the driveway after picking up the kids from school. They’re giggling and talking in the back seat. I hit the button for the garage door. My girls emerge from the car with arms full of backpacks, art projects and library books. I somehow balance my own laptop, this morning’s smoothie cup, packages from the mailbox and my youngest girl’s lunch bag.

The girls race inside but I hang back. I walk slowly through the garage past the rows of boxes, the bikes and the stacks of framed pictures. My heart trembles again with a mix of shame and heaviness. I feel shame that we still have all this stuff in our garage despite moving here more than a year and a half ago. The heaviness hangs stagnant in the air because I don’t really want to face the task of sorting again.

I live in one of those neighborhoods where most people pull into their pristine garages with polished concrete floors. Meanwhile, we have a garage full of junk. At least that’s what I imagine people thinking. Someone driving by would never know there are treasures in those boxes, remnants and keepsakes of another life, the traces of a husband and daddy gone to Heaven too soon.

This is the remainder. The stuff left behind.

My husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer in May 2014. Our little rental on Harrison Street was the hub for family and community gatherings. We had an amazing backyard where I hosted my weekly workout group, volunteer meetings for the non-profit we ran and countless play dates. That summer, our home morphed into a medical care facility. Our master bedroom transformed into a hospital room, a visitor center, a resting place.

My husband graduated to Heaven less than four months after his diagnosis. I knew I couldn’t stay in that house but I needed time to sort through the grief, the memories and the stuff we had accumulated together over the years.

A little more than a year later, I found myself signing the papers for a new home across town near our favorite regional park. I put my name on stacks of paperwork – each page reminding me that I was indeed a widow stepping into a new life without my beloved. Was it any coincidence that the name of the man selling the house to us had the same rare name as my husband? Tears streamed down my face as I signed my name next to his on all those papers. No mistake. No accident. I was reminded of God’s perfect and wild provision for the girls and me.

After signing the papers, I went home and got to work. It was time to begin sorting.

I didn’t anticipate how difficult this part would be. Moving is hard at the base level. It’s exhausting to pack up your life when life is still moving forward. Whether you are married, have kids, or are single, it takes time to categorize and put things in boxes. In my move from the Harrison house, I discovered the work and emotions are magnified when grief is tangled in the process.

I tried my best to simplify things. I organized things in three rough categories: stuff I wanted to keep, stuff I wanted to share with others, and stuff I wanted to donate. Of course, the process was much more complicated than I expected. While it was easy for me to give away my own excess clothes and the kids’ toys, it was excruciatingly hard to decide what things of my husband’s to give away. Should I keep his shirts, his shoes, his journals, his G.I. Joe collection, his books, his CrossFit equipment, his childhood photo albums? What would be meaningful for my girls’ to have? What would we want in the future? My mind swirled with a thousand questions and angles to look at each piece.

I had about a month to prepare for our move. I quickly discovered I needed to tackle it in chunks. It was too heavy for my heart to bear at once – not to mention parenting three kiddos and sorting through their stuff at the same time. Some days I had energy to get the job done. Other days I was paralyzed by the decisions in front of me.

I am especially grateful for a few dear friends who came to help me wade through the hard decisions. One friend came to help me sort through his office. We made a box for keepsakes and items with sentimental value. We shared some tears. He also helped me purge and shred items that I didn’t need anymore. The moral support was a priceless gift.

Another friend came to help me in the final days before the big move. She saw the weight I was carrying as I agonized over what to keep for my girls for the future. My friend grabbed a large box and handed me a sharpie. She instructed me to write the words “Daddy Time Capsule” on the side and urged me to throw in any last items. “You can save these for the girls and just sort through them in the future,” she told me. I sighed relief.

These were just the words I needed.

Some days I beat myself up because I couldn’t get through the sorting faster. Now I look back and realize how important it was to take time. It was a journey not just of the hands, but of the heart as well. I had lived 11 years with my man. It wasn’t a season to be purged in a day.

And I’ve discovered this is how grief is. It’s a multi-layered process that takes place over time. I might try to just pull in the driveway, close the garage door and move on with my life, but three years later the memories are still vivid. I have to give myself grace to peel back layer by layer to sort through box upon box.

I write today to encourage those of you who are facing the difficult work of sorting through a loved one’s things. First, I urge you to carve out time for this task. There are circumstances that require a quick move but if you can help it at all give yourself time. Schedule days when you can move through the memories. Don’t do it all at once. Invite a friend or family member to help you.

And finally, give yourself grace because in the sorting there will be grieving. And that is important work too.

 

 

Next week I’ll be sharing some practical and creative ideas to preserve items and honor the legacy of a loved one who has died.  Comment below if you have any stories or tips on how you sorted through your loved one’s stuff. What did you keep? What did you pass on? Where do you keep the most treasured items?  

Last month I did a series on “Navigating Grief When Life Moves Forward.” In case you missed it, I encourage you to check out some of the articles or share with a friend who is grieving:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“?

I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

A conversation about “Grieving Together” on the Kindred Mom podcast

Posted by | behold, community, compassion, death, family life, flourishing, grief, hope, kids, relationships, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized, writing | No Comments

 

My new friend Emily Allen interviewed me a few weeks ago for her Kindred Mom podcast. I’m excited to announce the podcast just went live. I hope you will tune in to hear our conversation. I’m chatting with Emily about navigating grief with my kids after their dad died in 2014. She asked some really sensitive and insightful questions. In the podcast, you will learn more about my story, some tangible ways our community came alongside us in our grief, and the backstory behind my children’s picture book, Cora Cooks Pancit.

This podcast conversation was inspired by an essay I originally wrote for the Kindred Mom blog called “Grieving Together.” I hope this will encourage mamas and others who might be navigating grief with littles. It can be hard and exhausting work. Believe me, I know. That’s why I’m passionate about sharing on this topic to walk with others.

In the podcast, I mention a free resource I developed sharing tips on how to navigate grief with kids. The resource includes encouragement for parents, practical ideas on how to honor a loved one after death, and a list of books and movies I’ve used with my girls to stimulate conversation on our grief journey.

Listen to the podcast here or paste this link into your browser:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/kindred-mom-podcast/id1236598848?mt=2&i=1000385429230

Last month I did a series on “Navigating Grief When Life Moves Forward.” In case you missed it, I encourage you to check out some of the articles or share with a friend who is grieving:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“?

I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

It takes a village: Letter to all the mamas who have journeyed with me

Posted by | community, death, family life, flourishing, friendship, grief, hope, kids, laughter, Personal Stories, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

Dear Mama Friends,

I think you know who you are. You are the ones who have walked with me over the last decade on this wild journey called mothering. You are my people, my kindred spirits, my mother blessings.

You are the ones who called me to encourage me when the breastfeeding was hard and the baby was losing weight. You are the ones who brought me hot meals and chocolate when I was adjusting to the new normal. You are the ones who ventured out on field trips and play dates to the zoo, the museum, and the park.

You are the mamas at Borders bookstore that day when our oldest kiddos were just babes. We were such a beautiful, motley crew of mamas from many cultures and many parts of the city, trying to find our footing on this mother journey. We were nursing and laughing through our insecurities and learning from each other. We were so thirsty for friendship and someone to say, “Yes, me too.”

And that was only the beginning.

You are the one who stood in the kitchen with me and tried out new recipes when our littles were racing through the house. You and I strolled through the farmer’s market and discovered fresh vegetables to offer up to our families in creative ways.

You are the ones who came every week to work out in my backyard and met me in the chaos. We sweated, we laughed, we prayed. You provided accountability and encouragement when I needed it most.

You are the grandma who takes her shopping and teaches her to love the stories of the Bible just like her daddy in Heaven did.

You are the Nana who helps my little girl learn to read, who piques her interest in poetry and science experiments. You are the one who invites her into the kitchen to measure and pour and lick sticky fingers.

You are the new grandma who takes special care to buy the perfect gifts, who praises their energy, and speaks life with words of encouragement. You have welcomed me into the fold so quickly and made me a daughter.

You are the friend who taught me to embrace the unique personalities of all three of my girls, to nurture their talents and weather the challenges they face.

You showed me what it looked like to advocate for your boy when he had special needs. You spoke up for all of us – for your child and mine. You walked the line with grace.

For this, I am grateful.

When I met you years before when we were single girls with a heart for traveling the world, I never imagined what our mother journey would look like. You celebrated with me through pregnancies and baby showers even when your own arms were empty.

We cried together when Mother’s Day was hard for you, when the questions came and the days grew long. And I was there when you arrived home on that airplane from halfway across the world with your baby boy, and when you got that call came from the hospital that another baby boy was born. I love these boys like my own girls now because that’s what mothering together looks like.

I still get choked up when I think about the long summer days three years ago when you rushed in to help me mother when my husband was battling cancer.

You are the mothers who came to fold my laundry on the big red couch, to wash our endless dirty dishes, and pick lice out of my daughters’ hair. You are the mothers who rubbed my shoulders and read me the Psalms to strengthen me so I could go back in that room to care for my dying husband.

You are the mamas who helped pick up my kids from school and read them books before bed. You are the mamas who passed your own kids off to tired husbands so you could be with my family in our time of crisis.

You are the ones who grocery shopped, delivered meals and gave gift cards months after he was gone. You are the widow-mamas who sat with me on Sunday afternoons and cried with me about how hard it was to move forward without our teammates.

You are the one who came every week for tacos and dance parties when I needed a friend. You were that voice, that reminder that God’s grace would cover me even as I learned to solo parent.

I have not forgotten. I will not forget the way you gifted us your presence.

You are the ones who invited me to your table to pray, weep and dream about a new future. You are the ones who urged me to keep writing and preaching my story even when it felt hard.

You lifted me with that late-night text when I was weary. You told me on our early-morning runs that I better keep following my passion, my convictions to the finish line. You stood long hours with me at the track and on the soccer field cheering our big kids through disappointment and victory.

You are the mamas who visited me in the hospital, who sat with me watching the sun set over ocean waves, who stood with me by the grave, who clinked glasses at our wedding and celebrated a new marriage.

Mothering should not be a solo journey. It should be a community dance. A place where we band together and hold each other’s hands and laugh long and lift each other up. We might have to stop once in a while to wipe a snotty nose or take that one to the bathroom, but we are in this mothering thing together.

I am thankful for the all the women in my life who have joined me for this glorious dance. And I am especially grateful for you.

 

**Would you like some encouragement for your weary soul? Sign up for my weekly Glorygram where I share personal stories, recommendations and recipes just for mamas!

Farewell, old friend: When forty is the new thirty

Posted by | behold, brave, community, courage, creativity, death, family life, finishing well, flourishing, friendship, gifts, grief, hope, individuality, inspirational, kids, laughter, One Word, parenting, passion, relationships, rest, Stories, transitions | 4 Comments

 

This week I said goodbye to a good friend. She’s the friend who has walked with me through some of my greatest joys – the birth of two of my baby girls, finding my sweet spot in ministry, and learning a new language. She’s gone with me to book signings and baby showers. We have laughed until our bellies ached and sang together at the top of our lungs.

She’s also that friend who journeyed with me through the darkest days. She was there when he lost his job and Christmas was just around the corner. She was there when we were just scraping by, trying to raise a family. She was there when we received his cancer diagnosis. She stood with me by the graveside and sat by me when I wept and wailed my “whys” and “how comes” to God and the stars.

She’s been a faithful friend. She’s taught me how to love my body and stand firm in my convictions. She’s helped me to feel confident standing on a stage and mothering my three unique children. She’s the one who taught me how to let go of pretense and perfection.

Farewell, Thirties. Oh, how I will miss you.

I have a new friend now. I don’t like to replace people but it’s kind of turning out that way. Last Saturday we toasted my new friend with a full house and music spilling into our yard on Backer Avenue. We served up Indian food and delectable desserts. And my new friend swept into my life with a new haircut and a promise of new adventures to come.

Some people have jokingly called her my “mid-life friend.” I know better. I know she could be gone tomorrow.

She told me we have a blank canvas before us and handed me a paint brush. I pulled a new painter’s palette and basket of paints from that gift bag she brought. I don’t know how she knew I needed this. It’s like she read my journal or eavesdropped on my early-morning, whispered prayers.

“It’s time,” she said.

“Time for what?” I quizzed.

But I knew. I knew she was saying it’s time to remake myself.

It’s time to embrace all my old friend taught me and let go of the mistakes we made together. It’s time to stop worrying about pleasing people and start sharing this gorgeous glory story God has given me.

It’s time to move forward.

It’s time to give myself permission to rediscover, to explore, to celebrate, to rest and to remake me.

My new friend said I can run marathons, travel to new lands, jump into a new career, discover new adventures with my girls, dance wild and free with my new husband, and every once in a while linger over the memories of another life, another decade.

Hello, Forties. It’s so very good to meet you.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” ~Revelation 21:5

 

 

Would you like to read more about what I learned in my thirties decade?

Check out these blogs: 

Learning to flourish through the seasons

Personal Sabbath: How training for a marathon taught me to rest

Navigating Grief: Soaring Above the Turbulence

Posted by | behold, death, grief, hope, Stories, struggle | 3 Comments

 

By Dorina Lazo Gilmore

I am not one for window seats. As much as I love to travel, my Achilles heal has always been motion sickness. Let’s just say I always know the location of the nearest barf bag. Sitting near the window doesn’t usually help with that affliction.

But there I was, peering out the airplane window with such delight. I could not help but pause in wonder of the sapphire sky and the feathery clouds below us. My hubby squeezed my hand. You would have thought I was a kid on a ride at Disneyland.

Our destination was even better: the Big Island of Hawaii.

Shawn knows my heart for travel. He surprised me with a 5-day trip using airline miles to celebrate our first anniversary in Kona. This was a big deal for me. We had contemplated going to Hawaii for our honeymoon but it was the place I enjoyed my first honeymoon with my late husband Ericlee. A year before I wasn’t quite ready to lean into the joy and the pain of that place. I needed a new and different kind of adventure.

Now I felt eager to make new memories with Shawn. I was one year stronger. That blue sky outside the window beckoned me. The promise of ocean waves and time for rest with my love allured me.

Near the end of that flight, the tray table in front of me began to shake. Passengers grabbed for their plastic cups with jiggling ice cubes and devices sliding into their laps. The captain quickly came on over the speaker and warned us we were flying through clouds and there was a long spell of turbulence ahead. My heart sunk. My stomach dropped. I closed my eyes and tried to relax.

Those clouds that appear so beautiful when you are flying above them or looking up from the ground actually cause turbulence when you get too close. I have discovered this is the way it is with grief as well. Turbulence, you see, is normal on flights in the same way grief is an integral part of the flight of our lives.

Grief does not interrupt life. Grief is life. At some point, in some way, we will experience loss. This month we have traversed many stories of grief through my friends who have contributed to this series on “Navigating Grief As Life Moves Forward.” I have learned from these stories that every journey is unique but also holds threads of familiarity to my own story of loss. Whether losing a spouse, a grandparent, a child or a mother, there is turbulence. Even in moving away from a place or a ministry we love, there is uncertainty. There is longing for something we can never quite recover here on earth.

I have survived three Aprils now – the hardest month of my year – brimming with his birthday, our wedding anniversary, and Track and Field season full of memories of coaching together through the years. April is also a month of anticipation. I remember the uncertainty we felt three years ago. I remember the stage four cancer diagnosis that came in May.

Grief creates layers of depth, compassion and grit in us. Grief forever colors the way we see the world. Grief knows the contrast of suffering and grace. Grief can also give us a special lens to see God’s glory in a more vibrant and nuanced way.

From a distance, I can see the beauty in the storm. I can trace God’s glory lighting the edges of the clouds of my life. And certainly, my plane can dip and dive through the clouds but I choose to soar higher.

I love the example of the eagle. This unique and powerful bird flies higher than most birds. The eagle uses a soaring method of flying. She spreads her long, rectangular wings for hours and only beats those wings occasionally, letting the thermals of hot air carry her to great heights. Eagles actually lean into storms and high winds to soar higher and farther.

If you are navigating grief today, I want you to know you are designed to soar. This does not mean avoiding turbulence or running from the pain of grief. Those are important parts of the journey. It does mean choosing to fly higher. It means focusing our eyes on Heaven and the Glory to come. It means renewing our hope daily in the One who strengthens us and gives us wings.

Isaiah 40:31. “…those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

 

Don’t miss the other articles in this “Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward” series. Feel free to SHARE with a friend who might need these words of encouragement.

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“? I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

Navigating Grief: When you have experienced pregnancy loss

Posted by | death, family life, grief, Guest blogger, hope, kids, parenting, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle, transitions | One Comment

 

By Sharon McKeeman

The wound remains.

Time has passed, is passing still, and I hold our long, awaited baby. The pain of the full-term stillbirth and two miscarriages has dulled, but three of my seven children are not with me. The pieces will never be put back together here on earth.

And now, as I hold this newborn bundle growing into a healthy, wiggling child my arms remember the shape of what I have lost. Grief has become tangible, abstract mourning swallowed up by tiny breaths upon my neck, grasping fingers and curling toes.

This is a time of joy—I relish it. But when I stare at her button nose and deep blue eyes, I also see the son I held unbreathing. Her eight pounds curled in my arms remind me of his nine, and I cry behind closed doors because I can’t bring back my child.

How do I tell of this? When everyone hugs and rejoices, how do I say that this precious little life is one more unexpected turn on my journey with grief? It is hard to navigate life as well as death, joy as well as sorrow.

The wound will always remain.

There is no new child that will replace the ones I have lost. There is no wholeness aside from Christ in this life. The only healing is in the One who blesses the brokenhearted, but even His scars remain. My mind presses into His nail torn hands and feels His tears upon my cheek. I take one step and then the next, breathing gratitude for every minute here and every loved one held. Still, I hold space for the precious little ones I cannot reach. I have no choice; the journey is a long one. The grief will not fall fully silent until we meet again.

This is my secret—how holding a new life brings healing, but also triggers memories and longing. I do not tell all the rejoicing onlookers, for fear they will think me ungrateful. Maybe they would understand. One thing I know, the grandmother with five of her own and more grandbabies on the way still drops tears like rain when she tells me of the two she lost.

We are spirit souls.

Holding, loving, ever reaching out.

And when a piece is cut away, the wound stays with us—a blessing, a message—a sign of just how deep our capacity to love, and how real the one we wait for is.

 

Sharon McKeeman is a homeschooling mama to three sons and a daughter here on earth, and three precious children in heaven. She is a Midwestern girl at heart who now lives with her family on the sunny beaches of Southern California. She is an author, educator, speaker, and photographer who shares more of her story as @sharonmckeeman on Instagram and at www.sharonmckeeman.com where you will find her blog, Writing in the Dust, as well as her newsletter, Mourning into Joy, which is filled with encouragement and resources for navigating pregnancy loss with hope.

 

Don’t miss the other articles in this “Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward” series. Feel free to SHARE with a friend who might need these words of encouragement.

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids 

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

 

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“? I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

Navigating Grief: When you are the caregiver

Posted by | death, grief, hope, self-care, serve, Stories, struggle | No Comments

 

Dawn crept through our bedroom window. I hauled myself out of bed and stumbled down to the kitchen. I ran the water in the sink and began to scrub carrots for his morning juice. As the water flowed, my own hot tears streamed down my face.

I wept, recalling the harrowing night before – his moaning, his struggle to breathe, and my own fear that if I fell asleep I might wake and he would be gone. I wept with heavy shoulders because I was staring down another day of serving when I was already past my breaking point. I whispered a desperate prayer to God to give me a seed of courage.

Somehow I walked back to the bedside of my husband to offer him the gift of hope. This went on for days and weeks. The memories are vivid for me even three years later. This is the work of the caregiver. This work is marked by physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. For some, the work lasts for years.

It is hard and holy work.

I now know the most difficult job I have ever faced is being a caregiver for my husband when he was diagnosed with cancer at age 40. I also would not trade that time with him for anything. It was my privilege to usher my husband to the throne of God.

Battling guilt

Caregivers often battle guilt. As I watched my husband’s health decline and the weight fall off his once-athletic body, I felt guilty.

Why him? Why not me? What had we done wrong?

I secretly longed for respite. I pined for time away from the house. I needed a break from the heaviness of it all. I also had a hard time accepting the relief when it came.

One weekend, my husband’s best friend offered to come stay with him and rallied some of his best college buddies to come visit. I was slated to take a group of mom leaders from my church to a one-day conference. I desperately needed the time but I was filled with such anxiety and guilt about leaving my husband behind. I knew he was in good hands, but it was difficult to step away.

If any of you have ever cared for someone with a terminal disease, you know what I’m talking about. Death seems to lurk around every corner. There’s no time for self-care when someone you love is suffering.

Now I know that’s not true. It’s pertinent that caregivers take breaks. We cannot care for others well when we are depleted of energy ourselves, when we don’t feel in our right mind.

Is it any wonder that the conference I attended that Saturday was entirely devoted to supporting people in times of crisis? Every word, every message, every song penetrated my soul.

Diving into anticipatory grief

I needed that time away to breathe, to process and to grieve.

I grieved the way things once were. I grieved the beautiful memories we had made and the adventures we chased in our life together. I grieved dreams of growing old together. I grieved a life my three young daughters would face without their beloved Daddy.

I understand now I was experiencing anticipatory grief. People rarely talk about anticipatory grief, but it’s the kind of grief that helps us to process the impending death of a loved one. Those days of grief were horrible, but they were doing important work in my heart. They enabled me to release my husband when the time came.

My mother-in-law told me it would happen. She told me I would feel the shift in my heart. For weeks, I didn’t want to believe it. I thought acknowledging death would somehow be giving up hope.

She was right.

One day my prayers changed. For months, I prayed fervently for the miracle of healing. I believed that my God who raised Lazarus from the dead could also revive my Ericlee. I still believe that. I also remember that one day my prayers became pleas for mercy. I begged God to take him home. I just wanted the suffering to stop.

I was able to whisper in my husband’s ear that we would be ok. Our community would care for the girls and me. He was free to go on to Glory. That day I gave him wings.

Pivoting away from haunting memories

Perhaps the most challenging part of grief when you were the caregiver is wading through the haunting memories. I watched my husband’s face become gaunt. I saw the tumor grow. I followed the bumps appearing all over his body as the disease spread. I heard the strain in his breathing as the cancer invaded his lungs near the end.

Try as I may, I can’t wipe away these memories.

I also have some sweet memories of serving him. I remember one Sunday when we had friends coming to visit I found myself fumbling through the bathroom drawer for his toothbrush. All the supplements, medicines and juices were staining his teeth. At the time, it felt silly – maybe even obsessive of me – but I wanted him to have clean teeth.

There was so little I could do at that point that brushing his teeth felt important. Looking back, that little act of service has become a savored memory. Did it matter that he had clean teeth? No. Would perfectly brushed teeth save him from death? No. It mattered to me because it was one of my last chances to give my man the gift of dignity.

It mattered to me because I saw the look of love in his hazel eyes when he could not even speak words of gratitude.

If you are caring for someone today who is battling a disease or nearing death, you are not alone. In the midst of it, you may not feel like it’s a privilege to stand by someone’s death bed, but it is. Caregiving is important work. It’s hard, beautiful, and sacred work.

 

 

 

Have you missed the other articles in our Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward series? Check them out here:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

 When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids 

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma arise

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“? I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope. Let’s connect!