five minute Friday, grief, writing

Five-Minute Friday: Heal.

The girls got shots this week.

Their band-aids were pink camouflage and yellow crayon, but that didn’t make them easier to remove. Lucy, who is curious about blood and bodies, peeled hers gradually, imperceptibly, during library story time and when she was supposed to be setting the table, over the course of days, and finally peeled them all the way off.

Nora, though, has a strong memory for pain. Her legs hurt already. She knew it was going to hurt more, and she refused to let anyone touch the band-aids. “They’ll come off when they’re ready,” she declared, and her fierce eyes dared anyone to disagree. Even when one band-aid end caught on her skirt and pulled away, she defied anyone to help her pull it off and left the loose end flapping as she went about her life.

I know how she feels.

Last weekend, I had the chance to sit with other women who tell the truth and take some time to reflect on writing. Over tea and talk, I processed some of why I haven’t written much here over the last year. Next month will be a year since we lost my Gramp, closely followed by Gram, and then Grandmother in the summer. The tangled feelings seemed too complicated to write, but I couldn’t write anything else, either.

Being a writer who isn’t writing is like stuffing socks into a drawer that’s already overstuffed. I keep cramming them in there, even though it’s full to bursting, even though it won’t open all the way, even though I know that more socks will make the problem harder to fix later. I can’t afford the time or the patience or the fortitude it takes to open the drawer and set it right, so I shove a few more into the front and slam it shut until later.

“Later” is not some magical moment when we suddenly have what we need.
“Later” is just when we decide to act with what we have and rely on God for the rest.

Later, for me, is now.

It won’t be easy to write my way through what feels like a mountain of unprocessed grief, but I can’t afford to wait any longer. I’m pulling off the band-aid. I need to heal.

For more five minute reflections on healing, check out Heading Home.
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gram, grief, surviving

On loss and learning to go on

The sun came up here today.

This seems unremarkable, maybe, except that I almost didn’t expect it to rise.

It was a long night, every half hour or so punctuated with a gurgly wail or a congested whimper- “Mama!”- and my own body, reluctant to rise, dragging itself against my will to respond.

And every time I pulled myself from bed, my heart remembered that Gram is still gone.

She died on Monday morning. She’s not here any more. Yes, I know all the things about how she’s no longer suffering, and she’s with her mother now, and she can see her husband again, and her body and mind are whole and she’s with Jesus…but it still hurts.

Somehow, in spite of this loss that feels like it casts a shadow over everything in my whole life, I have to keep going. There is schoolwork, and Sam needs a haircut before we leave in three hours. I have to pack everyone’s funeral clothes, and we have to make the quickest trip in history because the Snowpocalypse is coming tomorrow (and most Virginians cannot drive in snow).

And Felix is sick.

Sick babies are the saddest thing of all, because they don’t understand why they feel so bad. They don’t know how to blow their noses, and they don’t know that taking medicine and lukewarm baths and squirting saline up their noses will make them feel better in the long run. They look up pitifully at us and cry and wonder why we’re torturing them.

And when Felix looked up at me with red-rimmed eyes and a drippy nose and moaned, “Sad. I sad. Nose sad!” my own eyes filled up with tears again.

Everyone needs me today, and I feel like I have nothing to give them but sighs and tears.

I’m not sure how Gram did it with four children of her own. She said, “Mercy!” a lot. I find myself borrowing it pretty often these days, like when Sam fell off the counter this morning trying to make his own toast. Or when Lucy needed Tylenol for a headache and it made Nora feel less special. Or when Nora subsequently refused to allow Lucy’s slice of bread to share the toaster with her own.

Somehow, Gram always seemed to be able to give everyone just what was needed…even Gramp, especially Gramp, even when he was grumpy and grouchy and kind of ungrateful for it. She gave him his jacket or some coffee or some headache powder. She gave him her generosity and kindness and the benefit of the doubt and, and she told everyone how he “never complained” about his aches and pains (even though he really complained pretty often).

She’s the one who never complained.
She did roll her eyes a lot.
I do that, too. I have done it at least seven times already today.

It’s only 8:30. Before we go to bed, we will be five hours from here at my mom’s house having already survived Gram’s visitation at the funeral home. It feels like a long day already.

Please pray for us, will you? And if there’s something I can pray for you, if you have an intention I could remember this weekend, would you share it with me, please?

Thanks.

grief, Uncategorized

Pet Cemetery, first installment.

There’s a distinct crunch as the grass gives way under the shovel. It hasn’t rained in who knows how long, and the red clay under the sycamore doesn’t yield easily. A determined boot pushes down until the ground cracks and crumbles, and shovelfuls of dirt are piled sloppily to the side, dirt clogs tumbling down and rolling into the hole as it deepens.

It’s our first little funeral.

Death leaves an indelible mark on us, I think…and when your first experience with it happens in early childhood, you’re never the same as other kids. I always felt different, like I knew something they didn’t- like a dead father made me visibly other in a lineup of my peers. The first time I went on a date with George and we sat and looked at the stars and compared our sticking-out wristbones and our dead fathers, I knew it was going to be real love, because I was known and I didn’t have to explain. We could both see the thestrals.

Maybe our early losses made us paranoid. We can’t read him that book- the child’s father dies in it! That movie is too scary- the parents die at the beginning! Somehow, if you know that parents really do die, if your own parent died at the beginning of your own real life, watching a cartoon fish lose his parents is just too much.

Maybe Sam wouldn’t have been anxious about it.

I was, anyway.

So I hate this for him, I hate it so much. The crushing ache in my chest and the hot tears on my face might be more about me than about him, but I tell myself that my grief is empathy. It’s not fair, I think, even though he hasn’t said those words yet. We tell him we’re sorry for his loss, that we know how sad he is, that it’s okay to be as sad as he is for as long as he needs to be and that one day he’ll feel better. He wants to have a funeral, so we do, each of us saying a few words about his hermit crab and its short life with our family, and we cry.

Sam places the grave marker, carefully lettered in purple Sharpie. Requiem in pace. Adventure the Crab. September 5, 2015.

The grave is small, and the ground under the tree hardly looks any different when we’re done, but the hole in my heart is real and the sorrow is unrelenting. Sam’s sobs shake his shoulders and I cry with him, my tears wetting his t-shirt. He’s still small enough to curl up in my lap. He’s still small enough that I think for a minute he can’t bear this loss.

And then I take a deep breath and think on purpose about my own loss. I poke it with my finger to see if it still hurts. I bring up the pictures in my mind and hold them there, flipping through the memories and allowing the feelings to run down from the top of my head down my neck and across my shoulders, the way we used to do with that old playground game-  

Crack an egg on your head, let the yolk run down.

Concentrate.

Concentrate on what I’m saying.

Concentrate on how little I was when my dad went away and never came back and how his chair was empty for every single family dinner from that night on and will be, world without end, amen.

 

I do it. It still hurts. And I realize Sam will be fine.

 

We all will. No matter how big a hole grief leaves in us, we’ll be fine, because we were made to perservere. We go on living. We survive even the hardest, darkest, worst experiences that threaten to crush our souls. We go on, because that’s what everyone does.

 

When someone dies, we don’t lie down and die with them.

 

And when we aren’t fine, we’ll have each other to lean on.

grief, quilts of valor, reflection

Stitching in honor of sacrifice

This may not have been the best week to decide to do a blog post every day, since it is also the week I am stitching for my life to finish my square for the Quilts of Valor project.

Last month, Jenna from Call Her Happy posted a vlog all about hand embroidery. It started a wave of interest with other bloggers. In my typical “sure, I’d love to take on something else” style, I thought, “Hey, that looks fun! I’d like a cool gallon-size ziplock bag full of needles and thread to call my own. And why don’t I know how to embroider? I should learn.” Then Cari from Clan Donaldson took things a step further by introducing the embroidery-along Quilts of Valor project. In no time, a group of bloggers and otherwise crafty people had joined together to embroider squares for a quilt for this worthy organization. Cari’s mom will put the quilt together, and we will send it off with gratitude for one veteran’s service and sacrifices on our behalf.
When I think about how each veteran has a story- a home, a family, a background full of childhood memories, it isn’t hard to imagine what he or she might have given up to serve in the defense of our country. I wish it was harder for me to imagine. My father, a pilot in the US Air Force, made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty 29 years ago this past Tuesday. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. I can still remember the way his flight suit smelled and the creased black leather of his boots as he polished them.

This year, marking the anniversary of his death has been especially tough for me. I was five when he died, and my own son is five now. When I look at Sam and think what it would mean now for him to lose a parent, my sadness for five-year-old me hits me hard. My dad gave up the chance to see us grow up, to walk us down the aisle at our weddings, to meet his grandchildren this side of heaven.

The rest of us gave up him. 

Mostly, I wish he hadn’t done it. I admire his courage, his ideals and his willingness to serve, but I’d still rather have him here.

My sister and I try every year to do something to observe the anniversary. Usually I plant something or start seeds for the garden. This week, my Tuesday was busy caring for my three little ones, and I decided to put off the official act of remembering until the weekend coming up. 
It didn’t hit me until tonight that my last-minute embroidery sessions were a perfect act of memory already.
Being able to work on this square for Quilts of Valor this week feels especially appropriate. Even though I haven’t embroidered before, I feel glad to be able to offer this small gesture on behalf of one of our country’s heroes…and in memory of my one of my own heroes.
May God be with the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to serve in our country’s military, and may God be especially close to their families. We know your sacrifices, and we don’t take them for granted.
five minute Friday, grief

Five-Minute Friday: After

It’s Five-Minute Friday…time to write for five minutes without thinking about it too hard and see what comes out, not for comments or traffic or anyone else’s agenda. But for pure love of the written word. For joy at the sound of syllables, sentences and paragraphs all strung together by the voice of the speaker.” (from Five-Minute Friday at Tales from a Gypsy Mama)

Just a note for today: My rule is that I always write and publish my own five minutes before reading anyone else’s, even Lisa-Jo’s (who hosts this little writing party). Today, I’m struck by her piece especially, because her after is a little like mine. The grief of losing someone changes the fabric of who we are, putting holes there that can never be mended…and sometimes, those holes open up when we are least expecting it. 

Deep breath- here we go…

AFTER

I had to stop loading the stroller into the minivan when I saw him, briskly striding with purpose to his car in the parking lot at the metro station, navy blue crisp from the neat corners of the hat on top of his head to the creases ironed perfectly into the fronts of his pants. I nearly doubled over with the force of the gut-punch I felt, the air sucked out of my lungs, tears stinging my eyes, the five-year old girl inside me hollering, “Dad! Dad!” and waving her arms frantically, longing for him to see her.

He didn’t see her, of course…and I didn’t call after him, because he’s not my Dad. I’m not sure how long it has been since I’ve seen a man wearing that uniform, the one you wear to the base with a sweater on a regular ordinary day when you aren’t flying, so different from the green flight suit or the soft flannel shirts I love to press my face against, the ones that only come out on evenings and weekends.

After is the place you end up when the unthinkable has happened. And when your dad is gone and you were his little girl and he’s never there again to read you your bedtime story, after is where you are forever after. There are the big moments for missing him, sure- like graduation and your wedding and the birth of your children- but sometimes, I think the little ones are worse. The ones that sneak up on you when you’re putting your family in the car after a day at the museum and thinking about what’s for dinner. The ones that grab you and blast a hole right through your middle because you’re not expecting them.

He drove off, and I craned my neck until I couldn’t see him any more…and as we got in our car and drove the other way, the lump in my throat made it hard to think about eating.

Five Minute Friday
For more Five-Minute Friday, click here…and be sure to read Lisa-Jo’s After while you’re there.