Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dogwoods...

I found myself in the middle of the woods despite the threat of rain.  They are beginning to fill in with new life, above my head and below my feet.  Green bursting forth, changing the bleak grey of winter into the brilliance of spring.  And there I saw them, white and lacy, as though someone hand-painted them into the scene.

And suddenly I am back at the kitchen table.  It's the wee hours of a Sunday morning, but one unlike any I've experienced before.  My whole family is there, but it is awkwardly quiet.  She is there, still, but not the way we wanted her to be.  She was in another room with two strangers, with each passing moment her earthly body losing its natural heat.  I sit with a pamphlet in front of me.  My father had passed it to me and asked me to fill as much of it out for him as possible.  I filled in the blank spots.  Date of birth.  Names of parents and siblings.  Name of spouse, children, grandchildren.  I looked over options for head stones, some more plain, some a little feminine, one perfect.

Dogwood.  A simple design in bronze.  A few delicate dogwood flowers at each corner.  She always loved dogwoods.

I remember the one in our front yard on Croydon Road in Montgomery.  At the time, her sons were younger, more rambunctious, still enjoying an intense game of wiffle ball or football in the front yard with friends.  And she was so protective of that dogwood tree she had planted.  I remember when I moved into my home I live in now and she first noticed the budding tree line behind my house.  She pointed out the dogwoods.  I think she even joked about digging one up for herself.

So there they were, white and lacy.  The dogwoods littered the woods in the same magnificent way my memories of her permeate each day.  And suddenly the weird blend of sadness and peace rushed over me.  Only those that have grieved deeply can understand this specific blend, one occurring only upon seeing or hearing something that reminds you so much of someone who is no longer alive that it brings about an equal amount of connection and sadness.  The bitter reminder of love and loss.  It's the most bizarre experience.

And it's in the simplest things.  Dogwoods and Cadbury Eggs and Christmas ornaments and recipes.  It's not limited to the traditional holidays and the birthdays and the anniversary days.  And now that I have lived it and felt it and grief has breathed its ugly hot breath in my face for so long that I want to scream every single day of my life, I will love differently because of it.  It's all different from that one point forward in a way I wasn't prepared for, in a way I could never be prepared for.

Dear Lord, I thank you for the mother I mourn, as I know she was a gift You gave to me, one in which some are not blessed to have in their lives.  I pray for those around me every day who are hurting in this quiet lonely way I have come to understand, for those that see the dogwoods and fight back the tears, for those who carry on with the bandages over their open wounds so no one can see.  I pray for them though I know not who they are.  I pray Your peace and comfort and patience rain down on them, sustain them.  In Your Son's Holy and Precious Name, may it BE Lord.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mama,

It hit me today in the seasonal aisle at Walmart as I walked among the pastel colored M&Ms and little bunny shaped chocolates.  I saw them, the Cadbury eggs, and the tears welled up inside my eyes unexpectedly.  All I wanted to do was pick up a few things for the kids Easter basket, a holiday that, for some reason, this year I would just rather skip over all together.  But I thought if I went ahead and got the things I need it would just be out of the way.

So I stood there looking at the Cadbury eggs remembering how we used to call each other at the first sighting.  How you or me, whichever saw them first, would buy a pack and share them with each other.  How we both loved chocolate so dearly.  York peppermint patties, Snicker bars, Three Muskateers, and Butterfingers.  And it's like all these memories come flooding in all at once.  And suddenly I am 18 again, and we are sitting at the counter at our old house eating together.  Or we are at the Dairy Queen eating a Blizzard.  It's nothing all that special really, but the fact that it was you and me, mom and daughter, enjoying one another so much... that's what made it so unique.

Damn, I miss that.

Easter is two days before the second anniversary of your death this year.  And, to be honest, Mama, I don't even know if I can handle going to church this year.  I just don't thing I can bear it.  There will be music, and I will lose my composure.  And I just don't want to feel anything right now.  I just want to let it all pass.  To buy the candy for the baskets, to fill them up for the big fake bunny, and to move on.  Just move on.

Someone told me that after the second year mark of losing their dad, things seemed to get easier.  I hope that's true for me, too.  I have tried so hard to keep my head above water, to honor your strength and integrity while you were fighting cancer, but the past several months, it's just been harder.  I miss the way things should be.  Even though I am all grown up with kids of my own, I still feel like I need your wisdom and support.

I bought two Cadbury eggs today.  I ate one on the way home.  It was so good.  And I can't help but think you're enjoying lots of tasty sweets without this stupid worldly worry of gaining weight.  And I can't wait to be there with you some day enjoying a perfect place with no grief or sorrow.

I love you still even though you're gone.

Always,
Your baby girl

Friday, March 14, 2014

In dreams...

I grew up in a house full of music.  My dad would pull out a stack of LPs, power up the turntable, put the needle down, and crank up the volume.  The air was full of emotion, notes, voices all melding together in beautiful harmony, and I would spin and twirl in the middle of the floor of our den like I was the only girl in the world.  For the most part, the voice I heard was Roy Orbison, a musician my father followed from his adolescence.  This was music unlike what we hear now days; it was real, unaltered, pure and full of humanity.

This morning, one particular song came to my mind, and Roy himself sang every word in my mind.

A candy colored-clown they call the Sandman,
Tiptoes to my room every night.
Just to sprinkle star dust and to whisper, 
"Go to sleep, everything is alright." 

I dreamt of her last night.  I've only had a handful of these type dreams of her since she's been dead.  Most of the ones I had shortly after my mother's passing were about her dying, that we were in a room around her, or that I was trying to find her in a hospital.  They were stressful and unpleasant, so any dream I have of her that is pleasant is such a welcomed blessing.

I close my eyes
And I drift away
Into the magic night
I softly say
A silent prayer
Like dreamers do
Then I fall asleep
To dream my dreams of you.

Last night, we (meaning me, my mother, and my children) were at a store that seemed somewhat like Target.  We walked the aisles of makeup looking at lipstick and blush.  And then I moved over to the card aisle looking for a birthday card for someone.  And after we left the store, my mom and I went to a church to attend a wedding.  It was strange; I didn't know who was getting married, but my mother did, so I was just along for the ride.  And once this wedding was over, we went back to her house and the whole place was decorated for Christmas.  There were trees everywhere, lots of trees, filled with lights and ornaments.  There were even trees hanging upside down from the ceiling and ornaments strung on clear wire hanging down all around us.  It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  I walked around looking at everything, and I finally asked my mom who had done all the decorating.  She said, "Felicia had it done for me."  And then I found myself riding a horse around our old neighborhood in Montgomery, riding down each street.  And then I woke up.

In dreams, I walk with you
In dreams, I talk to you
In dreams, you're mine
All of the time
We're together
In dreams, in dreams

But just before the dawn
I awake and find you gone
I can't help it, I can't help it
If I cry
I remember that you said
Goodbye

And I woke, lying still under the warmth of my covers, eyes shut.  And in that tiny fraction of a second, I felt like I had really been with her, that her very presence was still there, holding on to me.  And it was the most beautiful moment I've had in a very long time.

Perhaps she chose to come to me.  Maybe my Father knew I needed her and so he placed her in my mind as I slept.  I don't know; I never will understand the concept of dreams.  But I needed that time with her so desperately, and it felt so real.  So real.

It's too bad that all these things
Can only happen in my dreams
Only in dreams
In beautiful dreams.


Friday, March 7, 2014

684 days...

It's been 684 days since my mother died.

Sometimes, I do a quick google search to find out how many days it has been since I lost my mother.  It's part curiosity, but mainly I guess I do it to remind myself of how many days I have made it through without her.  Because before she was gone, I didn't think I could make it one single day.

Six-hundred, eighty four.

There have been good days, filled with laughter and fun.  On those days, somehow I manage to push her loss to the back of my mind, or maybe I find myself doing something that reminds me so much of her that it brings me joy.

There have been days black as midnight, so dark with grief and sadness that I wished them away, for the promise of tomorrow brings about a hope not found in the depths of grief.

Most days have been in the middle, though.  Not too happy, not too sad.  The burden of grief evenly yoked around my neck, not too cumbersome.  It's there, and it's heavy, but it is manageable.

Someone asked me recently how I was doing.  I replied, "I'm doing okay... just getting by."  To this person, my statement sounded sad, and they immediately expressed I needed to do more than merely get by.  But what they don't understand is that I consider it an accomplishment.

To them, I am just getting by.  To me, I have made it 684 days without going insane, without giving in to complete despair and depression, without drinking myself into the ground.  There have been many days I've wanted to curl back up in the bed after my husband and kids have left for the day.  But I haven't.  There have been days I wanted to make a drink at noon and just wash it all away for the day.  But I didn't.  There have been days when the grief and the memories strangely mix together and swirl around in my head in such a way that I think I will go crazy.  But I am still of sound mind.

I have lived in the world 684 days without my mother.  And it has been so hard, probably the hardest days of my life.  And as I look back over them all, I know I have had a Power on my side.  I can't make sense of why He even bothers with me sometimes as much as I let Him down and screw up.  But He hasn't let me go.  And it has been a while since I've just taken a moment to thank Him for what He has done for me.

Jesus... I so graciously thank you for holding me up, for loving me, for saving me in so many ways even though I will never deserve it.  I could not have made it through one single day without You on my side.  Thank you.  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Glancing back...

The soul inside me is constantly aware, whether I would like to be or not, of her, of the story we lived out in real life.  The battle.  The up and down movement of energy and hope and faith and fear.  It all melded together and became distorted after she died, and now I live it out in vivid memories left imprinted in my mind forever.

Some memories are unpleasant, but they connect me nonetheless to her soul, her life here.  And I am thankful for every memory I have of her whether good or bad.

Two years ago today we learned my mother had a massive brain tumor.  It was an awful day.  I have no other word in my humble vocabulary to describe it other than awful.  I remember my brother's voice on the other end of the line.  I remember hitting my knees when I hung up the phone, hitting my knees and pressing my forehead to the carpet below me in complete despair.  Complete despair.

There are few times in life that one feels that sort of pain.  Only the deepest love can produce an equal amount of pain.  I had experienced the shocking news of a diagnosis, of the ups and downs of my mother's cancer treatment, but nothing had prepared me for that very moment, the one in which I thought we were losing her, that this was that moment I had been afraid of all this time.

I look back on the weeks that followed the discovery of the brain tumor and her surgery.  The roller coaster we rode in the three weeks that followed that tumor diagnosis were heart wrenching, exhausting, unforgettable.  And two years out from the experience, I see things a little more clearly.  I see little moments in which God was preparing me for the last week of mother's life.  I see tiny specks of beautiful.  I see love unlike I've ever experienced before.

And so, I am reminded, that no matter what battle we find ourselves in the middle of presently, there are tiny specks of beautiful.  Tiny, tiny, indeed, but there.  It may takes years to notice them.  Perhaps when flipping through the memories in our minds we notice little details we had missed before, and we see the beautiful then, and only then, once we have been removed from the pain of the moment.  And we begin to view things from the place of the little flecks of love and hope we had to wait for.

For we know that all things work together for the good of those that love the Lord.

We know that, but when we are asked to live it, to accept it...  it's hard.  That's not an incredibly poetic statement, it's hard, but it happens to be true.  Life is hard and full of hardships, both big and small.  But we can rest in the knowledge that if we have faith in the unseen, all these things begin to form the lovely picture of our life.  Even the ugly things have their purpose.  My mother's brain tumor and surgery prepared me to take care of her in her final days of life.  It conditioned me to the things I would need to do in caring for her physically, conditioned my heart to rely on God for strength, conditioned my brain to focus on what was important in the present moment and not think too far ahead.

We know.  We are certain.  That every little thing will work together.  And it will be hard, at times unpleasant and ugly.  But when we glance over our shoulder at the past, we will find it glittered with the little bits of lovely He brilliantly intertwined.  And we will turn our heads forward and carry on.

It hurts and feels so wonderful at the same time, carrying on.  And today, I glance back two years ago when life looked so different from my today.  And I believe that things will continue to fit together brilliantly if I can only keep my eyes on Him.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Squeaky doors and other broken things...

I opened the squeaky door and trailed in behind David, pulling it closed behind me.  And I wondered, as I have every single time I have stepped into this orthodontist office, why they don't have the door fixed so that it doesn't squeak and would actually close on its own as it should.  David clicked his name into the computer, and we sat down on the leather sofa against the wall waiting for him to be called back.  The braces were coming off today.

He went back, and I knew I had a while to wait.  They said it would take about an hour to remove the braces and fit the retainer, so I pulled my phone out and began to piddle around.  And her voice carried across the room even though she was trying to be quiet.  She was on her phone, and her intensity permeated the atmosphere of the room.  Though I couldn't make out most of what she was saying, I could catch a phrase here or there.

No... it's my fault.
I can't make you happy.
I've tried and tried.
It's my fault.
I accept you as you are.
I just can't please you.

I tried to be inconspicuous about my attempts to eaves drop.  It was heartbreaking but fascinating, the same way I feel if I pass a wreck on the interstate or see the brightly painted lines showing where one has been.  I feel the need to know more though it's none of my business at all.

The only other person in the waiting room was a young boy, maybe my son's age or a year younger.  He had lovely blonde hair that looked kissed by the sun at the tail end of this brutal winter.  He will be a looker one day.  His narrow nose and high cheek bones along with the blonde hair will turn heads.  He sat alone in a dark brown leather chair with a sketch book in his hand.  If he had a pencil, it must have been in his pocket, because I never saw it.  The woman and boy didn't look like they belonged together in the way most moms and sons do.  She had hair as dark as the deep brown leather furniture, and his was the beachy blonde, and they looked completely unfamiliar to one another.  And so I studied them both trying to piece the scene together.

The woman's conversation continued, and I felt increasingly uncomfortable.  Why did she continue to argue over the phone?  Was it not something that could wait until a private conversation could be had?  But then I noticed her wiping tears from her eyes behind the long dark hair she was trying to use as a curtain.  And I realized that she was so broken, hurting, hopeless that she didn't even realize there was anyone else in the room.

She finally got up, walked outside the squeaky door, and I saw her face through the window.  Tired.  Weeping.  The boy never looked up or moved.  Others came in and checked into the little computer, little sets of braces going in and out to be tweeked and tightened.  I fixed myself a cup of complimentary coffee and sat back down.

The woman came back in, done with her conversation and pulled together.  She checked the screen of her phone and then pulled out her laptop and began working away at something.  One of the ladies from the back came and got her to come talk to the orthodontist about her son that was still in the chair. The woman finally addressed the blonde boy asking him to watch her stuff, so that confirmed to me that they were indeed together.  He sat down in her seat and waited until she walked back, and then he pulled up the top of the computer to see what she was typing.  He put it back down and just looked around the room never making eye contact with anyone or uttering a word.

Have you ever empathetically hurt for someone you don't even know?  I did in that moment, for the woman, for the boy, for the man at the other end of the phone call, for the family falling apart.  I have no idea what the details to their situation are and never will, but they are painful.

I can't make you happy.
I just can't please you.

Her words echo in my mind still this morning.  I have been that broken before.  Maybe our situation was not the same, the details different, but the brokenness the very same.

I'm not good enough.
I can't do anything right.

And when you begin to say them long enough, out loud or inside, you begin to believe them as utter truth.  And once the lies become truth to you, the hope seems so far away that it's untouchable.  And when hope is that far away, you can sit in a room of people and activity and never realize you're not alone.

I thought about trying to pray with her, but the opportunity just didn't present itself, and the overall situation just didn't feel right.  So I decided to pray for this woman and the blonde boy and anyone else effected by this situation.  And I can't get her off my mind, the look in her eyes and on her face.

Broken.  There are so many of us broken, each in varying degrees.  Some have superglued and patched things up and try their best to hold it all together in shape.  Some have just let it go and lie in a pile of rubble.  Some are in between those states, missing a piece here or there.  Truth is, if we are living in a sinful world, we are broken.

And, most times, all one broken spirit can do for another is pray.  And, thankfully, He intercedes for us and interprets our meager attempts at pleading for another spirit into beautiful petitions.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For example, we don't know what God wants us to pray for.  But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will.    {Romans 8:26-27}

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The angry part...

These moments come over me, completely unexpected and uninvited.  An anger rushes over me followed by a wash of sadness, and then the tears flow.

It can be anything, any big or small situation that I would have talked over with my mom.  It didn't matter whether she had advice to lend or words of wisdom.  Her listening and her reassurance always made everything seem better.  Even though the situation at hand hadn't changed one bit, just talking to her about made it feel more in focus, conquerable, smaller.

I miss that.

I'm angry that I don't have that anymore.

My person is gone.  There's not a person out there that fills this spot for me.  And I doubt there ever will be again.

And that's what brings the sadness.  The grief wells up again like it comes from some eternal spring, and I find myself wanting to scream, to throw something against a wall and watch it break into a million pieces, to hit the floor and sob, to do all these things at the same time.

Instead, I find a quiet corner.  I cry a little.  I blow my nose and return to my daily functions hoping no one will see that I've been crying.

Is this a normal way of dealing with loss?  I don't know.  It's the pattern I am in, though.  Whether or not it's healthy or normal or right, I certainly don't know.  But it's what I do to get through these little inner temper tantrums of grief.