Wednesday, July 25, 2012


It went out the night before we left for the beach.  The dishwasher.  The single most taken-for-granted appliance in your kitchen.  Don't think so?  Go without it for a week.  You will agree.

Last Wednesday, I rode to Lowe's, not once but twice.  The first to look at their selection and watch Madalyn open every single door to every single dishwasher on the sales floor.  The second to make my mind up {while alone} between two different models.  The most important factor in the first dishwasher purchase of my life was noise.  I wanted one that would run fairly quietly, so I settled in on one, wrote the check, and waited on the installation.  While I waited, I washed every dish and utensil by hand.  For six days.

Yesterday, when the nice fella left my house pushing the old one away, I wanted to pick up the phone and call my mom.  But I couldn't.  There aren't many women who will share in your excitement of a new dishwasher.  She would have delighted in it with me.  I can imagine her next visit to my house.  She would come in and say she wanted to see it, and I would open it for her, and she would comment on how much bigger it seemed on the inside and how many dishes I could fit in it.  And then she would probably close it and admire the digital controls.  She would be pleased.  And then we would go about our time together watching HGTV or going to Panera Bread for lunch.

Instead, I stood there staring at the empty dishwasher, little beads of water on the inside from the test run the technician had put it through.  It was so different.  It did seem larger.  But the placement of everything was opposite from what I was used to.  Plates settled in the bottom in vertical rows in the old one, while they would run horizontal in the new.  The utensils sat all to one side instead of in the middle, and the top area for the glasses is totally different.  My excitement about my new appliance turned to almost anxiety about learning how to do yet another thing in my life differently.

Everything is different.  Every single day.  And I am sick of different.

Sounds silly, doesn't it?  That I am anxious about using a new dishwasher.  But don't we get so settled into routine that we take the smallest parts of familiarity for granted?  I do.  Well, I have.  I think I lived my life in such a way that even though I knew things would eventually change, perhaps I didn't believe it.  Or maybe I believed that the shift between what I knew as normal and the new normal would be easier and less painful.  That the big things would be difficult but the little stuff wouldn't bother me at all.

I am finding through the loss I have experienced in the past six months, the loss of my maternal grandmother and my mother, there's not a single detail that doesn't hurt.  Not my first haircut {since my mom died}, not the first major appliance purchase {since my mom died}, not any little thing that has occurred {since my mom died} has been easy.  {since my mom died} becomes a hash tag for my life, and I don't even tweet.

I am running my new dishwasher now and amazed at quietly it performs its duties. I am convinced that in a couple of weeks I will have gotten to know the new appliance quite well and fallen in love with it.  We will work out what dishes go where, how to place the awkward Corning Ware and over sized coffee mugs, and which location is best for the plastic cereal bowls.  Until then, I will plow through a minute change and adjust to the new and improved member of the household.  But this adjustment, however small, reminds me that the biggest change in my life doesn't make way for a new and improved model of any type, but rather leaves an empty spot that only One can fill.

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The LORD is close to those who are crushed in spirit.  {Psalm 34:17-18}

Monday, July 23, 2012

Vacation from grief...

We took a lovely trip to the sandy shores of Alabama last week.  It was refreshing.  Coffee on the balcony in the morning with the sound of the waves and the beauty of the ocean before me.  Late night crab hunts with little beams of light dancing all over the darkened sand.  Sitting at the water's edge as it lapped over my feet with each rolling wave.  Nothingness.  No responsibility.  No schedule.  Not much grief.

It was just as much a vacation from grief for me as it was a break from my ordinary life.  For grief has become a part of the daily, as though it were a permanent fixture in my daily schedule.  Drink coffee with sugar-free French Vanilla creamer.  Check.  Read Jesus Calling.  Check.  Grieve the loss of your mother taken by cancer.  Think about it, those last days.  Relive them over and over until perhaps they make better sense or the Lord comes to take us all Home to be with her, whichever comes first.  Check, check, double check.

I didn't take a break from grieving all together.  The first morning I was there, I snuck out to the balcony with a fantastic cup of coffee and read my Jesus Calling devotional book she gave me almost a year ago.  I remember walking into their house and seeing a little bag sitting on the dining room table.  I didn't think much about it, but after I had been there a while, she brought it over to the couch where I was sitting and gave it to me.  Inside was a copy of Jesus Calling, a book I had been interested in after hearing a little about it on a blog I was following at the time, and a copy of Made to Crave, a book about struggling with food issues.  On the gift bag was one of those cheesy tags, the ones that are attached to the rope at the top, the ones no one ever writes on or makes use of.  But for some reason my mom decided to write on this one... Because I love you, Mom.  I have it taped on the inside of my book, and that first morning, I ran my fingers over the surface of it wishing I could feel the hand that wrote the words.  I had my morning time with the waves as the background music and felt that somehow she was happy I had done that.

There was a moment, I think the first night, that I sat in my chair plunging my feet into the soft sand looking up at the stars far away over the deep ocean.  Feeling like a child, I wondered, Where is she?  I know she's in heaven, but where can it possibly be?  If I could just go there for just a minute.  Just see her.  Maybe talk to her and hug her.  That would be lovely.  I thought back to the trip we took at Thanksgiving to the beach as a family, how cold the sand was then, how warm it is now.  Thinking it should be the other way around.  And then I forced myself to stop thinking about it because I was about to cry.  Sand and tears don't work well together.

Though I thought about her often, my mind took a break from reliving the last day.  Every Saturday since she passed away, I have relived it.  That morning, in the wee hours on the couch, lying still and listening to her breath heavy.  Praying in the stillness of the night a different prayer than I had ever prayed before.  Waking her up and realizing she was somewhere in between here and there.  Thinking about the last time she opened her eyes.  Remembering kissing her goodbye.  Reliving the drive back down in the middle of the night after Jesus did exactly what I asked Him to do.  The silence and the stillness and the darkness of the road ahead of me.  Watching the sun peak over the trees as I made my way back.  A true dawn.  A dawn unlike any other in my life, as a new phase begun.

I have relived that weekend over and over and over in my mind every weekend since she died.  No one knows it, but I do.  I don't talk about it, rather it just plays on a screen in my brain.  It's just there.  Constant and unforgiving.  But on vacation, it was drowned out by the ocean waves and sunlight and sand crabs, and I didn't even realize I had taken a break from grieving until I walked back into the house.

She's still gone, I thought.  But the grief is still here.

Monday, July 9, 2012


My grandmother's hands held a bouquet of pretend-to-be flowers.  About once or twice a year, she would tell my mother that she had purchased new ones and needed to go place them at the site.  We loaded up in the car, me in the back and my grandmother in the front with my mom, and wound through the little network of pretend-to-be streets until we reached the right spot.  I was little, and it was mysterious to me.  This place, this lady that had gone on before us.  The tragedy left my grandmother in a broken place, and any time someone mentioned her name, she got up and left the room.  I questioned my mother when we were alone about her sister and the circumstances surrounding her death, and my mom always answered freely.  She had lost her only sister in a car accident before I turned two, a day that shook her family and changed their lives forever.

We wandered in between the rows of bronze and granite.  Names, dates, loved ones laid out at my little feet as I followed my mother and grandmother to the special spot.  My mom would always kneel down and pick away any weeds surrounding her sister's name.  My grandmother would take the old flowers out and place the new ones, fluff them up a bit and then just stand there a minute.  I don't remember her saying much or even crying any tears while we were there.  I feel certain she reserved her tears for when she was alone.

At the time, I didn't understand the emotions.  I was trying as best I could to put the bits and pieces that I gathered all together to make some sense of what it all meant, but my little brain wasn't capable.  My big brain still isn't quite able.

Some things just don't seem right whether your brain is big or small.

Yesterday, I wove through those same little narrow streets.  I went to see my Mama first.  She is easy to find.  A statue of Jesus stands several yards behind her with His arms stretched out.  Her spot is just off the cracking asphalt, and I sat down and looked at her name, the dates, the newness of the bronze, remembering the wee hours of the morning in which I sat at her kitchen table looking at the options for the marker while I waited on a man in a black suit to carry her out the front door.

Then, I found my grandmother.  She's a little more difficult to find.  She's down in the midst of so many strangers.  I had to hunt for a few minutes to find her name, but I finally found her by using the three large pines as a landmark.  And I set out to find my aunt, the one who held me as a baby though I can't remember.   She's not very far from my grandmother.  I stood in that spot where as a child I watched a scene of quiet grief.  Now, at 35, I stand on the same patch of thick grass with so much grief in my heart it nearly bursts.  These ladies, all three, all gone.

I thought about the child that stood there in wonderment and curiosity and how she had no clue she'd only have her own Mama for 35 years.  I thought about the two lovely ladies that had always been by my side.  And I realize that I am there alone.  And that's when the tears fell.

You see, sometimes the grief is more about your identity than it is about a feeling.  The loss of familiar connection.  The loss of a glue that held it together.  The loss of commonality, consistency, tradition.  It's the realization that everything all at one time is completely different, and yet, somehow, I have to carry on the same.  I find myself feeling as confused and bewildered as that child who was just along for the ride thirty years ago.

I spent Saturday night reconnecting, mixing up a new batch of glue.  Four adult cousins.  Four different lives and ages and stages of life.  Four ladies with a thread of familiarity no matter how long we go without talking or how many miles lie between.  A blood running through us not exactly the same but not altogether different.  Family.  Sometimes when what we know to be family is no more, when the people who have always been there have gone before us, the need and desire to create a new sense of family burns within.  And somewhere down the road, things will all look totally different but feel so familiar it won't seem strange at all.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tomatoes and all the other little things...

My neighbor, Mr. Fred {I am using an alias to protect his identity} has the most lovely garden in his back yard.  Not the flower type... a vegetable garden full of varieties of peppers, cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes.  Not only does he like to grow them, but he also likes to share.  Two years ago, he had a plentiful stock of jalepeno peppers, and I stuffed them with cream cheese, wrapped them in bacon, and we grilled them.  They were to die for.  He always brings tomatoes over when he has too much for him and his wife, so today I was delighted when he carried over a Publix sack full of deep red, ripe plump tomatoes.

I was so excited to put my hands on the first fresh tomatoes of the season.  But then it hit me.  I can never eat all he gives me; I'm the only one in the house who likes them.  So I always share them with my mom.  Two years ago, we took some to my grandmother who used to grow them in her back yard back when she was able.  Now everything is so different.

It's the little things, like tomatoes, that send me to that place inside, the sad place.  Little things like the tick I found on Buddy's ear a few weeks ago.  I had never seen anything like it, and it was swollen and red around the site the insect had taken root, and I immediately wanted to call her.  It's a Blizzard at Dairy Queen with the kids, and knowing she's not there.  It's the flea market with my sister-in-law, all the while thinking about how much she would have loved going.  It's the green comb from her purse, the one she would take out to comb the kids' hair, especially Madalyn's whose hair is always so stringy.

It's the little things.  The things no one else can see or understand.  Things that can't be explained or replaced.  Things that make the grief process so arduous and painful.  All the little things begin to add up to an overwhelming amount of loss, and no one around me even realizes the pain inside my little smiling head.  I don't fault anyone for that at all.  Because what I have learned about grief is that it is the loneliest emotion a person can experience.  The loneliest most individually unique experience in the life process.  Someone I know may have felt the loss of their own mother, but our experiences will look so different and feel nothing alike.

I've been thinking a lot on this verse in Lamentations.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. {3:21-22}

I wrote an entire blog post about this Scripture over a year ago.  I reread it this morning to refresh my mind on what it spoke to me back then.  Here's what I said after getting less than good results from my mother's scan:
We are not consumed. Not by cancer. Not by nastiness. Not by depression or fear or anxiety. We may be shaken. We may be a little deflated. But we are definitely NOT consumed.

You see, right now, I feel a little consumed.  By sadness, loss, and grief.  But by the Grace and Love of God, my head is still above water.  I have to constantly remind myself that I will see her again, but it doesn't erase how much I miss her.  Nothing erases it.  Not food, a night cap, the kids' laughter, a sunny day... no matter what, that sadness and longing to see her and hear her voice is always there.  I know this is all normal, but I just wonder when it will be a little bit easier.  A little less painful.  A little less consuming.

Right now, when I look at that passage, I focus on another word: hope.  Therefore, I have hope.  Hope in a God that works it all for the good for those that love Him.  Hope in the Creator that has a plan laid out for me.  Hope in a Savior that has already paid the ultimate price for my soul so that I can see my mother and my grandmother again.  Hope in the grief process, that it plays itself out, and that one day, I will wake up and hurt just a little less.  Funny how my mother's active cancer made me focus in the word consumed, but her death left me drawn to the word hope.  Seems right the opposite as it should be, but it makes perfect sense if you really believe in heaven.

For now, I will continue to get through each day, one day at a time, trying to keep my focus on the one true Hope.