Grief: A Journey

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

 

Have you ever gone on a journey—a hard journey—not knowing or understanding how to navigate or find your way, hoping for or needing someone to travel with you? Maybe someone you love and trust to help you when the road gets rough, and someone who may need your help, too? Recently, I read a true story about a youth leader who sacrificed his first few days of marriage to accompany a high school student on a journey to Yosemite National Park. The student planned to drop out of school to become a rock climber, and because he had intended to travel alone, he was surprised that his friend wanted to go with him.

The student knew nothing of the youth leader’s marriage; but because the youth leader saw that his young friend had made up his mind and could benefit by having someone with a bit more life experience go with him, he chose to go on this journey—knowing that most likely his friend would realize on his own that this idea probably wasn’t the best. Within a couple of days on the trail, he did just that, and the younger man decided on his own that he wasn’t cut out for rock climbing and that perhaps quitting school wasn’t the best idea.

Life Journeys

Like the story above, where the two friends took an actual journey—and the younger man had his own journey learning some valuable lessons—there are different types of journeys in life: when we travel to new places, take a walk or bike ride, visit our grandparents or friends across the country, fly on a plane or ride a train. There are also the kind where we learn new lessons, change the way we feel or think, and the kind where we need help from others to understand our emotions. We often don’t understand that this kind of journey may not end in just a few days; the journey of grief has no stopwatch, and we don’t always know where we are going.

A Journey of Grief

Andrew Lindwall lost his dad when he was only four years old, and he needed help learning how to navigate the feelings and questions he had. Someone I Love Has Died: Grief is a Journey of Discovery is part of Andrew’s story. He and his grandfather take a walk—a journey—through woods, hills, streams, and valleys, and together they share thoughts and feelings that help them both travel a path toward understanding grief and a very difficult part of life.

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk,
then crawl, but by all means keep moving.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward  to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 13:13, 14

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Grief: No “Right” Way

Grief: deep sadness caused especially by someone’s death. : a cause of deep sadness. (Miriam Webster)

… the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.

When someone important to us dies, it represents an end to what has been familiar for us, and we must adapt to that new—usually unwanted—reality.

I would add to “usually unwanted reality” surprised and possibly shocking reality.

When I was 17 and my brother was 14, our dad died suddenly. He had just started work for a new company, we were starting our Christmas decorations for that year, and life seemed to be rolling along well for our family—until it wasn’t. Suddenly and shockingly, everything changed.

My First Grief Experiences

As a 17 year-old, the only death I’d experienced—the first true grief—was that of my grandfather the year before. He lived across the state from us, and when he died, our family went. At least, most of the family; I stayed behind. I didn’t want to remember Granddaddy any other way than how I last saw him—so my parents let me stay home. Maybe they figured I’d need to work out my grief in my own way.

So when my dad died almost a year to the day later, I began to experience grief in a whole new light. I watched my strong, independent, “drill sergeant” mom fall apart; over the next days and weeks, she didn’t sleep, she had phantom illnesses, she stared into space for hours. My brother—who up to that point had been a fairly happy-go-lucky guy—over the next several months, became angry and rebellious and would often rage over small things.

Grief—there is no one way or right way to experience it.

As for my reaction to Dad’s sudden death—I pretty much remained calm and strong for everyone else. Because Dad was a WWII veteran, there would be no funeral or service for several weeks (his body was cremated) until our family could get to the National Cemetery. So for me, life went on. I picked up the slack around the house, I tried to calm my brother down, I went with Mom to the hospital when she thought something was wrong. My school choir was in the middle of rehearsals for a Christmas performance, so I went to rehearsals. I stayed busy with school and at home, and I spent a lot of time in my room, alone with my guitar.

There is Help.

Someone I Love Has Died: Everyone Grieves and No One Grieves Like Me  is a book where children can read about how grief is personal and individual for everyone; that there isn’t one way to grieve or to feel, that it is a process each person walks through differently. The coloring pages are available for filling in or doodling or writing, showing how unique grief is to each of us.

Karen Lindwall-Bourg also gives parents and care-givers tools with which to help guide children through their own grief process. “Written for grieving children, ages 3-99, and for those who walk this journey with them,” this little book will help people of all ages understand that grief isn’t static and that each person grieves in his or her unique way.

 

This Mama’s Heart

Letter to my children ~

There is so much I want to say to you, things I’ve probably already said to you face to face – maybe a million times – but lately I’ve been thinking that somehow, all these years, I’ve probably missed some things. So I’ll say them now and hope that somehow you catch some of it and take it with you into adulthood (even though most of you are already there, the truth is, we continue into adulthood for the rest of our lives. Well, at least I think we do. I still have more life ahead, maybe. Every day I realize just how much more I have to learn and put into practice. That’s all part of growing up, isn’t it? No matter how old you are?).

When you were born, your dad and I were in awe — with each of you. And in so many ways, we’ve been in awe ever since. You’re all such amazing kids, and we feel that you’ve become such great people in spite of us. We certainly weren’t and aren’t perfect parents, and we made ‘mistakes’ along the way. I put the m-word in quotes because I believe that our mistakes can lead to our greatest successes sometimes…because everything in our lives has a purpose from which we should learn and grow. I hope and pray we learned when we blew it and fixed it when we had the chance.

But I can tell you this for a fact – we didn’t do it alone. We have a great God who directed us. We read parenting books and discussed and read more books and discussed more…but each of you is so different, and although the books we read might have helped a little, we couldn’t have done it without a lot of prayer and faith that the reason you are even here at all is because God has something in mind for you. So we trudged along as your parents trying to get to know you for who God made you, not for who we wanted you to be.

As I say that, I’m not even sure we knew who we wanted you to be or what our dreams for you were. They didn’t go much beyond hoping and praying that you would follow Jesus and become whomever He wanted you to become. And on the outside, that looks so different with each of you. But on the inside, not so much — more than anything else, our heart for you was that you would be compassionate, honest, teachable, generous, kind, thoughtful, wise, loving people.

When you were little, I wondered when we’d see those character qualities — when would love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control be part of your life? Not that I expected you to be ready to go to work with Mother Teresa right away or anything. And honestly, there were times I wondered if we needed to invite her to our home to counsel all of us! But as you’re entering the world of adulthood, I see those attributes in all of you, and I’m so very thankful. They will take you far in life. Truly, the other things don’t matter so much — what you do with your ‘career’ or how much money you make. What matters is how you’ll handle life; and if you have the heart and character to make a difference in your little corner of the world, that is what truly matters.

I read a quote the other day that I think is one to remember: “You can’t claim that you love people when you don’t respect them, and you can’t call for … unity unless you practice it in your relationships. And that doesn’t happen out of nowhere. That’s something that has got to be put into practice every day.” The missing word there is ‘political’ — but the idea here doesn’t just cover political unity — it goes for unity unity. Period. Unity in families, with friends, co-workers, with those whom you disagree. Unless you practice those beautiful character qualities you’ve been given, you won’t make a difference in the world around you.

As a mom, I tried to make our home and life a place of peace and beauty and grace, as much as I knew how – and now it’s your turn to do the same to those around you, to find it or create it for yourselves and others. We all make choices, good and bad, so I just hope you choose all those fruits of the spirit with which you’ve been so endowed. I’m not perfect, you aren’t perfect — if we were, we wouldn’t need to grow or learn anymore. So please forgive me for the times I failed you. And even though there were those times, I’m confident that your dad and I took our job seriously enough that we gave you each a glimpse of what it means to keep your faith, to cultivate it, to grow it: to walk in those God given qualities and share them with others who need light and love and peace and grace in their lives. But please remember this most important truth ~ unless you have love, all of those beautiful qualities you have in your heart won’t matter. Because the greatest is love. Always.

I love you so much.

Mom

P.S. Someone once asked me how I still have many of the friends I had in college, and a couple from high school – my answer is that I chose to have sharpening relationships – friends who sharpened me, and hopefully I sharpened them. We went deep and beyond us. Eternal relationships. They last. Choose that kind of friend. You may not have thousands of them, but the ones you have will be everlasting and make you a better person.

Will I Ever Learn?

One of my former professors asked me once what the greatest thing was that I learned in college. After thinking about it for a short time, my response was that I still had so very much to learn. Just when I think I have everything all figured out, when I just know I’m finally right about something, life seems to jump up and knock me off my feet…one more time.

I used to be so much more opinionated than I am now; I guess I really truly thought I had everything figured out. Or maybe I just felt the need to speak my opinions aloud, I don’t know. But whatever the case, as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to realize that most of the time, my opinions just aren’t that important, because there will always be others who can out argue me, out prove me, or out think me. And do you know what is really, truly important? Not what I think — shocker! — but what God thinks.

I know that we always grow and change, and I hope I’ll continue to realize my need to be teachable. At my new job, I’m still wearing the ‘I’m in training’ badge, and when people ask how long I’ll be in training, I usually tell them “always.” I’ll always have something to learn — from those who think differently, who look different, who are different.

One of the things that showed me just how much I needed to look outside my comfortable box was when I read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.  We were on the threshold of sending our oldest daughter to college in the northwest…the crazy, liberal, ungodly northwest. Eeeek!! As I read it, I loved it and I hated it at the same time. I didn’t want to think about seeing my faith from a different angle — it was just too scary and unsure. I was spiritually raised in the south, in the Bible belt, so reading something like that really challenged my faith and I had to ask questions. Yep, QUESTIONS! Sending my baby to the crazy NW, where I wondered if they even spoke English, just seemed like an equally crazy thing to do and had a huge question mark. How could a mother send her daughter straight into a den of wolves? A huge den, at that? What kind of mother would do something like that??

What I started to learn then was something about trust. Wolves are everywhere, even in the Bible belt, and I was over confident that my children, that we all, were “safe” there. I had to come to a place of trust that what she had learned from us would take her into the world (where I know we are supposed to be) with love and respect for others and differences, and yet keep her grounded in who she was and who God was making her.

Now, years later, my sweet girl actually lived through college in the northwest, and I actually lived through her going to college there. She still lives there and is alive and well, and I know she’s being a blessing to those who know her.

But most recently, I’ve begun to question more than what my kids are doing — whether they’re ok moving here or there, or having this relationship or that one. Or even if they’re thinking the same, believing the same, as I do. Not that I don’t look at those things…I always want the best for my kids. But that’s just it. What is best? Where and Who is best? How should I know? I don’t. Yes, I believe God gave these kids to us and us to them. And yes, we have a responsibility to raise them in light of eternity and with wisdom given to us by God. And yes, we spent many hours in prayer for them (and still do). But none of that automatically gives me an enlightened understanding or vision about what they should do or about how they will live. Whenever they struggle or question life or God or what is right, I struggle with them.  I know without a doubt that God can handle their struggles, way better than I can. But then the questions start to come back: questions about my own faith and understanding of how I’m supposed to live and love.

And now I’m at a point where I’m having to trust that what God has done in my own life, with my own faith, will keep me grounded as I learn to appreciate people right where they are – and for who they are. That over-confidence I had with my daughter, and that at times I’ve had with all my kids, that ‘safety zone’, I’ve also had with my own way of thinking. I thought I was good at loving others; and it’s easy to do when most of them think the same way I do. But I’m beginning to learn that there is a difference between what I thought about people, how I thought I loved them, what I secretly expected of them, and what is truly true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. I see and work with people everyday who are very different from those I’ve chosen to shelter myself with. And I really really want to love them, right where they are, in that Philippians 4 kind of way.

I’ve continued to ask questions and learn to love others who are different than I am… a lot different. And that is a good thing. Thank heaven they aren’t all like me…oh the thought!

I’ve begun to question what I’m doing…and why I’m doing it. Not question the validity or importance of what I’m doing — but how to be truly honorable — toward God and others, and why I’ve been placed where I am. And tying it all together is tough; learning how to stand for Truth in a completely non-compromising way while loving and accepting others right where they are – no judgement, no requirements, no expectations.

I wouldn’t trade any of my life, because I know without a doubt that God has orchestrated every corner, every situation, every person. If I could, I might change some of the things I’ve done, that I’m not proud of. Because I know I could have been kinder, more merciful, more loving, more graceful. Those are the virtues I learn again and again every day, and I hope I’ll be worthy of them and able to impart them to those around me – today, with whomever I may meet, with those I work with, with those I’ll run into at the coffee shop or at work or at church or at the food bank.

And I hope I’m worthy of what they have to teach me, because I still have so, so much to learn.

People-purpose

For the first time in a very long time, I’ll be starting a job away from home. A real job, working with the public. Working with other people who are working with the public. Oh, I’ve done a few jobs in recent years that I did away from home, but the schedule was completely flexible, my ‘office’ was small and quiet, and I was rarely away from my kids. Home schooling didn’t go down the drain, my family didn’t fall apart (although there were times I did), and life pretty much went on as usual. But now we’re in a different season; our ‘normal’ is going to change. Yep, there will be times when these people who live at my house are going to wonder what hit them – and times when I’ll wonder the same.

There will be a learning curve, and I think I’m up for it. But it will mean more than just learning about a new job – it will mean learning again how to interact with the zillions of personalities out there, the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.

And it’s one of those times when I’ll need to remember where to put my trust. Whether I know someone well or have never laid eyes on them, I need to remember that I don’t see the big picture. Not at all. I don’t know what others are going through or what kind of day they are having – what crisis is taking place in their hearts or lives. So I hope and trust that my responses will be the kind that could make a positive difference in their day – that maybe they are the reason I’m there, working with or talking to them. And that is true about the customer or the kids, the co-worker or the husband. I need to remember, daily, that I am where I am for a purpose – a ‘people-purpose’ – and I need to trust, for that moment in time, that I may be standing in part of the picture that may change the perspective for the person in front of me.

Isn’t that what life is about? Relationship. So often, relationships are hard work – some more work than others – and if we’re honest, some we’d rather not do at all. But when they’re right in front of us, it really isn’t our choice; we just try to make them work the best way we can. That means with those we see often and those we may just talk to on the phone. Family, friends, co-workers, regular customers, or people only needing a refund. Relationship looks different with every person.

Those I’ve had a long time are always changing, and hopefully growing; those that are new are sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes intimidating, sometimes comforting and encouraging, sometimes challenging. Sometimes they’re downright scary! But I know we’re all in this world of relationship for a higher purpose, and the way I choose to interact and respond could be the difference between grace and peace or confusion and pain for the one standing there.

Relationship is what we were made for. So as I walk through each day, I pray I’ll be faithful to keep my eyes focused on the One who sees the whole picture – that I’ll be a blessing to someone each day. Because we all have a place in eternity, and our true job, whether at home or in the local retail store, is to shine a light on the picture and trust the One who knows where we belong in the canvas.

This Christmas

Every year, my children ask me what I want for Christmas (or Mother’s Day or my birthday). And every year I pretty much say the same thing — I just want all of us to be together and enjoy one another. They dutifully roll their eyes and ask me again. And I say the same thing – again. Well, I’m saying it one more time, in writing: I DON’T WANT ANYTHING FOR CHRISTMAS! Other than being together.

But I’m going to add something, and hopefully I’ll feel the same way next year and the next and the next. I want each of them to give whatever they might think about spending on me to a true need.

This year, I hope my children will give something with eternity in mind. That is what I truly want for Christmas. So here are some ideas:

alarm-inc.org

showmercy.org

girleffect.org

mercyships.org

orphanreliefandrescue.org

love146.org

notforsalecampaign.org

thementoringproject.org

All of the above organizations are doing great things – helping children and young women get free from trafficking, working with orphans and children who were born with aids, doing medical miracles, building wells in third world countries, helping widows who lost their husbands start businesses, training leaders in war-torn countries, mentoring at-risk boys.

And in the midst of loving these children and families with food, shelter, medicine – they love them enough to introduce them to a God who loves them more than anything.

I’m not getting legalistic about this…I’m really not. I love Christmas – I love making cookies for people, watching Christmas movies, decorating my house to give it that festive feel, drinking eggnog, listening to Christmas music – making our home a welcome place. We’ve done the traditional Christmas thing, with gifts and Santa, although we’ve tried to keep Jesus as the true reason for Christmas and the center of why we do what we do.  We wouldn’t have Christmas without Him.

And I don’t expect anyone else to feel the same way about getting gifts as I do. It’s just time for me to follow the message that’s been working on my heart.

I truly have a wonderful life…that I can enjoy the Christmas season in these ways is such a blessing. That I can have family together, enjoying one another is a treasure. The time we spend together, the time we invest in others, has eternal value. This year, I want to share that eternity.

Epiphany

epiphany – a divine manifestation; a moment of sudden understanding or revelation.

I had an epiphany the other day. I’m sure that many, many others have already experienced the revelation I had – but it gave me a perspective that I didn’t even realize I was missing.

In the story of the Prodigal son, the younger son is usually the one who gets all the attention. Whenever someone teaches about it, he’s the one who went astray and then came home. The older brother is known for his crummy attitude, and the father is known for his love. His Love. That is where my epiphany starts.

The father’s love is obvious throughout the story. He gives his son freedom, which helps him learn and grow up – however hard on everyone involved. And when he returns, the father runs to him with open arms, overjoyed that he is alive and back home. Most parents can relate to some of this kind of love – if not the letting go, at least the open arms. But as a parent of a child who has chosen badly and sought her freedom in dangerous places, the love I have for her is, in some ways, harder than the love I have for my children who have walked the straight and narrow.

Harder? What does that mean? Well, for one, it’s harder for me to feel love for her sometimes. I know, love isn’t a feeling. But it’s kind of scary when your feelings sometimes go the other way from where they’re supposed to go. I actually have to choose the loving actions, words, body language. The easy kids are easy to love. And I’m thankful for my “easy” ones; and for all the parents out there who have easy children, you are truly blessed.

But even greater than that committed-no-matter-what kind of love, is the privilege of understanding, even if only a fraction, the kind of Grace-love the Father has for His children. The kind of love that transcends any feeling, positive or negative, I could have at any given moment. The kind of prodigal-son love that, after all the emotions that go along with parenting a child who strays – the anger, sadness, fear, grief – keeps my arms open even after all the hurt and alienation and frustration. If I weren’t the parent of a child who chose her own way, I’d never know the kind of love that truly comes from Grace.

Thank you God, for showing me the kind of love you have for me. And thank you that it has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with a God of Grace, waiting with open arms.