My Top 5 Tips for Holiday Holes

Loss is something many of us endure, belonging to a club none of us wanted to join. It is felt most poignantly during holiday gatherings. As a matter of fact, most of us feel conflicted over the annual gratitude feast and dreaded festive merriment. As much as we want to celebrate our living children, we find the hole of a missing loved one hard to bear.An Attitde of Gratitude (3)

I’m a relative newbie when it comes to loss. Our second son died just a year and a half ago. This will be our second Thanksgiving and Christmas without him. Here’s what I’ve learned about not just getting through the holidays, but savoring them.

  • First of all, establish some new traditions. Building new memories without holes helps ease the angst.
  • Secondly, honor or miss a loved one quietly. Siblings, children and everyone gathered are aware of the gaping hole left by the loss of a loved one. There’s no need to draw attention to it.
  • Third, be a blessing. We have new neighbor, and one set is celebrating Thanksgiving alone. Of course we invited them, and will call to reassure they’re welcome. When you focus on the needs of others, your own grief takes a backseat.
  • Fourth, have your own remembrance celebration before the family gathers. My husband and I like to talk relive our favorite memories right after the turkey goes into the oven.
  • And last but not least, fix favorite foods. Everyone in the family has favorite dishes, and we honor our missing son quietly by serving his favorites. Everyone thinks of him and it’s never awkward.

Get up and dress up and paste on a smile. Your bravery will not go unnoticed, and you will bless the entire family when you incorporate these tips into your holiday celebration. The hole in your heart lives there because you loved so deeply, and I never want it filled with a second-rate imitation of the love we shared with our son. In the journey of loss, I’ve come to welcome the hole as the place where our son’s memory still dwells as vibrantly as ever.

When Loss Is Life

when loss is lifeNo one expects loss. We live as if life, the precious commodity, belongs to us. Yet loss is a part of life, and when it tragically and irrevocably attacks, it changes you forever. And I mean forever. Life is not the absence of loss, rather loss exists as a part of life.

March 11 dawned as an ordinary Sunday morning. We prepared for church and when word came that Brenda was calling an ambulance and would I help with the kids, I seriously thought it was nothing. Our son hadn’t been feeling well, but doctors were talking seizure disorders, not death! As I fed the kiddos, Bill took me aside and said the medics were working to revive him and in that moment, my life spun out of control.

We hustled the kids into the car and raced…and I mean, raced to the hospital. I literally ran into a cubicle filled with family, and Brenda teared up when she told me, “We lost him.” I tried to hold it together for her sake, but when Bill and the boys and I went to see his lifeless body, I sobbed. Literally sobbed over his body. It was like an out of body experience. I had no idea it would hit me like that. But it did.

Since I blog, I kept a record of the adjustments throughout this first year of life without Alma. I knew the stages of grief, but I learned a new set of mile markers. My grief skyrocketed through all the Kubler-Ross stages in days and hours, only to repeat their eccentric gyrations again and again. In reviewing the chronology of my dance with grief, I realized it hit me hardest as months progressed after the support of services and cards passed.

Throughout this year my mind felt numb. I virtually went through the motions. I did the next thing in front of me, but thoughts were intangible wisps and hard to connect. Prior joys like sewing, knitting, and playing the piano fell by the wayside. I not only couldn’t concentrate, trying to made my heart overflow with sorrow. My chest often felt like it might explode with pain. Was I having a heart attack?  When I was still alive after a few days I realized it had to be stress, painful nonetheless. What helped me the most was talking about him, about what I was experiencing, about my pain to friends who would listen. Blogging brought healing.

Ten months to the day after Alma’s death, however, I woke up. I could focus again. I could knit and keep track of a pattern. I sat down to finish a quilt and had to relearn how to thread my sewing machine, but I was able to actually accomplish a goal! Like a mother grizzly coming out of hibernation, I felt awake. Alive.

This chronicle of my year of life with loss is meant to be a path for you as well. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time. Blessings…

*Note: This chronicle of my year of grief is available on Amazon. It is meant to be a solace for others who wonder, “Is this normal?” “Am I dying?” “What’s wrong with me?” I’ve made it 99 cents, affordable and public. I hope you can share it with others who find themselves lost in the fog of grief.

 

Change is In the Air

Happy 2019!  I took a couple weeks off through the holidays.  It was a difficult Christmas with one less at the table, and Alma’s birthday January 1st came as a double whammy.  We gathered to share his favorite foods and tell stories in remembrance of him…it was a good day.

alma's handsThis is one of my favorite stories, Alma describing how he built a breakfast bar for their home.  “OK, so you start with a pile of scrap 2x6s from building the house. You put them through the table saw twice to make them more square, then through the planer twice, then through the drum sander several times per side. Then you cut both ends off to make the ends square, then you put them in your homemade Taylor press with some glue and a few screws. At this point you have a plank, that you now have to run through the planer 4 times, then through the drum sander 6 times. Cut it to size and shape, add some trim, some stain and lots of lacquer an, Wammo, you have a butcher block breakfast

I am beyond thankful to friends and family who have gotten us this far, and look forward to a year of adaptation, change and joy!  Yes, change is in the air.  Blessings to all.  I’m back!

Be Afraid of the Nine-Year-Old

I’ve languished for three weeks with a virus refusing to go away. Today I lay, spent, on the couch and a perky 9-year-old wants to prove she can bake cookies without me. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The first comment hollered to me from the kitchen foreshadowed her entire venture. “Nana, what’s 21/4 cup?” Really??? She’s baked with me for years. She reads ingredient lists to me all the time. Her math features fractions on a daily basis. Really?!!

“Nana, is this granulated sugar?” She hauled in a canister of powdered sugar. Really?  Have you read the label?  Yes, I’m feeling very afraid.

But this is how she learns. So far the crashes sound muted, but she’s still on the first step in the instructions.  I’m wondering why there have been so many crashes in just the first step. I’m afraid to look, but I’ll have to, sooner or later.

Letting our little ones grow up is hard, isn’t it? On the one hand, we bust our buttons with each milestone. On the other hand, we pay for each milestone along the way. I’m left wondering if all the universe operates on that same principle. One step forward, two steps back, three step forwards and lose the common sense somewhere in the middle. With each gain a loss promises growth.

Living with loss helps me appreciate the promise, and I’m very much like a nine year old in walking down this lonely path. Minus the perkiness. Minus the sweet treat. Of course, we have yet to taste her cookies, so the analogy may prove true in the end.

Family Bandaids

Life with loss, so they say, is a Chutes and Ladders kind of game. I never played as a child, but I’m playing now. Today I enjoyed a chute that put a bandaid on the hole in my heart. We enjoy family dinners on the first and third Sundays, and they never disappoint.

On first Sundays we have recitals and all the littles play something on the piano. I love watching those little fingers fly across the keys! They usually play something they’ve memorized, so who’s interested in looking at the music or counting, anyway? Aaron tickles the ivories, always a blessing. Today Levi brought his electric cello, and those mournful tones touched my soul.

The hugs and giggles and chaos may be exhausting, but in a good way. Megan and Lori work seamlessly with me to get the meal on the table. It takes two cycles of our dishwasher working overtime to handle the mess. When the toys are put away and the final waves initiate the mantle of silence, it’s a lighter silence. We wear little smiles and laugh about the kids’ antics. Charlie breathes a sigh of relief because he ‘s patiently endured too much love, so he naps beside me. The room feels less oppressive.

I like looking back at pictures with my son and ran into this Thanksgiving picture from a year ago, when Alma was still with us. They say you grieve as much as you love, so I must learn to adapt to a lifelong hole in my heart…but these short reprieves help. A lot. Yes, it’s like putting a bandaid over a sore that made me cry all week long. So incredibly thankful for family.DSC_0152

No Empty Chairs

We put up the Christmas tree. It was all glowing, and at first I felt lighter. No, my scale still tipped at the same alarming poundage. It was my soul. My soul felt lighter.

It took me awhile to figure it out. More than color and twinkling lights, more than cheesy ornaments and memories, more than being my favorite holiday, the tree this year offered me a new perspective. It filled a corner where I last saw my son alive.xmas tree

A lovely burgundy wingback chair usually graces that corner. Alma sat in it many a night on his way home from work, stopping in to chat. It remains my last memory of my son. The advent of the tree removed that last vestige and it didn’t take long for the pendulum to swing back and smack me in the face.

Putting the chair in another place didn’t banish his memory, for I think of him with every breath and with each beat of my heart, but it removed all hope of finding him there some morning, dropping by to say hello. It removed all hope, period.

I find I am no better off than the atheist who doesn’t believe in life after death, who believes that when a person dies, he’s simply gone. I know. I believe in life after death and all, but on this side of the veil, I’m no better off than the atheist. My son is gone. I never got to say goodbye, and I have no talisman to ward off overwhelming grief.

Something will have to change, for life at this point is unsustainable. I need hope. Only hope can bring an easing of the heartache. Only hope can make it easier to breathe, cause my heart to cease its palpitations and stop the tightening in my chest when I try to eat. I need to live again, for a part of me died last March. I am waiting for that empty corner of my heart to be healed, made new, filled again. The empty chair, empty heart ends at some point, right?

 

Odd Numbers and When to Celebrate

ann347. It’s an odd number, isn’t it? Not quite golden, but close. Very close.

We opted for a big shindig on our 40th, never realizing a third of our family would be missing at our 50th–so glad we didn’t wait! I always thought I’d die young, so I’ve tried to squeeze a lifetime into each moment. Now I find the unthinkable has become my new reality. I live, yet the bones of my bones lies dead. I didn’t ask for this. I wanted it the other way around.

Being real, this is my story. My life. And 47 is a great number, because it symbolizes 47 years of learning to be one, surviving our ups and downs, trials and blessings. In this arid desert we tend to grieve better separately, at the same time, but each in our own way. We’ve learned to give space and to seek solace, and our advice to our friends is simple–celebrate now. Never wait. Loss can strike viciously, suddenly, with never a chance to say goodbye. Celebrate life every chance you get.ann1

Here’s the important point: We celebrate together. We celebrate life. We celebrate the family we have, both here and beyond the veil. Bill, I love you. I loved our evening out. Here’s to another 3, anyway. Let’s be golden!

 

Sometimes You Just Don’t Get What You Wish For

This will be the first time Alma has missed my birthday.  When he was alive, he’d stop by several nights a week on his way home from work.  He’d walk in the back door and sit down in the corner chair and say, “What’s up, Mom?” or “Whaddaya need, Mom?” In the past nine months I’ve looked at that chair countless times, hoping to see him sitting there, that lazy smile on his face.Image 002

I got up extra early this morning, just to see if he’d drop by, maybe be waiting in that chair to tell me “Happy Birthday.”  That was the present I wanted most. I guess he’s busy elsewhere.

So what is he up to?  I mean, Alma never liked to sing, and I can’t see him in choir rehearsals all day long.  I’m fairly certain there’s nothing to blow up in heaven.  No cars to fix.  Nothing to weld.  He should be here. What a slacker! He was never idle when alive, so this is a certainly departure from the norm.

All of it begs the question: What happens when you don’t get the one present you’d hoped to get? I’m old enough I can’t remember how I coped as a child when that happened, though it inevitably did…I just can’t remember. A recent verse has been worming its way into my consciousness…and a friend at church quoted it as “give thanks for all things.” I looked it up, because I’m nowhere near giving thanks for losing Alma. Yup, that’s what it said in my Bible.  I had to close it so I wouldn’t throw it across the room.  Then another friend posted a different version…”give thanks in all things.” It’s a much better translation for nomads like myself.

I can give thanks for the love of my family and friends in this time of desert wandering.  I can give thanks for the Lord, who collects and counts my tears.  I can give thanks for the good times to come, because surely this desert ends at some point in life.  And I can give thanks for meaningful work.  Writing has become a solace for me, and I am ever thankful for the support of friends and loved ones who encourage me.

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking over at that chair, ever hopeful and ever longing to have that final goodbye with my son.  Do you get to subtract a year and a candle if you don’t get your wish?  Ha! I know.  Bummer!

How to Lessen the Impact of Loss

God’s people have never been strangers to grief. They lived in captivity more often than their spurts of sovereignty, which were plagued with treachery and warfare. Jesus was thronged by desperate people because their lives were punctuated with disease and grief. One of my favorite scriptures comes from such a time. “By the waters of Babylon we  laid down and wept, and wept, for thee O Zion.” Their own trail of tears marks the path of my personal loss.

Life in the good ole’ USofA suburbia insulates and protects most of us. Modern medicine reduced morbidity until many only experience death as the loss of an aging grandparent. That feels normal. We expect it. Sudden or traumatic death affects few of us personally. Since it’s more of a vicarious adventure we forget and really don’t wish to remember the grim reaper stalks at will.

For now let’s put aside the reaper…remember that even blest lives experience loss. The loss of a beloved family member fractures the heart, but loss of a job, a difficult move, a pet who dies is just as real…loss isn’t measured on a scale to be real or significant. And so the question that applies to us all is a simple one: How do we deal with grief?

Scripture invites us to taste of the goodness of God. Sadly, many choose to chaw on large of wads of bitterness. But here’s the thing–bitterness spreads through your soul like a cancer, darkening, mutating your joy into despair. In contrast, thankfulness for what does remain in your fractured heart is like planting seeds that will grow and blossom in due season. I practice gratitude daily amid all the heartache, hoping for a bountiful harvest. Do I see any good yet? No. I see no evidence of healing, but this is the winter of my grief. Spring cometh! In the meantime I will continue to plant seeds of gratitude and water them with my tears.The seed lies buried in the fruit

How to Debunk the Flat Earth Theory

Let me begin by qualifying my blog with the acknowledgement that not very many people subscribe to my little epistles.  Thus the scribblings of an old woman don’t affect all that many of you.  You may find this blog helpful in dealing with loss, but even if you don’t, writing serves as a catharsis for me, and so I write.

I always wondered why the ancients believed in a flat earth.  As a young child I saw hills and valleys and knew the earth held form.  Why didn’t they?  What was wrong with them?  I finally figured it out.

Since Alma’s death, new truths assail me daily.  As an adult, I know that the current life expectancy is a 20th century phenomenon.  The ancients lived with death.  Without antibiotics they lost their children to disease.  With crude hunting tools they lost their mates to hunting accidents.  Their resulting emptiness and flat lives colored their perception of the world.  I totally get it now.  They lived grief stricken lives.

Yet even now death steals loved ones away, stealing our joy in the process.  This weekend another tsunami of grief overwhelmed me.  I suddenly realized birthdays and holidays loomed before me…7 momentous days in the next two months, seven momentous days without Alma.  I felt like someone pulled the plug on my reservoir of joy and I couldn’t stop crying.  I felt empty.  Flat.  Luckily (or unluckily) I was at church when this hit me.

The natural tendency is to pull back.  Isolate ourselves so we don’t cause embarrassment or judgment as yet another wave of grief overwhelms us.  And that is the exact opposite of the approach we should be taking.  I somehow got funneled to the very front row last Sunday, so I was pretty visible and as much as I tried to hide my tears, I’m sure I was a spectacle.  The ministry of my church family, their support and prayers, lifted me over that initial wave.  In the afternoon my oldest son helped us map out a way to get past Alma’s birthday.  You see, it’s people who help us get over losing people.

So my antidote to the flat earth is a simple prescription of love from those closest to you.  If you know someone struggling with grief, just give the poor soul a hug.  Save your words for prayer.  Be the form and substance that lifts a person from the flat earth they are experiencing.  Be a mountain of strength for another.