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.

When Bitter is more than Sweet

It’s a bittersweet day at the Rhoads house.  After 8 years of having Alma’s family closer than/better than neighbors, they move into town today.  Of course we support their decision and wish the best for them.  At the same time, I’ve been crying for days now.  It’s like losing Alma all over again.

How do we deal with these times of bitter change that don’t feel sweet at all?  I ask because boomers face more and more difficult changes as they age.  Knowing we traverse an expected transition does little to ease the angst, however.  Surely something moves the sweet into the bitter?  I mean, I’d love a sweetbitter experience over a bittersweet any day of the week.

So what helps?

  • Of course, counting blessings tops the list.  I am grateful we enjoyed so much time with these precious ones.  And hopefully out of sight doesn’t mean we’ll be out of their lives!
  • Crying helps.  Wait! What?  Yes, it’s okay to grieve loss.  I feel Alma very close these days.
  • Self-indulgence is permitted.  One day I have got to give up sugar again, but I still comfort myself with little treats.
  • Find new interests.  We’re working on that.  Easier said than done, because while we are a pair, we are still two very different people.  Writing helps me a lot.
  • Figure out how to survive without help.  Really?  Alma did 90% of the upkeep, and we see no viable solution here.

So, three out of five isn’t bad, is it?  The only problem is that we’ve been mired at this stage for months now.  How long do these transitions last?  Is there ever really a cure for a broken heart, broken dream, broken life?  We wear smiles.  We stay busy.  I write a lot.  But underneath the veneer little changes.  The bitter still outweighs the sweet, and this day more than most.

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Are You a Bible Wrecker?

bible 4I know people with pristine Bibles.  I am not one of them.  I am an inveterate Bible wrecker and it makes the Word of God come alive for me.  Worse yet for all you pristine Bible lovers, I plan on never mending my ways.

Of course I bean with underlining my favorite passages as a child. I then proceeded on to color coding.  I chose word topics and using colored pencils and highlighters, colored verses with or about those words.  That very soon led to personal indexing.bible 2

Threading ranks as my second favorite form of Bible wrecking.  I find a topic of study, and cross reference one verse to the next and so on throughout the Book.  I found I needed to add the starting and closing verses to the Bible’s concordance in the back to be sure I could find it at a moment’s notice.  Indexing is key for me, because nothing is more frustrating than knowing I have a scripture somewhere in a book of 66 books.  I started running out of space for indexing, and had to get creative.

bible-1-55894952-1539785010836.jpgThen I started adding quotes and reference material by way of inserts.  I began with typing them onto thin tracing paper, but with the advent of computers, quickly resorted to using regular copier papaer.  I learned the hard way not to use rubber cement as a medium for insertion.  It eventually dries out and the insert becomes a nuisance.  Worse, it discolors the margin as it dries.  I now favor a high quality paper crafting glue.bible-5.jpg

I finally starting adding Washi tape to highlight books since my Bible had no tabs.  Word of warning: Don’t wait to do this.  It’s hard to cover over notes in the margin.  Since my Bible is starting to fall apart, my next new Bible will have Washi tape inserted at the start.

I do enjoy Bible journaling and art journaling, but I use other versions for that pleasure.  When Alma died I found it hard to hold thoughts in my head, and focusing on short phrases kept me in the Word.  I had a wide-margin version of the Bible I already used for that form of meditation and worship, and focused on that medium of study.  I am not an artist, but the whole point is that you don’t have to be.  It’s a form of personal meditation, and I am chagrined to share my simple artwork…but it illustrates the point.  Just do it and stop worrying about perfection.

Being a Bible wrecker offers me a creative outlet and a way to express what the Word means to me.  It also prepares me for sharing intentionally at a moment’s notice.  I hope it makes me a warrior for the Word, not to use it as a weapon, but as a way of zealously defending the King.  Last but not least, it seasons my life with all the benefits of a life with Christ.  Peace, joy, and strength keep me going through this season of loss and change.  The Rock and His Word never fail.  Yup.  I plan on being a Bible wrecker ’till the day I die.  #noregrets

 

Book Review: How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies

Bill’s sister wandered through a book store and found this.  She sent it to me.  First published in 1988, I found it still the most comprehensive and helpful book on the subject, despite its age.  This comprehensive guide covers all facets of grieving and healing after loss.  She begins with a thorough lesson on grief–the physical, psychological, and social impacts.  She recognizes the practical implications and how they affect everything from your wallet to where you live.  She doesn’t stop there.

Whether you’ve lost a spouse, a child, a relative, a best friend or a beloved pet, the manifestations of grief threaten to overwhelm daily life.  While no map exists with a direct path to healing, insight does help.  A lot.

We lost Alma so suddenly, there was no time to say goodbye.  He was gone by the time we reached the hospital, and I found myself sobbing over his body, a part of me astonished by the depth of my expression, and a part of me asking, “What just happened here?”  I remained paralyzed for weeks, racked by the shattering question, “How could my son lay dying 100 yards from me and I not know that?  How is that even possible?”  Healing remains slow and each gain hard won. waiting

But let me be totally honest.  I didn’t want to just say goodbye, I wanted to say, “Could you fix the mower?” “I’d love a new coffee table, would you make me one?” “Katelyn is getting pretty saucy, could you start a boot camp and bring her in line?” “Would you go with us to Alaska?”  I still want to say all those things, and I still watch for him to walk through that door.  I am not the only one.

Finding the will, the courage, the peace, the strength, the oomph to go on living is a good thing.  I heartily recommend this excellent read.