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Archive for the ‘Loss’ Category

October 31st

Halloween will never make my top twenty for favorite holidays celebrated. Still, I’m equally resolved that banning trick-or-treating will not be the hill I’m going to die on since it seems I’ve already reached my quota of hills. Like so many things in life, this day teeters between beauty and depravity – in the most dramatic of terms. It is a bit mind-boggling how the same day can usher in the best of childhood imagination and dress-up right alongside dark and violent behavior.

On one corner you’ll find bright-colored insects, Strawberry Shortcake and astronauts ready for orbit. Meanwhile, the depravity is just steps away – possibly as close as your next door neighbor’s yard decorations! I will never understand the thought process behind adorning your suburban patch of lawn with bloodied bodies and gravestones. I’ve also grown weary of the number of detached eyeballs one encounters in the days surrounding this holiday. I know, I know, I think too much. But seriously, eyeballs have no business showing up as chocolate covered candies or as a girl scout craft if you ask me (which I realise you didn’t).  

Ironically, this holiday that I’d be happy to delete has over the past several years created some significant memories involving both hope and heartache. Three years ago on Halloween, I boarded a plane and wished my then four year-old kitty cat good luck on her inaugural trick-or-treating venture; I was headed to France to put David to rest in my own terms and timing. The next year, Phil and I accompanied Minnie Mouse around the neighborhood; my sole aim was to not throw up. I’d just found out that we were expecting another baby and although I felt incredibly green, my heart held so much joy.  The following year Phil and I found ourselves missing out on our now six year-old bee buzzing around the block in search of candy. This time it was for the best of reasons; my last close college friend was saying I do and we were fortunate to be able to share in this day.

That brings us to the present – and the picture says it best. We had two insects on our hands this year; to watch the bee show the ladybug the ropes was pretty great. They visited their favorite neighbors, marched in a parade and came home with far more candy than they’ll ever consume. Yes, there were houses to avoid for all of the reasons I mentioned above – eyeballs included. But in the end the beauty outweighed the depravity this time around and for that I was grateful.  

  

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A Wounded Healer

Two weeks ago, Hailey began spending  frequent stints in the downward dog position. Each time, it has brought a smile to my face because six October’s ago Hannah was doing the same thing.  

 We went to the pumpkin patch this week with Papa and Nana; this is our annual tradition dating back to Hannah’s first year of life. This Tuesday felt especially sentimental, as it was Hailey’s inaugural visit. Hannah took her last pony ride (she’s reached the height limit), the girls explored every inch of the farm, we enjoyed a frozen strawberry fruit bar to refuel mid-morning (it was really hot) and we then found the perfect pumpkins. 

Days like these often remind me of how formative Hannah’s first year of life turned out to be for me. Not only was I learning how to be a mother, I was also trying to figure out what it would feel like to never see my brother again.

This past month I went to a conference with Donald Miller. It was a day and a half devoted to stories – your own and those around you. One of the things he touched on was the critical distinction between the path of a victim and that of a wounded healer. This resonated with me. While I’ve never aspired to be a victim, I’ve found myself wrestling deeply for over seven years with what has felt like my inability to move beyond the ramifications of David’s death.

These two simple words (wounded healer) gave me a context that felt both accurate and challenging. They provided me with the space and the freedom to still feel the pain while also empowering me to live well and outwardly within it.

As I watched my girls on this warm October day I felt both the wounds and the hope. If I were the Senior Editor of my life, I would to this day delete the May Day chapter in its entirety. No amount of revisions would adequately bring this story around into an eloquently drafted account punctuated by redemption. As it turns out, I’m not the one with the red pen. And so, I walk wounded and empowered (some days better than others) trying not to miss the depth and richness that does in fact exists on each page.

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Lessons I Never Wanted to Learn

This afternoon we gathered with hundreds of people to honor our friend Claire and to say our final goodbye. She was much too young to leave this earth and our hearts remain heavy, even confused, as to why her story ended the way that it did. In the weeks leading up to her death it became clear that her time here would soon end. Understanding this, she sat with some of her most beloved friends and helped to plan her own memorial service. That was Claire. And that was a blessed gift for all in attendance today.

Those who know me know that I love to learn. Few things excite me more than the sound of the UPS truck slowing down in front of our house delivering an Amazon box with a collection of words packed inside. The topics vary from organic living to social justice, child rearing to topics pertaining to faith, cooking to organizing and simplifying and sometimes just a really great novel.

There’s one subject, however, that continues to shove its way uninvited into my otherwise controlled collection of ponderings. If I had my choice I would remain decidedly ignorant. The matter is grief and in a word (or three) I loathe it. Over the last seven years it seems I’ve been tossed into death’s waters a few too many times for my liking. And with each immersion I find myself having to learn once more how to swim.

In the case of my brother David, it felt as though I’d been thrown overboard into a frigid and hostile sea. At times I questioned if I’d ever see land again. Ultimately I did find my way back to shore – yet far from unchanged. In other instances the losses have been a bit less jarring and sometimes less intimate. There was time to prepare, to say goodbye and to hold tight to the tender moments along the way. Still, never once as I’ve treaded my way through these profound heartaches have I found myself feeling anything short of exhausted, sick and confused…at least for a good long while.

Phil and I have had the privilege of being in homegroup with Claire and her husband Cam for many years. Collectively as a group we’ve shared a great deal of laughter, tremendous salads for twenty, meaningful studies, inspiring teamwork, sacred moments, more hula-hooping than you might expect and ultimately far too many tears. Week after week, our red-headed Claire led us in prayer using the Psalms as her guide. For years, the passages flowed from her lips with confidence and ease. Later, the words became more difficult to form. Still always there was grace.

I’ve come to accept that with each loss there are lessons to learn and reflections to capture. Claire’s departure is no exception. Conceding to this understanding has the potential to open our hearts and minds to things we might otherwise miss. It can move us to wrestle through painfully raw questions, evaluate our priorities, love with added dimension, extend ourselves in new realms and in the end enable us to receive a profound hope nestled in the intangibles of this life and the next.

“Claire had integrity; she was who she said she was. And who she was was a woman deeply in love with her Lord. We saw Him clearly alive in her life. So we do mourn the loss of Claire Michelle Carey today. And we wish she was still here with us…but even more, I think we wish we were with her, free and whole.”Kelly Soifer (final words of today’s homily) 

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On Life and Death

 

 For the past seven years, May 1st has held an elevated status on my calendar for all the wrong reasons. It’s the day that my brother David died.

But here’s the thing. May 1st, 2003 is also the day that dear friends welcomed home their second son. This little guy’s conception and birth were nothing short of miraculous. Our friends had endured a long road of infertility. Ashton’s safe arrival marked an end to a trying season – one that we’d traveled with them. The news of David’s death and Ashton’s birth came within minutes of each other. And at the time, the combination felt impossible to process.

Exactly two months later, our daughter Hannah was born. She too had been a baby we’d waited a long time to have for different reasons. Once David died, I found myself wading through two months of pre-term labor. Ultimately, Hannah came early. Her delivery was frightening and amazing all at once. The doctors and nurses called her the miracle baby and she was. As I held our firstborn in my arms I felt incredibly blessed. My heart also ached for the brother I no longer had.

Four years later, yet another little man made his way to the outside world. He’s the son of my college roommate and treasured friend, Janna. After days of labor (I’m confident this girl could excel at marathons based on her birthing experiences), Paxton Kai was born on May 1st. We celebrated his arrival with joy and relief. And if the truth be known, I also cried that day after getting off the phone with Janna’s mom. 

As I sat across the table from a dear friend last night eating burritos, we talked about May 1st. We talked about the incredible odds involved in these births and David’s death lining up the way that they have. We talked about the incongruity of life and death and how they ultimately make very awkward bedfellows. 

Following my daughter Hannah’s birth, I can’t tell you how many times people told me how lucky or blessed or fortunate I was to have her on the heels of David’s passing. For many this little six-pound colicky bundle became the proverbial ribbon that they hoped could wrap up my pain in a tidy package and send it away.

I understand the awkwardness that accompanies death. This seems especially true when the loss is unexpected, untimely, seemingly unavoidable or any combination thereof. What I’ve also come to understand is this; the thing I unknowingly longed for in those dark days was a simple acknowledgement of the incongruity of it all. That was it. 

It turns out that life and death rub up next to each other in the most awkward of terms. I needed souls brave enough to sit within the heartache and the joy without trying to find cohesion between the two. My heart never ached so deeply. Still, my mind always knew that life and its goodness does (and ought to) carry on.

My grief demanded that I sit within these discrepancies and I suppose I wanted company. I had this at times in the most intimate of ways. Within hours of my horrible news, one friend was boarding a flight to come and be with me. Another friend was there within minutes. They held me close, cried their own tears, timed my inconceivably early labor pains, washed my dishes and somehow filled each daunting hour with their presence alone.  I’m forever grateful for those courageous individuals who didn’t try to fix it. Instead, they dared to live within those moments with the simple resolve of steadying my fragile soul.

In many ways, the past seven years have been a journey.  I needed to somehow locate a resting place within the paradox of life and death. I think I have. Come to find out, there are thousands of ways to navigate this terrain. At times I’ve tripped and fallen flat on my face. I’ve grown tired from the heat – finding myself parched with no water bottle on hand. More than once, I’ve meandered off course, having no idea which direction to go next. At still other turns I’ve found myself gaining momentum; there I’ve experienced deep satisfaction and an expansive view that moved my soul to an entirely new place. 

In the end, God’s grace has proven to bridge this chasm of life and death in ways that nothing else has. It has provided me with a deeper understanding of how beauty and depravity come alongside one another with the ability to emerge from chaos into harmony. This grace is stout. It is unwavering and entirely capable of supporting deep aches right alongside the abundant joys that this world contains. It has gifted me the time consider and the space to doubt. It has granted me the expanse to wander, and ultimately enveloped me with the assurance to return with a greater understanding and still more questions. 

Grace. It is the essence of how I seek to live life alongside loss each day this side of May 1st, 2003. I think David would be proud of the path his little sister has traveled.

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Grace Hannah

Two weeks ago today, Grace Hannah the hamster died. She’d just celebrated her 2nd birthday where she enjoyed munching on cabbage while watching a lively game of pin the tail on the hamster. While I’m not one to liken animal deaths to those of humans, I will say that the whole experience caused me to consider things much more deeply than I expected.

We realized death was imminent on Saturday morning when we went to get Grace and her cage out of the bathtub to begin her day in Hannah’s room. In case you’re wondering why the hamster was housed in the bathtub, allow me a moment to explain. Grace was the kind of girl who really enjoyed gathering up all of her belongings and storing them in her wheel each night. That was her preference. She’d then run incessantly while her food kibbles flew all over the place. It created quite a mess and a raucous, neither of which proved terribly conducive to a six year-old sleeping. Thus the tub.

When we placed her cage in Hannah’s room, her protected demeanor said it all. She was leaving soon. When we reached in to check things out, her little body was much cooler than usual. Her breathing was slow and her little blue eyes were closed. We explained to Hannah that Grace’s life was coming to an end. We told her we weren’t sure how much longer she had, but that most likely this would be Grace’s last day with us.

There were lots of tears in the hours that ensued. Sweet Hannah offered little Grace one last grape thinking that it would provide her with food and water all in one. From time to time, Grace would lift her weakened head and try to take a nibble, but ultimately just curled back up.

At one point Hannah asked if she’d ever get to see Grace’s eyes opened again. I explained that most likely she’d keep them shut. That news felt especially devastating. In that moment I realized the intimacy of the relationship these two had shared. Countless times, the bouncing child and the frisky rodent had settled in just long enough to look into each other’s eyes. And when they did, something very special happened. Naturally, in Grace’s most vulnerable moment nothing felt more important to Hannah than to be able to look into her pet’s little eyes and tell her that she’d be okay. But Grace was fading away.

I assured her that although her eyes were shut, Grace could certainly hear Hannah’s voice. Through streams of tears, Hannah talked in the quietest of voices to her fragile friend. She told her that she loved her and that she was going to be okay.

That night, Grace was still breathing. We decided that she’d sleep in Hannah’s room, as we knew that on this night she would be quiet. At 5:30 the following morning, Hannah came into our room and told us that Grace was dead. She had gotten her out that morning and held her one last time. She prepared a little box for her … one that had housed her birthday cabbage from the prior week. Hannah lined the bottom of the box with cotton balls and wrote I love you Grace in green crayon on the inside of the lid. She painted a rock and collected some treasures from her treasure chest. We then took her to GJ’s rose garden to bury her.

As Phil and I reflected on this experience, I was immediately reminded of a technique he uses when he paints. Prior to creating any real form to a picture, he takes a broad brush stroke over the entire canvas. It’s a thin layer and seemingly inconsequential. Yet ultimately it sets the foundation for the painting.

I suppose that’s what took place in our home two weekends ago. Losing Grace was Hannah’s first real taste of death. It was her broad brush-stroked foundation, have you. And there, Phil and I were given the opportunity to walk our child graciously through life’s most difficult reality – death. 

With loss comes tears, recollection of the good times (we spent some time writing down all of our fun memories with Grace), denial (at one point she was quite positive that Grace’s body was getting warmer and that she’d be alright afterall), more tears, a longing for the suffering to end (many moments Hannah stood by Grace’s cage saying over and over again, poor poor Grace) and a very literal ache in your heart (she told me that her heart felt like it broke in half).  

I created a Shutterfly picture book for Hannah. In it I wrote a little story about her and Grace and their many adventures together. When it arrived I placed it on Hannah’s bed for her to discover. I sat with her as she read it. At moments she laughed and in the end, she fought back her tears.

This past week I was cutting up an apple and Hannah ran over. She swooped up the core and headed towards her room. But then she caught herself. She was going to give it to Grace … but Grace was no longer there.

She’s talked about wanting to get a new hamster. We’re giving it a little time. Her kindergarten teacher told me that Hannah shared with her that she’s dreaming of a new little friend … maybe for her half-birthday. She told her that she’s planning on naming the hamster Chocolate Chip. 

What’s remarkable about little ones is that their hope seems to stay in tact. Hannah felt Grace’s loss deeply. Yet she’s also able to see what lies beyond this place of pain. Apparently, we have much to learn from each other.

Grace was a very special friend. We’re so thankful for the many memories of this apricot-colored, fast-running, frequent bathing, cheek-stuffing, U-2 loving, pocket-riding, apple dancing girl.

…excerpt from Hannah’s memory book of Grace

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