Remembering. . .

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Do you remember the beautiful, strong web that sweet spider Charlotte weaved in the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web? The story is one of life and death and redemption and has charmed and touched both children and adults for years.

A certain passage has been on my mind lately. Sunday, August 26th, 2018, marked the three-year anniversary of our son Daniel’s death by suicide. How appropriate the timing! Because September 1 began the official month for suicide awareness and prevention. The day after Daniel’s funeral, my granddaughter, Daniel’s daughter, shared a passage with the family from the book she was currently reading to her daughter, Dan’s grandchild, only about 8 months old at the time of his death. You’ll notice that my granddaughter was quite progressive in her choice of reading material for her little girl of 8 months–the book was, you guessed it, Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. This is the passage she read that day, the passage she shared with family along with her comments:

This is going to be long but thought I should share with everyone. I’ve been reading Charlotte’s Web with Lorelai when we have time to read at night. It’s been a few days since we’ve had time for a chapter obviously but last night I sat down to read to her. Wouldn’t you know it was the chapter where Charlotte dies and I feel like the following quote was meant to be read by us after all of this:

“A little tired, perhaps. But I feel peaceful. Your success in the ring this morning was, to a small degree, my success. Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Northing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, and the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will wake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur–this lovely world, these precious days…”                                  (from Charlotte’s Webb by E.B.White, 1952)

Charlotte

This little lady has been weaving the most glorious web on our front window. She produced an egg sack, and, as nature goes, she has died. Watching her work and give her life for her progeny caused me to remember Kaci’s words for us as we grieved her dad. I am forever grateful that she shared with us that day.

Many of you readers have lost children by other tragedies–accidents, sudden illnesses, prolonged illnesses. We mothers and fathers experience a grief that is one-of-a-kind when a child dies. It is not the natural order of things to lose a child, and the pain of that loss stays with us until we join them in God’s presence.

It’s important, I think, to remember that the life we live after they are gone from us is important. Days and months and years pass. We should strive to appreciate and even enjoy the miracle of life as long as it is ours to live. Yes, our hearts will be pierced by moments of grief so keen that we mentally cry out or long to sink to our knees in despair. We must know those moments, but live the rest of the days to the best of our ability, with thanksgiving that we knew that child for whatever time, with hope that we will meet again in heaven, with intent to do whatever we can to prevent any other useless death, with loving understanding for the grief of other parents who have lost a child or grandchild or anyone who has passed too soon from this life.

It was no accident that Kaci found and shared those words that day. I don’t believe in coincidences, just the hand of God reaching down to comfort us in our times of need. The hurt is still with me, but so are the memories of Daniel before he lost his way. I pray for each parent who has lost a child. May God’s peace and comfort strengthen you today.

 

Ambushed. . .

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Recently I visited the subject of grief with a description of being “ambushed” by the emotion. The terminology did not originate with me, but was adopted by Daniel’s dear widow, now my true daughter in spirit, as she has dealt with his death. A friend then commented on the post with the observation that, although she had never heard the term used as a descriptor of grief attacks, she thought it could apply to attacks of anxiety. And I began to think. . .

There are many emotional “ambushes” that occur in our lives. The attacks come from a concealed position and strike with surprise (see definition number 3 above), usually, but not always, from an enemy of our emotional equilibrium. Some examples:

  • Grief.  The most benign memory, the most ordinary event, can precipitate the sudden recollection of loss. A photograph, the sight and sound of an ambulance, the smell of a hospital corridor, the sight of the loved one’s handwriting or craft–all can be the stimulus that brings a wave of fresh grief to our awareness. And we feel truly “ambushed” by the surprise attack which often comes from the “concealed position” of a truly innocent occurrence.
  • Anxiety. My friend’s observation regarding anxiety led me to think that a fresh definition of panic attack might be an “ambush” of anxiety, accompanied by the physiological components of the stress response. Performance anxiety can “ambush” us when taking a test or speaking in public. It can be especially problematic when being evaluated in the performance of a physical skill. (I am remembering nursing skill labs!) A good friend says that stress is a reminder that we are still alive. But sometimes I become so stressed with worry about the outcome of a situation or even imagined or dreaded future events that anxiety almost overwhelms me. What about you?
  • Depression. I think one can be “ambushed” by full-fledged depression when vague emotions of sadness or discouragement or futility or fatigue suddenly morph into the overwhelming dark hopelessness of depression. We wonder where it came from, how it got there, and what to do. In the best case scenarios, we have a support network of family, friends, and, if needed, professionals who can rescue us from the enemy that has taken us by surprise.
  • Anger. It may be a sense of righteous indignation. Or it may come from a real or perceived personal attack, insult, or oversight. If anger truly ambushes me, it is the most frustrating of situations, because attempts to express it often result in tears, and I lose all ability to communicate in a logical and articulate way. So then I am angry with myself!

But what about more positive emotions that surprise us from some concealed place within our hearts? Like—

  • Faith. My walk of faith can wax and wane. The times when it grows weak can “ambush” me with any or all of the above negative emotions. Then, through the invisible cord of God’s love and mercy, I am somehow drawn back into closer communion with my Creator, Savior, and Lord. I begin to once again feel a stabilizing presence in my heart and the certainty that I am here for a purpose, for a higher calling. And this results in an ambush of–
  • Joy. Yes, I think we can be “ambushed” by joy. It, too, can be lying in wait for us. It can come at the most unexpected times, times when we are reminded that a higher power is in control and that we are loved. The birth of a child, precious moments spent with family or friends, corporate worship (especially in music), and the gratification of work well done are a few examples.

I wonder. What emotion is lying in wait “from a concealed position” waiting to strike you “in surprise”? Will you be ready to counter it with the stability that faith offers? Where are you in your walk? Can you identify other emotions waiting to “ambush” us?

I would love to read your thoughts.

Memories…….

 

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Dear Daniel,

I found this picture the other day. It’s the way I like to remember you. Full of life and laughter and love. I still wonder sometimes if anything could have been done to save you. Fishing season this year I so longed to see you on the pond bank pulling a big bass from the water. Hunting season is here and I miss your excitement about it. You made such a production of planning and preparation and then the joy of the hunt.

Losing you changed us all. We still grieve. We still feel guilty at times. You would be, I think, I little irritated but a lot proud of me now. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a blog. You were the one who prodded me to keep doing it. Therefore, you would be giving me a call to remind me that it is time for another post. I missed getting that call so badly!You were so proud of me when Freely Given was published. You wanted a signed (bad) proof copy that required corrections, acting like you were convinced that it would someday be of value. Now Colorado’s Choice is coming out, and you’re not here to cheer me on.

My writing has changed. My conversation has, too. Bringing suicide into awareness has become my soapbox. I share our story a lot. I don’t think it’s to get sympathy. I am just compelled to open the discussion, focus attention, direct people to sources of help, both to prevent suicide and to help survivors heal. I wish no other mother would ever have to lose a child in this way. I wish no other family would have to experience this pain. I long to be present and a source of support and comfort for those who fear a loved one’s suicide and for those who are living the nightmare.

You are always in my heart and thoughts. I see you in every picture of Kaci and Lorelai and recognize your love for the outdoors in your daughter’s joy as she becomes a “country” girl. Your craftsmanship is evident everywhere in this house. What creative gifts you had! I heard an author/speaker describe heaven as a place where we still use our God-given gifts. I hope that is so. It’s such a shame to waste yours.

I love you, Son,

Mom

 

 

 

Words set free…….

The “club”………..

The definition of club from The New Oxford American Dictionary:

a group of people, organizations, or nations having something in common

My heart is broken because another old friend has become a member of what I call “the club”. You do not enter by special, anxiously awaited invitation. As a matter of fact, you NEVER want to join. It is not a place of fun and games or intellectual discussion or playing bridge or gardening. It is a dark and lonely place full of tears and regret and questions and broken heartedness.

Some are recruited by way of a known end-stage terminal illness. Some are pulled into the ranks by accidents or violence or a loved one’s self destructive behavior. Some have been unexpectedly ambushed by a sudden death, of an infant or a toddler or a teen or a young adult. Many elderly members have been drawn into the group by the death of an only slightly less elderly child.

Because this is “the club” of those whose children have preceded them in death. It’s not supposed to be this way, we all know. Children are supposed to bury parents, not parents bury children. All grief is hard, and all grief is personal and individualized. It is my opinion that the grief of a child’s death is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Since losing my Daniel, I have become so much more sensitive to other parents who have lost children. Keep your eyes and ears and hearts open and you will recognize that you meet them everyday. We are out there–friends, acquaintances, church family, coworkers, people in the check out line at Walmart. I used to tell patients who confided in me about the loss of a child that “that must be the hardest loss”. I was right, while never guessing that I would experience that grief myself.

However, the loss of a child can open one’s eyes to the immeasurable value of the greatest gift that the human race has ever been given–Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Just think about it, unwilling members of “the club”, God the Father willingly sent his son to die in our stead. He might be considered the Divine Chairman of our group. And, His son, Jesus, often promised that one day we will be reunited with our children in a place without sickness, death, or tears.

That’s what I hold on to. My prayers today go up for all of the membership of “the club”.

Letter to Dan…….

 

DSCN0699Dear Daniel,

I’m really having a hard time with this blog, because it’s been nearly a year since I did much writing. It’s like your death redefined my life. I am now the mother of a child who committed suicide. It’s not a pretty definition. You were so very proud when I published that little novel! Since your death, I’ve written hardly anything. I think it’s time for that to change.

You know, losing you was a terrible experience, made all the more painful because you didn’t “pass away” quietly or die from some horrible illness or tragic accident. You chose to leave us, on your terms, your time. That has made this whole experience so much more hurtful, I think. Sometimes I’ve been just plain mad. How dare you hurt us like this? How selfish of you, thinking only of your personal pain and not thinking of our survivor pain.

I know, you didn’t realize, weren’t thinking. You were in such a deep, dark hole of depression and dismay, not knowing how to beat the addiction to methamphetamine, not having enough courage to own up to your mental illness, recognizing the hurt that you were causing the wife that you loved, the child you adored, and the grandchild that you felt you would never be good enough for. You had truly, as your loving wife explained, “lost your way.”

You are not forgotten. Steffie loves you still-she chose and designed your gravestone, and it is so much what you would have chosen. She even included your logo on the vase. As we drive by the cemetery each Sunday morning, I feel tears threatening. How I would love to see you and comfort you and make things better! Your brother misses you, particularly when he has some “project” to do, like jack-hammering concrete floor to fix a leak. And your little sister has been changed by your loss. She, previously so filled with the desire to escape her depression, now says openly that she would “never” hurt the family like you did. I am grateful, because I don’t think I could survive losing another child through suicide. Being a survivor of suicide is, indeed, a label one never wants to wear.

I think of you every day, son. I wear a necklace with your name on it in remembrance. It gives me comfort. Although I miss you with every inch of my being, I at last know that you are safe and at rest in our Heavenly Father’s arms. And, through it all, my faith is ever stronger. God is good. His love, grace, and mercy are enough to see us through the darkest of days. I only wish you had remembered those truths from your early years. Perhaps, then, you would have never chosen to leave.

Rest in peace, son.

Your loving mother

 

The art of healing…….

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As a medical professional, I have long known that assisting others with physical healing involves both science and art. Evidence based medicine, the “science” of it is the gold standard for modern healthcare. But,
— the art of being truly “present” with the patient,
— the art of having insight into what motivates that individual,
–the art of relating to the person with sensitivity, empathy, and compassion,
all have a critical role in achieving good outcomes.

A few weeks after my son’s suicide, I serendipitously encountered a fellow writer at a conference. We met in the prayer room as she prayed with me in my grief. I left the conference with a gifted book, authored by this dear lady who had taken the time to share in my sorrow. She signed the title page, “Hemmed in Hope! Cynthia”. Little did I know how that book would speak to me in the weeks to come.

Cynthia Ruchti’s  Tattered and Mended–the Art of Healing the Wounded Soul (Abingdon Press, 2015) helped me to reframe the pain and loss that has changed my life forever. She eloquently compares the process of healing souls tattered by tragedies, choices, and traumas to the art of reclaiming and restoring various treasures. As I read each chapter, I found myself drawn into the understanding that God can use even the worst that life on this earth brings to us, mending us into stronger and more centered souls.

Cynthia describes the restoration of two-hundred year old Japanese garments through the techniques of sashiko and boro. As I read of the art of quilt restoration and discarded copper recycled into works of art, I began to believe that I could survive this loss and not be defeated. She writes of tapestries restored, fine arts reclaimed, stained glass recovered, antique dolls redeemed, and broken furniture refurbished. Throughout are two themes: that broken hearts are not to be viewed as unfixable and, thus, left to a miserable existence instead of joyful life in Christ, and that the tattered and mended soul can become a thing of greater beauty and worth than the original.

I still struggle to know how my loss will ever result in something of beauty and worth. I know that since it has occurred, I am ever more sensitive to the multitudes of parents who have lost children and the many survivors of suicide in this world. And, I am thankful for gifted and inspired writers like Cynthia who invest time and talent and effort into offering a new perspective for those of us who feel we have suffered the most unimaginable pain and loss this life can offer. I pray that someday I can help bring similar healing and hope to others.

Happy Birthday, Dan……

Dan

Dear Daniel,

Today would have been your 42nd birthday if your life had not ended so tragically. We miss you. Last evening we had a sort of pre-birthday party for you. Your wife, parents, siblings, aunt, uncles, nephew, and cousins were here, along with a few special friends–Todd and Benny and Jeff. Kerri sent her good wishes, as did Linda and Laura.

Remember the sky lantern you sent up for Robby after his death? We did the same for you. There were eleven of them, all white. One got stuck in a tree–Steffie thought you would find that funny. It harmlessly burned itself out. There was the slightest north wind, and we watched them as they (finally) went out of sight. Then we gathered in the house to share memories. They were good ones. Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Dan……”