Ambushed. . .

ambush2

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.

Daniel. . .

It seems an odd time to be so grieved about losing Daniel. I made the mistake of viewing an old YouTube video posted by Doug Holtz after Daniel’s death by suicide. I can’t find it on YouTube anymore but have saved it on my Facebook page. I was overwhelmed with a fresh sense of loss. Anyone who knew Daniel knows he could be charming, funny, yet subject to serious mood swings. I have seen both his loving side and his angry side. He was very intense, either way.

IMG_0906

This week has brought losing him so vividly back to me. Death by suicide has been in the national news with the deaths of two very-public figures. Both were said to have had “mental health issues” prior to their deaths. Suicidal ideation slips into the minds of those who struggle with depression with such subtlety that it makes me cringe. We think we are watching for “signs”, but often miss those very hints that speak to our loved one’s despair. A couple of thoughts:

  • If you are struggling with depression and find yourself dealing with thoughts of harming yourself, please let your friends, family, healthcare professional know. Daniel refused to seriously seek help for his issues. We were left helpless to be with him through that last day, helpless to save him from himself. The stigma associated with depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, even psychosis, must go away. Our daughter was saved through the intervention of a good friend, a family practice physician, and a gifted psychiatrist. If only Daniel had been open to acknowledging that he had a problem and seeking help. . .
  • If you have lost someone to suicide, don’t be afraid to share your feelings with others. Families need to acknowledge the circumstances of their loved one’s death openly. Friends need to listen without judgment or platitudes. Church family can be a great resource for comfort if, once again, judgment and platitudes are left out of the discussion. Support groups, where you are in the midst of other survivors of suicide, are a valuable resource in which you can openly share your grief, anger, confusion and healing in a confidential setting.

We lost our Daniel. Yet he left behind my beautiful and smart and insightful and loving daughter-in-law, who is now, and forever will be, a part of our family and “my” daughter. He left behind a beautiful, smart, loving, best-mother-in-the-world to his two grandchildren, one granddaughter he met, one grandson just born. What a loss to him, what a gift to us!

I struggle with the hurt. I want, more than anything, for his death to not be in vain. This family, I hope, will be an example of open discussion, a resource for others, and loving support for each other. I long for the day when suicide is no longer a leading cause of death.

If you are having thoughts of self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-(TALK)8255.

For folks in my “neck of the woods”:

DR. ROBERT E. ELLIOTT FOUNDATION www. elliottfoundation.com with S.O.S. (Survivors of Suicide) support group meeting first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in Willow Room at South Campus Unity Health White County Medical Center located at 1200 South Main Street, Searcy, Arkansas.

 

Memories…….

 

DSCN0488

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

 

 

 

Seeing the big picture……

\img_1002-1

See the pretty little girl? Pretty and precocious. See the vertical wrinkle in the carpet and the horizontal shadow from a window? She just told her Mama to “see the T”. She is looking at the bigger picture. From her vantage point it appears obvious that there is an (upside down) T. I can see it. Can you?

I wish I could have her perspective on life. To see the big picture of God’s plan for my life. It might help me understand some of the challenges and trials and grief that He has allowed in my life. I want to be like Joseph, who survived being cast away by his brothers, sold into slavery, rising to power only to be wrongfully accused and thrown into jail, and, finally, achieving a position of power that allowed him to save his people from starvation. And, all the while, he did not grow bitter. He could, at least retrospectively, see God’s hand at work.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45: 5-7 NIV)

I doubt that I would have been as patient, gracious, or trusting as Joseph. Nowhere is it recorded that he whined, complained, despaired, or turned away from God. Nor did he lash out in anger or seek revenge. Somehow, through patient obedience, he was able to see the “big picture”, the overarching purpose of all that had befallen him. I fear that I might have reacted differently.

Then there is the wonderful story of Esther, a beautiful young Jewish girl in captivity, chosen to be the queen of Persia. She was obedient in keeping her family background and nationality secret, following the advice of her adopted father, Mordecai.Learning of an evil plot to kill her people, she feared to approach Xerxes to ask for protection and mercy. Who wouldn’t, knowing that, unless he deemed it acceptable for one to appear unannounced and extended his golden scepter in reprieve, the intruder (even though queen) would be put to death? She reminded Mordecai of this danger as he directed her to seek rescue for her people.  But he had another perspective for her consideration.

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 12-14 NIV)

Mordecai reminded Esther of her position in the big picture of that time and that place and the responsibility that accompanied it. Do you ever wonder where you fit in the “big picture” of things? I do. We generally think of children and grandchildren and so forth as a type of legacy. I lost a child to suicide. How does that subtract from my legacy? What am I to do with my role as a “survivor of suicide”? My mind struggles to make some sense of it, to detect some purpose that I can now fulfill because of it. I try to comfort others that I meet who have lost children. I reach out to those who have experienced the special grief of suicide. I speak openly and write about it. But is there more that I am supposed to do with my grief?

And, I try to “tie a knot and hang on”.

photo

The thing is, I’m beginning to recognize that the rope is God. It is Him that I cling to, sometimes with firm grasp and sometimes hanging on by a thread. He is my strength, my hope, my salvation. He sees the big picture, while I see only snapshots. His vision is clear; mine is cloudy. So, I try to make the knot ever bigger and more substantial through Bible reading and prayer, so that it’s easier to hang on to. But, when the rope swings in the winds of life, my emotions swing right along with it.

As a very wise woman has said to me, “It’s those ‘sneak attacks’ of grief that get us.” One moment I’m laughing at a coworkers story and the next my eyes fill with unbidden tears, as I realize that my Daniel won’t be around to write my eulogy. (He was a writer, like me.)  And, what in my life will be worthy to eulogize? Am I somehow lessened by his loss? Or am I strengthened through surviving it? Am I making a difference every day? Am I living life to the fullest by staying in the moment? So many questions.

But, I keep my eyes peeled for glimpses of the “big picture”. And, I cling with every fiber of my being to that rope of faith. And, I will, somehow, keep on keeping on.

Only by God’s grace.

Welcome 2017…….

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV)

I’ve been trying for days to write a blog post. I wrote a really negative one at the end of 2016, listing all the things I was “sick and tired” of. After a good bit of soul searching, I have come to realize that the thing I was most “sick and tired” of was my attitude. Many friends had experienced unexpected loss, and those tragedies once again reminded me of the grief of losing Daniel.  But now a clean slate of new days, new weeks, new months, all under the control of a loving God, who will not leave me to face the bad things that life brings alone, stretches before me. So, I am attending the Survivors of Suicide group this evening, and this is my prayer as a new year begins.

Father God,

You know my tears, my fears, my regrets, and my future. You know the grief of a Son’s death. My understanding of your sacrifice is so much more personal now. Yet, how can I compare my loss to yours? Please forgive me. Help me forget the pain of “former things”, while remembering the love. Strengthen me to avoid dwelling on the past. Lead me to let YOU do the new thing in the year before me.

There are a lot of things that I think you want me to do with my life. Nursing has been one of them. Thank you for the connection I feel with patients and colleagues. Thank you for the feeling that my work makes a difference in lives. Thank you that I have been blessed with the ability to provide for my family (I see so many who have not.)

It has been my belief that writing is also a course you want me to pursue. You seem to be reminding me of that through reminders of “Is the next book finished?” or “likes” on a blog post. Yet, in spite of these messages,  I have wallowed in grief and despondence and depression, and I have failed to invest the time and energy that I should in the work of writing. Forgive me. And help me to do better. Grant thoughts and words that can speak to others, that can encourage or inspire, that can tell a good story while honoring your name. Strengthen my will to persevere in the work, for it is work. Banish procrastination. Focus my mind. May everything that I do be to your honor and glory.

And, Lord, help me always to remember that you have a plan for all my days in this life. Help me to recognize and be faithful to your guidance. At my passing, may it be said that I lived well, loved well, and made a difference in your kingdom and this world.

I pray these things in your beloved Son’s name,

Amen

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:14 NIV

May each of you readers have a blessed 2017, filled with the knowledge that God’s love for you is a reality.

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