Grief

Burdens are Meant to be Shared

He sat across from me in a leather chair. His legal pad balanced on his crossed knee. As I spoke, he took notes. His pencil making that light scratching noise as it scraped across the page.

I’d never been to a therapist before, but I knew I needed one. So there I sat, running down the list of my thirty some years. My father’s death, my teenage pregnancy, my troubled marriage.

When I finally stopped, Tom lifted his pencil, looked at me and said,

“Wow Ellen, that’s a lot. And it’s a good thing you’re here. You’re at that age when the tools you used to survive your childhood no longer work. Now you have a choice. You can cut off the pain, or you can choose to feel it. But I must warn you, if you cut out the bad, you’ll also cut out the good. You can’t cut at one end without cutting at the other. If you don’t feel the bad, you won’t feel the good either.”

Without taking his eyes off me, he paused and let his words settle in.

Super Gift from HeavenI sat silently for several seconds pondering my decision.

All my life, I’d been in pursuit of joy. I relished the simplest pleasures – My children performing in a school play. Overhearing our young daughter read her little brother a book, using the same inflections as me. Seeing my children curled up on either side of their father, watching TV. The hours of laughter at the dinner table.

And what about all those unexpected moments? The ones that catch you off guard, that years later, still send warmth through you.

A chill came over me at the thought of missing those tender moments.

“Well then,” I responded. “I’ll just have to feel the bad because I want it all.”Kelly, Chris, and Daniel

Now, twenty some years later, I better understand my therapists wisdom. I see how easy it is to build walls around our hearts to shield us from the pain of sometimes our own bad decisions. And how that padding can become a large barrier between us and those we love.

I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the purpose of pain. But I know I must feel it. Not just mine but yours as well. I know intrinsically, it’s the narrow path to a rich life. One that’s lived in spite of its circumstances.

So as we begin this holy season, I encourage you to pick up someone else’s burden. Maybe you need to make a donation, or participate in an act of service. Maybe you need to just spend time with a friend. Whatever it is, I challenge you to hold it, and feel it.

Then when you kneel at the manger, share it with Him. He’ll be glad to help you carry it.

nativity-drawing

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I Knew Him Intimately

DSC00985A few weeks ago, I was putting together a photo collage of my granddaughter Juliette to post on facebook for her fourteenth birthday. As this picture popped up on my screen, I was first drawn to Jules’ image. All our grandchildren loved their Papa’s toys, and it was always a treat when he took them for a motorcycle ride. It was a perfect choice to add to my collection.

But for some reason, I became fixated on the image of Tim. I enlarged the picture and slowly absorbed every inch. I noticed how his thumb was resting on the “start” button. How focused he was on what he’s doing, and not on the photo being taken. And doggone it, there had to be one of those blasted cigarettes dangling from his lips.

The picture made me realize how well I knew every inch of that man. The way he pushed his sunglasses on the top of his head. How that vein in the crease of his elbow always protruded. And all those lines on his face – I could map each one. Then I laughed out loud remembering how much I loved the tiny little white hairs that covered his earlobes.Tim Barbados

On and on I went marveling at how intimately I knew Tim. And how there’s not just emotional or sexual intimacy, but physical intimacy as well. And how grateful I am to have experienced all those levels with him.

“You have searched me Lord, and you know me,” the Psalmist says. “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place…”

Oh, how many times have I read that without fully grasping its meaning? How easily I brush aside the reality that God does know how many hairs are on my head. How interesting that an ordinary picture of Tim could provide such a vivid image of how well God knows me.

I will never get over the loss of Tim. And maybe I’m not supposed to. For I believe, God did not create us for temporal relationships, but for ones that never end. And in that eternity, we were to know and be known by all. Including our God.

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Crossing the Valley of Grief

From the mome100_0014nt we got Tim’s cancer diagnosis, I knew a vast valley lay before me. I knew, save a miracle, that in the not so distant future, he’d be gone, and I’d be left to grieve.

For two and half years, I dreaded it. And no matter how much care Tim required, having him around was always better than losing him. And the longer I could delay that grief, the better.

I’d experienced enough loss to know grief of that magnitude would take at least a year to muddle through. And there wouldn’t be much I could do to rush the journey. So after Tim died, I gave myself the grace to endure whatever the year held.

But I never expected the grief to go on at that level for another year.

It swallowed me. Many mornings it weighed on me like an x-ray blanket at the dentist. When I stood up, it pressed against me on all sides. I questioned whether I’d ever be myself again.

That’s when I stopped and took an inventory. Who did I have to lean on? How do I reach out and share my fears for my own well beingIMG_2572? What did I need to change to start the healing process?

Then I took it all to the foot of the cross. There I asked God to reveal who the best people were to help me. After all, not everyone is capable of walking with us for that fourth or fifth mile. And Tim’s illness and death was a full journey on its own.

The list was short. But it was complete. I needed a couple ladies with good ears to listen. I needed to talk about Tim. To articulate that big empty hole in my life. To hear myself tell myself I was going to be okay. To hear them voice their confidence in me.

I also needed an intense exercise program. One that included a plan for healthier eating.

DSC00348Finally, I made it through year two, and rounded the corner on my grief.

Now It’s a rare morning when I awake feeling that suffocating weight. The empty hole is still there, but I honor it for what it is – the vast value Tim filled in my life. And I welcome the notion that I’ll always miss him.

Today, I’m no longer the woman who started this journey. And my decision to turn everything over to Him, showed me just how capable He is of doing exceedingly more than I ever imagined.

For My Friend Suzanne

I watched from afar. We shared this journey. Me first than you. We cared for our husband’s during long illnesses. We watched as they entered glory.
Tim and John met once. Do you remember? I was working in Salisbury opening a new store. Tim brought the Harley up and we rode out to your beach house. I believe it was a divine meeting. The start of an eternal friendship.
You are now where I was nearly three years ago. Beginning to learn how to live without the husband of your youth. But like Tim, John left you a gift. A profound understanding of God’s love. An understanding I find difficult to explain to others.
So many people ask where God is in suffering. But those of us close to men like John and Tim saw Him. We saw Him in the way these men rose above their affliction. The way their lives became enmeshed with God. In their suffering, they embraced Him. And God became so real to them and those of us watching.

Where is God in the suffering? I love Philp Yancy’s explanation in his new book The Question That Never Goes Away:
From Jesus I learn that God is on the side of the sufferer. God entered the drama of human history as one of its characters…in a most intimate and vulnerable way… We are right to protest against violence and injustice, and right even to call God to account…We cry out for God to do something for us, whereas God prefers to work within and alongside us… God has chosen to respond to the human predicament not by waving a magic wand…but by absorbing it in person…From Jesus I learn that God is on the side of the sufferer…
I wish I could take away your suffering. The path you’re on is so familiar to me.

But since I can’t, I’ll choose to be on the side of your suffering. To enter into your pain. To hold onto it and share it because I long to be like Jesus. To be vulnerable in the most intimate way.

Til Death Parted Us

It’s been a year since that rainy day when I opened the sliding glass door to let in some fresh air. After weeks of a full house of visitors, I was at home with Tim and just one hospice nurse.

The day seemed surreal. Quiet in an other worldly sense. The nurse was a temp, not one we knew from the agency. Part of me was glad to be alone, part wished someone was there with me.

For days I’d been looking for the signs I’d been told would tell me death was near. By early afternoon I began to suspect he was slipping away. Before I had time to call the kids, he was gone.

I wept as I helped the nurse bathe him one last time. Sponging down his lifeless legs, I thought of the rich man who claimed Jesus’ body. I wondered if he washed off the blood  from the wounds in his hands and feet. Something in that exercise was so reverent. As if respect for the empty shell of a man honored the life he lived.

In the hours it took for the coroner to arrive, I couldn’t leave his side. I kept thinking “We did it honey, we stayed together until death did us part.” For us, a huge accomplishment. A sheer act of our wills. A byproduct of the tenacity imbedded in both of us.
 Til Death Parted Us

Tim’s  three year battle with cancer changed my perception of love. I discovered there’s a depth of romance found in the midst of a struggle. That a powerful bond forms in the simplest moments. Like waking in the night because he reached for my hand. How silently laying in the dark, we were more connected than during any act of sex we’d ever had.

I remember the many times I wanted to give up on us. How foolish was I to think life could be better without him.

I want to tell young couples my story. Tell them not to be so eager to trade in what they have for what might be. That there’s nothing like a relationship that spans a lifetime. That staying together, until death does them part, beats anything else out there.