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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Brokenness & Withdrawal 

godhealsThrough withdrawal, I’ve encountered a few unforeseen consequences. Not drug withdrawal but personal withdrawal.

Not long ago I received a letter from a relative asking if they had inadvertently offended me. To say I was stunned doesn’t adequately express my level of shock. And more recently still, a good friend told me that she feared I was uncomfortable in her presence and had therefore withdrawn. This woman is one I count among my best friends and my relative is someone I feel very close to as well. It hurt me to know that my withdrawal from public life had left them wondering about how I felt about them personally. In my desire to escape, I hurt them inadvertently.

After the accident, I found very little privacy in which to process my grief over Bethany and Katie’s deaths and the drastic change in health and mobility Gracen suffered due to the same accident. Family and friends came and went, and we were oh so thankful for their presence and the support they offered each one of us.

Yet it was also a hectic time and sleep deprivation was a common occurrence. Upon Gracen’s release from UAMS, caring for her was challenging, to say the least. There were medications to keep track of and belly shots to give. She was initially confined to a hospital bed and when she was transferred to any other location two people were required in order to control her right leg which was encased in an immobilizer for the first three months following her knee surgery. We were also working around a broken wrist, cracked pelvis, and so on . . .

Our home might well have had a revolving door as there were OTs and PTs, doctors and home health nurses coming in and out on a regular basis. Eventually, we acquired the assistance of two care aides. They were lifesavers for us. They helped us bathe and dress Gracen, work on her therapy, transfer her from place to place get her out of the house and just generally kept me sane. Isabelle and Julie, Merilee, Kelly, Candice, Katie, and Kimberly kept us afloat along with Drs. Balmakund, Karkos, Scott, Weeden, Renard, and Friesen.

It was helpful.

It was exhausting.

And time marched on. . .

We learned to transport Gracen in a car & mastered wheelchair usage in a variety of settings. We managed sponge baths and tub showers, walker practice, and clothes changes. Everything took longer and was more difficult than it had been before, and that was just on a physical level.

brokenwomanAnd time marched on . . .

For everyone else.

But I . . .

was broken . . .

shattered really.

All of a sudden I looked around and a year and a half had flown by and I was still trying to learn how to manage daily life effectively or efficiently or . . . at all.

Not only that but it was time to switch gears and prepare to send Gracen to college.

I was terrified to let her go.

I was afraid to keep her home.

I was still reeling and all of the sudden others started pushing me to move forward and not to worry after all God is in control.

Life had been so busy, one task leading to the next, that I failed to do a lot of grieving just trying to keep my head above water. And while others were ready for me to move on, I was just getting started.

I looked up and found myself profoundly shocked by the way the world had moved on—by how I was supposed to move on—and I knew—I knew that no one understood me . . .

kintsugiheartNo one understood my daily existence because it wasn’t like anyone else’s. And yet, there were expectations. . .

Weighty . . .

burdensome expectations that I was not prepared, let alone equipped to manage.

So I withdrew. . .

It was a purely self-protective move.

I dropped out of life.

I huddled up inside my home and wrote my way through my frustrations, hurt, and grief.

Alone.

But in so doing, my silence left others to draw their own conclusions, and for that, I’m truly sorry.

kintsugidefinitionWithdrawal was about me . . .

Not because of anyone in particular.

Withdrawal was about cultural, societal, and even spiritual expectations.

It was about protecting myself so God could begin the process of Kintsugi in my heart.

It was about me.

It’s still about me.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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Created for . . .

strandeddanipettreyIf you’ve read my blog posts in the past you probably know that I love to read. When I was a child it seemed as if my parents took us to the library once a week. I have a few distinct memories of the Swanson Library in Omaha, Nebraska. From my child-sized view, it was a huge library filled with a treasure trove of books and resources. It stood as a playground in my mind. I remember the hallways and the room where movies were shown, the book drop bin outside in front of the library, the long counter where books were stamped for checkout and I have a very clear image of standing in front of a bookcase filled to the brim with fictional escapes to dreamlike places and lives. The library is a very vivid image of my childhood.

I’m an avid reader. One the genres I enjoy reading is Christian fiction. The authors have expanded my understanding of scripture and taught me lessons that have stayed tucked in the forefront of my mind because of the story wound around the theological message.

One such book touched my heart as the parent of a stillborn child. I’d long ago laid down the question of why realizing there would never be an answer good enough to satisfy my grieving heart this side of Heaven. But there is a second why question that had never been answered satisfactorily that has lingered in the recesses of my mind for almost 25 years. That question is why create Cole at all just to have him die before he lived outside of my womb?

In the last year, I happened upon the best answer I’ve ever encountered in a book called “Stranded” by Dani Pettrey. In the course of the storyline, one character asks another why God would create his son just to let him die. The character responds that his son wasn’t born to die, he was born for eternity. That one sentence just grabbed me and it hasn’t let go.

As I have pondered this explanation, the conclusion drawn has expanded in scope in my mind. You see, every creature created by God Almighty, not just the miscarried, stillborn, aborted, or baby who dies shortly after birth, but every single human being ever created was not created for this world alone. Every single one was created for eternity. We were all created for a forever relationship with God.

To use the old dot and line analogy, our lives here on earth can be represented by the dot, and eternity is represented by the line. It looks like this:

.______________________________________________________________

That word picture doesn’t always help me to grasp the concept of eternity. But, if I’m standing on a hilltop or the top of a mountain looking down at the valley below and beyond, it feels more real. In that case, the place I stand is the dot and the line is as far as the eye can see stretching out before me . . . and beyond. That idea blows my mind.

eternalperspectiveIn comparison, our earthly lives are barely a blip on the radar of our eternal future. This is why the scriptures can so boldly proclaim that our suffering in this world is nothing more than a light and momentary affliction.

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” ~ 2 Peter 3:8

When we think about the suffering of Christ, the suffering of the Father while Christ was abused, spit on, whipped, and had nails pounded into his wrists and feet, we often think the time of Christ’s suffering was short. His absence from the disciples and His other followers a mere three days (prior to His ascension), yet from a heavenly perspective, Christ’s one full day of suffering in equivalent to 1000 years. If every year is equated to a thousand years then God the Father awaited the resurrection of His beloved son for 3,000 years. And Christ’s lifetime (living life as a human as opposed to deity alone) lasted 365 individual days times 33 years of life or 12,045 days. When you multiply that by 1000 years Christ lived the equivalent of 12,045,000 years separated from His Father, and has lived far more separated from all of His creation. I don’t know about you, but that’s a sobering thought for me.

We were created for eternity. It’s our free-will choice where we will spend those eternal days. A failure to make a decision is, in fact, a decision. Allow me to plead with you to make a wise choice. When you consider that a mere 33 years is equivalent to 12,045 days, that’s a lot of time spent in your eternal home. But 12,045 days will feel like 12,045,000 years when spent in hell as opposed to Heaven.

Yes, I believe in Hell. The Bible writes very vividly about it. It’s not the fun party place we like to believe it to be. It is a place of endless torment, isolation, sorrow and fear. Yet, we all have a choice. No one need go there.

No one.

Everyone spends eternity somewhere.

Where will you spend it?

 

*Photo credit goes to Karen Blankenship. Pictured is Matthew Sanders.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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Bad Moments, Pity, & Validation

I read recently of a mother who had a bad “moment” in public. She fled the scene, which is exactly what I would have done, eyes downcast, feet moving quickly, throat tight choking back tears and sobs threatening to escape humiliation complete for all to see. Desperate. For. Privacy! Privacy to grieve without public pity. Privacy.

I’ve had a few such moments—can you tell?

Those “moments” are the most vulnerable moments of my life. The facade is stripped away without my consent and my response is laid bear – the fodder for gossip, criticism, judgment and maybe worst of all, the pity of others. I find myself ashamed of my inability to control my emotions in public and humiliated by my lack of self-control.

Have you ever noticed the aversion people have to being pitied by others? It made me wonder why and so I googled my way to the definition according to Merriam-Webster.*

“Definition of pity

plural 

pities

       1.     1a:  sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy

1b:  capacity to feel pity

      2.       2  something to be regretted <it’s a pity you can’t go>

pity Synonyms

disgrace, crime, shame, sin” 

The synonyms, make pity sound like the individual has done something shameful and is deserving of the circumstances in which they find themselves. Yet, if you read the discussion of synonyms that follows, disgrace, crime, shame, and sin are nowhere to be found. Instead, words like compassion, sympathy, and commiseration are found.

“Synonym Discussion of pity

pity, compassion, commiseration, condolence, sympathy mean the act or capacity for sharing the painful feelings of another.

compassion implies pity coupled with an urgent desire to aid or to spare <treats the homeless with great compassion>.

commiseration suggests pity expressed outwardly in exclamations, tears, or words of comfort <murmurs of commiseration filled the loser’s headquarters>.

condolence applies chiefly to formal expression of grief to one who has suffered loss <expressed their condolences to the widow>.

sympathy often suggests a tender concern but can also imply a power to enter into another’s emotional experience of any sort <went to my best friend for sympathy> <in sympathy with her desire to locate her natural parents>.”

You might notice I left pity out of the defined synonyms, but fear not, I’ll get to it. I’m am, however, surprised that pity is listed as a synonym for itself. However, I want you to make note of this observation first. None of those synonyms sound negative . . . so why are the words disgrace, crime, shame, and sin initially listed as synonyms? Why is it that people are so opposed to the pity of others? Well, tucked into that discussion of synonyms is one significant distinction that Merriam-Webster excludes from its definition above. Check it out below:

pity implies tender or sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow for one in misery or distress <felt pity for the captives>. “

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And there you go – “sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow for one in misery or distress”.

There it is . . . when others feel sorry for us—when they pity us—we perceive their compassion tainted by contempt. It’s the idea that we have done something to earn the circumstances we find ourselves in. Oh, I hear it . . . echoes of Job’s miserable comforters . . . little more than the carrot and the stick strategy. How horrible all that has befallen you! Confess and repent of your sin! (And the hidden message left unspoken is the satisfaction that justice was served, or glee that “the oh, so pious one” is revealed to be no better than anyone else.) There it is. That’s why we cringe. That’s why we flinch away from the pity of others—because it implies justification for our distress.

We got what we deserved

Oh, HECK  NO!

Don’t you dare imply that to me! And don’t imply that I am wallowing in self-pity either. Because, that, of course, means that not only did I deserve the evil that has befallen me but also I’m such a loser that I want you to feel sorry for me for receiving my just desserts too!

Regardless of the pity others may feel for me or anyone else, the reason these bad moments happen at all is because we find ourself in a situation we’ve failed to prepare for. We’ve been blindsided by words or a situation we hadn’t expected to encounter. Sometimes we find ourselves unable to recite the preplanned response. Emotion blindsides us into non-responsiveness.

I encountered one such situation the first time I returned to Tuesday morning Bible Study following the accident. It must have been the fall of 2014 because at the time I didn’t have to plan for Gracen’s care in my absence. Truth be told, if such arrangements had been required I simply would not have attended. But Gracen returned to the local high school that Fall for her senior year. So it was eight or nine months after the accident and I had copious amounts of free time to fill for the first time since my world changed so drastically. I was at a loose end and really had no clue how to return to some semblance of a normal life. Just the thought of a “normal life” was so far beyond my daily reality that I had to suppress the desire to break out in hysterical laughter. Hysteria being the key word there.

So I talked myself into a new Bible Study and forced myself from the safe confines of my Toyota Camry and marched my way to the front doors of the church and forced myself through the door and into the semi-crowded vestibule. 

Too early! 

What was I thinking? 

It was meet and greet timealways a little longer the first day of Bible Study. I knew that. Why hadn’t I considered it? Coffee and water, egg casseroles and breakfast pastries. . . 

I waded into the midst wishing for the cloak of invisibility. Small talk is not my forte! But I survived and made my way upstairs to the small auditorium used for group gatherings and kick-off ceremonies. I settled into a seat as close to the back as I could find and did my best to participate until we broke up to meet with our small groups.

I made my way to the designated room distressed to find that I was first to arrive aside from the small group leader. More small talk. . . Eventually, the group members straggled into class and took seats around the tables pushed together to form a square. A greeting from the small group leader and an overview of the material we’d be covering commenced and then it happened. . . How could I have forgotten what was to come? But there it was . . .

“Let’s go around the room and tell everyone a little about ourselves . . .” Oh, my goodness! What am I going to say?” “Hi, I’m Janet. I’ve been married to my husband, David, for 26 years. We have four children, Cole, who was stillborn, Bethany, 20, and Katie 16, who died last December in a car accident, and Gracen, who survived the accident but has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, daily migraine headaches, and is now in a wheelchair. I took this Bible Study because I didn’t know what else to do with myself while I wait for her to die too.” Uh, no . . . can’t say that. “Hi, I’m Janet. I’ve been married to my husband, David, for 26 years. We have one daughter, Gracen. I took this class . . . “, no, can’t say that either. There are people in this group who know I had three daughters, although most don’t know I had a son as well. . .

The first person introduced herself,

the second person finished her mini-bio,

the third person . . .

I can’t do this!

I CAN’T DO THIS!

And up I go, striding from the room, eyes lowered, clipped pace, throat tight, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry” on repeat in my mind as I search for an escape. A bathroom. “Shoot! There’s still a line outside the women’s restroom.” Down the stairs to the vestibule. “Crap! What are all these people doing here? Shouldn’t they be in class? Just get to the bathroom, Janet. Just keep it together. Don’t cry, don’t cry, DON’T CRY!” 

I kept my head down, dodged through the inconvenient group of ladies, and finally, finally burst through the bathroom door and by the mercy of God found the room completely empty. I made my way to the handicapped stall, locked myself in and let the tears flow as quietly as possible. I don’t know how long I stood there crying . . . trying to get it together . . . but groaned aloud when I realized in my haste to escape I’d left everything behind in that classroom. I think I would have left it all if I’d had my car keys, but no such luck. I’d have to suck it up and return to the classroom.

Of course, it was impossible that I would be able to grab my things and disappear for a week before I needed to face anyone. No, I’m never that lucky. But, it was fortunate that only the small group leader remained in the room. After several uncomfortable minutes during which she apologized for failing to realize the meet and greet might be difficult for me, and I demurred, because it certainly wasn’t her fault that I’d failed to prepare myself for something I knew was standard procedure, I left the room.

Of course, when I exited the room, I was met by another compassionate class member. Needless to say, I survived both encounters in spite of the fact that they were both very uncomfortable for me and for the ladies involved., I’m sure. Grief is not easy to navigatefor those who grieve and for those who care about those who grieve. It is what it is. There is no fixing the problem, just awkward attempts at kindness offered and received.

David, Gracen and I recently watch the movie, “Mechanic:  Resurrection”. During the course of the movie, one character said, “Those who’ve been hurt the most often have the greatest ability to heal.” You know I’ve found this to be true. And by the way, it’s a biblical concept.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 

Who can sit with the broken hearted? Someone who has been there before. Who can linger with the sick? Those who’ve stood in similar shoes. Who can help to bear your load? Those who’ve found themselves stumbling under the weight of unbearable pressure themselves.

It’s a bit of a paradox really as “having the ability to heal” implies the hurt individual is sick, and they are to a degree. Hurt at the very least implies injured. And how can the injured and the ill heal anyone else? The very experience of the injury or illness allows that person to validate the feelings of the hurting, and affirm their ability to cope with whatever ails them. And the wounded is encouraged by that validation and affirmation as well as being present to see the visual representation of another’s ability to cope. That’s life-affirming to the hurt, broken, wounded and frightened. And that’s why validation and affirmation are so much better for individuals than solely employing a positive thinking attitude.

Positive thinking doesn’t keep holding one up when the load gets increasingly heavy but validation, affirmation, and a good role model can. That is why the Bible tells us that one of the reasons we suffer is to minister to other hurting and discouraged individuals.

The bad moments are going to happen because no one can prepare for every situation or comment that will be encountered. Please recognize that these individuals are not wallowing in self-pity, they don’t deserve your “slightly contemptuous sorrow for . . . [their] misery or distress”. They are simply unprepared for some comments and situations, and your compassion, validation, and affirmation, if not your ability to commiserate, is desperately needed.

Leave the pity at home, please!

 

*The “Definition of pity/pities”, pity Synonyms, and the Synonym Discussion of pity all courtesy of the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

 

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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If it walks like a duck . . . 

 

duckwaddle2June or July or somewhere around there—the first person went where angels fear to tread and recommended that I find a new perspective regarding my circumstances. It was a subtle message, but I grasped it right off. At the time I remember thinking, “Am I behaving in such a way that others feel the need to give me the positive thinking message?” The mere suggestion made me doubt myself.

Frankly, I thought I was doing pretty well considering I’d just buried two children and had been learning to care for my disabled daughter in new and challenging ways.

David, Gracen and I laughed a lot the first year. We developed a sarcastic and dark sense of humor and released our grief through laughter more than tears. But apparently, I did not appear joyful, which I’m guessing, outwardly looks like happiness. I wasn’t wearing the Christian mask of perfection. It didn’t take long for me to learn that it’s not okay to be real in the expression of my emotions and struggles. It’s not okay for others to be uncomfortable because of my sorrow. It’s not okay to grieve after a certain point in time.

The funny thing is, everyone has a different idea of when that point in time officially starts. At least one person determined that six or seven months was adequate. Most people generously grant you a year. After that, well, you’re not really grieving—you’re just throwing the biggest pity party known to man.

These days, if I can get out of the house, I am no longer walking in the grief-cloud. I can follow a conversation (better)—maybe even remember details important to others. I can laugh and smile and my life’s circumstances are no longer in the forefront of my mind.

No, they’ve moved to the back of my mind.

Always present.

Always lingering and lurking and awaiting a trigger so that they can move back to the forefront once again.

I can’t explain how it happened but at some point being a disciple of Christ was not a role I played here or there; it became ingrained in my very being. The same thing happened when I became a mother. Doing motherly things wasn’t always in the forefront of my mind, but being a mother became a part of me I was constantly cognizant of.

Furthermore, the role of a special needs mother became a larger and larger part of my identity as ARSACS progressed in Gracen and Katie’s bodies. Every activity had to be filtered through how it would, could, or could not be accomplished. From homework to PE, sleepovers and simple accessibility considerations.

Everything!

The point came where Gracen needed all her everyday clothing in the top two rows of her dresser because she could no longer bend over to remove things from the lower drawers without losing her balance. So when I say everything, I’m not exaggerating a whole lot. I guess watching tv itself hasn’t changed, but getting seated on the sofa to watch tv has.

Christianity, motherhood, special needs parenting all became a part of my identity. The same thing has taken place since the deaths of three of my four children. Bereaved parent has joined the ranks of my personal identity.

Maybe you don’t see me that way but if someone asked who I was, how would you describe me to another? By outside identifiers; my height, weight and hair color—then you add in the other things commonly known about me or any other individual.

ladysnakecharmerIn Christian circles, you wouldn’t identify me by my faith unless there was something very unique about it. “She’s the woman that worships with snakes.” I guarantee you, if anyone in my church family included snakes as part of their normal worship activities everyone would know who that individual was, if not by name or sight, then by reputation.

astonmartincarWe all have a reputation. Some good, some bad, most a mix of both. The lady who drives the Aston Martin would certainly be known in most communities. And we all have things that make up our identity. Very few disabled people don’t recognize their disability as part of their identity, but it’s a defining characteristic of that person. Just like being an athlete or scholar, doctor, or maid becomes not only how others identify them but how they identify themselves.

Bereaved parent is a role that’s identified me for almost a quarter of a century now. But three years ago it became a much bigger part of who I am. Being a special needs mom has been part of my identity for twenty years, but in the last five and particularly the last three it’s become a much bigger part of my identity.

If you were describing me to a group of people in my church, I doubt others would begin with the fact that I’m married to David, that I’m a stay at home mom. Most people would skip right over the physical descriptors and start right in with, “She’s the woman with the daughter in a wheelchair”, or “She’s the woman whose two daughters died in that car accident. You know—the one that happened the day after Christmas.” And any church member whose been there more than three years would likely know exactly who I am. People want me to move past my grief yet it’s the very thing they use to describe me to others.

We are what we do or what happens to us as much as we are our appearance. If you describe someone among a group of Christians as being unsaved, it’s likely that you might be able to identify that person by their outward appearance, the things they say and how they behave and treat others. If not, the Christians among you are probably not the best representatives of Christ.

bbirdoneoftheseThe point I’m trying to make is that you should expect behavior that correlates with the descriptors you use to define someone. The unsaved among the saved may be dressed less modestly. Their speech may be liberally sprinkled with expletives. You might see them drinking to intoxication, or find them bragging about things they’ve said or done that are not common among believers. oneofthesebbirdUnless you are dealing with an abnormally moral individual there should be recognizable differences between the lost and the saved. You expect them to fit the Sesame Street standard—you know—one of these things is not like the other. That’s the Sesame Street Standard.

So please, if you are going to identify me as a special needs mother or a bereaved parent, please expect me to look and act like one. It shouldn’t always be outwardly evident in my appearance and in many ways (after the first few years) it may not be as behaviorally evident, but I will always be a special needs mom. I will always be a bereaved parent. In many ways, I’m unique because of those aspects of my identity. But when I hear the move on message; I hear that somehow I’m not supposed to look or act like the individual you’ve identified me to be. There will always be some evidence of my identity. 

Always.

I may cry at unexpected moments, flee a meeting, avoid a wedding, miss church but I may also be the individual in the group who always notices the elderly adult that needs help with a door or carrying a drink. I may be more aware of the child left behind or flat out ostracized. I may be the woman known for validating the feelings of others. The one who can hear the good, bad and ugly and still see the heart beneath. I may visit people in the hospital that I don’t know. I may encourage the broken, answer faith questions for the doubter or burst out in anger at the mistreatment of another.

Expect me to be who I am, please! And if I surprise you, woohoo, that says a lot about my progress in healing. But if I don’t; judgment, criticism, accusations of self-pity, gossip, disguised as prayer requests or not, are not welcome. I’m not justifying sinful actions, just the normal emotions and temptations we all face.

babyduckwaddle2I am who I am.

I am who God created me to be.

I am who He knew I’d be.

He’s no more disappointed in me than He is in you.

Hear me as I whisper words of another’s hard-earned wisdom . . .

Let it be!

Waddle, waddle…

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2017 in Faith, Grief, Muscular Dystrophy

 

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A Look Back

There are days I choose  to look back. Not because I want to wallow in self-pity but because those days are just significant in our lives. Below you will find my blog posts from the first anniversary of Bethany and Katie’s burial and then the second anniversary. Today, I really don’t have anything to add. Some of the memories are fading. That’s not an entirely good thing. . .

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Flashback – Anniversary of the Funeral

A year ago today Bethany and Katie were laid to rest. January 4, 2014, runs through my mind in bits and pieces like a slideshow of still photos – moments captured in my mind – interspersed with video-like footage – blurred images alongside others in sharp focus.
Memories of personal encounters during the visitation – my college roommate’s husband standing before me unashamed as tears fell from his eyes – impossibly young friends, teachers and school nurses extending sympathy – friends who had driven several hours, many of whom hadn’t seen us in almost ten years – a man who only identified himself as “a friend”. Bethany’s broken-hearted boyfriend and his equally broken-hearted mother standing alongside her sister and the soft pink tulips (Bethany’s favorite flower) we cherished.

Pastor Wes and Lisa meeting with us just prior to the start of the service. The comfort and blessing provided by the presence and participation of Bill Boren, our Pastor from Kansas City and long-time friend, who had performed our son’s funeral twenty plus years before. The music and message.

The sight of those two flower draped caskets standing in the cold air at staggered heights one in front of the other, the cemetery chapel providing a fitting backdrop at the graveside service. How I wish I’d taken a picture of that starkly beautiful, sobering and painful view.
The luncheon that followed – and the hospitality the church ladies extended in inviting and making welcome the numerous international students Bethany had befriended at UCA.

The discovery of the stroke my oldest brother suffered leaving him hospitalized at Northwest Regional.

The dark drive back to Little Rock with my crazy brother who was insanely willing to spend three hours on the road with us all because he wanted thirty minutes with Gracen before taking upon himself the responsibility of driving Bethany’s car another three hours back to Bentonville, in what had become inclement weather, before driving on to Tulsa planning to catch a flight home that same night.

Today was a day of bittersweet flashbacks of well remembered, sharply-edged pain, gently buffed smooth and soft by hugs of comfort and sorrow shared between friends and family. Yes, a year ago today Bethany and Katie were laid to rest and tonight Gracen will drift off to sleep in her over-sized Pineville Fire and Rescue t-shirt.

 

January 4, 2016


The alarm rings and David and I rise. This is not our home, not our room, not our en suite bathroom. How could we stay there without a single one of our girls?

We hit the showers and iron clothes and dress in fine, dark clothes befitting the occasion before slicing a pill in half and taking turns swallowing the pieces down. The room is bright but our hearts are not.

We pack up our things and exit heading off to do the thing we least want to do but cannot bear not to. It is January 4, 2014, and it is chilly out. Another day of moving cement encased feet, one in front of another. It’s day ten.

We arrive at the church and head to the sanctuary where we are greeted and hugged by longtime family friends, Jack and Sherry Erisman and their grown and married daughter, Maryann. We turn and enter the darkened and silent sanctuary; empty but for two identical flower-draped caskets, and pictures of our smiling daughters standing alongside. We walk slowly forward where I lay a hand first on one, and then the other casket, thankful we chose the bright, vibrant sprays of flowers, so reflective of Bethany and Katie in life.

I don’t want to be here! No, that’s not right. I don’t want to have reason to be here. I wish the nightmare would end. Wish I’d awake to find we’re pulling into our driveway ten days prior, December 26, 2013, at 3:15 in the afternoon. That’s the time we would have arrived home had we not encountered Troy Robins. Wish I could watch my three daughters, my impatient dog, O’rane and David climb from the van, stretch and tumble into the house dragging blankets, pillows, electronics and suitcases along with them. If only I could rewrite that day! If only . . .

Instead, Pastor Wes George and his wife Lisa join us and we prepare for the visitation that will be held before the funeral begins. David and I stand facing the rear of the sanctuary, to the right of the caskets which will not be open for viewing. Ten days is too long. And then the doors open and people begin lining up to share our sorrow and express their condolences.

That half-pill erased most of my anxiety over strangers and reporters. Simple gratitude remained for those who patiently waited to hug us and tell us of their prayers on our behalf – for those who stooped to place a shoulder beneath the cross we struggled to carry that day and the nine before. My focus was narrow. The person before me, David to my left and Bethany then Katie to my right.

It was time. Pastor and Lisa drew us back into the choir room behind the platform at the front of the sanctuary, gave us last minute instructions, inquired as to how we were holding up and gave us a moment to take a deep breath before the girls final service began. And the music started – “He’s Been Faithful to Me”.

We reentered the sanctuary and took our seats huddling together, holding hands and focusing on the music and the brief synopsis of our girls’ far too brief lives. Clinging to scriptures of faith and hope – scriptures of our loving God and an eternal future for our girls and for ourselves.

All too soon we were loaded into a car and driven to the cemetery where we found the girls’ caskets set at staggered heights with Hunt Chapel serving as a fitting backdrop for the faith we profess. A few final words were spoken, and then . . . we turned our backs and walked away, my heals wobbling and sinking into the grass as we crossed the expanse of lawn back to the car. We left our girls for the last time – the last time – in that beautiful and cold cemetery where nothing and no one would ever hurt them again. Oh, the agony of it!

My only regret is that I do not have a picture of the graveside service. The tent with friends standing and seated, the staggered flower topped caskets, the chapel and David and I standing before it all. It’s an important, albeit devastating moment of our lives. I’d like to have that moment under glass so I can slide my finger over it as I remember the beauty of the place, the beauty of the sorrow, and the beauty of broken hearts. Broken hearts are beautiful. They reflect raw love in the wake of incomprehensible loss.

I remember that day in graphic detail. The ride back to the church, the meal served upstairs for friends and family, the international students in attendance, the ladies who served lunch. I remember padding downstairs in stocking feet to load up plants and flowers to take to the hospital hoping to brighten Gracen’s room, hoping to share her sisters’ last day with her and so I could hold onto their beauty and fragrance until they were no more. I remember saying goodbye to family, changing clothes in a bathroom stall, a quick stop home and driving back to Little Rock. I remember the vast relief of seeing and touching Gracen again – still breathing – Thank God she was still breathing!

And as tears roll down my cheeks, I remember that day as if I am walking through it again on weighted feet with leaden heart as keening sounds claw their way up my throat to tightly clamped teeth and lips holding back the shrieks of pain and sorrow in deference to the now twenty year-old girl who lies on the sofa in the other room; oblivious to my journey down memory lane.

Yes, I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I think it will forever feel like yesterday.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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