Grief

True Love – It’s Not What You Think!

The Anniversary That Wasn’t

This past week, it would have been my parents 54th anniversary. But instead of doing something fun with my dad this past Thursday, my mom spent her anniversary with me at Panera Bread.

With my dad’s death, my mom lost part of herself. How can you not when you’ve lived with someone for 54 years? When you’ve shared life in its ups and down, its joys and griefs, its beauty and ugliness?

 

An Example of a Good Marriage

When you are a kid, you don’t really think about your parents’ marriage, unless it is profoundly unhappy in some way. As a kid, I was oblivious. Sure, my parents fought at times, but I never wondered if they’d stay together.

There was never a doubt they were a couple – not just parents or partners – but two halves of a whole.

Heck, they went on dates before date nights were trendy.

They each had a role, but one was not more important than the other.

My dad led our home with a sweetness of spirit that never took advantage of his leadership role. He was never “the boss” of my mom. They worked together, and my dad listened to what my mom had to say. He recognized her uncanny accuracy and insight about people.

My mom always supported my dad as the family leader, but that didn’t mean that she silently sat in the background or just nodded yes to whatever my dad said. Instead, she pushed and challenged him in all the best ways. I think my dad would honestly say that he would not have been the man he was without my mom.

They served God together. I don’t remember a time when my parents weren’t serving together in some capacity at our church. My dad was a gifted teacher, and my mother is the most organized person you’ll ever meet. She can put an event together with one hand tied behind her back, blindfolded. (I did not inherit this gift, by the way).

They made friends and fellowshipped together. Throughout the years, our home was full of people coming for dinner or holidays or get togethers. My parents were never content to be spectators in life. They were full participants, and they participated not as individuals, but as a couple.

A New Season

So, when my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary rolled around, we celebrated with a big party. People came who hadn’t seen my parents in years. Friends came and shared what my parents meant to them. There was laughter and fun and even a few tears. It was one of those perfect days.

A week later, my dad got a call from the doctor, and just like that, their lives changed. 

Suddenly, their lives consisted of doctors’ appointments two hours away and drugs with long, unpronounceable names and lab results.

And while my parents had shown me what a good marriage looks like over their first 50 years, the last four years showed me what true love REALLY is – not the fizzy, false picture that Hollywood puts out there, but the deep, steady kind of love that says, “I’m always going to be here.” 

My mom never missed one of my dad’s doctor’s appointments – no matter how she felt or how tired she was – even when that meant 12 hour days multiple times a week.

My mom put her legendary organizational skills to work keeping track of the paperwork that goes along with cancer treatments, especially when the VA is involved.

My mom counted out pills and made sure my dad took them on schedule. When taking a pill meant my dad couldn’t eat for a certain amount of time, my mom didn’t eat either.

Three different times, my dad got sick enough that he needed to be in a wheelchair. My mom, who is petite and almost 80 years old, didn’t complain. She just found a lighter wheelchair so she could get it in and out of the trunk herself.

Love Through the Valley

During the last few months of my dad’s life, my mom’s role as caregiver became more challenging and certainly more exhausting.

Instead of just using a wheelchair when they were out and about, it became necessary for my dad to use the wheelchair in the house. My mom wheeled him wherever he wanted to go, whenever he wanted to go.

Everytime my dad got up, my mom had to help him. She would grip his hands. Usually it took about three tries, and on the third, my dad would get to his feet. Then my parents would kiss and smile at each other.

My dad didn’t sleep well, and got up multiple times every night, moving from recliner to bed and back again. My mom went with him. Every. Single. Time. 

By the end, she slept with one hand on his shoulder, afraid he’d wake disorientated and try to get up by himself and fall.

True Love in Real Time

True love is about loving someone more than yourself. Watching my mom care for my dad, I saw what true love was up close and personal.

As giddy, young couples, we say our wedding vows, “In sickness and in health, until death do us part,” but in the excitement and joy of starting a new life together, the idea of sickness and death seems far away. We don’t really think about what it means to walk that out.

What that means is walking through cancer with your husband, caring for him even when you are exhausted yourself.

It means dragging out the wheelchair and getting your very sick husband in the car to go get ice cream because that’s what makes him happy when you really would rather collapse on the couch.

It means walking through the valley of the shadow of death holding his hand, so he doesn’t have to make the journey alone.

It means staying by his side even when you’d rather not watch death coming closer and closer.

True love can be warm and fizzy and sweet, but it can also be hard and tiring and challenging. My parents taught me that whatever form it takes, it’s always beautiful.

Blessings, Rosanne

A Terrible Beauty

Yesterday, September 6, my dad passed from this life into the next and I wasn’t there to see him take that final step. His breathing changed and my mom texted me to tell me to come right away, but he slipped away very quickly.

I’ll be honest – that really bothers me. Since my dad went into the hospital early Saturday morning, I’ve sat in his hospital room a lot. Although he slipped into a deep sleep on Sunday and hasn’t been responsive since Sunday evening, I feel like I have been part of his journey as he was crossing from life to death. It makes me sad to have missed when he took that final step from life into eternity.

My mom said it was a peaceful step. He gave a small smile, breathed out and was gone.

I just wish I had been there to see it. 

As I sat by my dad’s bed these past four days, I’ve been struck by what a struggle it is, both to enter this world and to leave it. Even if the person is ready to go, there is a fight they have to wage for the soul to let go of this physical body.

My dad, for the most part, seemed peaceful and pain free. His breathing was heavy and labored at times, but for the most part, he just slept. At times, it was hard to watch, and I prayed that God would take him home sooner than later.

The nurses said he could probably hear us, so I would talk to him. We played music for him. We held his hands and rubbed his feet. We wanted him to know that even though he had to make this last journey himself, we would be there to keep him company.

As I watched him, I kept wondering what he was thinking and feeling. I kept wondering what was going on for him. Really. Was he scared? Was he uncomfortable? Did he really hear us? Did he wish he could tell us anything? Could he sense Jesus in a special way?

Death is something that has alternately fascinated and terrified people since Adam and Eve bit into that apple. There are many mythologies that have sprung up around that journey from life to death. A lot of those stories picture the person going on that journey over water.

As my dad worked to leave this life, in my mind, I pictured it as a journey over rough waters. That’s probably because I was reading in Luke 8 on Monday, and it was the story of the great storm. The disciples were terrified – which is saying a lot since they were seasoned fishermen – and Jesus was a sleep in the boat.

The disciples always get a lot of flack for their lack of faith, but I have to think my response would have been the same. If you’re honest, yours probably would have been, too. They were fishermen. They knew those waters, and they knew when a storm was deadly.

And Jesus seemed to be unaware of the peril everyone was in.

It felt a lot like we were journeying over stormy seas this week. It felt a lot like Jesus was a bit unaware, as we wondered why God didn’t just take my dad instead of having him work so hard to leave this life.

But just like Jesus knew and was in complete control of every wave and gust of wind on that boat, He was right there in that hospital room, this whole week.

Death has a terrible beauty about it for a believer. It’s hard to lose someone you love, and I know it was hard for my dad to leave us. He worried about my mom, and he was disappointed not to see Brody graduate from high school. At the same time, he was going to be in the presence of God – no more pain or sorrow or treatments or sickness.

My dad is now whole, and more alive than he ever was on this earth. 

I know I wished I could help my dad in some way this week, but I could only be present – a spectator in his final fight.

Jesus was more than a spectator. He was there, right in the boat, with my dad as he crossed that last stormy stretch. He was there, not to wait on the shores to welcome him, but to be right there with him until the boat bumped into the shoreline, to hold his hand as my dad stepped off the boat and onto that heavenly shore. My dad was never alone and neither were we. 

I have no idea what it is like when we take our final breath, but in my mind’s eye, I see waves calming. I see a boat bumping into a shore line.

And there’s a crowd.

As Jesus helps my dad off the boat and onto shore, my brother is waving his arms, whole and healed. My parents’ dear friend Ruthie who passed away a few weeks ago, has a huge smile on her face, eyes shining. Friends and family are there to welcome him into his real home.

I have no idea why I wasn’t able to be with my dad in those final moments, but I trust that Jesus is always in control. I was able to sit with him and talk with him the night before. I got to paint that picture of the crowd waiting for him on that shoreline. I got to assure him he didn’t have to worry about my mom, that we’d take good care of her. I got to tell him I loved him and he was the best dad ever. I have to trust that was enough.

Death is terrible, but it’s beautiful, too, because no matter what our crossing is like, Jesus leads us all the way to the shore. And we know, my dad’s life is just beginning with joy and celebration.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

Psalms 116:15

Blessings, Rosanne

On Waiting for Death

When my brother died, death roared in like a freight train, knocking us all over in its wake. It came so fast and furious, we hardly knew what had hit us, until a couple weeks into the experience.

Now death has come on soft feet, gliding into the room, standing off in the shadows – quiet and patient. 

It’s not that we didn’t expect this to happen to my dad. Eventually. He’s been battling cancer – multiple myeloma to be exact – for almost four years now.

It’s just that you are never really ready. You hope and you pray for the next treatment to work, to give him more good days and weeks and months. You hold your breath as you check lab numbers you didn’t even know existed before cancer got its sharp claws into your loved one.

The thing is, I thought I was going to lose my dad last summer. His numbers spiked, and he was hospitalized for a month.

I remember praying and asking, begging really, God for another year with my dad. I remember telling God how I was not ready to lose my dad yet. I reminded God of Hezekiah and how God gave him more years.

And God answered my prayers.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have that extra year, to have the opportunity to be intentional about spending time with my parents. I know sometimes you aren’t that fortunate.

I’ve lived out when you aren’t that fortunate.

Of course, I hoped I’d have more than a year. I know my dad really, really wants to see my youngest son graduate from high school.

But I had this feeling, deep in my heart, that I’d get my year but probably not much more. I wish I could say how I knew that. I just did.

Even as I saw my dad starting to decline, and I started praying again, it was almost as if I felt God put His fingers gently on my lips to hush me.

My prayers became different.

I started to pray for God’s perfect timing in my dad’s life. I’ve been reading the Gospels this spring and summer, and it’s been interesting and eye opening. All those stories I heard separately in Sunday school have taken on a new, richer meaning when seen together.

And one thing I have been seeing as I read through the Gospels is Jesus both cared deeply for the people in front of Him, but He also never lost sight of eternity and that this world is but a shadow of the glory which is to come.

The sickness of people’s souls mattered much more to Him than their physical illnesses and infirmities. Yes, He healed them. Yes, He had compassion on them. He even wept for them.

But, Jesus never lost sight of what was truly important – eternity and where those souls were spending it.

So, as I’ve prayed (and let’s be honest, cried), I’ve found myself praying for God’s will, not my desire to keep my dad close to me. I’ve found myself opening both my hands and telling God that I trust Him with my dad’s every breath, and I believe that God is so good and so gracious as to orchestrate exactly when his last breath will be.

As I’ve prayed, I’ve been at peace with the fact that God has the bigger picture that I can never see from my human perspective.

As I prayed, God brought to mind a woman I interviewed several years ago who was a glass artist. She would take the sheets of glass and precisely cut them out. While the pieces themselves were beautiful, it was impossible to tell what their final shape would be just from the individual pieces. She’d carefully solder them to an iron frame.

From the back side, it didn’t look like much. You were very aware of each individual piece of glass, but the big picture was lost. However, when you turned it over. Wow! The beauty of that piece of art when all those little pieces were put together was breathtaking.

It was even more awe-inspiring when the light shone through it.

More and more, I’m realizing that my sight is limited to the individual pieces. And even though those individual pieces can be beautiful by themselves, it’s only when they are fitted into the big picture that they find their true meaning and shine to their fullest beauty. So, all I can do is trust God to places those pieces into His grand masterpiece.

It won’t be until God’s glory shines through that I will see and be amazed at the plan God had all along.

I’m not going to lie. Watching my dad diminish physically has been and is hard. Watching as death quietly waits in the wings, drawing ever closer on those soft feet is difficult. Watching the man who used to toss me in the air and walk across the pool on his hands and seemed like an invincible hero hardly able to lift his glass to his mouth is heartbreaking.

But I know that as I and my mom keep this vigil, we’re not alone. And neither is my dad. God is right there. My dad is safely tucked into His loving arms. He is carrying my dad these last difficult steps, and He is holding him oh so close to his heart.

I am reminded that as hard as things are today, we serve a good, loving God who is just waiting for our eternal homecoming to reveal the true, glorious masterpiece He’s made of of each of our lives.

 

This song by Chris Tomlin reminded me of this truth. I’ll leave it here for you to enjoy.

All the Way My Savior Leads Me by Chris Tomlin

 

Blessings, Rosanne

The 5 Things Death Taught Me

Just a forewarning – this is going to be a pretty raw post. If you want pretty ideas tied up in pleasing bows, you might want to stop reading now.

Okay, now that you know that, I also want you to know that this is a hard post for me to write because I’m sort of hanging out a lot of my own shortcomings and mistakes. What I hope, though, is that by sharing my mistakes, you can avoid them. Regret can leave a pretty nasty taste in your mouth. Take it from someone who knows.

It’s interesting how death has a way of exposing what you really believe – not just in your head, but deep down at the daily difference level. When my brother died last summer, God used his death to expose those things I talked about and said I believed, yet I didn’t really do. He showed me, in the loving, yet exquisitely painful way that only God can, that I was a hypocrite.

Here are the five things God taught me since my brother’s death. My hope is that you won’t just read this, but that you’ll take action in the areas that call to you.

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  • Don’t put things off. About a month before my brother’s death, I had this prompting that I should go see him -not just try to call him – but actually get in my car and drive over to visit him face to face. It was just after school ended, and I was kind of busy. So, I kept putting it off. I thought, “Oh, I’ll do that tomorrow or next week.” To be completely honest, I was really just putting off being uncomfortable. There were times when my brother would get upset for one reason or another and would pull away from our entire family. This was one of those times, and I hadn’t talked to him in a while. I had tried calling, but he never returned my calls. I wasn’t 100% sure how happy he’d be to see me, and even if he was, I knew the initial conversation might be awkward. And awkward makes me so uncomfortable. So, it was easy to make excuses to put it off for another day.Until, of course, there were no more days. During the first days after my brother’s death, that regret of not going to see him was like a knife twisting in my heart. “If only” played over and over in my head. So, if you get that feeling you should call someone or stop by, please just do it. Most regret isn’t over something you did, but over what you didn’t do.

 

  • Don’t let busyness keep you from important relationships. As a wife and a mom with two sons who were always in sports, my evenings were (and are) often busy. While I made the effort to give my brother my kids’ game schedules, after he died, I found myself wishing I had invited him over more often. I found myself wishing back evenings he could have joined us for a quick dinner, afternoons watching football on television. It is so easy to get caught up in our never ending daily to dos, but when we let our tasks trump the people in our lives, we waste the time we have with them. While I’ve always known in my head that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, I certainly did not live that way.  Your to do list will always be there, but that person won’t, necessarily. Take time for the people in your life and you won’t regret it.

 

  • Say the important things. When my brother died, I spent a lot of time wondering if he knew. Did he know how much I enjoyed the fact that he worked so hard to find the perfect gift even during the times when he didn’t have a lot of money to spend? Did he know what a kick I got out how he tried to match the  wrapping paper and tissue paper to that person’s gift? Did he know that I admired the way he volunteered to help other people even when he was struggling himself? Did he know that I would always be there for him and he could call me anytime for help or support? I knew I felt that way, but did he know I felt that way? I hope he did, but I don’t know for sure. That’s a tough pill to swallow now. Take the time to tell the people in your life you love them and what you love about them. Your words will never be wasted.

 

  • Don’t give up on people. When someone you love has a mental illness, it can be hard sometimes. Relationships aren’t always all sunshine and kittens. My brother was a great guy in so many ways, but he did have his issues. There were times over the years, when I felt like nothing would change. There were times when I stopped praying for him because it felt hopeless. Here’s the thing – nobody is ever a lost cause with Jesus. If He can offer salvation to a thief dying on a cross next to Him, He has a hope and a future and a plan for whoever that person is in your life who it seems will never change or get back on the path. You will never regret praying more for someone or continuing to believe God has a plan for their life.

 

  • Be present. Want to completely ruin the vibe in any gathering? Tell them your brother killed himself. An immediate pall will fall over the group. Nobody will look you in the eye, and nobody will know what to say. I get it. Standing in the face of someone else’s grief is hard and awkward and painful. We don’t know what to say and we can’t fix it, so we just don’t show up. Well, sure we go to the funeral. We walk through the line and shake their hand or hug them, maybe murmur, “Sorry for your loss.” But then we disappear, and we tell ourselves the comforting lie that the person looks and acts like they are okay, so they must be just fine. That if they needed something, they would ask. I’m not pointing fingers because I’ve done it too. But let’s at least stop lying to ourselves. The person is NOT okay. They don’t have the emotional or mental capacity to ask for what they need. Heck, they probably don’t even know what they need. I know I certainly didn’t. They are grieving and grieving is hard, but it’s infinitely harder when you feel like you are doing it alone. All that person really needs is your presence. No fancy words or miraculous solutions. Just you sitting with them in their grief. I learned how powerful presence – even if the presence comes in the form of a card or phone call – can be when you are hurting, and I’ll never think of it as doing nothing again. Don’t let awkwardness keep you from offering your presence to someone who is hurting.

It isn’t really feasible to live our lives like it is our last day on earth. If I did that my house would be declared a disaster area, and I’d probably weigh about 300 pounds. But we can live our lives so we don’t have regrets.

What do you need to change so you can live a life of no regrets? I’d love to hear about it!

Blessings, Rosanne

 

One Year Later – A Reflection God’s Faithfulness

It’s been a year. A year since I found out my brother was gone, not just from my world for a while, but from this life forever. (You can read my brother’s eulogy HERE).

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As I’ve walked this path of grief for 12 months, there have been the expected moments of deep pain. There was that helpless, hopeless moment when the reality of my brother’s loss really hit me, of truly knowing he wasn’t coming back. He wasn’t just on a trip or away for a while. He was really gone – forever.  The finality of that realization is a grief in itself.

There have been moments of deep longing – longing to share my life with my brother. To share my oldest son’s senior year, to share how special it was to see my oldest and youngest play basketball on the same court while their dad coached them; to share Brock giving his valedictorian speech.

There have been moments I have felt my brother’s absence keenly. His absence from the audience when Brody performed in his first play. His absence when he wasn’t there to proclaim in that way only my brother could, how AWESOME it was when Brody won a few art competitions this past year. I knew how much Scott would have enjoyed those moments and it was hard to know he missed them.

The hard truth is my life is moving on and my brother isn’t a part of it.

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While he has at times been absent from our lives, now that absence is permanent and final. (I wrote about moving on and all that entails HERE).

That makes me both sad and a little mad sometimes.

Suicide (and murder for that matter) are never God’s will. When someone dies of cancer or a heart attack or a car accident, there isn’t a choice. When someone takes their own life (or someone takes it for them), that is a choice. And while I could argue that my brother’s mental illness made that less of a choice than some people think, it still hurts. It hurts that we weren’t enough to keep him tethered here.

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But with the pain and the hurt and the change has also come moments of joy and of healing. I know – that sounds weird doesn’t it?

While I would never have wanted my brother to kill himself and his death has been one of the hardest things I’ve experienced, in walking through the grief from that tragic event I have experienced God’s presence in a way I never have before.

Sure, I knew God never leaves us and walks with us always. Heck, I even believed it quite sincerely. I even had that poem “Footsteps” on my bedroom wall when I was growing up.

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But believing God will be there when we walk through the deepest valley is different than actually walking through that valley with Him. 

God’s tenderness, His comfort, His love were never more real and tangible to me than in the weeks and months after my brother’s death.

And with that experience came the realization that if God cared that much for me, how much more had He and still was, caring for my brother?

Suicide seems like such a lonely, desperate thing, but knowing that God was there – even in my brother’s darkest moment – has brought me so much comfort and healing.

God has also brought me healing by allowing me to use what I’ve been through to comfort others, too. The article I wrote about suicide prevention held an urgency, a realness, that it probably wouldn’t have if I had written this before my brother’s death.

Being able to hold someone’s hands, look them deep in the eye and assure them of God’s love and presence no matter what – not because of some head knowledge but because of actual experience – that is healing to me.

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Because here’s the thing, if God can use my brother’s death to help others, then the enemy doesn’t win. Even though my brother is gone, God can still use his life and death for a greater purpose. What the enemy meant as evil and the end, God continues to use for good and life.

If I’ve learned anything during this past year, it is that God is able to redeem anything – even the unthinkably horrible like suicide. God truly can bring beauty from ashes, and that stands as a testament to the faithful, loving God that I serve.

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. ~ Isaiah 61:3

Blessings, Rosanne

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Moving Forward in Grief

As the one year anniversary of my brother’s death approaches, I’ve found myself getting hit by waves of grief again. Like after a storm that had passed, those initial waves of grief had been much smaller and manageable over the past few months. So, I was kind of surprised when  bigger waves suddenly knocked me off my feet.

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It shouldn’t be a surprise really, but it was. See, grief is cyclical. We talk about the stages of grief like they are bus stops and once you are past them, you are done with that stage, but the truth is grief tends to cycle around. Sometimes, as you cycle through, you even hit a stage you missed the last time around.

It’s also not surprising really because our family is going through a major milestone. My oldest, Brock, graduated from high school. Things are changing, yet my brother is forever in the past. He is not part of this new present.

Another reason – at least I think this is a reason – is that over the past few months I’ve been crazy busy. (You can read about 6 Tips When Your Everyday Is Crazy HERE) And now that I’ve had a moment to slow down and to take a deep breath from all the happy busy of birthday parties and graduation and graduation parties, the reality of the permanence of brother’s death has hit me hard.

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The thing is, grief is not one big good-bye but a series of small ones. Each new milestone that your loved one isn’t present for is a small grief. The more milestones that pile up, the more final their death feels. You might wonder, well of course death is final – what in the world?

Well, after that first year, I can no longer say, “This time last year….”  I am making new memories of which my brother has no part. That’s how life is, of course, the living constantly move forward. But I am finding it hard to move forward because that means I leave my brother forever behind.

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In my mind’s eye, I picture it like we’ve all been in this meadow, and now my family and I are walking down the path, continuing our little hike.  But my brother stays in that meadow. I keep looking back over my shoulder, lingering, walking slowly, but my family, my friends, my life keeps moving forward on our path. I’m getting to that bend in the road, and I have to decide if I’m going to continue to move forward and lose sight of my brother. He’s still in the meadow, where he will forever stay.  Or am I going to stop, forever stuck between what was and what will be.

I think the healthy decision is to keep moving forward, but understanding the finality of death hurts. It doesn’t mean I can never visit the meadow, but I can’t stay there. I have to move forward. And that’s another form of good-bye.

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Have you dealt with grief? What are some things that have surprised you as you’ve worked through it? I’d love to hear about it!

Blessings, Rosanne

 

When the Unthinkable Happens

Nobody is ever prepared for a sudden death. We can say all we want  that you never know if you’ll be here tomorrow, but let’s be real.I have a to do list sitting on my desk that I fully expect to work on tomorrow. In my head, I know you can be gone in a blink, but I’m still not really prepared to deal with tragedy landing on my doorstep tomorrow – never mind tonight!

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A few days ago, a family from my church lost a family member. He was only 26 years old – a life cut tragically short. It was completely unexpected. In a moment, a son, a nephew, a grandson, a brother was lost.

A family is left flailing in the sudden void of loss. When I heard, my heart broke for them, especially as this loss comes so closely on the heels of another. The mother of this young man, lost her own mother at the end of September. I wrote about her passing here.

I wish I could say why tragedies like this happen.

I wish I could explain the greater, eternal purpose for this.

I wish I could build a bridge for this family over the deep valley of grief before them, instead of them having to go through it. But if I’ve learned anything in the six months since I found out my brother died, it’s that grief is not something you can go around. It’s something you have to walk through.

 

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Instead, the only thing I can offer is the hope and promise that Jesus is enough to get you through this.

I will hold out, with trembling hand, the hope of what I now know down deep in my soul – God’s love for us is not abstract or distant. It is tender and personal and reaches down to where we are, no matter how deep the valley in which we find ourselves.

My prayer for this precious family is this: that the God of all comfort who met me in my deepest moments of sorrow, who held me up when I didn’t think I’d ever be able to stand again, will sustain them. I will pray that in the awful ashes of their grief, they will experience the beauty of God’s presence.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Blessings, Rosanne

Celebrating Christmas When You Are Grieving

Christmas is different this year. While I have celebrated past Christmases without my brother present (he did live out of state of many years, after all),this year is different. I know I’ll never see him blow into my parents’ house, a bit late with his presents not quite wrapped, wearing that leopard trimmed Santa hat.

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During this month, it seems every time I turned around, I was reminded of my brother. I blinked back tears when I hung that little plaque he made me in the bathroom.

Wrapping gifts reminded me how much care he took with finding just the right wrapping paper for each person – down to what he used for tissue paper.

His name was glaringly absent from my Christmas list, and I had to remind myself not to visit the pet store to buy something for his dogs.

I cried while I made fudge because my brother loved chocolate.

Going through this first Christmas, knowing that he is no longer here – not just somewhere else but no longer anywhere on this earth – has been hard. I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy.

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Yet, there have been moments of joy this Christmas season, too. Because as much as I enjoy spending time with family, and as much as this holiday has become synonymous with gatherings and family and friends, that’s not really what it is all about.

I was reminded of this when I went to a memorial service that was held at the funeral home that handled my brother’s service. This particular funeral home has a memorial service every year at Christmastime for families that have lost a loved one that year.

As I sat waiting for the service to start, I looked around and was struck by how many other people had suffered loss that year. The room was packed and overflowing. I wondered how I would make it through this Christmas season, how I was going to make it special for my family when I really didn’t feel like celebrating at all.  Not celebrating really wasn’t an option for me though. My oldest son is a senior in high school. This is the last year before our family changes, and I was determined not to flake out for it, but I knew it would be difficult.

Then the speaker got up and he shared how when he was younger, his dad had shared the news of his parents’ divorce with him on Christmas Eve. It had shattered him and ruined the holiday for him.

From that time on, he hated Christmas – wouldn’t celebrate it. Until one day, his college roommate told him, “Christmas isn’t about you.” Those words sort of echoed over and over in my mind as I drove home.

Because here’s the thing, as much as I enjoy the outward festivities of Christmas – the baking, the visiting, the gifts, the time with family – Christmas isn’t really about that at all.

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It’s about a young teenage girl giving birth in a cave while her equally young, scared husband looked on helplessly, hoping he could deliver this baby that was supposed to be the Messiah.

It’s about lowly shepherds hearing the news of the Messiah’s birth from a choir of heavenly angels.

It’s about a God, who in all His goodness and His love, stepped into this world – not as a king or some powerful figure – but as a helpless baby born to a teenage girl and a poor man.

 

It’s about Emmanuel – God with us.

I can have joy with my tears because God has truly been with me in these past few months. God could have just offered us salvation and that would have been an indescribable gift we don’t in any way deserve.

But He offered so much more. He offered to dwell within us. Does that give you goosebumps, like it does me?

I can celebrate Christmas because it is a time to remember that God didn’t just step into this world as that tiny, helpless baby so long ago. He still continues to bend near to us, still does not flinch away from all the messiness of our lives.

He is truly Emmanuel. He is God with us. And that is something I want to celebrate because, in this time of grief, I have never felt His presence in my life more.

God may call us to the hard road, but He never asks us to walk it alone. That, in itself, is why I can celebrate Christmas while grieving, why my tears can mingle with joy.

I hope that, even if you are experiencing hard things – the loss of a loved one, an illness, a broken marriage or some other type of suffering in your life – you can still allow yourself to celebrate the wonder of a God who came down to us, not just to save us, but to have an intimate relationship with us. A God who is Emmanuel – God with us.

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Merry Christmas, Rosanne

 

The Need for Community

I hesitated to write this post. Not because I don’t think the topic isn’t important, but because I don’t want this to come across as a criticism of my friends or my church or my community. I also don’t want this to seem like some big pity party.

Because it’s not. Because, unfortunately, I don’t think my experience is unique. It’s a cry from my heart to yours.

On July 30, my world was turned upside down. My parents got that call no parent ever wants to get. A policeman showed up at their door to let them know their 45-year-old son had committed suicide.

That evening, as I sat with my parents and my husband, I simultaneously felt numb and had a wild desire to run as far and as fast as I could – as if that would somehow make it all untrue, if I could just run far enough.

Over the next few days, I called family and let them know. I emailed and messaged people to let them know.

We found out on Thursday, and over that weekend one person talked to me on the phone. I did get emails and Facebook messages and a few texts, and, please don’t get me wrong. I did appreciate those and the thought and kindness behind them. But what I craved, and wasn’t able to really articulate at the time, was presence. I know people probably didn’t want to intrude or maybe they didn’t know what to say under the circumstances. I can’t tell you how comforting that one phone call was,though, or how much I appreciate my friend who came to walk with me on Sunday and just listened.

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The next week we had the memorial service. A long line of people came to share their condolences, to share what my brother had meant to them. It was comforting that so many people loved and cared about my brother and about us.

Over the next weeks, a few people asked at church how I was doing. One day, I got so many cards in my mailbox, I thought maybe the mailman had made a mistake. And I appreciated every one of those cards and the notes written in them.

But, besides that friend who came to walk with me that first weekend, not one person came by my house during that first week. Not one person brought a meal (not that we really needed it). Besides a couple friends that I talk to on a regular basis on the phone, nobody called during those first few weeks. Not one person was truly present with me in my grief that was not my husband or my parents.

The thing is, I’m pretty active in my church and my community. I teach a Sunday school class, and I volunteer at a home for young women. But I felt utterly and completely alone in my grief.

I tried not to let it bother me, though, because I have this sort of horror of being petty. And I knew nobody was doing any of this on purpose. They were just busy and had their own problems and issues. School was getting ready to start. It was a busy time of year, and let’s face it, this wasn’t their loss.

But I still felt desperately alone.

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Of course, God did not leave me completely alone and adrift in my sea of grief. Comfort did come and from the most unexpected sources. A group of online friends from a mom’s group I’ve been a part of for years, sent me these beautiful angel figurines. One of those women has faithfully asked me how I am doing and how she can pray for me – this despite the fact that she has a lot going on in her own life. In fact, that online group offered me more support than almost anyone in my real life did.

Another lovely woman from church who I didn’t really know very well – she was the mother of one of my classmates in school – has made it a point to come up to me regularly to see how I am doing and to give me a hug and to say she is praying for me. The thing is, I believe that she really is.

My husband, the Coach, often had the perfect words of comfort, the words I needed to hear at just the right time. Even though he’s normally pretty quiet, God used him so much during those first weeks to soothe those hard moments because dealing with grief when someone commits suicide is just a different kind of grieving.

And God showed up. The month of September had some wonderful weather, and I would take my Bible, my journal and my coffee out to the wicker love seat on my back porch, and God met me there. While I felt alone in so many ways, I did feel God’s presence in a real and tangible way during those weeks.

It’s hard to describe the preciousness of the God of the universe bending low to gently staunch the bleeding, to stitch up the wounds and to heal your tattered soul. But He did and I will be forever grateful for His goodness and His kindness.

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But He didn’t just stitch things up because the truth was, embedded in the wound of my brother’s death was a root of infection.

As the weeks went by and my numbness and some of the trauma wore off, I became aware of this pit of resentment I was carrying around with me. I was resentful that I felt so alone, and I was upset that people I had counted on to support me, hadn’t met that expectation.

I was angry that people had acted…… just like me.

God first made me aware of the resentment festering in my wound, and then He did the painful work of cleaning it out. And cleaning it out included admitting that the people I resented so much for not meeting MY expectations acted no differently than I had myself on innumerable occasions.

How many times had I gone to a funeral, hugged the person, said I’d pray for them and maybe sent a card or some flowers or some kind of memorial, and then forgotten all about them as the busyness of my daily life swallowed me back up?

How many times had I actually shown up at someone’s house or called them on the phone when I had heard of a death in that person’s life? The answer is zero.

To be completely fair, that choice was not because I didn’t care but because I assumed the person would want some space and time with immediate family. I didn’t want to barge in at a really difficult time.

But what stopped me later on? I’d see that person out and about, and they seemed fine. So I assumed they were. It was easier that way because I was busy.

God showed me that instead of an opportunity for resentment to grow into bitterness, my own experiences could teach me how to help other people when they walked down those hard paths.

You are probably thinking the same thing I was thinking at this point. How in the world are you supposed to add another thing onto your overflowing to do list? How will you incorporate supporting those that grieve and are going through hard times into your already busy lifestyle?

The truth is I don’t think that you do. What I really think is that we need to fundamentally change the way we do life because how we are doing it is not working. And it is slowly, surely killing us – or at least our souls.

 

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You know, originally, I had planned on doing a series of posts on I John – which is what I was studying this fall. Or maybe I would share about the women who populated the Bible during Jesus’ birth.

But instead, God has laid on my heart this burning message that we, as the Church, need to get counter-cultural. We need to intentionally stop being busy doing the urgent and start focusing on the important.

Because there are too many people who are hurting.

Because there are too many people who are struggling single-handed with their sin battle .

Because there are too many people who feel alone.

Community, fellowship – these things take time and intention.

If you are looking for a series on how to be more productive or meet more goals, this won’t be it. But if you are looking to change things this year so that instead of busy you have meaning, and instead of activities you have community, then I hope you will join me.

After all, what better time to look at the issue of busyness in our lives than December – the craziest month of the year?

Blessings, Rosanne

 

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

I know I’m not the only one. There are numerous people, just in my own church, who will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving table this year with an empty chair.

This is not the first year when my brother has been absent from the Thanksgiving table, but it’s the first year where his seat is empty and I know he will never sit in it again.

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I wish I had some great words of wisdom to make it easier for others who are in the same boat in which my family finds ourselves.

But I can’t.

I wish I could impart some piece of advice that will stem the pain and give you joy instead.

But I can’t.

I wish I could tell you how to make it seem just like always.

But I can’t – because it isn’t.

What I can do is tell you do what you need to do. Please don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or ashamed because you want to do something completely different this year or nothing at all.

If that means you aren’t up to making a big Thanksgiving dinner like you always do, don’t let anyone bully you into it.

If that means you want to have everyone over and feed them, don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t up to it.

If that means you want to go away, then do it.

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The thing is grief is a process. It can’t be rushed and it can’t be avoided. And the firsts are always the hardest – the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first birthday, the first anniversary – each one comes with its own unique difficulties. Those first special days are filled with little booby traps that spring up and hit you when you least expect it.

I’ve been doing pretty well the last month. I can feel myself healing. I no longer feel like I’m a walking, bleeding wound. God has been good to me, tenderly stitching me back up.

But it’s still hurts when something or someone brushes up against that wound.

I saw an ad for dog beds, and I immediately was thinking how I could buy several for my brother – and then it hit me like a slap in the face. He no longer needed dog beds or any other gift.

I walked through Hobby Lobby and saw a leopard printed Santa hat and burst into tears right there in the aisle.I could see him bouncing through the door, the bell at the top of his hat jingling. He was usually running late and half the gifts he brought were still in the car or unwrapped. But his smile was usually wide and there was a light in his eyes.

It hurts to know that light is forever gone.

Here’s the thing – this Thanksgiving will be different. It can’t be anything but different. That doesn’t mean that I am not thankful. Despite my brother’s death, God has blessed me in many ways this year. I am keenly aware of that.

It doesn’t mean that I lack faith, either. Without the hope I have in Christ, I could have never gotten through this in anything approaching one piece. That hope is what anchors my soul.

But our Thanksgiving this year will look very different. My parents will be going away. They just need different scenery – and that’s totally okay. My family will be hanging out at home. I’m making ribs, and I’m sure I will cry just a little bit when I put on that Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce – my brother was sort of a connoisseur of barbecue sauce. We both agreed Sweet Baby Ray’s was kind of the bomb.

I’m sure my kids and I will remember and laugh about the time my brother dropped practically an entire gallon of BBQ sauce on my carpet. If I look hard enough, I can faintly still see the stain. Somehow, I’d be more sad if I couldn’t.

So, if you have lost someone this year and you are facing a holiday season for the first time without that person, do me a favor, and yourself too. Give yourself permission to go through it the way YOU need to, and don’t let anyone make you feel badly about that!

Blessings, Rosanne

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