Grief

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

Why Do We Apologize for Grief?

For some reason, lately I’ve had a need to declutter and organize my house, so last Saturday, I did my boys’ bedroom. When I tackled the closet, I found that for some reason I couldn’t fathom, we were storing textbooks from elementary school, along with all the worksheets that went along with that. As I was pulling out notebook after notebook, I was checking to see if they were used or could be saved. I opened an OSU notebook and my brother’s distinctive handwriting leaped out at me. For a moment, I froze. It felt like I had been sucker punched.

The notebook had been a birthday gift to my son Brock. My brother was a rather rabid Michigan fan, and my boys are rather rabid Ohio State fans, so he and the boys always had fun trash talking about each other’s teams.

It’s strange how you can be hit with a wave of grief in the midst of something as mundane as cleaning out a closet. I wasn’t expecting to have my brother’s words, his scrawling handwriting to appear that afternoon.

So, I sat on the floor of my kids’ bedroom and cried.

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That’s the thing about grief – it hits you out of nowhere. I stopped at the Habitat for Humanity store the other day, and I had to leave because I started crying. (You wouldn’t believe how uncomfortable it makes people when you are dripping tears all over the used sewing machines).

Why, you might ask did a thrift store reduce me to a blubbering mess? See, my brother was a huge thrift store shopper, and we had talked about finding a sewing machine there and sharing it. I went in looking for a curtain rod, but what I found was painful reminder that my brother was irrevocably gone.

My grief has found me in the pet aisle at the grocery store. It’s hit me at Ollies (another store my brother loved). It’s felled me at odd, unplanned moments, reducing me to tears that I try to hide.

And I always find myself apologizing to anyone who happens to be around me. I feel badly for bringing their day down or making them feel uncomfortable. When my grief catches me out in public, it kind of feels like my I am trailing toilet paper stuck to my shoe. It feels awkward when others get uncomfortable in the light of my raw emotions.

I’m not sure why this is. After all, it wasn’t that long ago – probably in your grandparents’ generation – when there was a structure and a respect for the grieving process.

People didn’t expect someone to pick up the week after a loved one died and jump back on the merry-go-round of regular life.

Up until the 1950s, wearing dark colors for the first six months or so after a loss was pretty common. It wasn’t until the 70s and onward that these sorts of rituals started dropping away.

While I’m kind of glad I don’t have to wear black for a year (black makes me look an unflattering pasty white), that outward symbol was a sign to others that the person was grieving someone. It made things like tears at odd times understandable. Nobody expected you to have it all together – you were in the process of mourning.

Usually that process lasted for at least a year. Nowadays, people look at you funny when it’s been a few weeks since the funeral and you still seem sad.

Part of that is probably because our society is squirm-in-your-seat uncomfortable with death. We don’t really want to talk about it, and we certainly don’t want to see it when we are out buying our groceries or walking to our Sunday School class. Unlike our grandparents, death is something that is alien and foreign, something that happens in a hospital with professionals around. Gone are the days of funerals in the front living room and loved ones preparing the body. I suppose other people’s grief brings the reality of death a little too close for comfort.

We are actually pretty uncomfortable with most negative emotions – anger, fear, sadness. Want to bring the mood in the group down a few notches? Tell someone, when they ask you how your summer went, that your brother killed himself. Now that is a conversation killer. It’s like loudly passing gas in the middle of a cocktail party.

It’s why, when people say, “How are you?” I generally answer with, “Fine”  – even if I’m not because I feel guilty for making people uncomfortable.

It’s why, even in our Churches, people feel alone and isolated in their pain – we wear our positive, smiling mask when we are dying on the inside.

Because we have not learned to mourn with those who mourn, we force people to put on that plastic smile. We pressure them to say they are fine when they are anything but because their pain makes us uncomfortable – maybe for the simple reason that we don’t know how to fix it or what to say.

The thing is, you don’t have to fix it. You don’t have to have the perfect thing to say. Just giving someone a hug or squeezing their hand or simply saying, I’m sorry you are having a hard time is comforting. Your presence in the face of someone’s pain is often enough.

In fact, sometimes more words aren’t even helpful – especially when you try to talk someone out of their grief, like they shouldn’t feel it or that it somehow means they have a lack of faith.

Denying sorrow isn’t even Biblical. The shortest verse in the Bible is, “Jesus wept.” He was weeping before the tomb of Lazarus – you know, the guy He was going to raise from the dead in just a few minutes. Jesus wept because He saw the sorrow of those around Him. He was mourning with those who mourn – even though He knew they would be reunited with their loved one shortly.

The Bible says that Jesus was acquainted with sorrow and grief. Maybe we should all take a leaf out His book and acquaint ourselves with the pain and grief of others – even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Blessings, Rosanne

 

 

Saying Good-Bye to Mary

When I heard yesterday that Mary Brown had passed away, a deep sadness descended. I knew Mary had been fighting cancer for a long time, and I also knew that the cancer was winning. I knew she spent more days in bed than out and about, but I guess you are never ready to say good-bye to someone. You always think there will be more time.

I got to know Mary because she worked in the office at Temple Christian School for many years. All the kids loved her. She always had a warm, welcoming smile for them, but at the same time, despite her caring demeanor, she was always wise to those trying to get away with something.

I suppose when you have five daughters, that is a skill that is highly honed.

It never failed when I came into the office – both when I worked there and when I was subbing or just dropping something off for my kids – that when I asked how the morning was going, that Mary would say, “Crazy, as usual,” and then laugh.

Despite the frazzled mornings with the phone ringing, kids coming in late and people bringing in lunch money, I know Mary loved her job because she loved the kids and her co-workers. I know it was hard to step away from that job because of her health.

Even though Mary knew she was probably going to lose her fight with cancer, whenever I saw her at church or at a game or just out and about, she almost always had a smile on her face. There was still a light in her eyes, even the last time I saw her at church, looking frail.

Even in these final months, Mary raised her hands to praise the Lord during worship in church. She didn’t walk through the valley of the shadow of death – she praised her way through it, and whether she knew it or not, it was encouragement to all who witnessed it.

Her actions as she neared the end of her life were such an example to me. I’m sure there were days when Mary was scared or she got frustrated or felt discouraged. I’m sure there were days when she cried, overcome by it all. After all, she was only human.

But what I saw and what others saw was a woman who faced her illness and her coming death with a grace and a dignity I can only hope to emulate when my time comes.

The reason she could do that is because she knew that this world, as much as she loved the people in it, was not her home. She could face an uncertain earthly future because her eternal future was secure.

I can say with confidence that I know that Mary is in a better place. I know her pain and her suffering are over. But I also know that won’t change the grief her friends and family will have to walk through or the hole her passing will leave in all the lives she touched.

The thing is though, through my tears, I have to smile because I can picture her. I can see her at the feet of Jesus, her hands lifted in worship, whole and healthy with her face shining with joy. Because Mary knew Jesus, I can truly say, “Rest in peace, friend.”

“Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ” ~ I Corinthians 15:55-57

An Open Letter From Someone Who is Grieving

Dear Friend,

First of all, thank you. Thank you for sending that card or showing up at the funeral, either for the service or just the viewing. Thank you for the prayers uttered on my and my family’s behalf. Thank you for offering comforting words. Please don’t worry if they were somewhat awkward. I really didn’t know what to say either, and I could feel the concern and care behind them. They were and are appreciated.

Second, I totally get that this is my loss – not yours. I get that your life – in fact all life – has to go on. The world does not stop spinning just because I have lost someone I love. I don’t expect you to halt your life because of the grief I am walking through.

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But you know when you asked me what you can do? Well, I’ve been thinking about that because I didn’t really know at the time. After walking in my grief for a few weeks, I came up with a few things that do help.

  • Please understand the funeral doesn’t mark the end of the grieving process. Going through the grief process can take anywhere from 2 to 4 years. The hardest part is AFTER the funeral is over.
  • Please don’t assume just because you see me smile and even laugh that I’m “over it.” Grief is a process that takes a lot of twists and turns.
  • Please ask me how I’m doing once in a while. I realize your life has gone on (as it should), but it’s comforting to know that you remember that I’m struggling.
  • Please understand that, while I’d love to “get back to normal,” I’m not sure what that looks like anymore because my normal has irrevocably changed.
  • Please don’t be upset if I have to pull back from some festivities. It isn’t personal – I promise! It’s just that certain days will be harder for me than others, particularly holidays and special dates and events.
  • Please know that I care about what’s going on in your life too. But, while I really want to be there for you in your crisis, I might not have the emotional energy or reserves to do everything you need me to right now. I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean I don’t care.
  • Speaking of energy, please understand when I have to pull back from all the things I normally do. I just don’t have the concentration or energy right now. Being busy can be a distraction, but it only delays working through my grief. Please allow me that space.
  • Please know that your presence is mostly all I need. If you want to bring food or, better yet, dessert, I won’t object, but just having someone who cares enough to be present is enough.
  • Please ask me about my brother. I really don’t mind talking about him. I want to hear your stories and good memories. Talking about him doesn’t remind me of my loss – that is with me every moment of every day.
  • Please don’t be alarmed if, sometimes, I start crying for no apparent reason. Trust me, it takes me by surprise too. Just hand me a tissue and it will pass soon.
  • Please don’t tell me how I should feel or mistake my sadness for a lack of faith. While I really appreciate you sharing a verse with me that is comforting to you, telling me  “God is in control,” or “God knows what is best” really doesn’t help when I’m feeling sad. I know those things, and I believe them – but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. Even Jesus wept when Lazarus died – and He knew He was raising Lazarus from the dead in a few minutes.
  • Please know that I appreciate your friendship and kindness. One of these days, I will get to the place of a new normal, and I will always look back and remember how you came alongside me to shine a light during my darkest moments.

 

Blessings, Rosanne

 

What Mental Illness Stole From my Brother

On August 5th, we memorialized my brother. I never really thought I’d say that, especially when I am only 42 and my brother not quite 46.

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I can honestly say that July 30th was probably the worst day of my life. It was the day I found out my brother had died and how he had died – he had taken his own life.

My brother suffered from mental illness, and he had a lot of ups and downs. I had always known this was a possibility, but you never think something like this will really happen to someone you love – because you love them. You can see, even if they don’t, how much people care.

The thing about mental illness, though, is that it steals people from you because it lies to you. It makes you believe you are all alone and nobody cares.

As I stood and received hugs and condolences from a stream of people, I realized just how much mental illness had stolen from my brother.

Neighbors came through the line – people I had never met – that told me about how much they enjoyed talking to and knowing my brother. One gruff older man, with tears in his eyes, told me how much his grandchildren miss my brother because he would walk by with his dogs all the time, and he would take the time to interact with them.

I can’t tell you how many people, some I knew and some I didn’t, that said the words to me, “I just loved your brother,” or “he was such a special guy,” or “he had such a big heart.”

My brother had no idea the impact he made on those around him. On Wednesday, as we remembered how much my brother was loved, it became clear just how much mental illness had stolen from him and from my family.

I have lost other people I loved – all of my grandparents, a good friend – but there is something different about the grief that comes when someone takes their life.

There is the almost irresistible temptation to start asking “what if.” What if I had called him more? What if I had gone over to his house during that last week? What if I had reached out more or invited him to dinner more or to lunch more? What if I had made him get help?

What if and if only leave the bitter taste of regret in my heart.

At my brother’s memorial service it became very clear to me that no matter what I did or didn’t do, mental illness deceived my brother. It twisted his reality so he felt hopeless and helpless.

The saddest, yet also comforting thing to me is that as a believer, my brother was never truly alone – not even in his last, darkest moments because he was a believer. God promises that He will never, ever leave us. Even at the moment my brother took his life, God was right there. Even though my brother felt completely alone, he wasn’t.

I hope and pray that my brother’s death will have meaning and purpose. I hope that it will start a conversation that must be had in our churches – how can we support, encourage and help those with mental illness? How can we help their families?

We have to stop avoiding the topic and hoping it will go away. We have to stop guilting people into thinking if they were just more spiritual, they could overcome their mental illness.

No amount of Bible reading and prayer will cure manic depression. No number of church services will cancel out clinical depression. You can’t spiritualize your way out of being schizophrenic. And we need to stop making people feel guilty because they can’t overcome mental illness on their own.

Yes, God can certainly heal – just as He does in cases of cancer or other serious illnesses – but if He doesn’t, then we need to walk with those people who are suffering, just as we would if that person had a disease that affected his body instead of his mind.

At the memorial service, we remembered who my brother was and that he was so much more than his mental illness. I pray we can continue that conversation.

Blessings, Rosanne

Blessings, Rosanne

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