Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Out in Left Field

This week's blog is posted on our new site:


There are pictures and some fun stuff to come on the new site.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rose-Colored Glasses

This last week I decided to give Princess a bath. She was looking rather shabby and it was becoming an embarrassment to take her out and about in public. So I spent a good chunk of my day off scrubbing and polishing. Princess looks amazing!
Princess is my cherry-red, Sebring convertible. I vacuumed and polished the interior and scrubbed the wheels so they would shine. I know this all sounds ridiculous. At least I always thought men who loved their car were...ridiculous.
My husband loved his car. It was a gold Park Avenue. I called it the "geezer car" because it was the kind of car that old men would drive. It didn't matter how much I mocked it or how much I hated driving it (it was way too big for me and I felt lost and small behind the wheel), David loved his car and was quite proud of it.
So I was surprised when one day he announced we were going to the dealership to trade in his "baby". David was 5 months into his 9 month sentence with cancer and so I assumed it was the drugs talking and told him we didn't need to do that. He wasn't able to drive anymore and I didn't want to waste what time we had together dealing with car salesmen. David insisted and so I climbed behind the wheel of his car and we headed out to a dealership a good 20 miles from our house. (It's nearly impossible to tell a dying man no). David insisted on that dealership but would not tell me why. I thought perhaps the medicine was impacting his thinking. When we arrived the salesmen already had the car we would be buying waiting for us and that's when I met Princess. David traded in his "baby" to buy me that red convertible I had mentioned to him I wanted to drive someday. I always thought my "someday" was just wishful thinking and assumed I would spend my life driving the minivan I called the "mom mobile". Every time we passed one of those cars on the road I would say to David, "that's going to be my car someday." Who knew David was actually paying attention?!
So... I love my car! Not only is a sporty convertible with lots of style and fun, it wraps me in love every time I get in it. Princess (yes, I've named the car. I know that means I've joined the ranks of the car-fanatics. I don't care.) Princess reminds me of David's love for me and not just everyday, ordinary love. It points me to a self-sacrificing love that is rare and precious.
I love telling this story and I tell it often; every time someone asks me why a middle-aged, conservative pastor is driving a red sports car. I tell them of David's love and how wonderful it is to feel the wind in my hair.
Here's the point: (Yes, there really is a point to this drive down memory lane) David and I were married for almost 27 years. There were many occasions where David's actions or words were less than self-sacrificing. There are many memories where... let's just say I don't feel the love. Anytime two people live together that closely that long there's going to be some ugly moments. If I tried I could remember some really hurtful words spoken and some truly disappointing actions. I choose to remember Princess. I have made a deliberate choice to forget the ugly and embrace the loving. I believe it has been key in assisting me to heal and prevented me from becoming one of those angry, bitter, resentful women who feel abandoned and forgotten by the ones they love.
That's not to say I don't have my moments. Yesterday was the Fourth of July and I have always spent that day with my family around me, grilling and laughing and eating together. Yesterday I did not. There were good reasons the kids weren't with me and so I chose to get in the car and put down the top and "feel the love" rather than pout and cry about what I've lost. It's a choice and some days it takes more effort than others but it's the best choice I can make. I'm making lemonade out my lemons. I'm putting the best spin on a bad situation.
You can say I'm not dealing with reality or that I'm wearing rose-colored glasses. I don't care. The glasses match my car!
Embrace the loving memories as often as you can. Give me a call... I'll take you for a spin. Princess loves company!


Monday, June 28, 2010

The Rearview Mirror

A Great Monday morning to all who grieve.
(Is that too perky?)

I was thinking this past week about just how useful the rearview mirror is. Really...I think about such things. I know that makes me quirky or outright strange but I'm OK with that. It's truly a liberating moment when you reach the point (or age) where you just don't care all that much what people think of you. So I'm thinking about the road behind me and justthis past week I found the rearview mirror quite helpful.

I used it on Monday to hold the handicap sticker that my father-in-law has so I could park in the front spot while taking him to his doctor appointment. The rearview mirror is a handy holder of all sorts of dangling things.

On Tuesday I used the mirror while in the midst of traffic. I glanced up just in time to see a guy in a very large pickup truck move in behind me close enough to smell my perfume. I thought a moment about hitting the brake but I really like my car so I moved over and let the guy have the lane. He was speeding and agressive but... I really like my car so I let the bully pass.

On Thursday I found it particularly helpful in helping to apply lipstick. It also is quite handy for reapplying makeup and straightening hair. This last one is quite helpful since I drive a convertible and the hair is truly a mess. This is also something I'm OK with. Messed up hair or life without the convertible- the choice is clear. I really like my car!

Well I have found the rearview mirror a useful tool but only when used in brief spurts. Driving while gazing steadily into the rearview mirror would not be good. In fact, it is impossible to make any forward progress while staring into the rearview mirror. Only brief glances are best.

I took a brief glance back this past week and found it quite helpful in guiding me through a week filled with difficult grief-points. This past week was the fourth anniversary of my husband's death. If you had told me that four years later I would still be grappling with grief I would have told you that is not ever going to happen to me. (shows you what I knew about grief)
I had to take the cat (David's cat) to the vet and put poor Fred out of his misery. In the midst of this I found myself looking back at the joy the cat brought to David in his last days battling cancer. Fred had earned his keep! I glanced back at the many ways God had carried me through the past four years when I thought grief would surely kill me. There were even those days when I hoped for someone to put me out of my misery only to find God sending a friend or a funny moment to ease the pain and give me a clear perspective. Sometimes grief is like that bully in the truck bearing down on you with such agressive speed that the best you can do is pull over and try to get out of the way. A quick look back at all those times God saved me was helped me get a clear perspective for this past week. Glancing back can give us the courage to move forward.

WARNING! A brief glance is the only way to look back. If you linger in the past you will risk letting the past overrun your life and greatly impair your future. I also recommend selective glances down memory lane. I chose to look at only the good and joy-filled memories and kept a steely-eyed, determined gaze at the road ahead whenever a painful memory tried to climb into my backseat. The Bible tells us to "take every though captive" and to "think on those things that are good, and pure, and lovely". That's selective use of the rearview mirror. I strongly recommend it for all who grieve.

Well, it's a sunny day and that top is comming down on the red convertible! It's going to be a "top-down day"! I'm so glad I didn't spend any time on my hair this morning. I can blame the mess on the wind and the car. And I'll be using that rear view mirror to apply the lipstick (it matches the car!) So get out there and find something to make you smile- a garden or a movie or a lovely lunch along the lake - go for it! Move forward and use that rearview mirror sparingly.



Monday, June 21, 2010

David Jobs

Today is a "David's Job" day. A David job is any task that was routinely done by the husband and dad of the house. Within the first week following his death I called a meeting of all living at home (me and the two boys)and we came to an agreement of who would be handling the "David jobs". It was agreed upon, with some reluctance from all involved that Jon would unclog the toilets, Stephen would kill the spiders and I would handle the trash. It seemed to work for about 30 days and then the boys returned to college and I was left to handle the "issues".

I really didn't know how many "David jobs" there were until they started popping up on a regular basis. Apparently David was the one who locked the doors and turned out the lights every night. He changed light bulbs. He changed all the clocks in the house when daylight saving time hit. I actually lived for the first two years without changing the clocks or locking the doors. It's not that the tasks were too difficult. I just didn't want to do it. It was a "David job". My sister moved in with me during year two and forced the issue. She doesn't live in houses that aren't locked at night. Go figure!

Well I share all that to point out that today is a "David job" day. This week will be the fourth anniversary of his death and I really thought that all these issues would be resolved by now. I now change the light bulbs and the clocks. I kill the spiders (well, OK I mostly shoo them away or pretend they're not there) and I empty the trash and handle simple plumbing issues all by myself. At some point I just assumed that the tasks that were once David's would become just routine and not be the reminder of loss and generator of grief that they have for the past three years.
Apparently I was wrong. Who knew?

Today I will be taking David's dad to the doctor. It's a monthly trip we make together to a large hospital in the area. Routine and not difficult for either one of us. David Job. After I return I will be spending some time in the front yard cleaning up limbs and debris from a weekend storm that blew through. I have some help coming but still...David job. Somewhere between doctors and lawns I will need to go on line and buy Tiger baseball tickets. David's dad loves the Tigers and he has his heart set on going to the series with Minnesota. For the past three years my boys have taken grandpa. A good time was had by all. The last family activity we all did together before David's death was go to a Tiger game. Well, both boys are not available this summer so I will be going with grandpa to the game. It will be a good time together but not as fun for either one of us without the boys. David job.

Then at some point today I will need to scoop up David's beloved cat, Fred and take him to the vet. Fred is 17 years old and failing fast. Today is the day. David loved that cat. Fred loved David and kept guard over him as the cancer robbed David of his strength and then his life. Fred is now in distress and the vet says it's time to let him go.

I am aware that some folks wonder why I still grieve four years after David's death. It's days like today that make it impossible NOT to grieve. I would have to be an unfeeling robot not to cry a few tears today. I've packed my purse with Kleenex and I'm giving myself permission to grieve today. The clueless bystanders who don't understand the need for grief will just have to remain clueless. I can't please everyone today and I've decided to give my attention to "David jobs". His dad and his cat loved David very much and have earned the right to be tended to.

Wow! What a heavy posting today! Sorry. Some days are just like that. What is surprising to me is that I really assumed these days would go away with time. I really didn't expect to still be grieving over the "David jobs" four years after his death. Now I realize that grief is not something you "get over". Grief is a life sentence you learn to manage. It gets less painful and less emotionally draining but it never really goes away.

OK. I could be wrong. Perhaps year 4 will be grief-free. Maybe year 5 will be a whole new day free of tears and "David jobs". I'm not counting on it. Does that sound less than encouraging? Sorry. I try to make our weekly meeting a positive and helpful time together. I also try to keep it real and honest. Let's just say today is really real.

In the midst of a day filled with "David jobs" and reminders of his absence in my life I am still thankful for all the days I had with David. I am thankful for the privilege of keeping my promise to him and taking care of his dad .... and his cat. Today I get to be David's wife and handle his "stuff". Even grief days can be good days too. - Well... sorta. I still have to say goodbye to Fred. Perhaps the only good thing about the day will be that it will be over before I know it. Some days you just do your best to get through it.

Next week I promise to tell funny stories and laugh with you. If you think of it, say a prayer for me today and for all who grieve. Some days are just.... awful.

Gotta get going. The only way through the day is through it. See you next Monday.

Karen PS - I am now posted at Wordpress- KarenPayneTableForOne.wordpress.com

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Perfect Gift

Good Monday mourning to all.

Yes, it is possible and perhaps even necessary for our mourning to be "good". Good grief really does exist. It's not just an expression of exasperation used by Charlie Brown whenever things were out of sorts. Grief is good and necessary.
Speaking of expressions of exasperation...

I was looking through the Sunday newspaper adds yesterday. It's the only reason I get the weekend newspaper. I like my Target add. I rarely ever buy anything listed in the adds but I still like to look at all the stuff. This week there was something in the adds that caught my eye. I read the description of this stadium seat that you place on the high school bleachers and sit on it. It had a back to it and arms and a padded seat and it came in several colors. I practically jumped out of my seat and exclaimed out loud, "I've found the perfect Fathers Day gift for David!"

My sister, Janet said, "Ok" with a bit of hesitancy in her voice and a slight chuckle. I appreciate her not assuming that I've lost my mind (well, actually that would be an assumption on my part). David has been gone for over 3 years now and we haven't had a kid playing in a high school football game for 4 years. All of that is beside the point! I finally found the perfect gift! David would have loved it and he would have insisted I pick up another one for his dad who always accompanied David to all of the games our two boys played.

Shopping for David was never easy. I gave up trying to buy clothes for him. He seemed to change his likes and dislikes constantly and after returning things that I had purchased just knowing he would love I just gave up and told him he was on his own. "You need it - go get it." It sounds cruel, I know. I'm not the slightest bit sorry. After a few dozen returns the only reasonable response was to let him handle his own "picky" purchases.

But this gift would have been absolutely perfect!!! I would have bought a green one to match the high school's team colors. Just thinking about it makes me smiles. I would have given it to Stephen and made him wrap it up for his dad. What fun!

Another thing that makes me smile; realizing that this little excursion down "memory lane" didn't make me sad. Not a single tear was shed! Instead I found myself laughing out loud at how ridiculous it was that I would see that item in the Sunday adds and get excited about it. I also laughed at the realization that finding the perfect gift 3 years too late was so... just like David. I actually entertained the thought of going and getting one of those chairs so I could return it later - just for the "good old days". Oh Good Grief!

Yeah, I'd say there are signs of good grief here. Great memories now bring smiles and laughter instead of sadness and tears. That's definitely a good sign.

I pray God gives you "good grief" this week. That memories will bring smiles instead of tears. If you're not quite there yet, hang on! It will come. One day you'll find yourself laughing over a silly memory and you'll recognize the signs of good grief.

I've gotta go. Those chairs might run out of stock before I get one!


Monday, June 7, 2010

Life's A Beach!

Just came back from a family vacation. It was wonderful with lots of sun and sand. Even the two-day drive was filled with mountain scenes that were breathtakingly beautiful. But the best part of the whole trip wasn't sun or sand which means the best part was truly incredible because I live in Michigan and sun and sand are hard to find most days. The best part of the family vacation was..FAMILY.

The kids from three different states managed to clear their calendars and make their way to the beach. We laughed together and ate dinner together every night. The kids taught me how to play a new card game and then I soundly whooped them all without a hint of mercy or grace. It was great fun!

The Payne family is still alive and well. Separated by jobs and even death but still very much a healthy, loving family. David was of course missed and his empty chair at the table always visible. The kids each took turns saying grace before each meal(one of David's jobs). And yet he was there with us. I heard him in the kid's laughter. I felt him smile with me as I watched the boys wrestle with the ocean waves. I am so thankful for an eternal perspective on life. It comes from knowing Christ and the promise of a life that never ends. David is still very much alive - though separated from us for now - he remains a part of us. We look forward to the day we will be reunited; perhaps on a sunny beach in heaven.

Do they have beaches in heaven? Can you even call it heaven without a beach? I'll have to leave that one for greater theological minds than mine. I'm just saying... I really like the beach. But a week on a beach with family is as close to heaven as you can get here on earth.

I consider it a personal victory that I didn't cry once this week. I missed David and I wished he could have been there to enjoy every loving, laughing moment of the week. But I chose not to give away even one moment of joy for expressions of grief. We can always do that on a cloudy cold day at home. Sunny beaches must be met with joy. Thank you Lord for helping us all revel in every moment together. Thank you, Lord for helping us all make that choice. Healing and love were served with every meal and the Payne family ate it up with gladness.

I love the beach!
Keep moving forward in your grief toward health and healing. It's our choice to make though not always an easy one. It really does get better with effort and time and sunny days.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Flushed with Grief

I spent several days this past week at a conference for pastors held on a college campus. The campus was lovely, the conference inspiring and the company good. I'm glad I went. The accommodations were in the dorm rooms on campus. Let's just say it's been a LONG time since I've been in a dorm room. The 10 x 8 room was "decorated" with two twin beds, two desks and an overhead florescent light. The bathroom was located down the hall. For someone who is used to hotel living this "communal" bathroom was quite a shock. Maybe I'm spoiled. Maybe I'm just sheltered. Let's just say I am quite fond of having my own bathroom. I seem to be unable to be "chatty" with people when wearing nothing but a towel and a mouth full of toothpaste. I'm not able to focus on the conversation with wet hair and mascara in hand. Some things really require our full attention. I know we've passed laws against driving and texting or phoning. Perhaps we should consider a law prohibiting all talking in communal bathrooms. It's worth consideration.
Truth be told, chatty is not a word I would use to describe me anytime before 9am. David and I would get up and dressed and out the door in the morning without speaking anything other than a mumbled, "mornin" as we passed in the hall. And though we shared a bathroom we made sure we were never in it at the same time. So my experience with dorm life was quite disturbing for me. The other ladies seem to take it in stride so clearly the problem is entirely me. (I'm willing to own that)
The other part of the communal bathroom that seemed to leave me a bit "on edge" was the automatic flushers. Have you ever experienced one of these contraptions? I know I have from time to time at other public facilities but the ones in the dorm were... well.... over-eager. I closed the door on the stall, sat down and then leaned forward to reach for the paper dispenser - FLUSH. I leaned back (mostly in shock from the first flush)- FLUSH. I took a deep breath and tried to focus on the "job at hand"- FLUSH. I attempted to finish as quickly as possible and leave (more like running for my life!)- FLUSH. I assumed that I had just picked the wrong place and on subsequent trips used a different stall only to experience -FLUSH. FlUSH. FLUSSSH.
Most disturbing! I felt the need to take a shower - again - after using these hair-trigger contraptions. Really! Some things ought to be done personally - NOT automatically. There are some things in life that we really need to give personal attention to and not attempt to delegate to someone else. The bathroom is one of those things.
I was so glad to be back home in my "low-tech" facilities. Some things just need our personal attention. Lesson learned.

Such is grief. It really can't be delegated to others or put on "automatic controls". It requires our personal attention. No one can grieve for me and only I can know the when and wheres of moving forward - or not. Grief is an extremely personal thing; best done by the hand and heart of the one grieving.

I believe those automatic flushers were invented to prevent the mess caused by folks who didn't give attention to their own "issues". We must attend to our grief - ignoring it will cause quite a mess. Some things are just done best in person. There is no such thing as an "automatic griever". So as messy as is might be at times let's determine to handle our own grief in our own way by our own hand in our own time.

I realize this analogy is a bit "stinky" and brings the term, "bathroom humor" to a whole new level. Sorry, but this is my experience this week. Let's just say I am so glad to be home! I'm handling my own grief with great care. Not gonna let others rush me or circumstances overwhelm me. I'm handling it with care, and time, and prayer. How about you?


Monday, May 17, 2010

Getting Physical

Shortly after my husband, David died I joined a gym. Actually I joined 3 gyms over that first year as a widow. I joined not because I like gyms. I actually hate them. Hate is not too strong of a word! I have a visceral response to the word. I hate the smell and the look of the place. I hate the equipment and the ridiculous "costumes" we're suppose to wear to be a true exerciser. The entire time I was there (aprx. 3 months at each gym.) I couldn't stop staring at the clock and wondering when it would be over and I could get on with life. For me the entire experience was in exercise in how to waste time. After the third gym I tried water aerobics. I thought that perhaps if I didn't feel the sweat that I would like exercise. I like the water and the smell of the chlorine better than the gym but it took twice as long to do the deed and my skin started to look like a prune.
Then I bought a bike. Not some fancy, multi-speed mountain bike but an ordinary schwinn with chrome fenders and a bell. The bike is pink and I have a matching helmet. I like biking though I go rather slow and my children have asked me to stay off the main roads because I look like a spectacle out there. Apparently I am still able to embarrass my kids which makes me like the bike even more. The only problem with the bike is that it's a fair-weather activity and in Michigan that's not a regular exercise program.
So last summer, not willing to give up on this exercise-is=good-for-you theory, I joined a zumba class. And much to my surprise, after a life-time of hating exercise I have found something I actually like! I am now a zumba nut. I go twice a week. I sweat like crazy, do more physical activity in one hour than any other work-out I have tried and I actually enjoy myself. Perhaps it's the music or the fast pace. Maybe it engages my mind so I don't have time to watch the clock or make mental lists of all the things I could be doing if I weren't stuck in the gym. Whatever it is, I'm glad I found it. Exercise really is good for the body and the mind. It's very good for grief.
Grief comes with waves of emotions that are quite difficult to sort out and make sense of much less manage. Exercise truly does help "sweat" some of that frustration and anger out. I am glad I took the time to get "physical" with my grief. It has helped. - Now that's not to say that it has actually helped my weight or my waist-line to go down. NO! That would be way too much to ask for! At my age, the best I can hope for is to maintain what I got and make myself a little more flexible and strong. I suppose strong and flexible are good. I've never been all that fond of heavy lifting or bending but just knowing I can do them if I need to is some sort of victory - I guess. Anyway, I'm handling grief and aging and stress with a dose of zumba and an occasional bike-ride. It all seems healthy and my doctor smiles when I tell him I did 5 miles on the bike one day. Come to think of it, that makes me smile too. I didn't know I could do that and that makes me wonder what other things I can handle if I just get the courage to try.
Get physical. It will help with the stuff that grief does to your mind and emotions and body. I believe it was a God-directed thing for me to commit to exercise. (well, OK - commit may be too strong of a word!)I am sure that God was helping me take care of myself while I did the emotional "heavy-lifting" that comes with grief. Don't give up. Find something you enjoy (it took me 18 months to find it!)and do it. It has kept me out of the doctor's office and mostly sane and stable.
Let's get physical! Let me know what works for you. I may want to try it when the zumba gets old.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Mothers Day play-by-pay

Yesterday was Mothers Day. I am a mother of three grown children and so I approached the day with very little expectations. Two of the three kids live out of state and the third (the youngest)is a chef which means he works on Mothers Day. I'm OK with this. I prefer him to be working than playing video games in my family room. The other two are married and busy and like most newlyweds, broke. I told them all in advance I didn't want them spending any money on me. To their credit each one acknowledged their mother with a card and a call which makes me think perhaps I wasn't so bad as a parent. I at least raised them to be sensitive and attentive to their mother on holidays. I also received flowers. I LOVE flowers!!! My husband, David would buy me flowers often and they always made me feel loved. David was proud of his kids, yesterday. They took care of mom in his absence. I have great kids.

It was a good day. I also was aware of the unsettling realities of my post-David life. Four years ago I was a wife and mother of three children all living under my roof. Today I am.... well that's just it. I'm not at all sure how to describe me. Life has changed dramatically and it has left me uncertain of a whole host of things. Things like; Do empty-nests always feel so empty? Is there still a place for me in my kids life? Who's going to do all the heavy lifting around the house? Who do I blame for the messes? (OK. The baby still sleeps at home so I got the last one covered) Who am I if not a wife and mother? These are questions that ruminate somewhere inside me on most days. I do my best not to give them my attention and I try not to get too upset about them but on days like Mothers Day they seem to be a bit more bothersome. I am thankful for the flowers and the phone calls. They keep the questions at bay.

Mothers Day for me was filled with busyness. It falls on a Sunday and so I'm quite involved with ministering to the Lord and His people on every Mothers Day. This too was a benefit for handling the day. I started at 7am and continued until 5pm where I crashed exhausted on the couch. A key to healing through times of grief and loss: Busyness! Preferably the kind of busyness that causes you to focus on the needs of others instead of yourself. I have found it to be helpful especially on the holidays.

After worship services I helped to serve dinner to people in need in our community. Mothers Day is hard for lots of people for lots of reasons. I was blessed to bring some laughter and good company to the table along with a good meal.

As Mothers Days go, mine was filled with blessings. I got to be a blessing to lots of people and give as much of my energy away as possible without having to call an ambulance. (though it was a close call around 5:30pm) So count me among the happy moms on the day-after recap. Even while navigating through uncertain days and unfamiliar waters I am blessed to be a blessing to others. And I still have a family that knows how to love - even from afar.
I pray your day was blessed. I pray God helps you to find opportunities to be a blessing. Our health and healing depend on it. Have a happy day-after!


Monday, May 3, 2010

Stormy Weather

Spring in Michigan, like every other season, is quite unpredictable. It's a welcome pleasure after our winters but still one of those times where you just can't predict what the day will hold. I carry around with me a jacket, an umbrella and sunscreen and I just might need all of those things - in the same day!
Yesterday we had a flash-flood of sorts. There were thunderstorms that blew in and blew out quite suddenly and dumped buckets of water on everything - and everyone. I got caught in one of the deluges. In the time it took me to cross a parking lot the sprinkles started and then the sky opened and I ran for cover.
Today, however the sun is out and the grass has never looked greener. It's going to be a perfect spring day in Michigan. Maybe even a "top-down" day for the convertible! YEAH!
I had a flash flood of a different kind the other day. A "gully-washer" of grief swept in quite unexpectedly. I was doing a funeral for a family; someone died far too soon of cancer and the family needed a pastor to lead them through the funeral service. I was glad to do it. Then, just before the service starts and I'm about to enter the room they play a song over the PA. It's one of those Josh Groban songs filled with emotion and sadness. It also just happens to be a song that David and I would listen to together to help him fall asleep during that last month of his life.
OH MY! I never saw it coming! Suddenly I'm wiping away tears and frantically running for a tissue. The funeral home owner looked concerned. Another employee asked if I was OK. I wanted to say, "Of course I'm not OK! My husband died! I may never be OK." But that seemed a little reactionary and I was there to do an important job so I pushed away the tears and assured them I was fine.
I entered the room, led the funeral service, extended God's comfort and love to a hurting family and retreated to my car. Again the grief storm swept in and the "showers" began to fall. I turned on the windshield wipers and then realized that the "rain" was on the inside of the car not the outside. I turned off the wipers and laughed at myself.
Yeah... grief is like spring in Michigan. You can laugh and cry and feel just a bit crazy all at the same time. The good news is:
1. You're not crazy! Sudden "storms" of grief will blow in and out at the most unexpected times and for apparent silly reasons. They blow in, they blow out, they blow over and it's OK. You're not crazy. It's just a grief storm. It's a necessary part of the season. No point in trying to avoid it but you might want to prepare yourself; I also carry a box of tissues in the car at all times.
2. Tears are healthy. They release tension and give expression to deeply held emotions. They can actually be quite helpful and produce a "sunny" disposition afterwards.
3. Nobody dies from embarrassment. Yes, grief is humbling. I have made a fool of myself a time or two; card shops and football season seem to "push my buttons". I do my best to avoid them but when a storm of grief blows in I no longer panic. It will pass. I have now added Josh Groban to my "avoid" list.

Stormy weather. The best thing I can say about it is.... grief-storms blow in to blow out. Don't panic. You're not crazy. It's just a spring shower of grief; necessary, even healthy and healing. It's just hard to feel anything other than "all wet" when a storm hits. But hey, a little "rain" never hurt anybody and today the skies look clear and sunny. But then again... ya never know!


Monday, April 26, 2010

It's About Time

We have a curious event in April in Michigan. We call it "daylight savings time" and what it basically does is cause all of us to change our clocks. Now we do this twice a year; spring and fall and I've had some difficulty remembering which way the clock goes - forward or back - pretty much every time the clock requires changing. Well, in April we move the clock forward and this means we lose an hour of sleep and that generally requires a good week or so for my body to make the adjustment. For a week or so nearly everyone in Michigan walks around tired and out of sort as their internal "body clock" makes the shift. I have no idea who thought this up but I wonder about the wisdom of it all. It also points out the reality that time really is a relative thing; an arbitrary construction of man.
I find it curious that in some cultures time is only marked by the sun - morning and evening and everything in between is just there. In our culture we are so time-centric that we strap little clocks to our wrists and program alarms in our cell phones to keep us ever aware of the time. What does all this have to do with grief?
We really are formed and informed by our culture and our western culture tells us that there is a time to grieve (preferably done in private so as to not upset others who really don't want to be confronted with such "negativity") and that time is as short as humanly possible. Anything over a year is pushing it and when you get into the third or fourth year, like I am, you are pretty much out of time.
Well-wishers will tell you that it's time to move on down the road and get on with your life. Look to the future and forget about all that loss and grief in your past. It's all behind you now so just get on with it! Wouldn't it be great if we could just take off grief like an old coat? It would be so much easier if at the one year anniversary of the loss of a loved one we could change our "grief clock" and put all that sadness behind us. We could "spring forward" into a new season of only happy thoughts and feelings. If anybody out there has a clock like that - let me know.
I have not found any grief-clocks. I've actually made the mental adjustments at key points along the way to attempt a "time change" from grief to anything better than grief. At the first anniversary of David's death - and then again at the second and third I set my mental clock forward. I gave it a good try at our 30th wedding anniversary and at my 50th birthday. I did my best to set my mental and emotional state ahead to brighter, springy days. I can't say that it worked all that well. Time is a relative thing; prone to change and subject to our whims and perceptions. Some days I am clearly living in "springy" thinking and other days I am falling back to grief's darker days. Grief does not work like a clock; always moving forward and making progress. Grief is all over the map; forward and backward and sometimes unmovable and stuck. It's all pretty relative.
So give yourself a break and take your time. There is no point in rushing through it because grief will do it's work in all of us according to its own good time. I think I'm making progress - but then again, tomorrow I may find it time to "fall back" again. I'm resolved to finish the work no matter how much time it takes.
Now if only I could get our culture to stop watching the clock and let grief keep its own time. Well, that's another topic and one that you and I are not able to change. so... tick tock... time's a wasting! I'm closing down the pink mini laptop and getting on with the day without any clue as to what "time zone" I'll be in today. Grief or gladness? Forward to new days, backwards to memories of great days with David? Probably all of the above in no particular order. That's the nature of grief. Whatever the day holds I am certain of one thing (really, I'm not certain of anything these days except for this!) God has my heart in His hand and He will help me through this day. He is with me. He is for me. -
He is with you too! He's not in a hurry - He's got all the time in the world and He's willing to spend it with you. Go God!!

Well, get on with the week - Time's a wasting!

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Grief Observed

C.S. Lewis wrote about his experience with grief in his book, A Grief Observed. After the death of his wife he said, "An odd byproduct of my loss is that I'm aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet...perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers." That observation produces a knowing nod from me. No one has ever actually suggested I should be locked up on some kind of commune until this grief thing passes but I'm not so sure they haven't thought about it while interacting with me over these past 3 years.
When my husband, David died everyone was so kind and understanding. I cried often. (I called it "leaking" and carried a box of tissues with me at all times for about a year). But somewhere between the first and second year of my grief I seemed to have crossed an imaginary line where public grief is no longer to be greeted with understanding kindness. I'm not really sure when I crossed the line but I'm pretty sure I did. If I get teary or (God forbid) cry over my loss I often sense that my emotion is not received well. My grief makes others uncomfortable.
Now I'm just enough of a people-pleaser to not want to make people uncomfortable so I have learned in the third year of grief to give expression to it only when I'm alone and not in public. I'm now a "closet griever"!
That sounds wrong. I think it's wrong that I feel the need to suppress honest and appropriate emotional response to a significant loss. Society seems to tell us that if we openly express our feeling of grief that we are immature or overly-emotional or flat out crazy. I don't think giving expression to grief is crazy. I think society's response to grief is crazy!
Truth is I'm not uncomfortable with my tears. I believe God gave us the ability to cry for a purpose and if the death of a loved one isn't one of those purposes then I don't what tears are for. It is not in the honest expression of emotion that we become "crazy" or unhealthy. It is in the suppression and denial of our feelings that we are often driven to unhealthy lifestyles. We pop pills or rush into other activities (shopping and new relationships) to avoid the pain. That's crazy!
So, though Mr. Lewis has a point I'm not going to succumb to societal pressures and deny or suppress my grief. I have given myself to fully feeling what I feel and working through my grief rather than avoiding and denying it. I think I'm healthier for it. It's not been pretty or neat but it has been honest and healthy.
So how are you doing with expressing grief? It's tough. It's ugly and messy and sometimes embarrassing. I remember having to flee from a Hallmark card shop because something I read caused me to break out in a tsunami of tears. I'm pretty sure they thought I was crazy. Oh well... grief happens sometimes. All I know is that grief in all its messy, ugly parts is still the only healthy, reasonable response to life's losses.
We grieve. It's the only response that makes sense. Now if only the folks that have to observe our grief could understand a little longer. Who decided where that line should be placed anyway? Perhaps some of us need to grieve longer or shorter. Who's to say what is right or appropriate here?
As I grapple with all that stuff I turn to God to help me plow through and maybe even make some sense of it along the way. I am thankful that God doesn't have time limit on my grief and even helps me laugh and smile through much of it. Apparently tears don't rattle God. I am truly thankful for that. Aren't you?


Monday, April 12, 2010

Point of Reference

Today I attended one of those all-day meetings we usually dread. Mine was actually quite nice and I had an opportunity to reconnect with an old friend, pray with a peer facing surgery and take in some pretty inspirational stuff. Not a bad day all in all....until my way out the door. I was leaving at dinner time and just happened to hit the door at the same time as another pastor friend. He held the door and quite corgially said "hello", and asked me how I was doing. I replied, "Oh just fine." And wishing to be honest (as honest as superficial smalltalk will allow) I qualified the answer with, "Just fine...for a widow". I chuckled and so did he. And then he said, "Well that's good, I guess, if that's your point of reference".

HMMM. That definitely falls under the category of "things that make you go Hmmmmm.
So I did that most of the drive home which took the greater part of an hour. That's a lot of hmmmmming. Here's what all that reflection produced:

That pastor friend is a kind and considerate man and I believe his comment was genuine puzzlement not judgement or indifference. I trust his heart to be true.

Nevertheless, the phrase "point of reference" is a curious statement. Does it mean that if I would just choose not to think of myself as a widow I wouldn't be one or at least not live in its reality? Widowhood IS my reality. I am reminded of it the moment I open my eyes in the morning and it is the last thing I am reminded of as I lay my head on my pillow at night. And all throughout the day in dozens of ways I make choices with that point of reference. Because I am a widow I drive to most places alone and often eat at restaurants alone. These events are just reality and most of the time that reality doesn't make me sad or angry - it just is. I deal with that with a matter-of-fact, positive attitude.... most of the time.

But make no mistake about it, it is my point of reference. I can no more forget I am a widow than I can forget I am a woman or a redhead or an American. It is what I live every moment of every day. To think by simply changing my perspective I can live above or aside from my widow status is naive. If I am anything, I am a realist and I try to live with both feet firmly grounded in reality.

Now widowhood is not who I am. We are far more than the titles we hold or the roles we play and those titles and roles change with the seasons of life. Five years ago I was a full-time wife and mother; Now my children are adults and I am not a wife.
I am a widow and sometimes that makes me sad or lonely or a bit frustrated but so does being broke or being overweight or being over 50. Life is full of hard stuff and being a widow is hard stuff. But for all the hard stuff of life I do believe I'm doing "just fine".

Perhaps the next time someone asks me how I'm doing I'll just tell them what they want to hear and not qualify the answer with a hint of reality.
And then again... probably not! I will continue to try and "keep it real" as I share my life with others. For some that will be uncomfortable. For some it will be an invitation to share their reality with me and I consider it a privilege anytime someone trust me enough to "be real" with me about their life. It's a sacred kind of thing and I pray God helps me to respond with understanding and compassion. Before widowhood I know I did not always respond to other's hurts as I should. Widowhood has helped me to "get a clue" and that's a good thing. You see, I really am doing just fine...for a widow. How about you?

Keeping it real,


Monday, April 5, 2010

Top-down Days

I love my car! I realize I'm a middle aged woman and that statement is a bit out of character. At least it feels like it to me. I've spent most of my life seeing cars as nothing more than a mode of transportation; something to carry you from point A to point B with relative speed and ease. What the car looked like or what kind of engine it had never concerned me. I drove a minivan for over 18 years and the only thing I ever cared about was where the cup holders were located and did it run well enough to get the three kids to the event of the day.

Then one sunny afternoon David and I were out and about and we pulled up to a stop light. A sleek, red sebring convertible slid in beside us and it caught my eye. I grabbed David's arm and said, "Look! Some day I'm going to drive that car! David laughed and said, "The boys will love taking it on dates and the Taco Bell wrappers they usually throw into the back seat will just blow away when the put the top down. Good idea!"
I assured him that "some day" meant when I no longer had any teenagers in the house. We both knew that I would probably never own such a car since it was impractical and pricey. I'd probably drive an old minivan the rest of my life.

And then David was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Everything changed - including my ride. A few months before his death, and several weeks beyond his ability to drive David announced he was trading in his car (a gold, Lincoln. He bought it used but he loved his "luxury" ride) I told him we didn't need to do that because trading in cars was complicated and expensive and time-consuming. I didn't want to waste a moment of our time together dealing with cars. David insisted and so we went car shopping. (how do you tell a dying man NO?)

That's the moment I learned why men love their cars. They become emotionally attached and now I too am quite emotional about my bright red, sebring convertible. David traded in his "love" to buy me that "ride" I once said I wanted. I was amazed he even remembered that I said I liked the car; even more amazed that he searched online sites to find the red one.

Today was a sunny, warm day and I took her for a spin with the top down. The sun felt so good after a cold, grey winter in Michigan. I smiled and I cried. Every time I get in that car I am reminded of David's love for me; sacrificial, self-less love from a dying man.

I love my car! I gave her a bath this past week in anticipation of top-down days. I named her; Princess. I don't let my sons drive her and she has never been sullied by anything that even remotely smells like Taco Bell. I plan to keep her for as long as possible. She reminds me that I was once loved and cherished by a good man. She helps me to think about the best parts of life with David instead of dwelling on the tough times and the loss. I figure anything that can help me to do that is worth keeping. Princess has earned her keep!

May you find those things that make you smile; those little daily touches that help you to embrace the good memories and divert your attention from the grief and loss. May you hold on to those "touchstones" in life that remind you of all that was good and right in your relationship with the one you lost. Princess is my touchstone.

I love my car! I am praying for record-breaking top-down days! If you see a middle aged redhead tooling around town in a red sebring with the top down - honk! It's probably me and Princess. I'm quite a spectacle and I don't care. Did I mention, I LOVE MY CAR!



Monday, March 29, 2010

Are We There Yet?

Good Monday Mourning!

When my husband died some three and a half years ago I really thought that grief would be a short-lived, temporary malady. Like any other difficulty or injury you hurt - for a while - and then you're better and the crisis is over. I saw this whole process of grief like a long layover on my way to where ever you go on the other side of grief. And so I settled into the back seat with my tissues in hand and still in the "fog" that comes with grief for what I thought would be a painful but short trip. Apparently I was wrong and I'm stunned at my reaction to the whole situation as the trip has dragged on for two, three and soon approaching four years. I have asked that question that my kids asked on nearly every family vacation. If you're a parent you know it well. Stephen, our youngest was particularly fond of this question; so much so that we would not tell him in advance that a trip was coming. On several road trips from Michigan to Florida we would ply him with every distraction known to man; puzzles, books, music, food, These seemed to work for awhile but were never totally effective in eliminating the problem. I call it the "are we there yet? syndrome". Every 30 minutes or 30 miles (50 miles if I was driving. I'm from Michigan and we're born knowing what to do with a gas pedal!) we would here Stephen's chirping whine from somewhere in the nether regions of the minivan, "ARE WE THERE YET?" In one chorus David and I, along with siblings, Lisa and Jonathan would shout, "NO!" Sometime the shout was filled with laughter and a quick redirection of his attention. Around mile marker 600 it would take on a more impatient tone. For Stephen, the trip was unbearable. The joys and delights of the destination made the long ride a bit torturous.
I now understand where the kid was coming from. Grief is like that. At least it is for me. Maybe you are able to endure the journey with patience and acceptance. I am not wired for either and this journey we call grief is not a "joy ride". I find myself every month or so asking God, "Are we there yet?". I just want this to be over and get out of the car and get on with the fun adventure of life. I do not find this trip to be enjoyable and I want out. Some days I want out so bad that I'm willing to jump out on some unknown street corner. Just let me out! I don't care where the journey is taking me or how wonderful it may be when we get there. I just want the grief to stop. I've been on this trip so long that some days I'm feeling a little car-sick. Just let me out!
All this inner impatience with the process we call grief has caused me to ask a different question. (I don't seem to be getting any answer with the "are we there yet? query) As I approach the fourth year of life without David I am beginning to think that perhaps grief is not simply a short, bad trip that will end in a happier, pleasant destination. Perhaps grief is more like a uninvited traveling companion. Someone who comes along for the ride regardless of the destination or length of the trip. I am beginning to think that perhaps grief is not something you put behind you like the mile markers. Perhaps grief is something you learn to live with along the way.
It's all a work in progress and some days I'm not sure of any of this. I just know that I've stopped asking God when it's going to end and starting asking Him to help me deal with this unwanted traveling companion. And as I have changed my approach to grief I find it has become less of the frustrating, upsetting invader of my life. Don't get me wrong, I am not happy about the grief that's crawled into the back seat with me. If I could shove him out the door as we take a sharp turn, I would. But he seems to be quite stubborn and content to tag along with me where ever I go. I am learning how to manage him- to redirect his attention and keep him otherwise occupied. It is getting easier with each day but I no longer wake up each morning expecting this to be the day that I have finally arrived on the other side of grief. If anyone out there has found "the other side", let me know. I would like to get there someday.
So as I head down the road of life approaching the fourth-year mile marker I have stopped asking the question, "Are we there yet?" I already know the answer - NO!
Today I ask, "Lord, help me find joy and purpose in today regardless of where the road takes me." It's probably a better question anyways. At least there seems to be less whine in it than the other one. So today, I'm going with it. Tomorrow is another day and you just never know. Grief may get the best of me tomorrow. Today we seem to be good. Thank you Lord.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Kill the Cat

I once had a cat named Tiger. He was a part of our household for 10 years. You notice I didn't say he was a part of our family. Not because we didn't care for him and make every attempt to make friends. Tiger just wasn't interested in making friends. He was an antisocial cat. Not evil or scary- he just had no real use for people in general and was prone to being "up close and personal" only when he wanted something from us. Come to think of it I know a few people like that - but I digress.

Well Tiger was a cat we rescued from the pound but the fact that we saved his life and gave him every luxery a cat could hope for was totally unimpressive to him. He came into our home with a sense of superior entitlement and never wavered from that general attitude. Come to think of it my kids resembled that same attitude from time to time. I digress again. Sorry.

Well, one fateful night about a year ago Tiger - who loved the great outdoors begged to be let out. He was a mouser! He would proudly catch mice and spit them out on the sidewalk for David (my husband) to find when he came home from work. David would always praise him and scoop up the dead rodent so I would not get all hysterical about it. A curious sidebar: When David died Tiger went through a year of mourning. For one solid year he caught not a single mouse. On the anniversary of David's death I came home to find a mouse on the sidewalk and Tiger close by waiting to see if I would reward him. I didn't. You get more of what you celebrate and I did not want to add scooping up dead mice to my daily routine. I did not however, scold him because he clearly had respected a widow's grief and his "master's" death- for one solid year! Pretty good for an antisocial cat! So Tiger went outside and somewhere in the woods he met his match. Some critter bigger and meaner than him got ahold of his tail and the wounds were pretty extensive. We rushed him to the vet and after examining him informed me that they could not put Tiger back together again. I gave them permission to end his suffering which seemed to be pretty intense. Now here's the thing I find quite strange.-
I did not like Tiger. He was generally more trouble than he was worth. He was a wining, annoying, antisocial cat. But when he died...I cried. Hard. Long. Loud. I asked my psychologist friend what that was all about. (sidebar: If you don't have a psychologist friend you should get one - they are useful!)She told me that it was not uncommon that a small loss- even years later- can trigger the same response as the larger loss. Feelings of loss trigger a floodgate of emotion that seem disproportionate to the situation. Displaced grief. My tears for Tiger were actually tears for David and memories of how he cared for Tiger - and for me. David loved Tiger. So I did my best to tend to the cat and scoop up his "trophies" and give him a humane death. It cost me $300.00 to "kill" the cat! Even in death Tiger was annoying!
Displaced grief overtakes me from time to time. I never know when it's going to strike or with what force. At least now I know whenever my emotions seem to be more intense than the situation calls for that it is normal. I'm not crazy or emotionally unstable - just grieving. And it does seem to get better with time. Then again, I still have Fred - our oldest and dearest cat who laid in David's lap during those last days of David's life. When Fred dies... it could get messy.
If you're dealing with some displaced grief - it's OK. It's annoying and confusing but you are not crazy and you will be OK... in time. Go ahead and cry or shout or whatever seems to help and then get on with life. I'm moving forward and I do manage a smile everyday as I walk up the sidewalk and don't have to stop for the rodent removal ceremony.

Hang in there.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Keeping Busy

Welcome Monday Mourners,

I am writing my Monday morning blog for those who grieve on.... Sunday night. It seems a bit off; a bit awkward; a bit...wrong! It might be that I am missing my favorite booth at the diner and my cup of coffee. Yeah! Coffee is definitely helpful but if I have a cup of coffee right now at 10:00pm on Sunday I will be staring at the ceiling most of the night. So I am trying to do what I do sans coffee. It's definitely not the optimum approach to reflection or writing - at least not for me. But nevertheless I am writing on Sunday night.
Tomorrow I have one of those non-stop days. It will begin with an hour and a half commute to a conference that begins at 8:00am. The day will end for me around 9:00pm after a small group meeting. Busy. Busy. Busy! Some days are just like that and I realized as I am printing out my mapquest directions and figuring out what to wear that I am not dreading Monday's mad schedule. I seem to be OK with the day. (except for the coffee at my diner part. I'm missing that already!) The fact that I'm OK with tomorrows schedule makes me smile.
You see, it wasn't that long ago in my journey with grief that a busy schedule like the one I have tomorrow would have overwhelmed me. Grief is exhausting. It takes so much energy out of you that you realize you just don't have the reserve needed for a busy day. Being overwhelmed usually causes me to cry or scream. Neither is all that productive and sometimes damaging. So I am smiling at my willingness to face a grueling day ahead with optimism instead of dread. That is a sign of healing and progress. Grief is slowly (very, very slowly!) losing its grip on me. YEAH!
I will take small victories wherever I can find them. Tomorrow is filled with busyness... and hope and promise. And just to make sure the day goes well, I will be grabbing a cup of coffee on my way out of town. Somethings just need to happen no matter how busy the day is.
If you're feeling a little overwhelmed with the day. It's OK. Been there, done that! And I may find myself circling back to that. Grief has been known to sneak up on me and blindside me a time or two. On the overwhelmed days I cry (or scream) and pray. Tomorrow is another day! With God's help, a better day! See you next Monday.


Monday, March 8, 2010

The Widow Card

So I'm sitting in the admissions office of our local university with my youngest son. It's late July and we're trying to maneuver our way through the financial aid office and it's maze of paperwork. I've done this every year for the past 7 years with two older children so I'm pretty confident I can get us through this. What I didn't plan for; what I didn't expect was the response of an overworked and indifferent staff at this university. The response was "a failure to fill out these papers back in March is your problem and we're not putting a rush on your paperwork just because you show up at the last minute. Sure, it's our job but you're the one who showed up late". I thought about digging in my heals and refusing to leave the office until someone with some authority showed up to deal with us. I thought about rallying the dozen other students and parents in the waiting room and staging a sit-in. But both would have required a significant amount of resolve and fight from me and this was only one month after David's death. I didn't have any fight in me. So, I did something I never thought I would do and really didn't want to.Before I knew what was happening I --- I played the "widow card".
I sat down in one of those cubical offices with a financial aid counselor and before he could give me the "we will process your request when we get good and ready and not a moment before so get ready to pay up" speech, I jumped in with a preemptive strike. I began to explain, "We know all about filling out the forms in March, but at that time my husband, Stephen's dad was in the last stages of cancer. He died in June- a week after Stephen's graduation party and so please forgive us for our tardiness. Some things are more important than filling out the paperwork in a "timely" fashion." It was the first time I had ever played the "widow card" and so I really had no idea what to expect. I braced myself for another indifferent response. What I got was nothing short of a miracle. That man sitting across the table from us looked up from his computer and said, "wait here" and rushed out of the room. He returned fifteen minutes later with the necessary paperwork in hand and after a few signatures from us we were on our way home with our college admission accepted and financial aid in hand. Who knew they could do that? Apparently when they have a will to, there is a way to get it done in one day. All it took was...."a widow card".
If you have one of those cards in your pocket I am so sorry. No one should have to carry that thing around with them. It's limited benefits do not outweigh the loss and sadness that go with it. The next thing I would say is, "use it when you need to." I have found that this cold, indifferent world is actually filled with caring and compassionate people who, if given a chance and a reason, will move mountains to help a widow or a fatherless boy. My journey through grief has often been paved with kindness from strangers. And the amazing thing is that the ones extending the kindness seem to receive as much a blessing as the recipient. There is a blessing in blessing others. Simple kindness is it's own reward.
So.... extend kindness today to someone. And, when you find yourself in a quandary- whether it's the mechanic or the taxman or the college counselor - ask for a cup of kindness instead of indifference. You just might be surprised at what you receive and you will be giving someone an opportunity to be kind. OH - don't forget to ask with kindness. They aren't used to being treated by the public with anything but rudeness and demands. Kindness is a surprise for them too. Life is hard. Let's make a resolve today to handle it with as much kindness as we can.

See you next Monday


Monday, March 1, 2010

Only The Lonely

Good Monday Mourning!

Loneliness is a strange sort of critter. Not easily described or explained but like one of our supreme court justices once said (referring to porn) "You know it when you see it". I think we have all known times of loneliness in our lives. We are not invited to the PJ party in 4Th grade; our best friend moves away; our kids leave the "nest". These events and many others can bring that vague, unsettling feeling we call "loneliness". Usually it is temporary and given a little time and the natural changes of life we adjust and find new interests to fill the void.

Not so with grief. The loneliness experienced at the death of a loved one is a whole new "animal". I wouldn't believe it to be true if I wasn't smack-dab in the middle of it. It is ... strange.

For instance - just this week I heard myself saying to someone who asked me how I was doing with this "widow thing", "I really hate living alone". Now that's just... strange! Strange because that response is not grounded in reality and as soon as I said it I realized how off base the statement was. The reality is I have never lived alone. Not a single day of my entire life! I went from living at home with my parent to marriage and then after 27 years my husband died. I had 2 children living with me at the time and one of them still lives with me three years later. Add to the mix the reality that my sister moved in with me along with her little dog, Mickey and you see how ridiculous that statement was. I'm not only NOT living alone - I'm surrounded by people and dogs and cats pretty much 24/7. I am not living alone. And yet... it sure feels like it. And there in lies the rub - the strangeness of this thing we call "loneliness". It defies explanation. We've probably all experienced that feeling of being alone in a crowded room. Apparently loneliness has more to do with relationships than it does the number of people in the room.

Grief often brings with it such strong emotions that in their sheer strength can overwhelm our senses and alter our perceptions of truth and reality. The truth is I have never known a single day of aloneness. Grief tells me I am alone and will always be alone and that this loneliness will never, ever go away. Grief lies. My relationship with David has changed forever and that has left me feeling alone and lonely even though I am not alone. I just miss David which is a reasonable reaction but I need to remind myself in the midst of my loneliness that I am not alone. Surrounded by friends and family, carried by God, I am never alone.

Just knowing that grief is prone to emotionally-based feelings not grounded in truth can help us handle the feelings. I corrected myself almost immediately after saying, "I hate living alone". I added, "well, actually, I don't live alone at all. God has surrounded me with family that live with me and care for me every day. I just miss David." Focusing on what we have instead of what we've lost is always a good exercise producing a sense of gratitude and security. It doesn't change the fact that I am lonely and miss my husband. It does keep loneliness from controlling my life. I blame it on the grief. Actually, I blame a lot of things on the grief. I figure I ought to be able to get something beneficial out of this mess.

Next week I'll tell how I've learned to make grief "useful". If you're going to have it hanging around the house you might as well learn how to use it. That's my motto.

See you next week and... don't let the loneliness lie to you.


Monday, February 22, 2010

It's just a Cold.

Good morning Monday Mourners,

I got up this morning with a strange scratchiness in my throat and a stuffy nose. Not a good sign! It just might be a cold. I try to avoid them. I take my vitamins and drugs at the first symptom in hopes of avoiding or at least shortening the length of a cold. I'm sure you do the same. A winter cold; it's common to all of us. It's annoying and miserable; it's inconvenient and disruptive to our productivity. It's a cold. I hate them. So do you.
I did not rush to the emergency room. I didn't even call my doctor. Going to see the doctor would simple eat up 3 hours of my time and have him send me home to "wait it out". I didn't ignore it because that will only give it license to attack my body and perhaps develop into something that will require medical attention. It's just a cold. I took some medicine and a little vitamin C and I'll get some rest today. Maybe drink a little extra water and see if I cant flush this out of my system. But I will not be admitted to a hospital anytime soon - at least not for a cold.
It is amazing how our perspective can affect our behavior. The morning David woke up with a sharp pain in his side we made our way to the emergency room right away and before the day was out we knew we had terminal cancer. We didn't just shrug it off and assume it would go away. We took immediate action. It was not a cold - it was a life-threatening pain requiring immediate action.
Some days my grief becomes so painful, so pervasive that I lose my focus and my perspective gets off-kilter. I begin to think that this loneliness and sadness will kill me. In reality, though it is miserable and unsightly at times, my grief is... "a cold". It is not life-threatening. Painful but not a killer. And in light of eternity not to mention the whole of my life experience, this season of grief is about as long as a cold; short and soon to pass.
That's not in any way an attempt to minimize the very real pain we mourners feel. I did say it was "miserable". But it is also helpful in the midst of our "misery" to at least try to put it in proper perspective. This will pass. I will have better days and the "sniffles" of grief will give way to clear-headed, happier days. It's just a cold. And I know that I face not only better days to come but an eternity of truly happy, healthy, joy-filled days with my Lord - and my husband.
So, if today you are suffering with this irritating infirmity of grief hang in there! It will get better. Take some medicine if you can (loving friends and some quiet rest would be helpful) and plow through! I'm sniffling my way through it. We'll sniffle together. See you next week.


Monday, February 15, 2010

The Morning After

Good Monday Mourning!

Well today is the day after Valentines Day. I pray you found an opportunity to express love to those near and dear to you and that you received love from others. I had the opportunity to love some folks at church yesterday and that was fun. Good for the heart! I received lots of candy kisses and cards and even a few hugs. They were all wonderful and needed and I received them with gladness.
AND.... I prayed nearly every moment of the day that I would just make it through the day without crying. I made it through dry-eyed and no worse for wear. I am grateful that there are no more holidays centered around romance and love for many, many months. Perhaps I will be able to catch my breath and get back to some kind of emotional equalibrium now that the holidays are behind us.
I am grateful for family and friends who care for me. I am grateful for the time together; for laughter and presents and good health for all those I love. I am also grateful for "the morning after".- no more commercials about flowers and candy and romance. No more sentimental music and hype that only leads to dashed expectations and magnified loneliness. YEAH! I am quite able to handle this grieving thing with a healthy level of happiness and acceptance as long as the holidays don't push my buttons and provoke thoughts and feelings that are not helpful to my overall emotional stability.
I realized I had reached my limit when last night I screamed at my TV, "knock it off!" when they showed another valentine commercial at 10:30 in the evening. If the guy hasn't gotton Valentines Day taken care of by that hour he's not going to. No point in rubbing it in!
Well... enough of that. It is officially "the morning after". Hallelujah! The next holiday on my radar is Easter and that truly is a holy-day. I get my whole heart around that one! I'm looking for good days ahead. How about you?

Hang in there,

Pastor Karen

Monday, February 8, 2010

Welcome fellow mourners,

Well, this Monday is another one of those special days for me. In 6 days we will celebrate that Hallmark/Florist holiday called Valentines Day. That means we have all heard more than our share of commercials about flowers, jewelry and chocolate. I'm assuming that the person who dreamed up this holiday had the very best of intentions and I remember the day as being lots of fun when I was in grade school. We made construction paper envelopes to hold valentines from all our classmates and then we would open them all while nibbling on chocolate kisses and cupcakes. It was fun. Not so fun these days. I don't like Valentines Day.
Early on in our marriage. David and I chose not to celebrate Valentines day. David had a dozen roses delivered to my work. They were beautiful and I basked in the joy of his love for me until about 2 weeks later when I got the credit card bill and realized that those roses cost more than dinner and the theatre- for both of us! Even though I love flowers I encouraged David to pass on the roses at Valentines day. It just seemed to be the practical thing to do for a young couple with kids to feed and bills to pay.
So for a decade or more David and I agreed to spend NO money for the Hallmark holidays. Then about 15 years into our No-hallmark holiday spending pack David changed the rules. Six days before Valentines day David walked into my office with a bouquet of flowers; 6 roses with a little greenery; no vase, no box, no bow. I began to object and remind him that we don't spend money on overpriced flowers when he interrupted me. He was quite pleased with himself as he explained that the roses were under $20.00 because he got only 1/2 a dozen from a grocery store and delivered them in person which of course, earned him a "good job!" from me along with lots of kisses. I really do love flowers.
What a great memory! Now, six days before Valentines Day, I sit at my computer with a choice to be made. Will I spend this day saddened about the fact that I will not be getting any flowers today or anytime soon? Or will I cherish the memory of just how much my good guy loved me and found a way to express it "on the cheap"?
I put that thought on hold and took a few long sips of my coffee. It is Monday and I'm often a little gloomy on Mondays - mostly due to weekend fatigue. So I have learned to think twice before making decisions on Mondays.
Here's a thought! Maybe I should go to the grocery store and pick up half a dozen roses and put them on my desk. I can look at them all week and remember just how clever and loving my husband was. I Know! I'll get a dozen and share them with some friends who, like me, are living without a partner. Now that sounds like fun. I may have to get two dozen. And here lies another secret to handling grief instead of letting grief man-handle you: Lavish love on others and you will have less time to cry about the love you miss.
Find someone this week to give one of those childish valentines or a candy kiss to. It will do YOU a lot of good. I've got to go - those flower prices are going up!


Monday, February 1, 2010

Out of the Closet

Good Monday Mourning fellow grievers,

I slept in a bit this morning. Winter does that to me. How about you? Well, I finally crawled out of bed and went to my closet to find something to wear. I opened the folding doors wide and gazed into the side with all the shirts and sweaters - not to be confused with the side that holds the dresses and skirts. The two sections are divided by a row of shelves and cubbies that hold shoes, scarves and belts. So as I'm looking through the row of neatly hung clothes for something warm (very warm!) I realize something unusual is happening - at least unusual for a Monday morning; I was smiling. Yes! I confess, the sight of a closet not jammed with clothes; one where there is enough space for everything makes me smile.
I know that's a silly thing. I admit I am a bit embarrassed that something like adequate closet space makes me smile. Closet space is not a life-changing topic with any eternal value but I still smiled.
And then as quickly as the smile came it left- abruptly and quite unsettling as I realized WHY I finally have enough closet space; David died. I'm not sharing the space with men's suits and bowling balls and other silly things men think they should put in a closet. I'm not sharing the space anymore. (I actually tried to convince David that he should store his stuff in the spare bedroom closet so he wouldnt be so crowded in ours. He said he didnt feel crowded at all and maybe the problem was that I had too many clothes. Really! Men are so strange!)Adequate closet space is a nice thing to have but not if somebody has to die in order to get it.
This is the nature of grief. Everytime you think you might take some pleasure or delight in life - even in the little things like closet space - grief gets right up in your face like some drill sargent and tells you to wipe that silly smile off your face 'cause you got no reason to smile.
Well when this happens (and if you've grieved for a while I know i'ts happened to you) I fight back. I refuse to let grief fill me with false guilt and rob me of joy or happiness. David died and that is truly awful. But I will claim the whole closet and I will smile about it. Grief tries to tell us that we should never be happy again because our loved one is gone. Everytime a laugh or a smile breaks through grief is there to say, "how could you think of being happy at a time like this?!" I fight it! I do not let that lie take hold in my mind or my heart. You should fight it too. Yes, it is OK for me to be happy even while I grieve. Those two emotions are not mutually exclusive; they can coexist and I actually look for ways to find happiness in the little daily pleasures. Things like having the TV remote all to myself and wearing flannel to bed and closets that work. I am happy about such things and that doesnt mean I don't miss my husband. I miss him...every day AND I make the best of this "table for One". If being happy about closets void of men's baseball cleats that havent been worn in 10 years is wrong then I guess you can say, I'm "out of the closet!" Call me wrong. Just don't mess with my closet.
I hope you find something today to smile about. Tell me what makes you smile. Surely someone has one as silly as mine. Besides, God smiles at silly things too. He smiles at you and me... now that's silly!



Monday, January 25, 2010

A Good Cry

Good Monday Morning!

I'm taking the "good" on faith. Sometimes Mondays are tough but I'm up and out and sitting at my "table for One" with my pink mini laptop and ready to talk with you.
Something strange happened yesterday. I was in church and had just settled into the pew as the offering plates were being passed. A lady started to sing a song titled "You Alone" which is really lovely and speaks of how in times of trouble God is there to help. He alone is our source of strength. Seems like a very positive and helpful message and I should have rejoiced and maybe even thanked God for His care for me. Instead what I did was totally unexplainable. I started to cry. I don't mean the "tear in the corner of the eye" kind of cry. That would have been OK. I had one of those "cant wipe the tears away fast enough, blow your nose before you make a total fool of yourself" kind of cry. I think it was the word "alone" that slapped me upside the head and caused the sudden flood of sadness. That word was sung at the beginning of each phrase and I found myself feeling quite alone while surrounded by people.
What makes this even stranger is that I have spent most of my adult life sitting alone in church. David (my husband of 27 years) was the door man at the church and rarely sat with me during services. I sat alone and it never caused me to boo-hoo.

The song ended and I managed to pull it together, annoyed with myself and a little startled that the tears flowed so quickly and easily. I looked around the room and started to count the heads of those who, like me, worship alone every week. Over 40% of the worshipers were single adults. Apparently I am not alone in my aloneness.
The sadness left as quick as it came and I went on with my day in relative contentment. Sadness came and then left all in the space of a song. What's all that about???
Well, that's the nature of grief. Just when you think you got the whole thing under control and are "back to normal" a wave of grief will wash over you with the force of a tsunami. I am thankful for the tell-tale signs of progress. The wave swept in and out without leaving an undertow of sadness that lingered for days. I would still like to not cry in public without notice but surely God gave us tears for our own benefit and I did strangly feel better when my little cry was done. Go figure! I said it was strange! This is the nature of grief. Unpredictable and messy. Relentless and unexplainable. I'm doing my best to just deal with it. How about you?
I am thankful for a God who alone is our source of comfort and I ask Him to help me to remember that I am not alone in my aloneness. I am among the 40% of regular church-going adults who are single. I know it seems like the whole world is ordered by married couples and families but the truth is most of us will spend some portion of our days living single. I am just one of them and even in my singleness I am not alone; surrounded by lots of loving friends and family and a God who will never leave me. Now if I could just figure out how to turn off the tears at will...

It's a strange thing. Well, let's get on with the week and do our best and if you feel the need, go ahead and cry. A good cry never hurt anybody and sometimes it even helps.
God bless you.


Monday, January 18, 2010


Good morning Monday Mourners!

This week I took my father-in-law, Clarence to the doctor. That's not all that interesting (usually), but this time it was quite different. It was an eye doctor about 30 minutes from home and Clarence, who's 85 and not seeing so well (thus the eye doctor)asked me to drive him. We'd been to this doctor many times and it always took about an hour. Okay, "always" is obviously too strong a word since this time it took us 5 hours. Yes! I said five. F-I-V-E.
What was amazing to me (besides the number 5) was my reaction to this. Instead of being anxious about the lost hours of productivity and the fact that I had missed at least one appointment and several deadlines; instead of becoming impatient and irritated at the pace; instead of complaining or worrying, I simply sat beside Clarence and enjoyed his company. My husband was an only child which, after his death three years ago, makes me Clarence's only child. So at the conclusion of the lengthy doctor's visit I dropped Clarence back safe and sound at his home and spent the rest of the afternoon wondering about my response. It seemed so atypical for me. I am not known for my patience. And yet I was amazingly calm and truly unconcerned about the unexpected delay and lost hours just sitting with Clarence.
It made me wonder why. The best I can figure it out death and grief have a way of changing us. At least it's changed me. I just don't seem able to get all that exercised about those things that used to irritate the stuffing out of me. Death and loss have a way of putting things into perspective. I often hear myself responding to the difficulty of the day with "hey, nobodies dying!". Death has changed me. I suppose that's not a bad thing. My new calmer, resigned attitude certainly helped Clarence and me get through a long day. Instead of becoming sour over the "lemons" we were handed, we chose to make "lemonade". It was actually sweet.
Some of the sweetness might have been the company. When David became sick he asked me to take care of his dad and spending the day with Clarence made me feel like I was still David's wife. I was doing "wifely" stuff that day and it felt good. Lemonade. This week I thanked God for lemonade and for the joy (yes, joy is the right word) of sitting in a doctor's office with Clarence. It was good for me and for Clarence. I know David would have been pleased and that too is worth thanking God for. Lemonade. It's all quite bitter-sweet.
That's a good description for this thing we call grief. All of life; every holiday and special event; even the daily routines become sweet and bitter at the same time. Bitter. Sweet. Lemonade.
This week I celebrated the sweet of being given an opportunity to do the "wifely" thing rather than complain about the bitter of 5 wasted hours. I chose to savor the sweet and overlook the bitter. It is a choice. This past week, I chose sweet and I've been thanking God for that. How are you doing with your "bitter"? Can you see the "sweet"? I know, sometimes it's harder to find the sweet but it's there. Ask God to help you see it. Maybe Clarence isn't the only one having trouble seeing. I pray you sip on lemonade this week every chance you get. I pray that for me too!

See you next Monday,


Monday, January 11, 2010

Snow Days

Good morning Monday Mourners!

It's a lovely Monday morning in Michigan in January which means it's really cold and pretty much everything in sight is covered in snow. As with most of the nation this past week, I found myself holding a shovel - several times. Now shoveling snow is really not a complicated task. You push and you scoop. I am not too frail or impaired physically so as to make the job too difficult. I also have only a short sidewalk and porch that require snow-removal. Nevertheless, I hate the job! But I don't hate it for all the obvious reasons. It's not because it's too cold outside or the snow is too heavy or wet. (though snow is always cold and wet) I grew up in Michigan. Shoveling snow is part of the "gig". Here's why I hate shoveling snow:
It's a "David job". My husband of 27 years shoveled the snow. He would often gather the children to help (now there's someone who truly hates shoveling snow - any teenager). I did not shovel. Mom got a pass! My job was to have a cup of hot chocolate waiting for him when he was finished. Then David died about the same time as the kids hit college. Now shoveling is my job. And that's why I hate it. It's a "David job". Every time I pick up that shovel I am reminded of my loss. It's as though the shovel screams, "WIDOW!" with every scoop.
Three years later and the shovel still screams at me. So do light bulbs that need changing, spiders that need killing and changing the clocks twice a year when the time-zone changes (another Michigan oddity). All are "David jobs". I have been known to leave a burned-out light bulb in place for weeks before dealing with it. Light bulbs are not complicated. I just hate doing the "David jobs". They remind me of loss and force me to make adjustments I never wanted to make. And this is grief. It's constant - unyielding - and totally irritating. (and those are just the polite words)
So how do we deal with it? Well, on the first winter of grief I cried with every scoop of the shovel. I don't recommend you do that! Tears freeze. The second winter I got angry and yelled at the snow and at David for not being there to handle this mess. That was at least productive- the anger helped me shovel harder and faster.
This week the shovel screamed "WIDOW" and I pretended not to hear it and got the job done with little trouble or sadness. I guess you could call that "progress".
I have learned to do a little mind-exercise whenever one of these grief waves slaps me from behind. I quickly remind myself of the blessing of having a David to do those jobs for 27 years and I think about my sister and several close friends who have never married and spent all of those 27 years shoveling their own snow. God surely blessed me with a good husband and more than adequate snow remover for most of my adult life. I got no reason to complain. Complaining is a choice and, more than often, a simple issue of perspective. I make the choice to celebrate my blessings instead of stewing over my losses -even when the shovel screams at me.
"whatsoever things are true and noble and good and honorable and praiseworthy, think on those things." GOD
So how are you doing with all that? Where ever you find yourself today in the grief process there are still blessings worth celebrating. And it is truly helpful when we do. So if you can find the energy and the courage go ahead - celebrate what you have while you grieve what you've lost. It doesn't make the loss go away but it does make the "screaming shovel" a little easier to take.
My second cup of coffee has just been poured and so I'm done for now. I pray you have a good week. Yes, good weeks are possible even with grief.

See you on Monday. Let me know how you're doing with your grief. I cant fix it but I do know how to pray.

Coffee's getting cold! Karen

PS: At 9:00am - It's snowing....again!
PSS: At 11:00am - It's snowing...again!

Monday, January 4, 2010

What's New?

Good morning and a very happy new year to all. Yes, it is the first Monday of a new year which I suppose implies that this Monday is filled with a newness - a fresh start and new beginning that the last month of Mondays did not possess. I suppose. I'm not convinced that an arbitrary turning of the clock or calendar brings about anything particularly new or fresh. Of course I live in Michigan and January is usually one of the coldest, sunless, miserable months of the year so its just a little difficult for me to get on the "Yeah! It's a new year!" bandwagon. I'm cold. I'm starting the new year like I have started every new year of most of my life; dieting and budgeting. Both activities make me just a bit cranky. This year I am also grieving. Now there's something to get excited about? The scripture comes to mind, "there is nothing new under the sun".
I wish we could start the new year by throwing away the things in our lives we would like to be rid of like we toss away the empty boxes and wrapping paper from Christmas. Wouldn't that be a great way to start the new year? Just scoop up my careless spending and my 20 extra pounds and throw them out with the trash. Now that's something I could get excited about. Clearly, that's not going to happen. The only way I'm going to be rid of such things is with a whole lot of effort on my part. Oh well, enough of this whining and wishing. Mondays in January do this to me. So does grief.
I actually thought last year that I would be able to just make up my mind to be done with this grieving thing and start the new year with no more tears and loneliness; no more longing and sadness. It was, after all, well into my second year of grief and so I figured I had grieved long enough. A good year past the normal, one year of grief that society seems to expect and well past my tolerance level for carrying around such negative emotions with me. Those things get heavy. They really do drag you down. But just like the weight and the budget, grief is not something you can just put out with the trash and be done with. If making up my mind to be done with it was all it took to put this season of grief behind me I would have done that about a month into the process. It just flat out doesnt work that way! Bummer!
So, arent you glad you checked in with me today?! Sorry. I'm not bringing a whole lot of joy and hope to the table. (OK - I've not finished my first cup of coffee yet. Maybe that's the problem. Let me put us on pause and see if a few more gulps of hot caffeine will warm up my mood.)

Jesus said, "I am making all things new". He said, "I have come to heal the brokenhearted and turn their mourning into joy." OK. I believe that is true - even if I dont feel joyful or new this morning. I am in His hands and I am His. For my lonliness, He has promised to never leave me or forsake me. For my sadness and longing, He has promised to meet my every need - even those intangable, emotional ones that nobody sees but me and God. I can't choose to be rid of my grief. I can choose to not let my grief run my life and ruin my day. I can think on the good stuff of my life and the goodness of God. It doesn't make the grief go away but it does seem to make it managable.
So on this first Monday of the new year I will eat my bowl of fruit and put away my ATM card - just like I did on the first Monday of last year. I will do my part. AND I will hold tight to God's hand and hope for sunny days real soon. Ones where the temperature is at least 20 degrees warmer and my body is 20 pounds lighter and my bank account is 20% richer and.... grief is no longer that heavy weight I drag along with me everywhere I go. wait -maybe that's where those 20 pounds came from!
Well... that's all I got. Some days are just like that for me. I'm pretty sure you have days like that too. It's OK. Even when we dont feel all shiny and new God is still here with us and if we let Him He will work in us making us new from the inside out. I'm just going to do my part to cooperate with His work in me and try not to get cranky at His speed- or lack of speed. It will take effort, no doubt about it. Did I mention that it's a Michigan Monday in January?