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!