Tough Seasons – The Ebb and Flow of Grief

pexels-photoThis is the tough season. I wasn’t expecting it. Christmas flew by with a flurry of activity. Before I knew it, it was mid-January and my heart was ice. I didn’t have energy. I was just making the survival motions to get to the end of each day.

That’s when the crying started. Finally the heart-ice was melting but it hurt oh-so-much. My wonderful hubby’s shoulder was regularly whetted with my tears. It was as if Mom died yesterday. I thought I was past this point of grief.

This has been my life for the past month. As I approach the one-year of Mom’s death on February 26, I have a roller coaster of emotions. This week last year I was at Mom’s bedside at the Coudersport Hospital ICU in Pennsylvania. She was breathing with the help of a respirator. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t swallow. I never knew what it meant to not be able to swallow. She was in agony. I wanted more than anything to trade places with her. To take away the suffering she felt. I was helpless.

I’ve always loved my birthday. It sounds pretty selfish but it’s true. I have so many happy memories associated with the day. This year my birthday engenders a different feeling. There’s a gray cloud over next Tuesday. It was the day we made the decision to remove Mom from all artificial life-sustaining support. It was the day we chose to let Mom go. That was a hard day.

This week, the storm clouds of grief have lifted a bit. I have finally arrived at a place where I can write again. I can communicate with others what is going on inside my heart. I can remember the good of my Mother’s life and be incredibly thankful. I can live. I can see that there is good yet to come in this life. I can look at the future with a smile.

These next two weeks are going to be hard. I’ll need the love and support from the Lord, my family, and my friends to get to the other side. However, I know these two weeks will be good. It’s good to remember. To mourn and to grieve. There’s a time for everything. I trust it will be time to laugh, to celebrate, to rejoice soon.

Thanks for reading. Thank you for caring. I am so thankful for the community the Lord has given me for this season.

I Don’t Have to be Pregnant Anymore – On Letting Go

Photo Credit: Brad Smith

Photo Credit: Brad Smith

A year ago one of my friends in my infertility support group calmly and joyfully announced that she asked God to take away her desire to be pregnant. When those words hit my ears, I thought she was nuts (sorry friend). Who would pray such a thing? Isn’t pregnancy a natural and right thing to desire? I could not begin to fathom praying a prayer like that. Not when becoming pregnant with our child was the one thing I wanted most in all of the world. Not when I cried and prayed for this miracle every day. Not when all I wanted was a Baby and a Baby NOW!

Many, many months have passed since that time. Following my surgery that determined that we could not naturally become pregnant (you can read about that here), I grieved and cried every day. My grief was so deep, and my hunger to be pregnant so strong, that it was really hard to see past it. I thought about my friend’s prayer from time to time but I just couldn’t pray it. It was too hard to let go.

Then two months ago, I heard that still, small Voice in my spirit urging me to pray that prayer: To ask God to take away my insatiable hunger to be pregnant. To fully allow Him to implant the desire to adopt into my heart. With a small seed of faith and lots of emotion, I came to Him and made that request. It was a big, “not-my-will-but-Yours” moment for me.

It wasn’t until about a week later that it dawned on me that I felt much lighter. I wasn’t as sad as before. In fact, I realized that I was at a place of deep peace about not being pregnant and about walking the path of adopting. I had greater joy about the Better Plan God chose for us than I had ever had before.

I guess my friend wasn’t nuts (sorry I thought that about you, friend… you know who you are). Or maybe I’ve joined her in the craziness. Whatever the case, I’m so thankful that God answered my prayer and that I can now move ahead with our adoption with a full heart. I’m thankful God is a Good Shepherd who brings us to the place we need to be as we wait for His timing and trust Him. The path often seems uncomfortable, dark, painful but I can already see how beautiful it is. God is Good, friends. He is so Faithful.

 

 

Missing Mom at Six Months

sea-nature-sunny-beachNo one knows
the tears still inside me.

People think it’s all past.
They think I’m all better.

Every once in a while
I think, I hope, I pray
that things will be better too.

But then I remember.
And the pain floods back,
and the bottom falls out,
and I fall and I fall.

And I know once again
that things aren’t all better.
My loved one is gone,
and I cry alone.

How much longer, God?
How long does this last?

(From Finding Hope and Healing by Kenneth C. Haugk)

This poem represents the past six months well. I have moments where I think I’m all better – healed – from the grief and trauma of losing Mom. In fact, I didn’t cry for a whole month. And then, very recently, the memories flooded back. I almost feel like I just lost her yesterday. It’s like reality is just setting in. Oh, this is permanent. Suck.

I don’t have many profound words tonight. But I found this scripture passage very reassuring as I ride the waves of grief:

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you.” (Is. 54:10)

I’m so thankful that God is compassionate. He is mindful that we are but dust. And he understands grief.

 

 

Four Months: The Linden Tree, A Poem

LeafMy Mom’s name, Linea, means Linden Tree in Scandinavian. Her middle name, Lynn, means lake or a body of water. Her life, as her name, reflects to me the truth of Jeremiah 17:8 from the Bible:

“They [God’s people] are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.”

This is in honor of Mom at four months after her passing.

 

The Linden Tree stands tall and beautiful.
Leaves of bright green shimmer in the sun;
Love Leaves with shape of heart,
Exhibiting what flows through the Tree.

Linden is planted by a flowing stream,
Life-giving hydration soaking into deep roots.

The heat rises – fiery, bleak, strong.
Surrounding trees wither and fade.
Linden Tree remains untouched,
Her leaves robust and beautiful.

The deep Roots, hard-won keep Linden strong.
The deep Roots bring Linden Abundant Life.

 

 

Does Jesus Care?

Photo Credit: Cathy Baird

Photo Credit: Cathy Baird

You may be familiar with that old-time hymn, “Does Jesus Care?” I’m really thankful that Frank* was asking the same question in 1901 that I have been asking in 2015.

In the song, Frank asks, “Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth or song?” And, “Does Jesus care […] when my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks – Is it aught to Him? Does He see?”

When deep pain enters our lives, we have to ask these hard questions. It’s who we are. There may be something wrong with us if we don’t ask them at least a little bit. You’re not betraying God if you ask them. If you’re angry with God, it’s okay. He can take it. He already knows your anger, so you might as well be honest with Him.

I’ve asked God these hard questions. It took a while to get an answer. Sometimes it feels like no one is listening.

In my pain, I was thinking God was doing hurtful things to me and expecting me to pull myself up by my own boot straps. Then a friend looked me in the face and said, “I want you to know God is grieving with you. He isn’t expecting you to be okay.” That rocked my world and changed my perspective.

I started letting God grieve with me. Instead of trying to act strong when talking to God, I told Him how I really felt. I fell apart with Him. And you know what I found? Grace. Grace that heals. I found God’s heart resonating with my own. I found not only does He care, He is grieving with me!

So, along with Frank, I say:

Oh, yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

 

*Does Jesus Care? was written by Frank E. Graeff in 1901.

 

 

Infertility – Our Story

forest-moss-path-1058 (2)Today I’m sharing more about our infertility story.

Ben and I have been trying to have children for 4½ years. I’m a pretty open person,  so when we started trying I told (quite) a few friends. I was excited! I also never expected to have trouble getting pregnant. After all, people get pregnant by accident all the time (a grief all its own) so why wouldn’t we be able to when we’re trying?!

To make matters worse, I have IBS which would often causes me to be sick in the mornings. I consistently got the comment, “Are you sure it’s not morning sickness?” I would laugh it off but after a few months, laughing got harder. After a year, most of the comments had ended and I started wondering why we weren’t pregnant yet. Every month that would go by started to become more painful. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to handle the pain well. I became numb and focused my efforts into my job, existing family and friends, and other projects. Yet the silent pain that is Infertility continued to grow.

It took us a long time to start seeking medical help. I felt so stuck. I wanted to know why we weren’t getting pregnant, yet I was terrified to find out. I both loved and hated the hoping every month.

When I finally made that first doctor’s appointment, I was so happy to be making positive forward movement. Even though it was a long process (due to my own inaction) involving sometimes awkward and painful tests, it was worth it. After all of these tests were complete, we were told that nothing is wrong.

Now we had Unexplained Infertility. This diagnosis is filled with both hope and pain. You have the hope that nothing is wrong – so we really could get pregnant any month. Yet that hope turns to pain and disappointment each month when it just doesn’t happen.

As the years went by, my heart (which wasn’t grieving infertility well) slowly became hard and wounded. I could not go to baby showers anymore (unless they were a really close friend). I did not want to engage with my friends’ children. I would see pregnant ladies in the store and walk the other way. I was afraid to hold babies.

When I left work in the fall of 2014, everything changed. I could no longer pretend that the infertility grief didn’t exist. I had delayed my grieving for so long and now I had nothing else to distract me. It came on with full force. The deep sadness and pain and loss hit my heart like a ton of bricks. I had an insatiable desire to be Mom and no idea how to get there.

We finally received a definitive answer this April. I underwent laparoscopic surgery and it was found that I have severe endometriosis that has blocked my fallopian tubes. We are not able to have children naturally. It was a severe blow to my heart.

I have asked the Why question quite a bit. I have been grieving the fact that our children probably won’t share our DNA. I am grieving the fact that I most likely will never know what it feels like to be pregnant, to give birth. I may never hold my baby and see my husband’s baby picture reflected in his face.

It has been so important for me to grieve this pain. Knowing what is wrong has helped me find closure. God has been doing an awesome work in my heart. I can honestly say I’ve never felt so whole before. As I grieve through and accept reality, I am healing. My heart is opening up. I have a new, deeper love for my friends’ children.  God is giving us new Dreams and new Hope and new Compassion for the pain of others. It’s blowing my mind!

Even though I have days of deep sadness, most of my days are filled with Joy and Peace. God’s plan is better than my own. I believe that as much as I believe the sun will come up tomorrow. I don’t know what it will look like yet, but I trust Him. That’s something I could never have said without walking through the grief.

 

A Letter to Mom – 3 Months

785-BenLizWed-7982It’s hard to believe it has been three months since Mom passed. In many ways I feel grieving her loss has only just begun. Today I wrote her a letter and found it helpful. It’s so cathartic to get the overwhelming emotions I’m experiencing outside of myself.

Dear Momma,

I miss you so much. I wish I could visit you and hear your voice and see your smile. I know you are now finding all of the promises of God that you held onto in life fulfilled. I am so happy for you. I wish we could sit together and I could hear all about how you are and what you’re experiencing.

Thank you Mom for teaching me to love. Thank you for teaching me to laugh and be silly. Thank you for teaching me to pray – to trust God in hard things. These lessons are in full force these days.

You were always so good at loving me, Mom. So very good at loving other people. Thank you for being faithful.

Mom, I miss you more than I can say. I am so happy that we will be reunited one day. But for now – Earth just isn’t the same without you.

Mom, I love thinking about you on my wedding day. You were so beautiful. Your smile just lit up the room. The most beautiful Mother of the Bride. I’m so glad you were there.

Thank you for how you welcomed Ben into our family. You crocheted him a Christmas stocking, just like the rest of the family. He loves it so much. It was perfect – a Beautiful Act of Love.

That phrase describes your whole life, Momma – a Beautiful Act of Love. I wish we could still have you with us on this Earth. Things seem a little colder without you. But I know you are experiencing the fulfillment of all your desires and I would not wish you back for anything.

All my love,

Elizabeth

 

Infertility’s Impact

hand-garden-flower-dandelionOn April 10 we received the confirmation through surgery that we are not able to have children. I was in shock. I underwent the surgery to find out if I have endometriosis and if so to clear away problem growth to make it easier to get pregnant. I was not prepared for the doctor to tell us the damage cannot be reversed. The massive weight of this news didn’t start hitting my heart until four days later.

The past weeks have been a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs. In the downs, I have never felt this level of grief before. Hours of ugly crying ensues. On those bad days I am afraid to interact with the world around me. It feels like emotional land mines are everywhere. Even making my doctor’s appointment the other day I was bombarded with the dreaded, “why don’t you have kids yet,” question.

It has been a long journey. Four and a half years of trying, hoping, praying, wondering…suddenly ended. Years of testing… done forever. The Death of a Dream.

Scripture says, “hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12). Let me tell you my heart has been throwing up all over the place. I’m realizing that this isn’t like other pains and hardships I’ve experienced in my life thus far. This is something that is life-long. I know the majority of the pain will be healed but it will always be there at some level – like a battle scar. There will always be baby showers, birthing stories, pregnant friends, and people who won’t understand. It feels like being suddenly cut off from a shared experience of 80% of the women I know.

Today is a good day. My heart is hopeful and my eyes are on Jesus. I know He knows and He cares. Scripture says He was, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with the deepest grief” (Is. 53:3). He is with me in this pain. He is actually the only One who can fully understand it. I’m clinging to truth about Him today. He is faithful. There are other days when clinging to truth doesn’t come so easy, but today, this is where I stand.

 

 

Losing Mom – How Others Helped

cropped holding-hands-752878_1280I have had a number of friends and family members who have lost loved ones through the years. Sadly, I never quite understood what to do when someone passes away. I mean, it feels awkward. If you’ve never been through it, you don’t know what they might be feeling. It’s hard to connect to their pain. You don’t want to do something dumb, so you don’t do anything at all.

When I lost Mom, I learned so many things. One of those things is how to better care for others when they lose a loved one. Here’s a list of the things people did for me that I appreciated. Every person grieves differently but a gesture of love will never go amiss.

Showing Up.

Just being a human presence in the midst of the grief is an incredible gift – one that can feel very awkward for the giver. But let me tell you, having family and friends simply be with me during this time of great loss was the best gift they could have given. Being at the funeral, sitting across a table, bringing a meal – all ways that people were with me in my grief.

Listening.

Listening is loving. Friends who asked questions or gave me space to talk about my Mom, about the funeral, about whatever was on my mind that day helped me more than they can ever imagine.

Allowing the Pain.

Our culture really hates pain. Just look at all the ways we work to stay out of pain – medicine, comedy shows, happy faces. Often as compassionate people we want to rush to alleviate the pain we see in our friends’ lives. This isn’t always helpful. I’ve found that the only way I have been able to embrace joy fully is to fully embrace pain. There is a time to mourn and a time for joy (Ecclesiastes 3:4). I am so thankful for the friends who allowed me to express deep pain – even when there was no neat bow to tie at the end of it.

Cards.

I’ve always loved cards but I didn’t know how meaningful sympathy cards could be after losing a loved one. Just to know that someone else is thinking of you and went to the effort of putting a card in the mail was really comforting to me. Every single card I received meant so much to me. I didn’t send sympathy cards before I lost Mom. I do now.

Flowers.

I found flowers extremely comforting and hope-giving. People sent arrangements to the funeral service and brought flowers to my house. Especially meaningful were the bouquets that showed up at my door upon the 1st and 2nd month anniversaries of Mom’s death. Thank you friends who thought to do that.

Acknowledge the Loss.

In the past I frequently sought to minimize my own pain. I’m learning to not do that as much now. I have to say that it was quite validating when others recognized the significant loss that I experienced. When my Bible study friends said, “Let’s just stop and acknowledge that you have experienced huge loss,” it was so healing. It gave me permission to grieve with them.

Moving toward a friend in pain can be awkward but it will mean so much to them. The list above isn’t exhaustive. If you have gone through loss and have other ways that people meaningfully showed love to you, please share it below. I’d love to learn from you.

 

 

Embracing Grief. Embracing Healing.

cropped black-and-white-waves-close-up-view-circleThe past six months have been filled with loss, crisis, grief, and pain. To say the least, it has been a tough season to walk through.

I’ve experienced numerous losses over these months:

  • Leaving my Job of eight years in the fall – my first job out of college.
  • My Mom passing away at the end of February after a 20-year battle with illness.
  • Receiving the diagnosis of Infertility from my doctor after 4½ years of searching for answers.

The compounding of these losses have at times forced me to my knees in heart-wrenching tears. They’ve caused me to ask the tough questions of and about God. They have brought me to multiple days of deep sadness and lethargy and Netflix watching.

Each Loss involves grieving multiple additional losses: The loss of a Dream. Loss of a Voice. Loss of Community. It’s complicated. Messy.

I haven’t always known how to grieve well. When I was 15 my friend died in a house fire. I never shed a tear. Instead I told myself that I needed to be strong and go on with life for her – a very heroic sentiment – but it messed me up. I never allowed the tragedy and sadness of her death to touch my heart. It has taken me years to begin to learn how to grieve well. I am thankful that during this season God led my heart to choose to Embrace the Grief.

I’ve realized that if I don’t allow the painful emotions to hit my heart, it will be like a bone that never sets correctly. I have to walk through the process – every painful step – in order to come out more whole on the other side. I know I have to take the time to cry, to think, to share.

It has been 11 weeks since Mom passed. I know at some level I’ll be grieving her loss for the rest of my life. Not being able to have children who share our DNA is something that this mother’s heart may never be fully okay with. Tears come at unexpected times.

But I have Hope. I’m at a place now where I can see the benefit of embracing the pain and being brutally honest with God. The hard days are lessening and I’m starting to function again. I’m cleaning my house more often. I’m hanging out with friends. I’m going for walks. I’m not spending multiple days watching Netflix. Feelings of anxiety and fear and deep sadness are less frequent. All good steps forward.

Then I have a few bad days where I’ve never felt deeper sadness in my life. On some of those days all I can do is cry out for God to prove His faithfulness again. It’s hard to see a way forward on those days.

Even as I don’t know how long the Season of Grief will be, the Season of Healing has begun. I have the hope that in the end I will be more whole.

As I walk through this Season of Grief, God is birthing new dreams in my heart. I see the world from a deeper, more mature, perspective. I feel more whole than I did before the Season of Grief began. I know myself and God a little better than I did before. I trust God a little more than I did before. I have more compassion for others who are hurting than I did before. I have faith that God is going to Redeem the loss for myself and for others. I am trusting that He is faithful.

I am Embracing Healing.