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Christmas Mourning: Will the Holiday Ever Be Beautiful Again?

Each Christmas is the first Christmas for someone – the first Christmas without mom or dad. Or without a husband or wife or child. Or without a grandparent or uncle or best friend.

All the carols, all the joy, all the tinsel. It feels like a dagger to the chest. The loss of who isn’t there is so profound, so consuming. So in the face. Is there any end to this pain?

The contrast is so clear – at Christmas we celebrate God’s gift to us. But we’ve been robbed, for all death is a theft. What will God give to us? What balm does he offer?ChristmasPic

Will we ever be happy again? Will Christmas ever be beautiful again?

Sometimes we blame God because, at the very least, He did not prevent the death. We know everyone dies but we want a say-so in how and when, yet we know we do not have a say-so. We know death will come and then we get mad when it does. We know evil lurks in the world to “steal, kill and destroy” and we are surprised when it successfully takes our loved ones. Grief will not be quelled with logic, with factual data about how the world works. We mourn.

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Our Preoccupation with Place

            I found a parking lot and no trespassing signs on the 8-foot-tall chain link fence. Their home was gone. I clutched the wire, pressed my face against it, and hung there like a forlorn child. A piece of my parents I wanted to touch was out of reach. Actually, nonexistent.

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My parents’ old address led me to this spot.

            I wasn’t totally surprised the house wasn’t there anymore. The miracle of Google Maps had prepared me. At my home near Memphis earlier, I’d searched for my parents’ old address on Margaret Street in the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville. Google showed me a photo of another address, as if the house I’d asked for no longer existed.

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Finding Love in a Card

I sensed a need to be in touch with my parents, and so I got out the greeting cards. I possibly have one of the largest collections known to man.

I collected them from throughout the house. Over the past eight years, I discovered them inside dresser drawers, on top of the coffee table and used as markers in books. One by one, I put them in a shoe box on the dining room table.

I stacked them so high, the lid hovered high over the box.ToniCharlesIsland (2)

I’ve loved going through my parents’ belongings, though it’s been a difficult task emotionally. Now its down to the wire. Few things remain, such as the greeting cards. Read more

The Art of the Comeback

I’m thrilled about the direction my life is headed, but a month ago I was too sick and worn down to make such a statement. Do you feel beat up by life? By illness? By grief? As I did, you probably are looking for a comeback, for a way to get back in the game – and on top of your game. How do we do that? What measures must we take?

As I look back over the past year, I find four principles that instigated my turnaround.ToniCharlesIsland (2)

Believe in a Comeback. We must have faith that a comeback is possible. Sounds simple enough, but when we’ve been repeatedly beaten up by circumstances, we begin to lose hope sometimes. We feel stuck. We can’t see a way out, and so we may stop looking for an escape route. The Bible says, “As a man thinketh, so is he.” Our battle’s first stop is our own mind.

Strategize a Comeback. Our problems can become quite complicated. To untangle the issues, create a plan of attack. For seven months, I thought my health problems would go away. I finally decided they wouldn’t until I took a new course of action. I wrote down my symptoms – all eight of them! – and then formulated a strategy to address each one, one by one.

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Grief Seasons: Where To Now?

            As green leaves transform into shades of yellow, orange, red and rust, I realize grief is a seasonal creature, and I’m faced again with its shifting nature.

            Winter arrives with the cold hand of death. It takes our parent, our husband, our child, and the landscape of our lives feels barren without them. We struggle to survive just a day.

            Spring comes. A glimmer of hope. A bud of new life. We still wrap ourselves against the chilly air, but we feel the warmth of hope in our hearts. There is something to live for.

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My parents’ yard, decked out in Fall glory.

            Summer teaches us that grief is a test of endurance. We’re sweating it out with the realization grief does not end, but it is different than what we felt in the winter of our sorrow.

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3 Tips to Clean Out a Loved One’s Closet

I stood frozen in the doorway of my parents’ walk-in closet again, my eyes darting from Mom’s red party dress to Dad’s sports jackets. Cleaning out a loved one’s closet is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks for the one left behind. I put it off for eight years.ToniProfilePic

I’ve heard this job described many times. It’s never easy, and it’s always filled with memories. And emotion. Clothes become a part of people. They hint of character, style, personality. They harbor the memories of events – a suit for church, a dress for celebrations, a uniform for war.

My dad died 11 years ago. My mother died eight years ago. I had cleaned out all of the bedroom closets except for this one. What is obvious to the mind isn’t so obvious to the heart – for me, cleaning out the last clothes closet was like a declaration that my parents aren’t coming back.

But after all these years of inching toward cleaning out the house, I was running out of places to turn. So I landed in the doorway of their closet this weekend for the umpteenth time.

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Will God Come Through For Us?

I’ve really just been clinging to God lately. I’ve been really aware of my weaknesses. It’s an uncomfortable admission and an uncomfortable experience. We want to be strong. But we’re not.

Illness does a great job at making a person humble. I don’t know about you, but half the time I walk around thinking, “I’ve got this” about the stuff in my life. But I really don’t “got this.”ToniCharlesIsland (2)

What about attacks not to the body but to the mind? To the emotions? Grief is kin to illness. An assault on our person of a different type. We think “we got this,” but we really don’t. We are powerless to bring our loved one back. We are powerless to stop the hurt inside of us.

Sounds like a real downer, but I haven’t lived on this planet for several decades and not learned that from great adversity may come great rewards. In other words, good stuff can come from really hard stuff. All that hard stuff behind me? It’s taught me to be resilient. To press on. To believe that this too shall pass. And if I am willing, I will learn things that I can’t learn any other way. And in the midst of the trial? I find God.

Picture a woman in a terry cloth robe in a dimly lit room, her face wet with tears. She screams at the top of her lungs, grabs the Kleenex box and throws it like a football against the closet door.

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Wanting Mommy by Our Sick Bed

We’re all grown up but aren’t there days when we wish we had our mommies?

Our mommies held us when we were frightened, kissed our boo-boos and stood by our sick beds, wiping our brows of sweat.toni2017-2

We’re possibly most vulnerable when we’re sick. It’s one of the times we wish we had mom back. Even if she couldn’t fix us, somehow her mere presence made us better, even if just a little.

I’ve been sick a lot in recent weeks, and I’ve missed writing my blog a couple of times because of it. In fact, I’ve been sick a lot of my life, but too much this year. I finally decided my problems weren’t going away on their own. I took the list of symptoms to my primary care doctor Tuesday. I put seven freakin’ things on there!

I omitted one, the newest symptom, a pain in the left side of my abdomen. The doctor asked me to lay down. He felt of my hardened, bloated belly.

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Grief: It’s NOT a Shame

I’m accustomed to feeling all sorts of colliding emotions with grief – anger, depression and even regret, but shame was a new one on me. I didn’t even know what to call it when I experienced it.

Do you ever feel shame within the context of your loss? My dictionary defines shame as “a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.”

There’s room for shame in society. We should be ashamed for things that are against morality. Grief isn’t something to be ashamed about, and yet there it was, sitting on top of my chest.momspaintings.jpg

That afternoon, I had been at my parents’ unoccupied home with my husband. I’d been rambling about the house, trying to figure out what next to discard, give away or pack. I’m down to the wire on this one – after eight years, we’ve decided to sell the house. I gotta finish cleaning it out.

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The Profound Nature of Suffering

Sometimes I want to scream. Somewhere along the way, I decided that someday I’d be through with suffering, but I’m not. The tag I put on it is expired, and yet I’m still suffering.

I hesitate using the word suffering for my struggle. I’ve not been to war. I’ve not lost a leg, been burned in a fire or experienced the death of a child. My suffering isn’t going to kill me.ToniProfilePic

But sometimes I’ve despaired of life because of it. I’ve thought it might ruin me. It’s certainly changed my life. It changed the way I took care of my parents. And I hate that. Really hate that.

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