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Rebuilding After the Fire

We’ve been in the fire almost a year now.

The pandemic burned away life as we knew it. But in addition to a collective grief, we’ve fought our own personal, devastating fires.

Do you feel like your life is burning down around you today?

Been there. A few times in my life I’ve felt like my life was being burned to the ground. The death of my father kicked off one of those times.

I pictured myself standing among the charred embers of what had been a house. I was a sole, bereft figure. My sense of security had been incinerated with any idea about how to fix the rip in my soul.

Are you looking around today, seeing everything that gave you comfort, love and purpose in ashes at your feet?

The task to rebuild feels monumental. You don’t know where to begin.

I was 6 years old the year a fire consumed my family’s house in the middle of the night.

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3 Christmas Songs That Loss Changed Forever

Christmas won’t ever be the same after a parent dies and neither will the messages within some of our beloved songs.

In the thick of grief, we may decide to rip off the volume knob, ban any Christmas tune. Or we may sing along.

Whatever serves our healing is the right thing to do. Yes, we must allow our sorrow to spill out to find some healing, but we may temper our tears for a better time and place.

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What are the Christmas songs that especially tug at your heart? Why? What words strike a cord with you?

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Coping Without A Goodbye

I knew Mom would die, and I knew I couldn’t prevent it, but the one thing I asked God is that I’d be with her when she took her last breath.

But I was not with her. This hurt as much as the fact that she was dead.

I felt I had devastatingly failed her. And there was no way to apologize. No do over. I balled out my eyes and beat myself up over this “moral failure” for years.

But at least I saw her a few hours before she died.

COVID-19 & Goodbyes

I cannot imagine what it is now like for thousands of people who cannot sit with their parent or another loved one as they struggle to hold onto life. Of the people who cannot say goodbye due to COVID-19 restrictions.

My heart goes out to them. I know how important goodbyes are. To the sick. To the ones who remain to grieve.

Important actually isn’t the word. How about vital? How about essential?

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My parents are dead – So how can I be grateful at Thanksgiving?

The pandemic. The political tension. The demands of social distancing on a holiday designed for togetherness. I thought I'd republish last year's blog this Thanksgiving - because we all could use a refresher on being grateful when circumstances are pulling us apart.

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Recipe Keepsakes: Tasting the Grief, Love at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the time of year that we taste our grief.

Literally. I mean, no one makes homemade cornbread dressing like Mom. But … she isn’t here anymore to make it. It cannot be the same …

So, like any perfectly sentimental daughter, I always make dressing like Mom made dressing. I use her recipe. But still there’s that missing ingredient. Mom.

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That’s the part where the grief dribbles like escaping gravy onto the white cloth atop the Thanksgiving table.

But the holiday need not be completely ruined. Because Thanksgiving is also the time of year that we taste the love.

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Grief & Healing in the Little Things

I ordered four catfish filets, a handful of shrimp and a bag of ice, unaware that I would be transported from the Kroger fish counter across time and death.

The moment happened when an employee awkwardly handed me the plastic bag of ice, open. I held the bag by its ends and twirled it. I then twisted it and tied it.

I learned this from my dad. This is the way he always secured vegetables, fruits and other grocery foods inside flimsy plastic bags. Easy peasy.

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For a moment, it was kind of like he was with me again, grocery shopping like we used to do. But it was much more than that.

Do you ever smile when you mimic your parent? Do you feel proud, like you’ve somehow done something cosmically important?

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Is It Okay to be In Between?

I think of the pandemic as the time in between. It is the period after normal has ended but a new normal has yet to be established. It is the time life is still dizzingly out of control.

I feel as if I’ve been holding my breath, waiting to resurface from the depths of a vast ocean. I’m longing for a gulp of air now. I’m tired of a life on pause. I want in between to stop.

Thinking this way mirrors grief. Yes, I recognized it early on. My mood during the pandemic reminded me of the months after my parents’ deaths. After we’ve lost someone, we intellectual recognize we cannot return to normal. But our hearts are still there in the past. And we don’t yet know what life will look like for us next month or next year.

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It is the time in between.

What about you? Are you yearning for what used to be? Are you in between a beloved past and a fearful future? And is this what we’re supposed to be doing? Is it okay to be “in between”?

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How Can I Go On? 4 Steps to Take

"How can I go on?" It is the universal question from those who've lost someone they love. Here are 4 first steps to start the ascension to healing.

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3 Inspirational Go-Tos for Fall Season; Pandemic Season

Does Fall do to you what it does to me? Does it transport you to the past? Or maybe it inspires you to transform, to restyle your life like trees that tint their leaves.

I wake, dress, grab my essentials and walk onto the carport. The breeze flutters through my hair. No more gummy sweat gluing clothes to my body. I feel alive!

But I also feel wistful. I sense a vague feeling of longing. Of missing my parents and other people who shared previous Falls with me.

It’s a lovely emptiness. A contradiction of sensations.

At the same time, I’m stuck. We’re stuck. We’re stuck in another season. Pandemic season. We’re stuck staying home more than we’d like. We’re stuck distancing from people we want to hug. Some of us are stuck in depression. Anger. Frustration. I see a lot of parallels ….

I think a lot of us are stuck a cycle of grief. We may be continuing to intensely grieve the loss of a loved one who died while we also wrestle with these new losses. Loss of freedom. Loss of income. Loss of security. The pandemic is compiling our losses.

I think a lot of us are stuck a cycle of grief. We may be continuing to intensely grieve the loss of a loved one who died while we also wrestle with these new losses. Loss of freedom. Loss of income. Loss of security. The pandemic is compiling our losses.

What’s ahead? What form will our lives – will our society – take this week? Next month? Next year? We’ve lost a lack of certainty.

What are we to do in this season?

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Can We Self-Help Our Way Thru Grief?

I passed the Barnes & Noble self-help section that featured books on capturing every sort of success. Get rich. Get peace. Get healthy. In five easy steps.

Goals!  The red ink screamed, catching my eye. The subtitled promised, How to Get Everything You Want – Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible.

Barnes & Noble self-help books for sale

I wasn’t going to buy any more books. I’d already made my selection, a hardback on the Tutor dynasty that included the famed King Henry VIII. You know him. He was the English dude who ended two of his six marriages by execution.

Anyway, as I exited the bookstore, I pondered the proliferation of self-help books. After the death of a loved one, we often turn to this section for advice about grieving. A whole lot more of the books detail how to be something or get something.

So, I wondered, if these books are so helpful, why do they keep selling? I mean, if the secret to self-esteem is inside the pages, for example, and you read the book, well, you don’t need to read another on how to gain confidence, right?

As quickly as I posed this question silently in my brain, I knew the answer.


Action. That’s the secret. Action is the key to every self-help book you or I will ever read and an critical key to any change we want to adopt.

We must take action. We must work the steps, be a doer, not just a reader.

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Getting on the side of grief where tears don’t spill out at the slightest provocation is a different matter – and the same. We must take action to achieve healing – and we also can do nothing to speed things along.

“How can it be both?” you ask.

I often use the analogy of planting explain complexities. Grief is a winter of the soul. Our field – our lives – are littered with the death of what once was. It might appear that our field will never yield anything beautiful and satisfying again.

But after a while, we plow. We get the soil ready for tomorrow. We put good seed into the ground, and then we wait. And wait. And pray for rain. Or pull out a hose.

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We cannot control the sprouting of the seed nor the speed at which a young plant will grow, but we can prepare our lives for something good to arrive.

What action can we take in the midst of grief to point us toward healing?

A year ago in July, I posted a blog entitled A Decade with Grief: Eight Behaviors That Transformed Pain into Peace, which detailed the action points that put my on the road toward healing. Allow me to offer three important points here today:

  • Nurture your hope. Talk to people who’ve walked through the loneliness of loss. Recall your previous losses. You got to a better place. You will again.
  • Sit with Grief. Don’t ignore it nor deny it. Wail. Ponder. Question. We cannot journey toward healing by going around grief. We can only go through it.
  • Pray, pray, pray. Hold conversations with God about each feeling and thought. And listen for his reply and guidance. He wants to comfort you.

Our grief changes and rockets us toward healing as we, I believe, experience epiphanies. But we cannot order an epiphany like we order a medium-well T-bone at Longhorn Steakhouse. We’ve prepared the ground. We’ve taken all the action we can take. Now we must wait for the seed to surface.

I felt guilty for not being by my mother’s side when the died. I ruminated over this for two years and then one night while driving home I realized my mother didn’t know she was going to die on July 19, 2009, either. Hospice didn’t think she was going to die that night. So, how could I? That perspective helped me forgive myself.

The changes within us can be imperceptible at times. Keep to the plow. Scatter the seed. And continue watering. Don’t give up on yourself, on life, nor on God.

This is the self-help that works. Grief is stubborn. It will refuse to follow a five-step process, but we may offer it space to do its painful tasks. And in time, we will find ourselves walking past the bookstore’s self-help section to read about the drama of five centuries before we were ever born.

Do self-help books or information help you? If so, I’d love to hear what tips or suggestions helped smooth your journey.

Copyright © 2020 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved. http://www.tonilepeska.com