A dozen thoughts whirl around my head about my parents and my care-giving days as I navigate a new, temporary reality – being the one to receive care.
This reality is opening up an old chapter on my life that was filled with stress and grief. A chapter that I thought was behind me, fully processed.
Grief works that way. The changing circumstances of life usher grief back into our lives, offering a new layer for us to process. We think we are done. We are not.
The trigger may be a new baby our parent did not meet. Or another death. Or a new home, husband or hobby. As life shifts, we wish our loved one was here to experience this new thing with us. To offer companionship, advice or comfort.
Instead we find ourselves wrestling with grief again, mourning the loss of what might have been.
From Grief to Growth
We may, however, transition to growth. We find we are looking at the past with different eyes.
Are you asking this question today? I’ve asked it every November for more than a decade. My parents weren’t just part of Thanksgiving. They were Thanksgiving.
How do I salvage the holiday now? What can I tell you so you can piece together a Thanksgiving celebration that isn’t simply tolerable but actually enjoyable?
I’ll warn you right now, some Thanksgivings really suck, especially the ones right after a death. Grief is expert at ambush, walloping you just when you think “I’ve got this.” An empty seat, a cherished tradition, a Christmas song on the car radio. All kinds of triggers lie about this time of year.
As hard as we try, grief is going to body slam us now and then. It’s inevitable, like a chemical reaction. We combine over-the-top holiday expectations and the stark reality that our mother, father, brother, husband, sister or other loved one is gone and won’t be back. And then bam! The tears come. Because Thanksgiving will never be the same. And we can’t change that.
But that does not mean that we cannot be grateful – at Thanksgiving or at any time of the year. In fact, gratitude can become an energizing force that powers our lives day in and day out. But how?
I want to thank you, each of this blog’s followers and readers, for your steadfast support and insightful comments. If you are new to this platform – and I know some folks have signed on recently – I want to extend a personal welcome. You are noticed.
I can hardly believe this blog has been in existence for three years. That’s right, November 2019 marks three years. I pray I’ve been a conduit of God’s comfort and wisdom to help you through your grief journey and give perspective that will outlast the tears.
I work regularly on my writing craft and on my personal journey to bring additional tools to the table to better serve you better. If you ever have any suggestions for topics or even a different perspective or experience than one I’ve offered, please feel free to share it.
In fact, I hope you’ll take a moment to leave a comment right now. Tell me what two or three topics you’d like to see me address or address more regularly. I’d love to hear from you.
As at the onset of writing this blog, I strive to publish a new post every week. However, sometimes I instead post one within 10 to 14 days, and occasionally I post two in a week’s time. Is a week a sweet spot for you? Is two weeks too long? Again, comment below and let me know.
How much should we focus on the progression of our grief? On whether we are “doing better”?
The question came up this week when I received an email from a man who thought an associate was “stuck” in grief. He wanted assistance. He wanted the person to experience healing.
A worthy desire. However, the person may or may not be “stuck.”
I tread lightly when I hear someone brandish “stuck” in relationship to grief. It’s just too easy for outsiders to label us with a condition in need of a fast cure. Grief isn’t finished after the funeral. It isn’t done after the first year. Nor the year after that.
We also can become impatient with ourselves, feeling we aren’t moving along quickly enough. We may feel – yes – stuck. How, we ask, do I extract myself from this hellish sorrow?
I found myself in a courtroom again recently, but this time I was there as a plaintiff in a civil matter instead of as a newspaper reporter.
As I took a seat and waited for the judge to arrive, I glanced around. I checked out the at-ease lawyers in the front row and the anxious faces of the unsettled masses in the back.
Me? I was relaxed. The only discomfort I felt was at the point where my sore hamstring met the hard, wooden bench. I’ve been inside courtrooms dozens of times. I’ve reported on federal drug trials, police misconduct trials and capital murder trials. I was in my element.
Crime Scene Interviews
As the judge delayed her start by 30 minutes, I reflected upon the early years of my career. As a police scanner crackled, I’d whip out a map and push the speed limit to get to a crime scene. I’d look for witnesses, bystanders and family members to tell me about assaults, robberies, vehicular accidents and shootings that ended in deaths. I wanted their story.
If family members weren’t on site, sometimes I’d look them up the next day, drive to their neighborhood and stand outside their home, wondering if they’d want to talk or get angry for the intrusion. As their door cracked open, I spoke in a hushed voice.
We’ve got a cage in our living room. There’s plenty of space for a bowl of water, a compact bed and turnaround provisions, but it is, nonetheless, a cage.
Tuffy gives me the sad face. He knows this face works to get what he wants. Droopy eyes. Lowered head. Closed mouth. But not this time. His foot is hurt. He’s staying in the cage.
I’m in my own cage. No bars. No enclosure. But I’m not able to do as I please. Not right now.
Like Tuffy, I’ve been nursing an old injury. Three years ago, I crashed and burned on my bicycle and tore my meniscus in my left knee. As I write this, I’m waiting for the results of my MRI. My doctor suspects the meniscus has been further damaged by the ins and outs of life.
I’ve been in many cages throughout life. Sometimes because of temporary physical limitations that illness bestows upon me. Sometimes because of unpleasant circumstances willed upon me by others. Failed romances. Broken hearts. Job disappointments. Lost opportunities. We try to push through, get to the good stuff, but find ourselves stuck in place, licking a wound.
I want to tell you that my daddy turned 81 this week, that I made him a German chocolate cake, treated him to a big buffet lunch and gave him a beautiful card. But that would be misleading.
The truth is, he would have turned 81 – the same age Mom was at death – if he’d lived 14 years longer. My daddy died in 2006 at age 67.
I’ve read plenty of stories about children reaching the age a parent was at death. Outliving that marker. Meaning drips from the milestone. I’m not there, yet this birthday haunted me.
He could have lived this long, I thought to myself. He could have been 81. He could still be here. With me. With us.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
When we let go of the emotional investment we’re putting in outcomes, we often get pleasantly surprised by what happens without striving and effort.
I’m referring today to a personal surprise, however, this applies to our grief journey as well. If we let grief process unfold, and never mind the end point, we’ll experience healing faster.
Drum Roll Please
First, my announcement. I’m in another book. I’m not crowing. Well, okay, I am maybe just a wee little bit, but really, I want you to know there’s another resource for us to use in our journey.
It’s called Buckets of Hope: Recovery from Grief and Loss. Kat Crawford, aka Kat the Lionhearted, published the book after assembling essays from 26 authors, including from me.
I’m also a contributor in Grief Dialogues: The Book. It came out in November and is available on Amazon here.
What’s really neat about Buckets of Hope is each story begins with a Bible verse and each ends with a reflection. I found God to be the greatest element of comfort and healing after the deaths of my parents, and so I’m delighted to be a part of a publication that includes Christian faith as essential to the grief journey.
In Buckets of Hope, my contribution is called The Last Closet. It starts on page 102. I published a similar but not identical version of this story on my blog in October 2017 called 3 Tips to Clean Out a Loved One’s Closet.
While the blog version is a mixture of personal story and how-to, the book version is about the difficulty I had cleaning out the contents of the last closet with my parents’ things in it, and the revelation I had that allowed me to do so finally with gusto. Buckets of Hope is available on Amazon here
I submitted The Last Closet in February 2018. You see the math? That was 18 months ago.