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4 Ways to Deal with Grief Triggers

What does an unfinished life look like? One way is a half-empty container of Coke.

That’s the first encounter I had with an unfinished life. My father had been dead only a few hours. I walked into the kitchen and there was the rest of his Coca-Cola in a sippy cup.

It wasn’t the last evidence I’d find of a life interrupted.DadPaintNumber

The “Crime Scene”

I found Mom’s half-done crossword puzzles. Her hand-drawn plans for a circular driveway that was never poured. Dad’s paint-by-number pictures. A harmonica he’d hoped to learn to play.

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Details Important After Death

All this time, I thought I’d given the funeral home the wrong lipstick color.

I never was much of one to wear makeup, though I’d grown up seeing my mother paste it on before the rare occasions she’d leave the house. So I didn’t pay attention to her lip shade.MomTrainCase1.jpg

Itty bitty nonessential details gain new importance after a death. If you are like me, any morsel of new information is precious. My parents can’t tell me things anymore, but I long to know the things I’ve forgotten and to learn the things I didn’t know.

It’s been 8½ years since I dug in my mother’s train case – boxy luggage that sat on a lady’s lap and contained the makeup she may use on a train. I selected a lipstick. It looked too orange. Too bright. Surely this wasn’t her color.

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Every Ending Is a New Beginning

Beginnings are full of promise, aren’t they? Filled with anticipation and hope, we launch into a new career, a new home, a new relationship or, as now, a new year.

But death and grief are about endings. We mourn what was. We’re sucked into a vortex, unwilling at first to believe we’ll be happy again. But I assure you, there’s hope ahead.toni2017-2

It’s been said that every ending is a new beginning, and I’ve found that to be true. We often focus on the ending, though. On what was lost. On what will never be again. And that is grief.

We must mourn unhappy endings to get past them. Of course, we have the choice not to fully grieve and to distract ourselves instead. But if we hope to achieve joy equal to our sorrow, we must grasp grief’s hand and cry. For as long as it takes.

I got married three months before my mother died. She was terminally ill and unable to come to the wedding. After the reception, my husband and I visited her at her home. I wanted her to see me in my wedding dress. I wish I’d insisted on a photo, but she didn’t like her photograph taken. She’d always made herself up, but now she didn’t have the strength.

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New Year’s Hope for the Grieving

I want to pause to thank all my readers for their support in 2017 and recognize that excitement over a new year might escape us as grievers, especially if our loss is fresh.

The country stands at the precipice of 2018, glancing behind and gazing ahead, but as grievers we likely have been doing that all along, since the day death took the person we love.ToniProfilePic

We rehearse the memories, good and bad, and tiptoe into a future we didn’t predict. We stand between past, where our loved one lived, and the future, an existence without their touch.

But life isn’t without hope. In fact, life is pregnant with hope. As in all pregnancies, we must wait for hope to come to full term in our lives. In recent posts, I’ve shared how hope is being realized in my life and how grief and death don’t have the last word in our lives.

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Where to Find Peace

There’s a lot of talk about peace at Christmastime, but how do we capture peace? It seems so elusive in a world fraught with terrorism, murder, mayhem, sickness and broken relationships.

Despite my relationship with Jesus – called the Prince of Peace – I struggled with possessing consistent sense of peace for much of my life. I had peace with God. At age 12, I’d trusted Jesus’ death as payment for my sins and invited him into my life. But I didn’t have the peace of God.

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The angel who announced the birth of Christ proclaimed: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

I wrestled with peace after my parents’ died, and even years later, ached with grief as I worked to clean out their home. On the fifth summer of my mother’s death and the eighth of my father’s, I started to bring things of theirs to my home to use instead of packing them away. I brought over a Corning wear baking dish, a slotted spoon and a hand towel I’d found in my father’s bowling bag. A sad face was monogrammed on the terrycloth. “Dry your tears on me,” it read.

Was I less of a Christian because I grieved so sorely? I wasn’t at peace. Not with their deaths. Not with a lot of things.

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Trying to Keep Our Parents Alive

Do you ever feel like a dead loved one is near? I realized a distinct intensity to the feeling this Christmastime. It was without explanation, and then in less than 24 hours, I understood why.

I don’t believe in visitations from the dead, nor should we seek them out. On the other hand, I believe loved ones in heaven may occasionally see what is going on down here. They see us.

Obviously, we don’t see them, but we try to keep them alive and present in this world. This is never more evident than at Christmas.parentsfudgephoto

We make their recipes – “like grandma used to make” – we follow traditions in their memory, wear their clothes or their jewelry, linger in spaces they occupied, and tell stories about them.

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Inheritance: Holding onto Stuff

I am not a hoarder. I am attached to stuff, but I am not a hoarder.

Now before you say “the lady doth protest too much,” I must explain. Before I asked whether I was a hoarder, I asked whether my parents were hoarders. I inherited all their stuff. A lot of stuff.

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Unearthed: A box of my “clips,” examples of my writing, that dated to 1985.

Charged with cleaning out their home, I didn’t know where to start. I found folders of utility receipts stuffed between a living room chair and table. I discarded a broken microwave that had been standing on end in the floor for years. The bedrooms where my brother and I slept as children had long been the abode of cats. They ruined the carpets and scarred the furniture.

Did you know there are levels of hoarding? I went to a mini-seminar in November 2014. It was conducted by Dr. David Dia, a hoarding specialist with some national prominence. A Memphian, he’s appeared on TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive.

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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