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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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Mountain Climbing: Releasing Parents’ Home Sparks Renewed Grief

I don’t want to tell you that I’m grieving again. Not that I ever really stopped, but after eight years without my Mom, it wasn’t intruding into my every hour or day in that heartbreaking way.

But lately, it has – in that heartbreaking way. In that way that hinders sleep. In that way that casts a pall over everything I do. I smile, but inside a part of me is crying.

I know what happened. I’m being called upon to let go of my parents’ home. I’ve known all along this is what I’d probably do. Sell. But the day was far away.Mountain

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Awestruck by Eclipse: A Spiritual Journey

I stared into the sky at the black hole ringed with white-hot fire. I’d never seen anything like this before in my life. It was unearthly. Alien. Tears flooded my eyes. Awe flooded my soul.

My mother taught me to gaze into the cosmos as a girl. She walked into the front yard, brought the binoculars to her eyes and found the craters on Luna. Then she handed the binoculars to me.

Mom never saw a total solar eclipse. I wish she’d been alive to see it with me Aug. 21. My husband and I traveled from Memphis, in the partial eclipse zone, to western Kentucky to see the sun go totally dark. We’d booked our hotel room 10 months in advance. I packed a bracelet of Mom’s. I’d wear it during the eclipse in honor of her.

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Photo by Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel

In the moments before the moon totally blacked out the sun, I was skeptical, building to upset. I’d heard it got dark enough to see stars, but it was daylight with more than 90 percent of the sun covered. An eerie pallor draped us, but I’d seen a partial eclipse before.

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Death Does Not End Relationship, Letter Reveals to Daughter

Loss can feel like a great abyss, like my parents are a trillion miles in space, on a planet I’ve never seen, in a place I can neither fly to nor telephone. But death doesn’t end a relationship.

Nor does it end a connection. No, it’s not the one I want. I want them here. In front of my face. But at least our bond isn’t completely severed.

I felt the connection again one July evening in 2013 when I was going through my parents’ things at their home. I found a letter. It had been mailed to them in the 1960s before I was born.

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My parents, probably during their courtship, in the 1950s.

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