I feel like a cook tasked with making a stew of two dozen ingredients from a recipe I’ve never seen, and I’m a bit overwhelmed and not sure where to start.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed with a new task? Do you ever wonder where to start? Which direction to go? Where to put your energy first?
“What’s next?” may be a question we ask repeatedly during our grief journey. We probably ask it after the funeral. We may ask it later, after our grief has changed us, but we’re still recreating ourselves. Or we may ask it after we’re finished sorting through the belongings of our loved one.
After selling my parents’ home three weeks ago and saying my goodbyes, I was enthused by the idea of paring down belongings at my own home and devoting more time to writing projects. But I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’m bogged down. So much to do. So little me.
I should feel excited. I want to be excited. Instead, I am trying to peel carrots, sear chunks of beef, unwrap bouillon cubes and answer a ringing phone. I’m trying to make something deliciously wonderful out of a lot of moving parts. Where do I start?
I’m going to unpack four suggestions here. What might yours be?
With the sanctuary lights up and the pastor in the pulpit, they stand. They tower above me like a forest. A forest of women. I am small. An unimportant insect. Applause breaks out.
It isn’t for me. It has never been for me.
This is perhaps the most difficult moment of Mother’s Day. It is the deafening sound of a silent scream – I am not a mother! A nice alternative would be to be seated beside my own mother. To applaud for her. But she is dead. Dead. It is the loudest unspoken word in the church.
Mother’s Day is one of those days we get through somehow. How do we manage without our mothers? Perhaps we bask in the appreciation of our children. But what if we are childless?
I stood up in the church one Mother’s Day. Seated along the fringe of the sanctuary this time, away from friends, I felt inconspicuous. I felt raw. I stood for the beloved dog I’d lost only days before. He’d been like my child for 15 years. I grieved him as a mother for a child. I missed the earthy smell of his fir. I missed the sound of his breath.
On that Mother’s Day, I was a grieving mother. A mother of an angel in heaven.
Is this from God or a tool of Satan? In religious circles, we wonder if a difficulty has been allowed by God to strengthen our faith or if it comes as an obstacle from the evil one.
If we decide it’s from God, we may relax a bit, for we assume it was sent to strengthen our faith. If it comes from the hand of our Creator, it won’t permanently harm us. He loves us.
But if it’s from the Devil, we may throw back our shoulders and ready ourselves for a fight. We resist the difficulty with all our might. We put on our soldier outfits and fight heroically.
Problem is, we often cannot be certain whether a problem is from God or of the Devil. And if we focus on God’s all-powerful nature, we may blame God, believing he caused the pain, or that he is cruel for allowing it. Or maybe he was unhappy with us. Punishing us. But for what?
I believed God was loving when things were going my way, but when they weren’t, the questions nipped at me like a feisty Chihuahua I could not escape. It put a wedge between me and God. I couldn’t really trust the one being who could comfort me in my deepest difficulties. I was alone.
I lifted the piece of plastic under the gutter drain and plucked a worm from the damp soil. I walked to the little girl at the end of my parents’ driveway, the gateway to 13 acres of beauty.
She was visiting with her parents, the people buying the property that’s been in my family 45 years. Her brother watched. At almost 7, he was the age I’d been when we’d bought the land.
“Do you like worms?” I asked the girl. I put the squiggling thing in her open, outstretched palm. “When I was a little girl growing up here, I found all kinds of creatures. Like turtles.”
I hiked up the hill of the pasture with a destination in mind. Nearly two decades earlier, I had taken the same route after losing the man I loved. He’d abandoned me for another woman.
For as long as I remember, my parents’ pasture has been my go-to place when grieved or troubled. It was a refuge. A place to find peace, even before I became acquainted with God.
Losing Our Safe Place
What is your go-to space? A city rooftop? A quiet room? A park bench by a lake? Or maybe it is a person. Grandmother. Sister. Or the warm arms of your husband. What if that place is lost? Where do you go to find strength, encouragement and love after that?
No two people could be as different as my brother and me, but even if siblings share a lot of similarities, the death of their parents and dividing of an estate can be a wedge between them.
I’ve heard numerous stories about money and possessions segregating families into warring factions. Accusations fly like nuclear missiles, and the devastation lasts a lifetime.
At the end of this post, I’ll provide tips to help others grease the task of dispersing an inheritance, but first allow me to share my story. I learned a little from being the executrix of my parents’ estate, but the two primary reasons it was mostly hassle-free weren’t things I put in place. You could say my brother made it easy for me.
He lacked an attachment to the family and to the household property. And he was a resident in a Florida prison.
What is the single biggest component of finding healing within grief, besides expressing it?
Embracing the new.
Inviting what’s next into our lives.
Believing we can love and laugh again.
Today is the first day of spring. I hadn’t noticed until I received a life-changing phone text this afternoon, and then I realized the irony.
A real estate agent sent me a text about my parents’ home:
“Just sent full price offer in.”
The house where both my parents died, the house I’ve spent eight years cleaning out, has been listed for sale only four days.
It’s a mobile home enclosed by conventional roof and walls, and it sits on a beautiful treed 13-acre lot. The floors sag. The ceiling sag. The cellar fills with water.
I wonder if my mother was beautiful. I wonder if we shared the same hair color. If her eyes were blue. If she grinned when she held me. If she held me. I wonder if she thinks of me.
Surely she must think of me. At least on my birthday.
These are things normal daughters don’t have to wonder. But I’ve wondered these things all my life. Now I wonder if my mother is dead.
I was adopted. I don’t go around thinking about it a lot, but recently USA Today published an article by Betsy Brenner on its front page. She was adopted in the 1950s, a decade before me. She was 14 when her adoptive mother died and a new, emotionally-distant stepmother was insufficient to fill the void within her. Eventually, she sought out a meeting with her biological mother through an intermediary but was denied. By the time her state’s adoption records were open later, Brenner’s biological mother was dead.