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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.

Photo by Askar Abayev on

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.

Photo by Shiny Diamond on

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.

Photo by Francesca Zama on

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.

Mourning Rituals During COVID

My heart goes out to those who are losing people during this pandemic, enduring the absence of final goodbyes at hospitals and the rituals of friends at funerals.

We need mourning rituals. They help us feel love. They help us cope. They help us manage the array of emotions that rain down on us like a meteor shower.Funeral1

And the coronavirus has been interrupting our normal practice of them. We cannot hold vigil at hospital beds, and we cannot gather in large numbers at funerals.

The family unit is critical at a time like this. It’s within the family unit and within the confines of our homes that ritual still is taking place.

Last week, I went to my first COVID-19 funeral, attended primarily by masked family members. My husband’s Uncle Johnny died at home after a long battle with a lung disease. He was 76.

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Getting Through a Crisis

The drama unfolded at Memphis International Airport inside the compact Honda Civic I’d owned for seven years.

I shut the door, and with the windows rolled up against the July heat, I opened my mouth and screamed. I screamed as loud as I had ever screamed.

lonely woman crying with closed eyes

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

The man I loved, the one waiting for a plane, no longer wanted me. I had thought he was the one. He decided someone else was the one. She, too, had been at the airport. I screamed to release a wad of pain lodged in my gut.

The year was 2007. To add insult to injury, the event occurred a year and a week after my daddy’s death. Grief on top of grief.

What happened next illustrates an essential aspect of getting through a crisis, surviving something that rips out your heart.

What I did then I try to do anytime I lose something or someone important to me.

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No Fear – Our Father Is in the Room

Did you ever imagine monsters were under your bed or in your closet? What did you do as you huddled under the covers? You called out to your parents, right?

Did they speak softly to your fears? And did you hope they’d stay in the room all night? You were sure to be safe with your mother or father in the room.

Or maybe you drifted asleep in complete peace with them in the house. You knew they would come to your side at the slightest cry.

girl sleeping on bed

Photo by Sam K on

We don’t grow up, not completely. We’re adult orphans now, and we wish they’d appear in the doorway of our dark room to rescue us from the monsters. Monsters like loneliness, depression, rage, regret, resentment and fear. If only our parents were here, they would chase away the yearning carved into our souls the day they died.

Earlier this month, I was driving to the cemetery 14 years to the day my daddy died. That’s when “The Father’s House” by Cory Asbury came on the radio. The song conveys that “failure’s never final” with a God who sees beyond shortcomings. He offers to take up our burdens and love us through this rocky journey called life.

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