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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.