Category Archives: loss

Unprepared for Goodbye

There were only two visits I was able to make before the holidays. Mondays in Bridgewater afforded me time to stop by after a weekly meeting with friends. I planned to return this week. Back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress.

I was not prepared for the news.

It is easy to check mail on my phone, so when a ministry team message came through with only his name in the heading, I opened it instantly. Sometimes things can be too instant, leaving a person raw in the wake of the suddenness.

I thought I knew what it would say.

There would be a health update, maybe a way to serve the family. There might be specifics of how the disease was progressing or a general update to keep us informed as to how to pray for the man who continued to pray for us from the confines of his automated recliner.

My breath caught in my chest as I read that my dear friend’s breath had left him in the night as he slept.

Gone was the man who sat across from me for so many Stephen Ministry meetings, his faithfulness and genuine care and concern for people radiating from his face. He held many of my prayer requests close and would ask how God was working in my life, right up until our last visit together.

A fun fact is that he had attended the church my husband grew up in when they both lived in Northern Virginia. He remembered my husband as a boy and would laugh and tell stories of him. We had a connection.

He loved.

Above all he loved the Lord and wanted to serve him in all that he did. Our last visit together was full of stories of days gone by, such as being roped in invited to help with the Awana program at his church when he was a younger man and how he cared for the kids who were difficult, understanding that they were the ones who needed love the most.

He cared.

There were many times that he went out of his way to be present or show up for people. He sought out the hurting and humbly reached out with a kind word or thought.

He encouraged.

He encouraged me with his words and his steadfast faith in God. He encouraged me by attending worship whenever he could, right up until his final weeks when it became difficult. I remember the last Sunday that I saw him from stage, sitting in his chair in the back. My heart caught in my chest and my eyes welled up, much as they did when I read that he died.

Bob is in heaven now. I don’t know how it works, but I am confident that he is present with the Lord. This song comes to mind as I sit with my tears remembering my friend. I think it captures his heart.

Goodbye, Bob.

Hope for Healing

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
Psalm 62:5

There were too many strikes against the wounded places in my heart this morning to sit through church. Already late from the effort it still takes to get everyone out of the house, which seems eerily similar to what it was years ago only in a different way, I arrived halfway through the one song I was hoping to sing.

Enduring the rustling and settling of the children who sit with us while hoping that the ones who do not were doing what they were supposed to in the back, I tried to focus on the task at hand and enter worship. I was frustrated and exhausted.

Darkness is familiar, and the deepness that it brings threatens to pull my soul further into a void. The constant struggle to remain upright and grounded is real.

It was a lifetime ago, yet I still grieve. What am I grieving? What feels life-giving? I held that tension in my heart  while looking up at the glow of a single candle signifying the beginning of Advent. I stood and sat and tried to sing what was hard.

Your law is good. . . 

I could not make it through all of the words. It was nothing less than a miracle that I sang that song from the stage last week when I was on worship team, revealing how well I can shore up and do what needs to be done in the moment.

Standing as Scripture was read, feeling the ground beneath me, I breathed in, holding hope that I could do this. I sat.

Words came at me, and I noticed them blurring together. It took energy and effort to stay present, and I was doing really well.

God expects full obedience to his commandments.

The sermon series on the Ten Commandments continues. Whatever week this is feels a week too long. Each week is too long.

I believe and agree with this. I am also deeply triggered by this. There were too many strikes against my spiritually wounded heart this morning to sit and hear the very verses about the law that were used to beat me into submission and rob me of life. They bring no comfort.

Maybe comfort is there. . . just not right now. Maybe there is hope for healing from an abuse of the law, but right now I need comfort and care. I did not feel it in this space.

I spend much time comforting and caring.

I found myself in the tension of longing to communicate, of pressing into the questions surrounding the fray while trying to contain all that was dumping out of my heart.

Is there balm in Gilead?

As a terrified sixteen-year-old girl I was trying to grasp the law on my own and be pleasing. As a forty-six year old woman living with the implication of this desire, it is difficult to see goodness. All I feel is sadness and deep pain.

I am aware that others are not responsible for how their words are inadvertently used to crash into my heart. It does not make the crashing any less painful. It was in the pain that I found myself sitting in the breezeway, ear buds in, listening to music while writing in my journal.

We are all full of stories.

Later I found myself sitting with a friend, hearing more of her story, asking her about hope.

Today is the candle of hope. The very questions I asked my friend, I ask myself. What does hope look like to you? When did you feel hope? What do you hope for?

This is where I am and what I will be pondering this first week of Advent.

Where are the Words?

Trauma takes our words which is why I sit in shock and disbelief over the news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas yesterday. The post I had hoped to write feels trite and self-centered in the wake of hearing about those who are only beginning to grieve the loss of loved ones and whose lives are forever altered by bullets and blood. Where are the words for this?

I did not hear the news until everyone had been dropped off at school. Switching from morning music to NPR, I was stunned by the story and the sounds of chaos that the soundbites played. My heart sank as I engaged the latest in a series of traumas that have been only a social media click or news report away.

Yesterday Steve was listening to an Allender Center Podcast on catastrophic stories while cleaning the kitchen. I joined him in the space to begin lunch preparation for the upcoming week. I had listened to this episode when it originally aired. Houston was the focus, having been left in the wake of the Hurricane Harvey catastrophe.

Sadly, Houston is now old news in the world of media coverage. We barreled on to scenes from Florida and Irma and then to the islands with Maria, and even those images are fading. New sights and sounds of trauma are here to flood us.

Yet there are still people living the trauma that overtook them. Just because we no longer see the pictures, does not mean that the houses have been rebuilt, the people have food, water, and clothing, that infrastructures are safe. Lives have been forever changed. Loved ones grieve from a distance, helpless and hurting.

I enter the house, bracing myself with dread. I know what will come later in the day, should I choose to look and listen ~ the comments, the commentary, the anger, the solutions, the accusations. I was looking forward to this month with anticipation, and now it just feels heavy. What is the point of anything? It is easy for me to slide down the path of despair.

The thief comes to steal, kill, destroy.

Dewey jumps up on my leg, patting me with his paws, waiting for me to clip on his leash for our morning walk. I leash him, grab a bag, and leave my phone in my room, choosing to disconnect and unplug even if only for half and hour. We walk.

The air is crisp, the sky is brilliant, the sun is dazzling, the shadows are long. Dewey steps along happily engaging the world as we do together each morning. He invites me to presence in his dog-like way, by doing his new trick of jumping and grabbing his leash in his mouth as if to say, Look at me walking myself! Aren’t I clever? Watch me jump!

I choose to see the beauty, because the broken is all around. It’s on the length of sidewalk I did not walk, because I know the dead squirrel is there, and I do not want to see or smell death right now. I almost stepped in it last night. The terror is real. I walk and ponder and pray.

Returning home, I settle onto my favorite couch with my Bible and journal. Lighting a candle the color of tears, I am reminded that Jesus weeps with me, and that he is here. He is Emmanuel, God with me, in the midst of the chaos and confusion when I have no words. I don’t have words for this.

I am grateful that I chose to love this morning before I knew this story. I drove the forgotten items into school without anger. I laughed over the irony of the poor quiz grade while signing the interim envelope. I let the little things go. I put on my Do Justice, Love Mercy, Be Humble shirt before I knew.

It reminds me of how to love, because that is what there is when there are no words. And we never know when we will no longer have the chance or the choice.

 

Seven Years Since

I do this thing with birthdays. On a particular child’s birthday I stop, subtract their age from mine and their siblings, and reflect on the numbers. It helps me process more fully a life that has been so full.

I did this recently when my third turned 22. I was reminded that at her birth I was 24, the same age as my firstborn right now, and that her siblings were 2 and 1. It put more of my story into perspective and gave me a tangible space in time to inhabit while processing it.

Today is different.

This Saturday marks seven years since I heard the news that Brian Carderelli was killed. Not only is there a number but also the feeling of the actual day.

That Saturday morning had been a difficult one. Seven years ago I was 39. It was the season of peak dependence of dependents in our family, as the children were 17, 16, 15, 11, 7, 5, 4, and 2.

My firstborn was out of the country. The others were home at ages where they could be left alone for brief periods of time together. This had happened ~ Steve and I left them alone to go out briefly ~ and we returned to them acting like siblings who had been left alone together, some of them in charge, some of them little.

It was a mess of feelings and emotions from everyone that triggered deep feelings and emotions in me.  I had often been left alone in charge of younger siblings. I had not yet begun to deal with younger me and all of the turbulence I felt inside.

Intense emotion spilled over and out and into my journal as I disappeared into my room to process a pile of pain that had nowhere else to go. After venting, I fell asleep.

I woke, and Steve had me read an email that Brian Carderelli had been in an ambush and was presumed dead. I remember sitting at the computer desk and going numb. It just couldn’t be true. Brian was a friend and neighbor whose presence in our life came at a time when a huge gift of grace was needed.

He often gave the teenagers rides to youth group. He would wave and smile at me from his car when he stopped at the sign on our street corner. I was usually outside supervising littles riding tricycles or drawing with sidewalk chalk. He was supposed to be coming home from his travels soon. How could he just be dead?

It was confirmed.

I cried a lot.

My kids are sad. I hurt. I hate killing and death . . . I am afraid. overwhelmed. hurt. So tense and overwhelmed which manifests in anger and panic. I don’t want to live in a hate-filled world.

These were some of the words written in my journal immediately after the news. Before any real processing began.

I took food to friends, because that is what I knew to do at the time. Bring food and sit with.

Seven years later, the day feels similar, yet different. I am 46. My children are 24, 23, 22, 18, 14, 12, 11, 9. Half have reached legal adult status. For those left behind, life marches on.

Still we remember. Still we grieve loss. Seven years since.

Brian, you are missed.

Friendship Friday ~ Goodbye Buddy

We said goodbye to Roo’s beloved guinea pig this past Wednesday night. It was the eve of two years to the day that he came home with us from the pet store. It was completely unexpected.

Wednesday morning, eager with anticipation of meeting a friend in Martinsburg, WVa, for lunch, I had no idea that the evening’s at-home date would be interrupted by a knock on the TV room door by a traumatized child.

In fact, I still had not broken it to my parents that when they took care of him for us while we were on vacation, he would need at least one cage change. I was still figuring all of the details out, not knowing that by the end of the day there would be no need.

Buddy was in his cage and kicking his legs. I thought he was having a bad dream, so I picked him up, but he went limp. Something is really wrong with him.

We rushed upstairs with her. Indeed, something was very wrong, as confirmed by her father, the brave one of us when it comes to all things animal-related. I brought a dish towel to wrap him in, while Steve held and confirmed that, indeed, Buddy was dead.

I began to cry, then sob, in the hall with my daughter. The bedroom door of the youngest opened upon hearing the commotion. She came out, heard the news, and began to cry. She also wanted to hold Buddy.

She is a braver soul than I.

I knocked on brother’s door to alert him, as well, knowing that he would want to be aware. He came out and joined the sadness. So did sister at the end of the hall.

We made our way downstairs to the living room and sat together. Tears were flowing and words spoken of Buddy’s days with us.

Most recently, because of summer break, he had spent more time downstairs on the laps of those who were doing their screen time. The kids called him a Buddy Loaf and dubbed him their therapy guinea pig.

He was well-loved.

Even Dewey, who tried to get a little too close and curious to Buddy at every opportunity, was noticeably out of sorts.

He mirrored everyone’s sadness.

Buddy’s death was sudden, unexpected, and happened as his ten-year-old owner was holding him. It was a trifecta of trauma for her. We are processing this grief together. It is hard and sad.

In the midst of the hard, there is good.

I am grateful that just last Sunday our pastor brought a perspective of pets and heaven to us in a hopeful tone. This gave Roo much comfort the following evening as she went to bed in the same way and space that 24 hours earlier had found her watching the life slip from her pet.

I am grateful that he did not die while we were on vacation.

I am grateful that it was summer break and that he was getting a lot of attention.

Mostly I am grateful for kids who love big and deeply and well.

Goodby, Buddy. You were loved so much that it hurts that you are gone. Thank you for the joy you brought to us and the contribution that you made to our compost pile each week. You will be missed.

They Matter

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Facebook reminds me of this, and friends post their words on this, and stories flood back to me, and my heart grows heavy. I wrestle the with words I long to share, swirling inside of me, as my own darlings yell and fight over Saturday chores outside of my bedroom door.

Sitting in the space of pregnancy loss is uncomfortable. Something about the way it appears we had and have control over getting or not getting pregnant causes rationalization and hasty statements to make sense of the senseless. We want to push ahead to the but then this happened and look at how everything turned out just fine. In fact, if I hadn’t lost x then I wouldn’t have y.

And yet, x mattered, too. Every moment of x. The days written for x were x’s days to be, and I think we lose something if we leave x behind in the dust and ashes of rationalization and spiritualization. We cheapen all things working together for good when we fail to acknowledge all that is not as is should be. Working together for good and good are not the same.

First, there is grief and loss. Those things are not good.

I remember each pregnancy test I took. I can still feel the edginess of ambivalence, wondering if I really wanted to know, wondering if my life was about to change ~ again, wondering how I would break the news ~ again.

To write this from a place of eight pregnancies carried to term with relatively little complication is not meant to be insensitive to those who have struggled or never have or never will. There are pieces still in process in my story. I have struggled deeply. More than I am ready to share with the world today.

It is to say, I know the strong, life-changing feelings that occur simply by anticipating peeing on a stick (or in a cup as it was once-upon-a-time when pregnancy tests were more like chemistry sets!). I know the panic that blood during pregnancy brings. I have been there.

Knowing that blood equaled loss in my mother’s story, I thought it would be the same in mine, and prepared to lose my first dream, weeks into my marriage.

As it turned out, that first child has always been strong and made us well aware of her presence with the sound of a heartbeat, earlier than was supposed to be possible, according to the midwife. Nothing was sweeter and more reassuring than that sound of life galloping away inside of me.

But for a time, I was preparing for loss. I was on the edge of physically and emotionally losing the little one I had dreamed about and hoped for. Even in my ambivalence of newlywedded overwhelm and uncertainty, I wanted that little person so badly.

I wanted every one of them so badly. In the hard places, when I was not sure I was ready, once they were there, I could not imagine them not being. It is why I believe we usually get nine months to prepare. In best-case scenarios.

I have lost siblings to miscarriage. I have watched my mother grieve.

I have sat with women in hard places of loss, hearing heavy words and big feelings. I have held the fragile, lifeless body of my nephew born too soon while the same size of life grew inside of me. I have been unable to be there at times when I wish I could, leaving loved ones to suffer loss in loneliness.

I grieve.

Those little lives mattered. Each one of them. Even the ones that are hard to understand and process and place.

Every day that they lived was the life written for them. They had something to teach us and something to say. I find great comfort in Psalm 139:16, Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written every one of them the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.

Even 49 days matter. Even if another child is conceived two months after that. A child born after loss does not negate loss.

The secret things belong to the Lord, and there are things we will never understand this side of Heaven. Those who have experienced the profound loss of a child, or the hope of a child, or the death of the dream of a child, or a dream that they had for a child know that there are no easy answers. There is no making sense.

To those who have suffered pregnancy and infant loss, some of you sit in a space of longing for and missing your child, knowing with certainty your story of what was and then was not. Others sit in a place of confusion and conflict, not knowing for sure. I believe it is possible to know deep in your heart what was, even when no empirical evidence exists. Your body knows.

I invite you to consider what was written for you in the life of your child. What did that little one have to say to you? What were you taught through your little one’s days?

Because it matters. They matter.

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief. Proverbs 14:13.

Guide Us

Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.
Luke 1:78-79

Am I the only one sitting in darkness tonight?

I wonder.

I sit heavy-hearted, longing for the light from heaven to break upon me.

It was family Christmas tonight. Cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends gathered for our traditional Christmas Eve celebration. The house was full, the food was delicious, the gifts were plentiful.

Except for that one that I forgot. Sorry, D. Thanks for grace!

And yet…

All is not picture-perfect. There is heartache and unmet longing and disappointment. There is sickness and pain. There is mess.

There are hard words to hear and hard realities to face. There are let-downs and sorrows and tears. There is darkness.

This season has not been what I expected or what I hoped it might.

It is what it is to be this year. I long to rest confidently in that as I continue to walk the path created uniquely for me. Sadly, I struggle. I resist the tidings of comfort and joy.

So my prayer tonight, these last hours of Christmas Eve, is for God to guide me, to guide us, to the path of peace.