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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Whoa, I'm getting dizzy!

There is so much that happens in our lives at times that we find ourselves spinning.  We often wonder where do I begin, we do I go from here, what does it all mean, and why, why now, why me?  Yet, all spinning is not bad, as I watched my daughter and son-in-law in the excited frenzy of buying there first home, even in the frustration, there was a happiness, and a sense of accomplishment.  In the chaos of the packing, painting, cleaning, unpacking and then the settling in, you could sense the pride, the hopefulness, and the awakening of new dreams.  Nothing, it seems, could dampen their spirits, there wasn't anything that they were afraid to tackle, they had arrived.  

The death of a loved one leaves us sometimes spinning totally out of control.  Forget all the questions, you sometimes don't know what day it is, let alone your own name.  There is no excited frenzy, oh there is frenzy, as you prepare for events you wish were someone else's to deal with.  I speak for myself when I say I experienced frustration, definitely a deep sadness and a sense of total loss.  What had I accomplished?  What did I have to show for all my pain?  The chaos that follows is nothing if not ugly, there is so much to deal with, calls and arrangements to make, going through the robotic motions: cry, laugh, hug this one, kiss that one, nod politely, even the words seem to take on a life of there own.  In my case, I even found myself offering comfort to others, trying to ease their pain, forgoing my own to help others.  Then I was alone.  

Now I look back at that time in my life, and I amazed that I survived, that I even had the strength to move, let alone get up.  But I did, as so many of you have, because you knew it was the right thing to do, you knew that it was expected of you, you knew that this was your chance to make your loved one proud.  Whatever you’re reasoning, you did, you overcame yet another obstacle in your life, you SURVIVED.  

There are so many times in my life that I wonder how I got through them, however when I reflect on these events, I realize how much I have grown, how much I have learned.  Do I wish I could go back and alter them some how, yes!, but would I be who I am now?  What shape am I taking, and are these events a necessary evil to continually make me into who I need to become? Or are they simply trials that each of us faces on our journeys, giving us a chance to pause and reflect on what we have, what we are and what we are capable of accomplishing as we continue on.  

Rachel's life was brief, too brief for my liking, but in her 24 years here on this earth, she gave of herself, she accomplished so much, not always in ways that I would have liked, but in her very own distinct way.  She learned some very hard life lessons early on, but it never dampened her spirit, it never wiped the smile from her face.  She always looked for the silver lining, even if she started at the wrong side of the cloud.  I remember her excitement of starting anew right before her death, she had enrolled in classes and would start school in a few weeks, she was finally going to get on with her life, she had plans, and nothing was going to stop her.  I can still hear her bubbling over on the phone with me as she asked me to get her transcripts, and so on, and how the words 'I love you,' never sounded so sweet.  

This conversation took place in the afternoon of Friday, September 8th...  Shortly after I hung up the phone, she called her dad, told him her plans, and said 'I love you,' and hung up.  She made many phone calls that day, to so many of her relatives and friends, each time expressing her love.  We all recall a sense of pride in her voice, a feeling that she was going to be okay, that everything was falling into place for her.  She was on 'Cloud 9' as they say, an euphoria that was contagious, we were all so very happy for her.  

As I mentioned earlier, life can sweep in suddenly and take you completely off guard.  When that fateful call came in the wee hours of the morning of September 9th, I knew in my heart that everything was not okay with the world.  It's amazing how we respond, I woke my husband, told him what I had just been told on the phone, and that we needed to head over to the hospital.  He looked at me and simply said, 'you go,' and I quietly responded by uttering 'please don't make me do this alone.'  It seems as if both of us knew in our hearts that this wasn't just a quick jaunt to the emergency room with a sick child.  Neither wanted to deal with it, and we responded in turn to how we were feeling.  To qualify, my husband is very uncomfortable in hospital settings, and any opportunity to avoid them is quickly taken.  But after my simple statement, he quickly dressed and off we went not knowing what we would encounter.

All else took a back seat on that fateful day not only for our immediate family, but for Rachel's friends as well.  So many people gathered with us as we awaited news of her condition, of her progress or lack there of, and so on.  It seems she was making the impossible, possible, she had managed to make our world stop for a few hours, giving us time to be together, to sit quietly with each other, to simply 'BE' in the moment.  

She gave us one final gift with her death, she gave us life, she showed us how to appreciate it, and to not take a single moment for granted.  Death has a beauty of it's own, and if we are willing to see beyond the surface, beyond the pain, we recognized what is there.  For some of you, the death of a loved one brought comfort, solace and an end to their suffering, for others it was not welcomed or wanted, but left you with a sense of accomplishment, filled with wonderfully beautiful memories.  Yes there is ugliness in death as well, just as there is in anything in life.  Some deaths leave so many questions, that it takes years before you even begin to understand.  For me, death is not an end, but a beginning, as chance to be free of all the pain and sadness of this world.  Yes it leaves an emptiness, a void so deep, it seems impossible to cross, but there is for me anticipation that there is something so wonderful to look forward to, especially in knowing that I will some day be reunited with all my loved ones. 

In the meanwhile, I know love transcends all time and space; it remains with us long after our loved ones have gone.  Love fills us with hope, with promise and gives wings to our dreams.  Love is the gift that when shared it multiplies and multiplies, filling our reservoir and keeping it filled for a lifetime.  My favorite quote is 'Lover never fails,' (1 Corinthians 13:8) it lives on and on.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Changing Seasons

The snow is beginning to melt, patches of grass can now be spotted in what seemed just a week ago to be improbable.  Many felt the snow would be with us well into the the summer months, or so it seemed.  But nature takes care of itself. 

Often times our lives are reflective of the landscapes around us.  There is the spring of our lives, when everything appears new again, when there is hope, when possibilities are limitless.  We bask in the warmth of this opportunity to become, to grow, to evolve into who we are.  We then enter into the summers of our life filled with sunshine and warmth, and speckled with occasional showers and thunder storms.  We enjoy the lazy days it offers, relishing each day, taking the time to notice the special 'flowers' in our life.   Fall and all it's splendor, graces our lives, we mature, we understand, we begin to grasp some of life's lessons, some have taught us well, others leave us memories we wish to forget.  It is a time when we prepare ourselves for the longer, colder days of our winters.  Winter is a very necessary season in our lives.  Like nature, we slow down, we find ourselves in 'hibernation,' and as the days grow shorter.  It is a time when we long for the sunny, warm days of spring.  We all face or will face many winters in our lives, we will have the winters of snow covered landscapes, with a beauty all it's own; and there will also be the barren, ice covered winters, that seem to go on forever.  Each season in our life has it's highs and lows, its promises and disappointments, we however, do weather them just the same.  

As I look back on my life, I now can clearly see the marked seasons, and have come to some understanding of how they have brought me thus far.  There has been more sunshine and warmth, which has been my saving grace in those darker, colder days of winter.  My winters have been many, but not enough to make me cold or cynical, and I am truly grateful for that.  As a child, my life was all spring and summer, I was blessed to have great parents, a large, loving family, and no cares or concerns.  My life was a meadow, filled with an endless field of flowers and all the freedom to explore it.  My teenage years were not too bad either, I earned the respect of my parents, which granted me a certain amount of freedom that many of my peers did not experience, but with it came responsibilities that taught me well, I would venture to say that I had a mini fall in my adolescence.  Oh, I was no saint, but by today's standards I would be as my kids call me, boring.  I had fun my way and loved it.  In these years, I did go through winter, my first experience with the death of a close family member left me in a cold, dark space.  This was something I had not experienced before, and I longed for those happy, carefree days again, when everything was as it should be.  

Of course, like many of you, I have continued to have many more seasons in my life.  There have been many new beginnings or 'springs' in my life.  I married, had children, became a homeowner, made great career choices, and so many, many more positive and life-giving changes in my life.  Each positive change came with a wonderful summer, an enlightening fall, and a winter that allowed us to see the beauty that lay beneath the surface.  

The year my father died, I felt as if that winter would never end, it was a long, cold spell in my life.  This pain was so different from any of the other losses I had experienced, and it seemed it would never go away.  But yet it did, the ice and snow melted away, I could spy the potential blooms, just waiting for the warm sun to smile down on them, and so too, did I survive what I felt was my worst winter ever.  I went through the seasons, reaching the fall with a sense of readiness for whatever life might bring my way, never realizing that an even darker, colder winter lay ahead.  

My darkest winter began on that fateful day in September of 2006 with the death of my firstborn child.  Rachel's death brought me into a winter that has lingered well over 4 years.  This was the type of winter, that hid all beauty, that belied any potential, that gave no glimmer of ever relenting in its coldness and darkness.  This was a time of a deep, heavy-laden pain, and a darkness that didn't appear to let in any light at all.  But like the snow-covered ground, it holds its secrets and promises, and eventually something begins to happen.  The ice thaws, the snow melts, the darkness begins to vanish and hope begins to filter into the vast emptiness.  You begin to feel the promise of spring, a chance to live again, to shake off all the trappings of winter and begin to bloom.  

This is where I find myself, on the threshold of spring.  Yes there is some damage, some scarring, and still a deep pain and soreness, but there is hope.  Like the trees that have lost branches to the weather and wind, we cover up our wounds, we begin to heal, and we stretch up our arms to allow the sun into our lives.  We allow ourselves to find a new wholeness, one filled with the love of all those we miss, all those who have gone from our lives, whether through death, divorce, or simply because each has taken a different path in life.  

Rachel will continue to be a part of every season of my life, only it will be in a way that I have come to learn and understand.  It is by faith that I know she is always with me, and that we will meet again someday, when I am called 'home.'  I pray that my winters will be milder, my springs and summers will be filled with warmth and love, and that as I evolve I will continue to garner the wisdom that fall graciously offers.  

Know that like the seasons change, so too must we change, it is only when we allow this growth that we can become who we truly are.  I have come to know and understand that with faith, love and hope all things can be overcome, that we do indeed survive and that we continually grow.  Allow yourself to learn from the seasons in your life, and know that even if you feel there is no way out of the darkness, eventually hope begins to find a way through, penetrating even the deepest darkness.  Love gives us the tools with which we find faith and hope, after all there is always 'faith, love and hope, with the greatest of these being love.'  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life on a train

 A really beautiful way of looking at one's life  journey.  Enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oh, That Picture, I Took it at ....

I know so many people are sick of this snowy weather, but I honestly love the beauty of it.  I could do with out all the ice, slush and mess, however.  

Whenever I am out and about, I always have my camera with me.  I truly believe you never know when a photo will present itself.  Through the years I have learned that there is so much beauty to be captured, and often in the most unlikely of places.  For this particular collage, I happened to be away on retreat, and just couldn't stop myself.  From the decorations found within, to the deer prints in the untouched snow, I was in my glory.  

Over the years I have taken many photos, candids being my favorite.  I am one of those individuals everyone dreads, constantly snapping pictures when people least expect it.  It makes it so much more fun and you capture moments that just couldn't be manufactured with a pose.  Occasionally I will thumb through some of my photo albums, read the captions that were written or just laugh at the memory it evokes.  Every time I look at my life chronicled in photos, I feel a bitter sweetness.  On one hand a sense of accomplishment, on the other a sense of loss.  So many individuals who have gone from our lives, who's smile can only be seen in the photographs, there whole being captured in the impromptu photos taken on any given day.  

These photos remind me of what we shared, what mattered and still matters in my life, and what they meant to me.  I look at Rachel's, my dad's, my grandparents and other family and friends' photos, and I realized that I would not trade these memories for anything.  

For some of you, looking at old photos is too painful.  It may be too soon, it may be that the hurting is just too much.  A lot also depends on how your loved one died.  Rachel was taken from us suddenly after a car accident, my dad after a long illness.  In both scenarios, I was okay looking at the pictures, wanted to look at them, needed to see them.  Friends of ours who lost their brother to suicide, couldn't bare the sight of his photos, and it took years before albums were even opened.  I also know of others who were amazed that we kept all of Rachel's photos out and around the house.  They had quickly put every last photo of their loved one away, telling us they couldn't and didn't want them visible, it was just too painful.

For me, I love having the pictures around, after all I am still the mother of three children, and what parent doesn't keep at least one photo of each child in a place of prominence.  My desk at work holds a photo of each of my three children, my husband, my son-in-law and of course my new love in my life, my grandson.  I wouldn't have it any other way, but I am not everyone else.  What may be okay and works for me, might not be right for you.  We are as individual as each snow flake, we are unique in our looks, our beliefs, and our way of thinking.  Our coping styles are also as unique as we are.  Some rise to the occasion and take charge, others wait until it blows over, while still others whirl around in utter confusion.

Whatever your style, whatever your approach to life is, it is YOURS alone.  Just as my way of coping and dealing with my daughter's death is very much unique to me, so is yours.  I still have the inner turmoil, moments, sights and even sounds, can trigger tears, can cause an aching and a longing, but yet I managed to get through it.  For others, it can leave you feeling drained, exhausted and unsure of what to do.  I was home a year unable to truly focus on too much, others in a similar situation returned to work within a few months, still others have not been able to do anything at all.  Three different scenarios come to mind.  Friends of ours lost their daughter a year before Rachel, also in a auto accident, after a few months, the mother returned to work, part time at first.  I stayed home a year.  Just before Rachel's death, someone just a few blocks away also lost their daughter suddenly, the mother remained bed ridden for over a year, and just recently has begun to function.

We all respond very differently, and because of the unique way individuals respond, others will try to set time frames on how long someone should grieve, when they should be returning to work, when they should act as if nothing has happened.  Recently in our area a mother, still very much grieving the lost of her son, was let go by her employer.  It was still within a year of the child's death, and the employer felt she should be 'over it' by now.  Newsflash!!  You don't get over it!!  You get through it, you get stronger every day, with an occasional lapse, but you somehow begin to realize that you will be okay.  Every parent I have met since Rachel's death has told me over and over again, it is a life time of grief.  Whether is was just yesterday or 40 years ago, the pain may not be as acute, but there is still an ache, there is still hurt, there is still an emptiness that is hard to fill. 

However you handle your current situation is okay.  This is what is right for you, if at anytime it becomes more than you can bear, reach out to others, find a willing ear.  If need be, seek counseling, they provide an unbiased platform in which you can fully express yourself.  I used every method available to me, from willing family and friends, to a counselor; there is no need to go it alone, even if it is years later.

Continue making memories, infuse them with past memories and live you life, fill it with so much love. So much love that you are overflowing, so that it never runs out, even after your loved one is gone.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

'Underneath this great big sky...'

Many miles away from home, yet I still feel so connected to family and friends.  Isn't technology wonderful! 

Yesterday I was out and about after a full day of meetings and conferences.  A trip had been organized by the sponsor and I decided it would be fun.  I spent the evening at Epcot, loved it.  I strolled around the park, and experienced some of the rides and visited the various countries throughout the park.  It was amazing. 

In the evening they have a light show and fireworks, and the inner kid in me refuses to miss out on such activities.  So of course I found a spot with a full view and waited for the show to begin.  As I waited, I could not help but notice the families that had also gathered.  In front of me on a bench sat a family, two of the members had fallen asleep.  The son was lying down between his parents, the father, with a protective arm around his son, also had fallen asleep, while mom sat vigilant. 

The father eventually woke up and gently awoke his son before the light show began.  The mother smoothed his hair, put a sweater around him and just mothered him.  It was such a warm display of what family is all about.  My own family came to mind, even though I was miles away from them, I knew that they are definitely with me.  I thought about how we love being together, enjoying each other's company, even if we do not always agree.  This is family, caring, understanding and put all else aside for the one's we love. 

Now the son leaned onto his mother's shoulder, she instinctively put her arms around him and began to caress his hair.  My daughter Rachel came immediately to mind.  I remembered stroking my daughter's hair, holding her hand, gently touching her face, as I watched her slip away.  Thank goodness it was nighttime, so no one noticed the tears that began to stream down my face.  At that moment I longed to just do these simple motions all over again. 

Now I was totally aware of everyone that stood around me.  I smiled at the families with small children, and longed to tell them all to cherish every moment, to take none of them for granted. I said a silent prayer, that they all recognized the gift, the precious gift, they have been entrusted with.  I listened to children excitedly recounting the adventures of the day, and parents echoing the same sentiments.  I watched as parents patiently and effortlessly, lifted tired children into the arms without complaint.  I went back to my hotel with a sense of warmth. 

We all have choices in life, we all are given opportunities to not only enhance our lives, but to also enhance the lives of others.  We are all caretakers of each other.  As I looked up into the clear night sky, spying the stars, I thought of the lyrics, 'underneath the same big sky' by Linda Ronstadt from 'Somewhere Out There,' and new my family was looking at the same stars.  Then I recalled that one star up there had been named after my daughter Rachel by a friend after her death.  I spotted one that twinkled brightly and I knew Rachel was standing right there with me.  

We never know when a moment will remind us of our loved one, when someone else's actions will spark a random memory, but if we are open to it, it can occur anywhere.  I slept soundly last night, comforted in knowing that Rachel is very near.  That she is always on my mind, even if I am at a work related conference or at home.  If we are open to all the experiences around us, we too will recognize our loved ones everywhere.  

Allow yourself to be open, to welcome the opportunities that open a memory, and let that wonderful memory fill you with warmth and comfort.  Let the love fill you, let it surround you, and let it be what sustains.  We are love and that is what remains, well after we have gone.

Blessings! until we meet again.