Monday, November 21, 2016

Good Grief

So I'm gonna talk about grief. Grief is weird. Really really weird. Andy's death is not the first time I've experienced loss though it is definitely the most significant. I know all about the stages of grief and this knowledge is utterly and completely useless to me. I think the purpose of defining stages is to normalize people's experience of grief but it left out quite a few very important stages if you ask me, like the online shopping stage; the cleaning and redecorating stage; the binge watching Netflix stage, which is a staple whether you're grieving your dead husband or a bad haircut; the reconnecting with every friend you ever had even though you haven't spoken in years; the sadly short-lived but super dedicated self-care stage; or how about the I gotta get up and freaking take care of my child and go to work so grief will just have to wait stage; and of course the "I'm okay" but I feel really guilty about being okay, so much that it makes me not okay stage. 
I had a counselor talk to me about "grieving well." What the HECK does that even MEAN? Okay so I get that if I decided to launch into a downward spiral of booze/drugs/sex/(fill in the vice) and neglected my responsibilities as a mom and, you know, human being, that would probably NOT be grieving well. But aside from that, how do I grieve well? The same counselor who talked about grieving well also told me that there are no rules for grief. Am I the only one who sees where this information is conflicting? How can you do something well if you don't know what the rules are? In a perfect world I suppose I would seamlessly go through each stage of grief and check them off my To Do list and get a gold star. Oh wait, scratch that, in a perfect world my husband would be alive, we'd never have any conflict in our marriage because we'd know how precious it really was, we'd watch our child(ren) grow up, then we'd grow old together and die peacefully in our sleep at the same time like in The Notebook (Ha I cannot believe I just referenced The Notebook, I don't think it gets cheesier than that.)
So I don't know if I'm grieving well or not. I have no idea what stage of grief I'm in. Except I know I'm not in the "bargaining" stage. I've never connected with that stage of grief, but I guess other people must since it is its own stage and all. I mean, I don't even know what that would look like. But I've never been a bargainer anyway - one of the many ways Andy and I differed. He was always haggling for the best deal while I paid the asking price or just walked away... And now I'm comparing the loss of my husband to a trip to the flea market, great. Back to grieving...
So this is what my grief looks like. Most days it doesn't really look like grieving at all which causes people to tell me how strong I am which in turn makes me want to punch them in the face (sorry). My grieving looks like getting up every morning at 6 am when my toddler wakes up and feeding him breakfast followed by a dance party because that's what we always did in the mornings. 
My grieving looks like going to work full time after 3 years of only working part time because you do what you gotta do. 
It looks like starting to run again after years of not because nothing clears my head quite like running. 
It looks like quitting (or maybe just pausing) therapy because I feel like spending that money on babysitters and nights out with friends is more vital to my survival and sanity. 
It looks like searching Zillow for houses in neighborhoods in good school districts because I realize that living on 4 acres in the middle of the woods was Andy's dream and my dream might be a little different and that's okay. 
It looks like pushing Asher's stroller around Athens in search of Pokémon because we all need a little meaningless distraction and what better than chasing imaginary monsters all over town (yes I'm publicly admitting that I play Pokémon Go, don't judge me. Or go ahead and judge me,  Andy probably would too). 
It looks like signing up to volunteer with the children's ministry at church and spending every Sunday morning with crying 2 year olds because it gives me a reason to have to show up when I know it would be really easy to not show up. 
It looks like getting family pictures made of just me and Asher and using those family photos to make a Christmas card that will feel so incomplete, but it is complete because this is what my family looks like now and not sending out a Christmas card this year won't make that any less true.
And there are also the times when my grief looks a little more like one might expect, like an indescribable sadness that sneaks up and sucker punches me in the gut. Maybe I shed a few tears in my car on my way to work listening to a sappy country song. Or maybe I find myself making an impromptu trip to my husband's grave where I sit crying that uncontrollable, ugly-faced cry and asking him why he had to leave me all alone in this weird alternate universe where everything is confusing and nothing is simple. 
But 90% of the time, my grief looks like me just going about my life, and often even enjoying it. And I experience a lot of unnecessary guilt about that because somewhere I got the message that a grieving widow is supposed to wear black and stay home to cry and be sad all the time; that it's not okay to laugh and have fun and meet new people and make new memories because that doesn't fit with grief. But that message is not helpful or true. Grief is not a sad feeling, it's not denial or anger or depression. Yes those things exist in grief, but so do things like joy, wonder, curiosity, and hope. To me, grief is the full experience of learning to live with the absence of what was lost. I carry it with me every day as I care for my son, go to work, laugh with my friends, go for a jog, cook dinner, and just do life. And I'll continue to carry it because I don't believe it is something I complete once I get to that coveted final stage of Acceptance. It is something that I'll take with me into every new experience and every relationship. Some days it is very heavy, other days less so. I don't know if it actually gets lighter or if I just get used to its weight (and maybe I am stronger because of it). Either way, I will continue to carry it and continue to move forward.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

37 Days Ago

It has been 37 days since Andy died. Thirty-seven days ago, I became a widow and a single mom in the blink of an eye. I'm 33 years old, this isn't supposed to happen. I've told and retold the story of what happened (at least the parts I know) dozens, maybe hundreds, of times; and each time it feels like I'm talking about someone else. It doesn't seem real that I'm talking about MY husband, MY life. And each time I tell it, I'm left with more questions than answers. It seems unreal and at the same time, very very real.

In all the questions that present themselves in this, the biggest question for me is "Where was God in this?"  I have of course been angry with God; I've doubted God - his existence, his goodness, his sovereignty, whether he even gives a crap, etc etc etc; I've wanted to turn away and I've wanted to lean in; I've wanted to say F you and I've wanted to let him carry me. But none of this wrestling answers my question of "Where the hell were you?"

Today at Athens Church, I watched the third part of the series "Bottom of the Ninth," which I highly recommend anyone watch, whether you consider yourself a church person or not. The series compares being in the "bottom of the ninth" to our darkest hours. Today's message focused on what it means to be the body of Christ and what it means to be the hands and feet to others who are in the bottom of the ninth. As I was listening to the message, I didn't get the answer I wanted or thought I was looking for but I did get an answer. To the question of where is God in my life, here is the answer:
God is my fridge that is over flowing with food and the meal train that is booked through September.
God showed up in my yard one Saturday when a group of guys spent the whole morning cleaning up my yard and have continued to maintain it since
God is in my sweet little mama who stayed for two weeks to help out and look after Asher and in her co-workers back in North Carolina who made sure her work was covered while she was gone.
God showed up in my living room on my first night alone in my house in the form of 5 friends who have made a routine of coming to hang out every week.
God is in the family and friends who drove hundreds of miles just to see me and make me smile.
God showed up in every dollar that was donated that took away the financial stress and gave me some breathing room.
God showed up when I realized I couldn't care for 3 dogs by myself and someone stepped up to provide a good home to 2 of them.
God is in my boss and co-workers who made it possible for me to take a month off work.
God is in the folks who made it possible for Classic City Detail to reopen and allow Andys dream to continue.
God is in the cards, text messages, and phone calls from people who genuinely want to know what they can do to help and then actually do it whether it's fixing a light or watching my child or meeting me for coffee.
God has taken me out to lunch, invited me to yoga, had me over for dinner, taken me to the pool, or just hung out at my house with me.
And that is certainly not all. I could go on and on...

I have been absolutely blown away by the incredible outpouring of love and generosity that has been shown to me. As I write this, saying thank you just feels so inadequate to express the gratitude I feel towards each and every one of you, but I write this to try to articulate what you have meant to me. You have been God in flesh to me in my darkest hour, in my bottom of the ninth.
I don't know where God was that day at the beach. I'll never know. What happened was awful and senseless and I do not believe that it was part of God's "plan." It just happened and the more I try to make sense of it, the more confused I get. I don't have an answer for where he was 37 days ago. But I have seen God every day since then because of the people around me. And so I say from the very bottom of my heart, Thank you.

Monday, September 16, 2013

September 22

Next Sunday, September 22 was a day I marked on my calendar 9 months ago that was supposed to be one of the best days of my life. Now as this date approaches, my heart is filled with heaviness knowing it will be just another day. Nine months ago I discovered I was pregnant and began the exciting yet challenging journey that ended in heartbreak 18 weeks later. Pregnancy did not necessarily come easy for me. Between the nausea, the fatigue and the raging hormones, the first several weeks were pretty tough. But that was all overpowered by the excitement of getting to be a mom. I've learned that women become mothers when they become pregnant, not when they give birth. I know I became a mother the moment I saw the flicker of my baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasounds screen at 7 weeks. I loved that little baby immediately. I still do.

On April 22, exactly 5 months from my due date, I had THE appointment scheduled. The one that expectant parents wait for with anticipation to find out whether the baby’s room will be pink or blue. I remember waking up that morning with excitement similar to that of a kid on Christmas morning. The look on the doctor’s face when she told me she couldn't find the heartbeat was another memory that will be forever etched in my mind. The next 48 hours were some of the worst of my life. I know there any many hurts greater than losing a pregnancy but I've never experienced them. This was, without comparison, the most painful thing I've experienced in my life. I am hoping that one day I will look back and see how God used this experience to strengthen me and grow my faith but sometimes it’s hard to see that “bigger picture” when you’re in the middle of it. I do feel like I've learned a few things so far along the way though, and I’d like to share my experience with others who might be on this same heartbreaking journey.

One thing I've realized is that miscarriage/pregnancy loss/whatever you want to call it (I don’t like that word miscarriage because I feel like it minimizes the loss, but I doubt there’s really any way to truly articulate the enormity of such a loss in one word) is extremely common. People don’t realize how common it is because nobody talks about it which can make a person feel very isolated. I think nobody talks about it because they just don’t know how to respond. Generally when a person dies, they have a face and a name; there are memories of that person’s life. There’s a funeral; crowds gather to remember and honor that person’s life. When that person happens to be an unborn baby, you don’t have that acknowledgement of her life. There are no memories, no proof she ever existed, just a gaping hole in my heart of what could have been. So her short life gets glossed over and quickly forgotten by most because she didn't get the opportunity to touch others’ lives the way she touched mine. She may not be acknowledged in this life the way I would want but I know that God made her and loves her and has called her home to be with Him. I have to remember that she is His child and when it comes down to it, that’s the only acknowledgement that really matters.

So, while life goes on, the hurt doesn't go away after 5 months, it probably won’t go away after 6, and I’d venture to say it may never go away entirely. Some days I want to be angry with God for taking her away from me. I don’t know if this was part of His plan, if He made this happen or simply allowed it. Sometimes I try to make sense of it but all that does is make my head hurt along with my heart. So I just have to trust that He does have a plan and that I don’t have to understand it. Maybe one day I will but I think that will probably be the same day I’m reunited with my baby girl. For now I just try my best to keep trusting. It’s not always easy and I don’t really know what that’s supposed to look like most days. But I've learned – or rather, I’m in the process of learning – that trust is a choice, not a feeling. It doesn't always feel good to trust God. There are still days when I’m sad and angry and want to curse at God or give Him the silent treatment like an obstinate teenager. But when I’m done throwing my temper tantrum He gently reminds me that He’s still in control. He also reminds me that I am His child, that He loves me even more than I loved my baby and while there’s still so many unanswered questions, that’s all I really need to know right now. And then He takes me by the hand and leads me back to the path of trusting Him. It’s all part of the journey and it’s not over yet. I don’t know how mine is going to end or where it will go next. I hope somewhere along the way God chooses to bless me with a child but for today I will choose to enjoy the many other blessings He has given me, which - when I’m able to take a deep breath and gain a little clarity - I realize are far too numerous to count.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Small Envelopes, Big Blessings

This year our Christmas was spent at my mom's house in Cary, North Carolina. We spent 3 days up there which is the longest I've been in my hometown in quite awhile. As I drove around Cary and neighboring Raleigh over those three days I became rather nostalgic as we passed by my elementary school, the street I grew up, the $1 movie theatre, the NC State Fairgrounds, Carter Finley Stadium where I spent many Saturdays cheering on the Pack, Meredith College where I spent my first two years of undergrad, my favorite Chinese restaurant, the trail I used to run on, and many other places that remind of the first 22 years of my life. Sometimes it's hard to believe that it's not my home anymore. That fact used to make me really sad. I'd always assumed I'd live in the Raleigh area, or at least nearby, my whole life. I was certain that's where I'd raise a family of my own. But God had other plans as He always seems to.
My plan was to attend graduate school at UNC in Chapel Hill where I got my undergrad degree. It is known as one of the best social work schools in the country and it's just down the road from my beloved Raleigh. I applied to other schools including UGA to be on the safe side, but I just knew I'd continue my education at UNC because I wanted it that badly.
It may be different now that everything is electronic, but then, when you received a college acceptance letter in the mail, you knew what it was before opening because the acceptance letter always comes in a big ol' envelope that includes all the info you need to prepare you for matriculation to your new school and of course the official letter of acceptance that often gets framed or put in a scrapbook. Rejection letters just come in a plain little envelope that is one page thick. When I got the small envelope from UNC, my hopes were crushed. I very clearly remember the painful disappointment that accompanied that small envelope.
Now I did get into UGA and I eventually got excited about moving to new city. But those first several years in Athens were tough. I missed Raleigh and was just biding my time until I was able to return. I graduated from UGA and started working for DFCS in Athens to fulfill the grant that paid for my degree in exchange for working for the state for 2 years. Before that 2 years was up I started looking for jobs in North Carolina. I sent at least 100 resumes to a wide variety of agencies for various positions, some of which were barely related to the degree I'd worked so hard for. The small envelopes started coming again. "Thank you for your interest in our company... the position has been filled by another candidate who was a better fit blah blah blah..."  I cried at each rejection and longed to return to North Carolina where it was familiar and comfortable, where people knew me, where all my memories were. I just wanted to go home. I had no idea I was already there.
On Christmas night as I was riding back home to Athens from North Carolina, I watched my husband as a he drove through the rain and thanked God for the small envelopes I've received in my life. I think of how badly I wanted things my way, how I longed for the familiar and the comfortable. If my wishes had come true, I wouldn't have met Andy and would have missed out on so many blessings God has had for me here in Athens. I am so thankful that God didn't give me what I wanted because His plans for me were so much greater. It's such an important lesson that I constantly forget when things don't go my way. I cry and pout and ask God why like an impetuous child. And He smiles at His child like a patient father, waits for me to quiet down, and gently reminds me that He wants to give me the desires of my heart if I'll just let Him. So as we face disappointments in our life, I hope we will remember that our plans usually fall through to make way for God's bigger and better plans. I wish I still had that rejection letter from UNC because I would definitely frame it to remind me that big blessings sometimes come in small envelopes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

There's Good Here Too

In the days that have passed since evil visited Newtown, Connecticut, hundreds - or probably more like thousands - of people have commented on this tragedy. I doubt I can say anything that hasn't already been said many times. Nonetheless, after what may perhaps be the most senseless act to occur in the United States in my lifetime, I can't help but feel compelled to share the thoughts that have been taking up space in my head over the past few days, whether anyone actually reads them or not.
I heard the news via text message while on the way to an appointment Friday afternoon. I heard bits and pieces of the story as it unfolded but I was the middle of my work day and I had to keep going and fulfilling my responsibilities. When I arrived home, I sat down on the couch and watched. I wept for the children and families hundreds of miles away who I've never met. In the days that followed we've all looked at the pictures of the young victims and been heartbroken. We've wondered how this could have been prevented. Politicians and pundits have argued about gun control while overlooking the much deeper issue of mental health. As a mental health professional who works with disturbed children, this national conversation infuriates me and I have to stop listening. But I'm not going to get on my soapbox about the lack of attention, care, and resources for mental health in our society. Liza Long, a mother of a child with mental illness, articulates this issue much more eloquently than I ever could from a perspective I can only hope I never fully understand. Her story can be found HERE.
As I've tried to wrap my head around what happend, what I really gathered from this event is the horrifying reality that we live in an evil world; and while I am devestated and heartbroken for the citizens of Newtown, if I'm completely honest, more than anything I am terrified for myself. I hope to be mother some day and it's scary to think I could bring a child into a world where I can't protect him or her from harm, a world that is filled with meanness, violence, and every vile thing. This past weekend I felt just absolutely, helplessly overwhelmed with this truth.
Then I went to my church, Athens Church, Sunday morning where we celebrated the end of our Be Rich Campaign where Athens Church partnered with Northpoint Ministries and several other churches across the country to give money, gifts, food, and time to charities that impact their communities. 100% of everything donated went directly to the communities. What does this have to do with Sandy Hook Elementary School? Nothing directly. But to me, this was a reminder that the reality of what happened at that school is only part of the truth. Yes, there is evil in this world, there's not way to deny that. But there is also good. If anyone actually takes the time to read this I hope they will also watch THIS VIDEO or go to HOWTOBERICH.ORG and see that there is a world full of people who are generous, loving, and kind. And more importantly, there is a Good, Gracious, and Loving God who cares about his children. This includes those killed last Friday AND it includes Adam Lanza. I can't make sense of what happened but I can cling to the hope that the love poured out during the Be Rich Campaign will not be confined to the holiday season but will multiple and spread throughout the world because with all the bad in the world, we've got to cling to the good.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The race marked out for me

Well, we did it. Andy and I both ran the Athens Half Marathon. The more amazing thing is that we did it with minimal training. Our training consisted of running when we felt like it and taking of advantage of an excuse to eat a lot of carbs. I fully expected to pass out halfway through. It didn't really start hurting until mile 10 though. Afterwards I felt like Barney on the episode of "How I Met Your Mother" where he ran the NYC marathon and then got stuck on the subway because his legs wouldn't work. My time was terrible, but I did it and I'm proud of that. I've considered myself a runner for about 14 years but the truth is, it's been about 3 years since I've really been a regular runner. I remember the first time I ran when I was not being chased or forced to by a PE teacher. The first time I ran because I, of my own volition, chose to run was in the eight grade. I joined the track team. It did not last long. I was NOT a natural runner, not at all. In elementary school, we had to do the mile run each year in PE class. I dreaded it with everything in me. I was always one of the last to finish. I don't think I ever ran the entire mile. A whole mile was just so long to run. I'd walk across the finish line along with the other chubby and out of shape kids that unfortunately have become a large percentage of the young population in America. At some point I decided I didn't want to be that kid anymore. So I started walking. I walked everywhere. If I wanted something from the store, I walked. If I wanted to go to the library or to a friend's house, I walked. In eighth grade when I tried to translate my walking into running on the track team, I gave up very quickly. I was slow and my competitive nature kept me from participating in a sport that I wasn't good at. That's when I began solitary running. I liked it because I could go at my own pace and not compare myself to everyone who was faster than me.
I became confident enough in my abilities to give track another try in the ninth grade. I wasn't the best and I wasn't the worst. My race was the 400 (I don't remember if that's yards, meters, or what.) One of my favorite memories of my big brother David is from that time. My family didn't have a lot of money and could not afford nice brand name running shoes. I wanted running shoes like the other girls on the team but my sweet mother who always gave everything she could for her children simply did not have the money at that time. David was in college and waited tables for extra money. He decided he wanted to use his money to buy me a nice pair of track shoes. He picked me up early from school one day and we went to the mall and got me a pair of Adidas. That may not sound like a big deal but it meant so much to me.
 The following year I started running cross country which was more my cup of tea. I discovered that I actually liked running. Again, I wasn't the best and I wasn't the worst. The great thing about this team is that you didn't have to be great to be on it. You just had to be willing to run. I didn't exactly become a cross country star. I really did prefer solo running and that's mostly what I did. I love being able to put on some headphones, start moving my legs, and let the rest of the world disappear. I became a regular runner for several years.
About three years ago, life became just too stressful and busy and I could not find the time or energy to keep up with my regular running regime. I took a break from running expecting to return to it quickly and easily. I've not really gotten back into a regular habit of running since. I miss it but there just always seems to be a reason not to do it. I still run sporatically but it's just not like I used to.
In April of this year my sister-in-laws and best friend ran a 10K in Charleston, South Carolina. I decided it was time to get going again. I made plans to train but didn't follow through. But when I got to the race, the addrenalin kicked in and I ran it. I remembered how much I love the sport. After that I signed up for the Athens Half Marathon with high hopes of training that I again didn't follow through with. I don't recommend this, but my schedule is just not conducive to a strict training regime. Is that just an excuse? Maybe, but it's an excuse I'm okay with. I probably won't do another half-marathon any time soon and will probably never do a full marathon which was once a goal of mine. I realized I just want running to be something I enjoy, not something else I have to do. I've never been a running star and I've accepted that I never will be. Good-bye competitive nature of mine!
As I was trying to make it up the last hill of the race and felt like I was dying, Hebrew 12:1-3 kept going through my head: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverence the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. For the joy set out before him, he endured the cross scorning it's shame and sat down at the right hand of the father. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Maybe I won't win any marathons, but there is a much more important race that I'm in. I'm not the best and I'm not the worst, but I will run the race with perseverance and I will finish victorious. And I might hit a 10K every now and then while I'm at it.

Me and Andy pre-race. We didn't take a post-race pic which is probably a good thing.

I like that everyone got a medal whether you finished first, last, or somewhere in the middle

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Life's a Garden. Dig It

About a year ago, Andy informed me that we were going to grow a vegetable garden, at which I smiled and agreed to because when the boy has his mind set on something, it's near impossible to steer him in any other direction. He told me how great it would be to have a garden, how fresh vegetables are so much better than store-bought. I humored him and followed his direction when it came to planting this garden he was so determined to have. It just seemed like a lot of work and I was not expecting any results.

I was right and wrong. It was a lot of work, but we got HUGE results. I couldn't believe how many vegetables we grew last year. I also did not expect to enjoy it so much, but I became completely enthralled with the entire experience from pulling weeds, to making tomato sauce from scratch with our home grown tomatos, peppers, and herbs (yes, I am a domestic goddess). It is very satisfying to work in the earth and then be able to see the fruits of your labor and enjoy a bountiful harvest. This year, when it came planting time, I approached it with a completely new attitude. My skepticism was replaced by excitement. I delighted in getting dirt under my fingernails as we prepared the soil and planted. Everyday when I get home from work, I immediately check the garden to see how it's grown or if it needs to be weeded or watered.   

I got to thinking about what attracts me to the whole gardening process so much. I've heard people make life metaphors about gardening and to be honest I have rolled my eyes and accused such people of being cheesy (heaven forbid!). But today, my less cynical (and yes, more cheesy) self draws great parrallels between my own life and the plant life that is quickly taking over my front yard. Both involve a lot of hard work. Before planting, we prepare the soil. This year we expanded the garden, so some areas have previously been planted, and some have not. The latter do not have the same luscious soil as the areas where we planted last year, because it only has the one year of preparation instead of two. Each year builds on the previous year and the longer we have the garden, the better the soil will become, as long as we continue to tend to it. That means tilling each year, a strenuous process, not just for us, but I'm sure for the soil as well. If the soil had feelings, I'm sure the tilling process would not be a pleasant one. But sometimes what is required to be healthy and strong is also painful or uncomfortable.

Our garden needs constant care and attention to make sure its basic needs are met (water, sunlight) and to protect it from outside harm such as weeds that steal its nutrients or bugs that attack directly. Obviously the plants that yield the best crops are those that are given the best care (duh). But what has been most intriguing to me is just how resilient Mother Earth proves herself to be again and again. Even the most neglected little plant can be brought back to life with a little TLC. We had strawberry plants that we left outside all winter in the freezing cold without watering once, and now they are absolutely flourishing. I've seen several plants I thought were dead gradually come back to life and bear beautiful fruit. And I've seen it happen in people's lives as well. There is no such thing as a lost cause. Not if you're willing to put in the effort to revive it anyway.

This past weekend marked my one year anniversary to my best friend and the love of my life. It has been a joy to share my garden (literally and figuratively) with him. It hasn't always been easy and I have no doubt there will be more hard times in the future. For the most part we are pretty good about tending to our marriage. We are usually on guard against the weeds of the world that hinder our growth. But there are times we get caught up in our busy lives and forget to water our marriage. Luckily it doesn't take us too long to realize it and get back on track. I pray that will always be the case. This past weekend we had an absolutely wonderful get-away at the lake to celebrate our marriage, and when we returned we had the first harvest of the year in the our garden. I look forward to many more harvests to come.