What 6 years of Grieving Has Taught Me

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I find this quote rings true during 6 years of grieving Ben and even during quarantine

Six years doesn’t seem like a lot, but to me if feels like a thousand lifetimes. And it also feels like a thousand lifetimes worth of lessons that I cannot begin to even touch the surface of writing about. But I thought I would write a few main lessons I’ve learned over the years that are actually applicable to quartine and grieving in general:

  1. Find the next best thing or next best alternative when things are hard. There is no getting around how everything just sucks right now in our world with COVID-19. Parties, weddings, graduations, and socializing has changed and is less than ideal for everyone. The thing that I’ve learned when this happens, especially as a parent, is to try and find a way to make it stink less. An example of this is my son’s birthday in July of this year. The night before his birthday he was crying because the playgrounds he is use to playing at are not open and he was missing seeing all his friends and having big get togethers. What I said to him was, “Honey I know that this is not what you pictured your 8th birthday being like but is there maybe one friend you want to invite and we can go somewhere and hang out and play?” He decided he did want to invite a friend to a park to play and hang out with on the day of his birthday.  We ate donuts, I got some snacks, and we had a simple play date in a park. And during that day other people dropped off gifts and visited our place while social distancing. It wasn’t ideal but it was better than doing nothing and having a birthday like that did make it stink less. And it helped my son learn that sometimes we can’t change how things are or escape it but we can do the next best thing or alternative.

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    The way to truly help our children through hard times is to help ourselves first. The more we help ourselves the better we can help them navigate through theirs.
  2. Find life giving things: Grief and loss ( and living during COVID-19)  drains you emotionally, mentally, physically, and even spiritually. That’s why it is so important to find and seek out life giving things because it replenishes the soul and the mind. After Ben died I bought myself a ukulele as a birthday present to myself and taught myself how to play. It has not only been life giving to me but has touched and given life back to others around me. Playing my uke has been a way to help me unwind and de-stress after long emotion filled days and a way to lift my spirits and my mind. 
  3. Find support and encouragement from safe people: The last thing we need when we are feeling down are people that minimize our feelings, call us names and tear us down, and who point out all the things they feel we are doing wrong or not doing enough of. I have experienced this first hand in the past and it makes healing a lot harder.  I realized the people I needed to allow into my close inner circle were people who were going to help lead me move towards healing not away. Tearing me down and being called names only led me away from healing and weighed me down even more so I let go of those relationships that didn’t help me in my healing. Uplifting words and prayers, a listening ear, and safe people willing to hang out or be with me on hard days has helped me so much over the years and has helped me get out from under the overwhelming days. 
  4. Identify and name the things that are different and how it makes you feel.  And example of this is when I go to weddings and parties and see all the parents and spouses together. It reminds me of the love I use to have and it makes me feel alone, weighed down, and saddened because I do not have that anymore. It can be very hard to be happy for others when my heart is constantly breaking and feeling pain. I do my best to smile and be emotionally and physically present to others but inside my heart can often feel both sad and happy all at the same time. I have found that its good to name what is hard and what I am feeling either in a  journal, to a friend, to my counselor, and process it. Naming the pain and the emotions attached to it helps process the pain better because it no longer stays stuck in my brain and sharing it with someone else keeps me from shouldering the pain alone. The more I can process out loud with people or the Lord or in my journal the more I can move through my grief and get to the other side of how I am feeling.
  5. Some days grief really does kill my spirit and I let it win. But not letting it win or get to me everyday is the key to moving forward  Overall, I feel like I am a pretty optimistic person and I am the kind of person that sees the glass half full but there are some days where I just don’t see the glass half full. There are days where all I see is darkness and I see no hope or light at the end of the tunnel. And I’ve learned its ok to have bad and dark days like that. But it’s also important to not let that remain the long term norm. When I start feeling like grief is winning I need to keep pressing into the Lord. And when I don’t have to strength or the will power to lean into the Lord I need to reach out to others to help me not give up in asking the Lord into my pain. I need both the Lord and a strong community around me to not let the grief kill my spirit in the long run. 
  6. Lean towards the pain not away from it: It’s so easy when we are faced with pain, especially if it is a lot, to run the opposite direction. It is also easy to feel so overcome by it that we stuff it instead. But in the end, that does more bad than good. It’s better to deal with it as it comes rather than stuff it for many years. Not dealing or facing the pain is like ignoring garbage within our hearts. If not dealt with or discarded it begins to cause havoc within our hearts and only accumulates over time and begins to leak out in our relationships and how we treat other people.  It hasn’t been easy to lean into the pain all these years, because to lean away from it is the easier option, but choosing to face it has only helped me. It has helped me grow in depths as a person and has helped me gain a deeper perspective of myself and and how to be there for others around me who go through hard or painful things.
  7. Ask,” What” and “How” not “Why” Questions: Asking why questions like, “Why do I have to go through this?” only perpetuates the pain and keep us from focusing on the situation at hand.  Instead the better questions to ask are: “What I am going to do about it?”and “Who will help me get to the other side of this?” These kinds of questions are the ones that drive us to solutions and drive us forward to help us get to the other side. They are also the questions that build our character and our resilience and provide us with tools in how to deal with future problems. I would like to share a visual image of this point. It is a drama I was a part of in 2015 of Jesus calming the storm. Here is the link to the: Boat Drama  In this drama the disciples began to be afraid and even angered at the storm and that Jesus was in the boat sleeping. This situation caused them to ask, “What am I going to do about it?” and “Who is in my boat?” May this be a reminder that who we invite into our boat of journeying life with and what we are going to do about it makes all the difference in getting to the other side of grief. 
  8.  If possible process your grief with a professional: I began processing and working through things with a counselor a little before Ben’s cancer diagnosis (about 7 years now). If it wasn’t for her counseling and spiritual direction over the years before, during, and after Ben’s death I would be an even bigger mess than I am today. Side note: Many people don’t realize grieving is not only mental, emotional, and physical, but there is also a spiritual side to grieving many people tend to forget to process. I feel like I have had the best of both worlds in having a licensed counselor but also one that helps me attack and address all the spiritual sides to grieving.  She has helped me face wounds and insecurities, given me tools in how to face and process my grief well, and she has helped me see how the Lord is involved in the process of grief and healing.  Doing this has helped me have a more balanced frame of mind mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And it’s also helped me to see the Lord when my emotions tended to cloud my ability or even the will to see beyond my pain and grief over the years.
  9. Being put in hard situations can be good for us: Over the years Ben’s death has helped me me learn things about myself I would never have known or pursued if I was not put there in the first place.
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    Me posing with my uke. I have posted some songs on my YouTube as well.

    After Ben died I bought a uke for myself and taught myself how to play, I installed a bidet in our upstairs bathroom on my own, I installed and put together a plastic storage container in our backyard. And now, being in quarantine has led me to creating my own YouTube channel. I didn’t create it to gain a huge following but I did it to more express my creative self and to find another way to stay connected to my kids in my class when we couldn’t be together. I have enjoyed posting fun things like how to make homemade play dough, how to make homemade slime, singing songs I sing with the kids in my class, and other things I find interesting and fun to do.

  10. Slow down as much as possible during trigger days. Trigger days are days of birthdays, anniversaries, and big milestones. I think over the years I’ve tried to fill those hard days with as many things as possible or busy myself and my son so we aren’t just sitting at home all sad. And for the first few years that is totally normal. But in the long run, there comes a time where slowing down and doing less is needed. Years of processing grief and milestones begins to build and accumulate over time and it takes its toll over the years even if they are filled with good memories. And during this 6th year I have found the value of slowing down and reflecting on what I’ve learned, what the Lord has been teaching me, and appreciating all the new and rich friendships I have made over the years. I took this whole week off  of work because not only does my son start school online on the same day that Ben died, August 13, but this year I was not able to go on a the annual trip I usually go on to grieve on my own and get a break from my son before he starts school. I’ve had to take my own advice of finding the next best alternative and the next best alternative of finding rest for myself for this trigger day was to not work the week my son started school. It’s not ideal but it’s the next best thing I could do during this time.

Those are the main things I have learned over the years.  I would rather have not had to experience and learn all these things and feel so much pain but I’ve learned that sometimes we cannot control the cards we are dealt with in life but must do the best we can with what we are given. Most days I feel like I can embrace it for the better but some days it can be so difficult. Grieving for 6 years has taught me that if I can get through Ben’s cancer and death, the hardest times in my life, I can get through anything now, even this current life during COVID-19.

I look forward to the day when life feels less like a crazy sci-fi movie: with masks, and visors, and constant cleaning and social distancing; and more normal: with hugs, and whole faces, and breathing fresh air when I go grocery shopping. Until then, finding the next best options during this time and taking one day at a time are the only things any of us can do until things get better.

Stay safe everyone and remember this too shall pass one day.

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This verse has often given me so much comfort over the years. It doesn’t take away the pain but it does help remind me that I am never alone and that the Lord never grows tired of us or our fears

Holding Onto Peace In the Middle of Chaos

So many things have happened since my last blog entry. I started dating someone in October 2019. I broke it off this February and realized it wasn’t a good fit in the long run and experienced my first adult break up since my late husband. And then this whole corona virus and quarantine and social distancing has thrown everything and everyone into a big mess of chaos.

All of these things, including the corona virus, is a form of grieving. There is denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. And like people say, nothing is linear when you are grieving a loss of something. Some describe it as a roller coaster but I feel like it’s more like a big ball of scribbles all tangled together like a bowl of spaghetti  and it’s hard to know what is up and what is down and how many feelings you are feeling at times.

This article goes into more depth of grief during corona: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief

For me, there was something about having someone care about my day, check in on me, pray for me when I was having a hard day, and go on dates with that was so nice to have again. And to not have that anymore is just really hard, especially at a time when I feel so isolated from everyone most of the day.  I have felt all those stages of grief with this break up and now this COVID-19 disrupts almost every area of the way I do life. It may not feel as extreme as grieving Ben but it is something I’m learning to acknowledge and talk to the Lord about. And I think it’s important for other people to also acknowledge the grief and feelings they may feel during this hard time so they can process it and move through it and get to the other side of it.

Periodically I read out of the Life Recovery Devotional: Thirty Meditations from Scripture For Each Step In Recovery by Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop. It is for people going through the 12 steps of recovery in AA. I am not an alcoholic but I have found I actually have a lot in common with people in AA and have found I relate to a lot of the themes of loss and desperately knowing I need the Lord for help in my life.

One of the entries that caught my eye recently (pg 16) is about having serenity despite powerlessness. It talks about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and how she accepted the invitation of becoming the mother of our Messiah. She invited the chaos into her life but she trusted that God knew how to help her through it. The verse that stuck out to me in the Bible reading of her story (Luke 1:26-56) is the verse that says, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” It made me think about what promises the Lord has given me during this crazy time. I wrote some down:

  1. l will never leave you
  2. I will take care of and provide all that you need (people around me have been so gracious to my son and I)
  3. I love you (nothing, even the corona virus, can separate me from the love and presence of God)
  4. I am seen by the Lord
  5. I am not alone

I think it is ok, and we need to, acknowledge all the uncertainties and grief that this corona virus brings up but we also need to let the Lord help us navigate each decision and each step we need to take to get through and to the other side of this hard season in all of our lives. He is bigger than this virus and he knows the best way to help each and every one of us. This corona virus will not last and things are changing daily but the Lord’s promises don’t. I want to focus on the certainty of the Lord and His promises not on the uncertainty of my circumstances.

Closing questions: How can we invite the chaos into our lives but not be overcome by it? What promises does the Lord have for you? What feelings of grief are you feeling during this time that you need to acknowledge and need to let the Lord help you through?

And ask: Lord what is this time of isolation for? My family? Myself? For the church? For other people?

 

The Most Perfect Match

When we are young and in love, like I was once, we think we have our whole lives ahead of us. We make plans. We say things like, “I’m so happy I get to spend the rest of my life with my best friend.”

That world shattered for me way too soon. Two years into our marriage  we got a shock of a lifetime and a diagnosis I didn’t expect I would ever hear until we were old and gray: Stage 4 colon cancer. Ben and I were one of the few couples of our college friends to get married so early on and there was almost no one who knew what it was like to be married or have a kid or what it was like to deal with terminal cancer. My life already felt chaotic in trying to adjust to having a young child in our lives but hearing that my husband had very aggressive cancer and that it was terminal and not curable was so devastating. My mind and my heart couldn’t even wrap around what everything meant.

And 14 months later I was faced with an even bigger shock of a lifetime, raising a 2-year-old son all on my own at the age of 29 years old without the love of my life and best friend I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with.

I never felt so alone in my entire life.

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Saying goodbye for the last time before they take him to the morgue.

My world got even lonelier after his death. There was not a single person or category I fit into. I didn’t fully relate with single people, single mom’s, divorced people. There were a few people who I knew that lost a spouse at a young age but no one close by or within my current community or social circles. And when I tried out two different GriefShare groups I was almost always the youngest person with mostly widows and widowers 60-years-old or older.

I even went to the online world of Widow/Widower FB groups. I was able to connect with other FB widow and widower groups with kids and even people my own age but the way they processed and dealt with their grief was often toxic, unhealthy, or lacked full healing of the body, mind and heart. I began to see that my choice to not only face the pain and lean into it with the Lord and combine counseling and spiritual direction and deep healing put me into an even smaller and more rarer category.

This summer I had a breakthrough of finding someone who does get EVERYTHING. Someone who I could fully relate with. Someone who understands me. Someone who sees the beauty  of my story and all of who I am and what I’ve processed. Someone who fully loves every single part of my heart. Someone who has walked me all through Ben’s cancer and death. Someone who has always been my perfect match a million times more than Ben was. That someone is the Lord. I fit in with the Lord. He is my new category.

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That is something that I am going to strive to hold onto on those days where I feel like no one gets it. Or when I go to events or birthday parties with couples and single people but no widows my age. I can remember that the Lord is with me. He is holding me in His arms. He is what makes myself and my family beautiful the way it is. He is proud of me and the woman/mom I am and what I am becoming.

I’ve realized that although I feel alone and in a category that no one my age gets, there are other places and other people who may feel alone and not fully known or seen too. People have experienced loss in a spouse leaving a marriage, abandonment in people or groups not being there when they needed it, emotional abandonment or loss in relationships, and so on. The beautiful thing about the Lord is that the Lord can heal and fill EVERY single kind of loss and abandonment that exists. He is the one thing that is unchangeable. Who gets it when no one else does. Who gets you. Who gets me. Who NEVER leaves. He is ALWAYS patient. Gentle. Kind. He is everyone’s most complete feeling of being known, seen and loved.

And when I asked the Lord what the name of the new category we are in together is called He told me, ” You are My Beloved.” He is the category that fits me the best.

And I hope other people understand that if there are places they are feeling alone in or not seen or fully understood that the Lord gets it. He is the only one who understands all those thoughts and feelings we can never put to words or describe because He feels them right alongside of us. He has walked every single part of our lives with every single one of us. He sees all of us as His beloved. He is everyone’s best fit. He is everyone’s most complete category to fit into. He is everyone’s complete and perfect match.

4 Year Reflections: Embracing the New Normal

Ben’s death felt a lot like that image in the movie Inside Out where Riley’s world  completely crumbled to pieces when she moved. Everything that was familiar and comfortable was destroyed when Ben died as well.

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I remember people saying that I would find a new normal. “What the heck did that mean?” I thought. I didn’t want to find a new normal! I wanted the old life that died with Ben.

But slowly year after year, piece after piece, step after step, journal entry after journal entry, and many spiritual direction and counseling sessions later I’ve made it to the other side of grief.

August 13, 2018 marks 4 years without my late husband. These are the top three I’ve been reflecting on lately:

  1. Be around life-giving things and life-giving people. One of the best things I could have ever done for myself is surround myself with things that give my heart joy and to be with people who encourage, support, and value my heart and my feelings. Healing from loss, especially traumatic loss like mine, takes up a lot of energy (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually).  Life giving things have been things like: being in nature, taking dance classes, and doing artsy things. Life giving people have been people who cry with me, who let me process my pain, who help babysit Ezekiel when I really need it, and people who were patient in giving me space and time to heal.  I found the more I was around things and people that gave me joy the easier it was to heal and to eventually find joy in the present.
  2. The Lord is my comfort as I miss Ben.  I’m learning that all the ways Ben was my best friend, companion, how he talked with me about my day, how he would help me make day-to-day decisions, how he would be my cheerleader when I was having a rough day, are all roles that the Lord can be for me now. While nothing can replace a husband I’ve learned that finding and seeking those things in the Lord rather than jumping into a new relationship to fill the void is what is most needed in my grieving process.
  3. I am right where the Lord wants me to be. People have told me I’m probably doing something wrong or not going to the right places when meeting other singles and dating in general. But I’ve been listening the Lord all along and He has guided me through the dating process and helped me filter through hundreds of people. And then I finally realized that how can I be doing something wrong if it has been the Lord who is guiding me all along? I look at how the Lord guided me to my new job and to my new place and have experienced what it feels like to truly be in places that fit me and my desires and it has given me hope that the Lord leads and aligns things perfectly if we just wait and listen to where He is calling us to go.

I realize now that grief will forever be a part of my life but it can be one of not just sorrow but one of beauty, grace, hope, love, peace, and a deeper value of the fragility of life and the ones still in it. Life is unpredictable and the people who stay in it as well. The key is to embrace what is right in front of you in the present. I may not have my late husband in my life anymore but I have an amazing son to raise, supportive parents and siblings, caring and understanding friends, a wonderful job, and new place to be renting.

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There is a balance that I’m constantly juggling these days. Grieve the past. Embrace the present. And look forward to the future. The chapter of my late husband ended but the rest of my life is yet to be written.

 

Tips In Helping Kids Grieve Loss

Losing my late husband at 29 years old was the hardest thing I have ever experienced in my entire life. Losing Ben was like losing a limb. It changed my whole way of doing things and seeing things forever. I didn’t think I could ever get through it, let alone help a little 2-year-old in his terrible twos get through it as well.

Grieving is messy, hard, and painful but I’ve learned that it doesn’t mean it gives me an excuse to shut the world out forever, especially my son. My son still needs guidance and he still needs love.

An earlier blog post called, Helping My Son Grieve Starts With Me talks a little bit of my own personal journey and how in order to help him I had to learn to help myself first.

FYI I have had days where I completely throw ALL the rules I mentioned below out the window and have said the very things I mention not to say. I myself have said things like, “Stop crying!” I have learned to face my shame of what I did, admit it to my son, ask for his forgiveness, and then and try to remember each day is a new day to do things better the next time. And then I try to go back to these tips as many times as I can remember or am capable of doing.

All these tips can give people starting points and ideas in helping kids grieve death and even everyday losses. Let me know in the comments if you have other things that have helped you or need advice on. I do not claim to be an expert on helping kids navigate grief and loss but I have learned a lot these past 4 years that has helped me and hopefully can help you and others too:

  1. We have a saying in our family of two that is, “How you feel matters.” Grief can cause adults and kids to feel some raw emotions, especially in the beginning stages of dealing with  the death. I have encouraged my son to identify how he is feeling and that whatever he is feeling is ok to feel. What Not To Say: “Stop crying.” Or “That shouldn’t make you feel sad.” Instead Say: “I’m so sorry you feel that way right now. What was happening that caused you to feel that way? “ If my son is crying and missing his dad I  put my arms around him and say, “I miss your dad too. We are in this together. I’m here for you.” Sometimes emotions and feelings just don’t make sense and kids tend to grieve sporadically and then they are done. But the most important thing I learned was to acknowledge whatever he had to process and help him deal with it in healthy ways. It’s ok to have intense emotions but not to express it in a way so as to manipulate other people.
  2. Let him feel emotions with safe boundaries. My son was usually a calm little kid but sometimes he would try to throw things and try to break it. What Not to say:Stop throwing that!” Saying things like that actually doesn’t help him learn anything. It’s merely giving him a command but not helping him learn the proper way to handle things when he has extreme emotions.  Instead Say: “When you throw things you might break it and that is not the way we treat our toys. If we break our toys we cannot play with them and then no one can enjoy them later.” If he tried to run and pick it up again and throw it across the room I would take it away and say, “If you cannot follow my instructions of how throwing our toys is not ok then I am putting it away until you can play with it correctly.” I never wanted my son to feel that he couldn’t feel things but I did want him to learn that hurting people (physically and emotionally) and things is not ok. When he seemed to calm down I would ask him what he was feeling. Usually something triggered him missing his dad and he said he was angry or sad about it. From there we were able to talk and process it together and think of other ways to express sadness or anger instead of throwing. 
  3. It’s important to learn when to table conversations for later. When he was kicking and screaming it was not the time to have in depth conversations of life lessons or how he needs to make different choices next time. I would tell my son, “We will talk when you are more calm and are not yelling at mommy.” Talking when my son was calm was the time I could discuss things and we could both hear what we both had to say about the incident. And if he was crying and wanted to be left alone. I would say things like:“Let me know when you are done crying and want to talk and be with me again.” Having space to process things on his own was important but I also wanted him to know I was here when he needed me to step in again.
  4. Just be there and be present. As my son got older he began to express the difference he saw in our family compared to his friends. I remember him saying how hard it was to see his friend play with his dad at a bounce place during a birthday party. My son expressed  how he wished he had a dad to play with him at the birthday party. I wanted to say,  “Am I invisible? I was at that party too! I played with you at the bounce place!”  But I realized it wasn’t about me. I knew deep down that he appreciated me playing with him but that day he was realizing the void that he felt in not having a dad to play with him like his friend. As hands on as I am, nothing replaces the presence of a dad. Instead I told him, “Yeah that must have been hard to watch honey.  I’m sorry you have to go through that. It was hard for me to see all the dads playing with their kids too. I know your dad would have loved to jump with you at the bounce place if he were still alive. “ My son not having a dad is not fixable but I can validate the reality of how things are hard without a dad and join and comfort him in what he is feeling.
  5. It’s ok to let your kids see how you handle some of your emotions. I remember the first time my son got really sick I broke down and cried. He asked me why I was crying and I said, “This is really hard for me without your dad. I have to get up every few hours to give you your medicine and I don’t have your dad to take turns with me in the middle of the night anymore. I’m going to be ok but I’m just really sad right now.” I remember my son giving me a great big hug. And it made me realize that I needed comfort when I was sad just as much he did when he was sad. I learned it was ok to talk about what was hard for me too.  I cried for a few minutes in front of him and then I tucked him into bed and stayed with him until he fell asleep. And later in my own bed, I prayed and cried out to the Lord about how much I was hurting and for Him to comfort me. I did feel comfort and peace but I still ended up practically crying myself to sleep that night. I’ve learned that in instances like that it was ok for him to see some of my sadness but he didn’t have to see all of it. I think it’s healthy for him to see some of my emotions because it teaches him that even adults can struggle with the things as well. And when I model how I struggle or have different emotions and deal with them in healthy ways in front of him it is reinforcing what I am trying to teach him. Sometimes the best way for our kids to learn how to handle feelings and emotions can be watching the way we handle our own feelings and emotions.

A really helpful book that goes more into detail of being there for our kids is called How To Really Love Your Child by D. Ross Campbell, MD. It talks about how giving eye contact, appropriate physical touch, and focused attention is really important in the everyday lives of our kids. And when I was grieving myself those things were not always easy to give to my son but I learned if I could at least attempt to do those things most days it caused tantrums and meltdowns to go down significantly. And it does help my son feel loved. And love is the bottom line of what all kids need, especially when a parent dies.

Overall, I think the more I knew how to deal with my grief and work through it the more I was able to help him. And as my son gets older he begins to ask more questions and understand deeper layers of what it means to not have a dad. My hope is that since we have a strong foundation now of him coming to me when he is struggling with feelings or grieving his dad he will continue to do that in the years to come.

For me, I’ve learned that some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned have come from helping my son navigate through his grief. Life does’t always go the way we want it to, but we can learn to process the pain AND find the beauty in the alternative. And I’ve also learned that grieving is not something you have to do alone. We can get through it together.

A Different Kind of Goodbye

Saying Goodbye To You

Saying goodbye to Ben when he died was like saying goodbye to him as a person. For the first few years I had to say goodbye to all that he was to me. He was my best friend and wonderful husband, my love, my cheerleader when I doubted myself, my comfort at the end of the day, my assembler of confusing IKEA furniture, my plus one, the one to remind me when I needed to rest or take a break, an amazing father to our child, my artistic partner, and so much more.

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I was fortunate enough to stay in the same house that Ben and I found together before he died. We moved into a townhouse in February 2014 and he died in August 2014. The townhouse we found was spacious, practical, and ideal at the time. But three years after his death that began to change.

As grief became less intense it’s like the scales on my eyes fell off and I was able to really see the house and the way I arranged things in a different way. I unpacked and put things away mostly by myself as Ben slept most of the days and sometimes whole weekends because of chemo. During that time my mind was on overload and not able to think through things clearly, so many things were put in odd or hard to reach places.

The summer of 2017 I began to rearrange my kitchen, purge many baby items and baby clothes, and things Ben picked out for me but I never really loved. Getting rid of those things began this process of saying goodbye to Ben in a different way.

Things were pushed to a new level when my landlord verbally threatened that my son and I had to be out of the townhouse in 30 days in October 2017 for reasons that didn’t even make sense.

Our landlord never did send the written 30 day notice but it began the process of asking the Lord if the townhouse was still the place for us to be. It turns out He did have a better place in mind and He led me to a place that I would have never have found if I wasn’t listening to Him as I was driving around after work.

Saying Goodbye To The Old Me

I had to start sorting through the whole house and garage and decide whether to keep, donate, or store. This was not a goodbye to Ben as the person anymore. But this time it was a goodbye to the person I was. A goodbye to who we were together. A goodbye to the dreams we shared together. A goodbye to my past life. A goodbye to things I had learned to love or tolerate. It was a goodbye to all the ways I was an amazing wife and partner to someone.

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All the boxes in the new place
The realization you are not a couple anymore is not an immediate process. Your brain knows what it means but it is the heart and the emotions that still feel connected that takes time to process and let go of.

Three years later I now feel mentally and emotionally not married to Ben. It is a strange thing to say or explain but a huge milestone to realize and to embrace for myself. I now see Ben as my late husband as in the past and embrace the new current single me today.

Saying Hello To The New Me

Saying goodbye to who I was is emotional but it has been a beautiful exchange at the same time. As I have learned to say goodbye, I have also learned how to say hello to the new me. Hello to a deeper and wiser person. Hello to being more compassionate and more understanding. Hello to a new style of clothing fashion. Hello to a stronger and braver person than I ever thought could exist apart from Ben. Hello to a new perspective on life. Hello to new communities of people who are willing to sit in my pain and healing journey. And most of all a hello to a deep-rooted faith and understanding in a God I could have never known without Ben’s death.

I have this vision of my life with Ben being like living in a beautiful house. When he died it was like a terrible storm tore every single last bit of the house to shreds and all that was left was ashes. The only thing left standing was the solid foundation the house was standing on and me in tears with our son in my arms. The Lord represents my solid foundation that holds me up when all else fails me. This has not taken away my pain or grief but it has made me realize that even though it seems like everything around me may seemed destroyed or lost He never changes, moves, or passes away. He remains the one thing that remains in my life forever.

 

Grieving Is About Letting Go and Forgiving

One of the first things most people do when a loss happens is they go through the stage of “why.” 

“Why did this happen to me?”

“Why did this happen to someone so young?”

“Why did they have to die?”

And then people go through the “if only stage”

“If only I would have seen the signs.”

“If only I would have not lost my temper the day they died.”

“If only they would have told the doctors sooner.”

All of these stages should not be suppressed and all of these stages are actually needed to get though grief. Why? Because asking these questions are part of the process of working through grief. The things that we think and the things that we feel in grief doesn’t always make sense but that is not the point. The point is to let things come to the surface. The “why’s” and the “if only’s” really have to do with our hearts being hurt and  being in pain.

Too many times I see believers skip through acknowledging the pain and go straight to praising the Lord that their loved ones are not suffering and they will see them one day in heaven.

It is great to know that we will see our loved ones again but it is not truly comforting to our hearts when we miss our loved ones. We miss having their presence in our lives and we miss the ways they were a part of it. And grieving this part matters! These stages need to be processed and they need to be grieved. Acknowledging these things are needed to work through the chaos. We have to start somewhere and sometimes that means being really raw for a period of time

But eventually grief takes on a different stage. There is a part of letting go. I had to come to grips with how much I was not in control of. Yes, I can get to make my own choices but I have no control of the outcomes or the other people around me.

For me, I felt angry I didn’t see the signs of how sick my late husband really was. When I think back on our dating and even early marriage there were little warning signs that seemed more like personality traits than major health problems. I thought it was just a personality trait of his when he would sleep so much during the day. I thought it was because he was such a chill guy that liked to relax. I thought all his stomach pain was because he stuffed himself too much at meals.

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My late husband’s nickname was BBQ Ben because he loved to BBQ meat so much
My late husband chose to not find out why he slept so much throughout the day. He chose to ignore his stomach problems. He chose to ignore problems with his bowel movements. He chose to ignore and suppress his emotions that caused harm to his body. He chose to ignore a lot of other things I probably was not even aware of leading up to his stage 4 colon cancer. The doctor said with Ben’s condition he probably had the cancer for about 10-15 years. All of these things and countless other things that led to his death were his responsibility NOT mine.

Grieving is not only about letting go it’s also about forgiving.

Forgiveness is about bestowing grace upon another person and to stop feeling angry or resentful for a flaw or a mistake they made. Forgiving another person is to give grace to the things you couldn’t control and wish the other people who you felt wronged you well and give grace to that debt.  If your loved one had an addiction they died of you eventually have to let go of your own anger toward them so you can be free of resentment and accept that they chose into it not you . If a doctor messed up with a surgery that may have saved your loved one’s life you eventually have to wish them well and bestow grace and peace upon their future. If after your loved one died there were friends that stopped inviting you to things you have to forgive the fact that you couldn’t control their choice they made and wish them well. You can still acknowledge how people hurt you and still forgive them and then wish them well.

But sometimes the hardest part of forgiveness is about forgiving yourself and giving grace to yourself for the choices you made or the things you were unaware of but not responsible for in your loved one’s death.

And for me, I am the hardest person to forgive. I realize now that most of the things I’m angry about  Ben’s death are things that were never my responsibility to keep or to hold onto.

I had to sort out what my husband was responsible for and what I was responsible for. I let go of things that were out of my control and responsibility and gave it to the Lord. The things I was responsible for, the Lord and I worked on together. And we continue to work on as they come up to the surface. The Lord calls me to be diligent with what he puts before me and accept what I can and cannot control. And to me, that has been so freeing and so comforting in my grieving process. It takes the burdens that were not mine to bear off of me and the ones that are mine can be  joined and worked on with the Lord.

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Our responsibility is to find out what hinders or blocks us from the Lord, have space to process it, and eventually be freed from it. Because of the Lord I can be free from the guilt I felt of maybe not doing enough when Ben was alive. I can be free from hiding how I really feel from the Lord. I can be free of carrying burdens on my own. I can be free to face all that life throws at me with the Lord. We have faced one of the hardest things life can throw at us and we have gotten through it together. It has given me hope on my hardest days of being a young widow and raising a son on my own. It has given me strength when I feel like I have none. And to me, that has made all the difference.

 

 

The Many Stages of Grief

14 Months of Cancer Grief:

For 14 months I had worked tirelessly with a vast majority of people, churches, and my own family in keeping Ben alive. My days consisted of making Ben his special juice recipe: kale, carrots, aloe vera juice, green apples, beets, ginger. Both Ben and I kept working and tried to keep our old routine as normal when everything was not normal. Inside Ben’s body was slowly killing itself. And slowly the man I married was deteriorating before my eyes.

Yet when you are in the midst of so much changing and so much deteriorating your mind doesn’t have enough time to register what is fully going on. My mind went on survival mode. The days that I realized what was happening I would break down and cry and get so angry at fighting such a horrible and aggressive cancer with my husband at the beginning of our marriage. By time standards we were newlyweds with a young child but cancer wise it fast forwarded our life experience to what people usually experience at the end of your lives with their spouses.

He had the body of a 28-year-old but the cancer of an elderly person.

The first year of widowhood:

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This art piece is called “Widow” by Susan MacMurray. It has a leather underlay and over 100,000 dress maker pins. It represents the pain and jabs a widow feels as she grieves and how every little thing can be painful.

I was completely spent; spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically. My whole world crumbled like a piece of glass to a million pieces. Yet when someone dies you cannot rest. There is a myriad of widow tasks you have to carry out. Things like notifying social security, obtaining the death certificate, changing medical insurance (when a spouse dies insurance expires at the end of the month they died), finding out if there is any life insurance, planning the memorial service, deciding whether to cremate or bury your spouse, and so on.

Since my son was only 2-years-old when Ben died the smartest thing I did was keep my son in his toddler class at my work so I could spend the first three months doing all the widow tasks. It was important that at least his schedule was kept as normal as possible.  I was grateful that my son was in such great hands at his school and that he would be cared for so he wouldn’t be stuck with me all day. It was like being a chicken with it’s head cut off. I just felt so crazy and felt I was running around getting things done but never made a dent in all the paperwork and tasks that needed to get done.

I don’t think I officially finished everything last bit of it until 2 years later.

The first year or two I was grieving Ben as best I could while trying to get all the widow tasks done. I missed him not being there. I missed not coming home to someone. I missed not being able to process or talk with my best friend. I missed not seeing Ben with our son.

Although I am pretty introverted I tried to do so many things. I remained on the worship team at my church I helped plan a few artistic pieces, I was a part of the Urbana15 performing arts team. I spent a lot of days at my parents for meals because I just couldn’t cook for myself most days.

The second to third year of widowhood:

That is when a different kind of heaviness appeared. It’s like I was lost in this big ocean with thick fog and then the fog finally clears. My mind caught up to all the 14 month  cancer journey, the widow tasks all complete, and it’s this new settling into the new normal. And all of a sudden all the things I was doing with people and the groups I was involved in through church just didn’t work anymore. It’s like taking the red pill from the Matrix. My widow mind finally woke up and reality set in and realized it was tired. It was like my body finally started grieving too. If my body could talk it would have said something like, “Whoa slow down. I have endured a lot these past couple years.”

I found I didn’t need people as much. I started to get a better routine down. I didn’t have to go to my parents as much for meals. My son and started new traditions and new way of living on our won.

Yet being alone with all my thoughts and a new awareness of reality settling in was a daunting reality withing  itself.

Grief accumulates over time. Like tiny snowflake it grows into a big snowball. And I have been feeling the huge snowball of grief. It is no longer the heavy grief of missing Ben as much but the heavy reality grieving of knowing I can raise my son on my own but the tiredness of doing a two person job gets exhausting day in and day out.

Helping Someone Else Grieve While Still Grieving Myself:

This year I have had two friends lose spouses suddenly. That is when a new side of my grieving really set in. I was no longer the one with the freshest grief. It’s a lot like when a new baby or sibling comes into the family and you realize you are not the baby anymore.

And all the things that I have learned from grieving and letting the Lord guide me through it all seemed it had a purpose in knowing how to be there for someone else.

I began to see why it might be easy to shut down when you see a friend under so much grief. Grief pushes up against our own wounds. It pushes up against our feelings of inadequacy and shame and not being good enough or knowing enough. It pushes up against memories of our own loss or our comparisons of how another person’s loss is greater than our own and how we cannot relate.

So, what do most people do? All this causes a lot of people to shut down and ignore a grieving person.

Or it can be the opposite for some people. They actually care for a grieving person but stuff their own needs and think their needs are nothing compared to what the grieving friend has to go through.

In both situations the friend not under the huge loss needs to first let the Lord into what they are feeling. That is what I found myself doing for my friends who recently lost their spouses. It is important to first let the Lord tend to how their loss was hitting me and what wounds or painful memories started coming up.

I let the Lord bring up the wounds and painful memories it brought to me when Ben first died and how I felt. He brought up new things to consider and new things I had missed when Ben first died and that I didn’t see because I was so caught up in missing Ben. Doing this step with the Lord allowed me to know how to help my friends better. I could hear what the Lord wanted me to do more clearly. I asked the Lord, “Lord what do they need in their particular situation?” Many times it was just to listen to my friend or invite them to things. Many times I watched as my friend looked so tired and remembered how tired I was and would ask my friend if she needed me to watch her kids so she could rest.

It is not easy to face your own wounds or memories but I have found that when I do it with the Lord helping my friend is easy. She doesn’t need me to fix her problems but to join her. The Lord is already with my friends who are grieving I just need to let the Lord tend to my heart and then guide me in how to be there for them. It’s less about doing but just joining with the Lord’s heart and where He already is with the grieving person.

 

Reflecting on My 20’s Compared to My 30’s

In my 20’s:  When I was in college I went to a Christian college but got involved with InterVarsity (IV) at CSUF right away as a freshmen. I felt I fit in much better in the environment of IV because almost everyone was single, which was almost the complete opposite of people at my Christian college. And when you don’t date or have a bf all through your years at a Christian college you REALLY stick out and feel left out of place.

Ben was my small group leader in IV for awhile and I got to build our relationship and get to know who he really was and his character without the pressure of dating. I was 23 and a half when I started dating Ben at the end of my super senior year in college.

In college everyone was pretty much in the same life stage. We all had similar schedules and school breaks. There was this sense of collective community of figuring ourselves out together, being lost at times, stressed out about finals, and so on.

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In My 30’s: I really have had the ultimate life changes you can have after graduating. I got married at 25 (few months shy of 26), got pregnant about 6 months later, Ben was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer about 2 and half months after our 2nd wedding anniversary, and died 3 months after we celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary. I was 29 years old when he died. And a few days before he died the nurses were trying to transfer him into a nursing home. That was surreal looking at nursing homes with my parents to pick where my husband was going to die. After his death I had to plan the memorial service, pick out his urn, and I had to contact a sea of people to notify about his death and fill out tons of paperwork, and raise a young 2-year-old.

For me, feeling ready to date meant I not only had to deal and process all the craziness I mentioned above but I really had to face all the old insecurities I had in college and being single again with the Lord. The feelings I felt then I still felt after he died. And healing from the same hurts means going back to the source of where the hurt started.  And that? That was quite a process:

  1. I decided to go back to the feelings of insecurity I had or times I felt awkward or overlooked by guys and ask the Lord about it.

“Was I awkward or was that something I told myself?”

“Why did I feel awkward?”

“The time I felt alone and out of place at a table with couples at my Christian college how were you seeing me then? ”

“What lies of me telling myself I was awkward, not pretty, not attractive need to be replaced with how You felt about me and what was the actual truth?”

2. I also had to process the lies and new insecurities I felt in the present I have had to ask the Lord about:

“It was already hard enough to find someone when it was just me now I have a child. How many guys can handle or be mature enough for that?”

“I have such a deep connection and have experienced so many life experiences of life and death that even my parents haven’t even gone through yet. Who is going to appreciate or even value what I have gone through?”

“How can I acknowledge that I am complete in my life as a single person yet still continue to ask to You about finding someone and get married again?”

“Where are You working and what do else do You want me to learn in my single state again?”

The main things I find being difficult about dating in my 20’s compared to 30’s are:

  1. The difference of life stages: Since college I have been married and had a son and dealt with a death. So, I am not just single. I am not just married. And most people my age either haven’t gotten married, are married or married with kids, a few divorced, but none have experienced losing a spouse to cancer.
  2. The ability to find and meet new guys:In college it’s easy because we are all in the same place and I could watch and observe people in person. After college most of my guy friends have moved away or have gotten married. And there are not many places to meet quality guys when you have a child and work schedule.
  3. I have gone on a few dates but dating as a single mom is tricky: I have to plan ahead to have someone watch my son. Most of my daily energy goes toward taking care of him so it’s hard to find enough energy to plan and  meet a new person. Date night with my husband was easy. I already knew him and my day to day needs were, for the most part, being met. Being both mom and dad is takes quite a toll day to day.

With all that I have processed. I have found the dating world to be quite discouraging. I have tried Bumble, Match.com, Widow and Widowers (too many widows 45 and older), Christian Mingle, EHarmony, and many others until I settled on Coffee Meets Bagel.

I know that the probability to find someone on the same deep faith and deep connection I have with the Lord is one in a million. But so far the majority of guys online say they are Christian but when I actually talk to them they don’t have a very deep faith or even an interest of going deep. Or when there is a person that seems deep they never contact me back or shut down when I even mention I am a widow. Online makes it hard because you can only tell so much. I prefer meeting people in person but as I mentioned above it is tricky because dating means planning ahead and much more complicated than when I was younger and didn’t have a kid.

There is a fine line of not being too picky and giving people a chance. Even if I don’t like a profile or think a guy might be too shallow I talk to the Lord about each one and ask what He thinks. That has been very helpful and some people have actually surprised me when I start talking to them.

People say I am young and can marry again. This is true but finding a quality person is much harder than you would think. I have tons of guys liking me everyday on  online dating but most are shallow, they don’t know what they really want, not much life experience or maturity in valuing mine. I have a feeling I probably will not find a quality person that is mature enough to handle or value all that I have been through online but I continue to ask the Lord to bring this person if they are even out there or to guide me to opportunities to meet that person.

It is definitely a take each day at a time kind of season. A lot trusting. A lot of hoping. A lot of waiting. And a lot of resting in my  completeness in  the Lord as a single person again as well.

 

 

 

How to Join In Someone’s Pain When You Feel Pain

The Problem

I think one of the hardest things of being in extreme pain of losing Ben is that it is has made me feel useless in joining other people when they are in pain. Most of the time when people share with me what is going on in their lives I honestly think to myself, “Yeah but you have a husband at the end of  a hard day” or “Yeah but your suffering of being a single parent while your husband is gone is only temporary, mine is permanent! My son doesn’t have a dad nor is it something that will ever change unless I get married again. If that ever happens (different blog post for a different time).”

It has taken me about 2 and half years to sort this out with the Lord and other people. And even now I still feel the Lord is still speaking and talking to me about this. So, I do not claim to have found all I need to learn about my gift. I still have a LONG journey ahead of me. I feel I have just hit the tip of the iceberg of understanding my gift. And I would like to say I have had given more positive responses than negative to people but I haven’t. I usually don’t say the right thing even though I know what I should say.

My Spiritual Gift of Mercy

What has made feel absolutely useless in the in general is how the Lord has gifted me. One of my main gifts is the gift of mercy. It may sound strange to you if you do not have this gift but it is the ability to feel the Lord’s heart for someone else, to feel other’s emotions and yours.

Growing up I was told:

“Aimee you are too emotional!”

“Stop being so dramatic!”

“You need to pull yourself together your emotions are not helpful to people who are hurting right now.”

“Stay away from people you are letting your emotions get the best of you.”

My past response:

I became so overwhelmed by what someone was feeling or what I was feeling for them and I would get depressed. I believed what people said about staying away from people when they were hurting. So, most of the time I would stay silent, stay away, and suffer feeling the emotions by myself.

What the Lord has taught me about my mercy gift:

I have  learned how to have my heart tended to first. I can’t join people in their pain if I am not tended to first by the Lord.   I have learned to invite the Lord into how I am feeling and ask where He was and how He cares about my hurt and my pain. Emotions are indications of where our heart is. They are there to make us aware of how the Father is supposed to join us.

A picture the Lord gave me of my gift is that scene in X-men when Jean is destroying everything and no one can get to her because she is too powerful. The only person that  can get to her is Logan. He is the only person that can heal fast enough and get into the middle and source of the storm Jean is creating.

I asked the Lord why I am like Logan? He revealed that Logan can heal yet he also feels the pain of the storm like me. Yet instead of me healing myself, it is the Lord who does the healing. My job is to go straight into the storm with people while holding the Lord’s hand.  But before I do that I need to let the Lord sort out what are my emotions are, what are  Lord’s, and what are the other person’s. Because I feel everything I need to let the Lord protect my heart, I need to feel my emotions and other persons with the Lord, not apart from Him. Everything I feel needs to be filtered and be walked with the Lord.

The gift of mercy is usually the first encounter with the Father. Because what I feel for someone is also what the Father feels. I am merely a bridge to the Father.

This picture of being like Logan has given me a new admiration for my gift. My emotions make me strong not weak.  People have told me that I am not needed when I’m emotional when really it is quite the opposite. God created me to be right up close to a hurting person because sometimes what we really need when we are hurting is someone to come alongside us first.

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Part of becoming like a child is standing in how He has gifted us uniquely and without abandon or shame

Everyone Has The Gift That Reflects The Lord

My gift is only a small part of the Lord. Each gift is a like a mosaic of the character of God. We each hold a piece of who He is.  I reflect part of His heart and His emotions. I am meant to go into the storm and sit in the pain with a person. Some of the other gifts are also meant to come alongside a person in their pain but in their own unique way:

Wisdom: These people get how the problem can be solved, they are the ones who get Bible scriptures and references

Knowledge: They get to the root of the problem quickly, they see the root issue

Faith: These people are the ones who have an unwavering and supernatural faith and trust in the Lord no matter what circumstance, when others lose hope or don’t have faith they are usually the ones who can hope for others and who can remain firm in the Lord when others cannot

Administration: They understand how everyone’s gifts work together (maybe like a Professor X), They see the big picture, They see how things and people’s gifts can  be organized

Many of these gifts bleed together. I’m actually mercy and discernment and a little bit of knowledge and few others. And these are just a main list not every gift. But do you see how each of these gifts are needed in the battlefield of life? All of them matter and all of them have their time and place to be helpful as the Lord guides each gift. And all of them also need to be filtered and walked and processed with the Lord.

The Lord longs to heal this hurting world but He wants to do it through “the body of Christ” meaning us!

The more we seek to understand ourselves and how God has gifted each of us uniquely the more we can move into bringing His kingdom to this world and bring justice, healing, and reflecting the Lord’s love more clearly.