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.

abandoned aged architecture black and white

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.

beach woman sunrise silhouette

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.

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.

188430_502636946063_8471_n
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.

Unknown-1

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.

 

 

Someday But Right Now

Sometimes I feel like when I share my story about Ben’s cancer and death it makes people feel that what they deal with in their own lives is nothing compared to what I went through or continue to live. And then people feel they can’t complain or can’t be sad about what they are going through.

However, the reality is, that whatever struggles you are  going through, big or small, doesn’t make it any less of value or importance to God compared to mine. How we feel and  what we go through ALL matters to God!

God gave us emotions NOT to ignore but to bring to him. When we ignore how we are really feeling we are really ignoring how God wants to help, heal, and come alongside of us. God wants us to overcome whatever we are facing but MOST IMPORTANTLY he wants to be in the midst of our mess with us because we are all so precious to Him. The safest place we can process our feelings is with God. He can handle our curse words, our depression, our anger, our frustrations, and so on. It doesn’t phase him. It doesn’t make him shake his head at us or say to us that we should know better or do better. When he looks at us, it is through a lens of grace and love NOT of disfavor and condemnation.

IMG_3858
Just as my son is hiding in his little hiding spot, God wants us to hide all parts of ourselves and feelings in Him because he longs to heal, mend, and replace our wounds and hurts with His truth and His love

I thought I would express some of these thoughts in a poem about not minimizing or ignoring my emotions as I continue to have ups and downs in my grieving. I have already seen inner healing in myself and received new dreams and new hopes but I wanted to express that it is a constant roller coaster of: grieving and receiving comfort then receiving new dreams, getting hit with new grief and receiving comfort then receiving new dreams, and so on:

There are nights and days when the tears don’t end.

There are and nights and days I miss my best friend.

Beneath the surface, my true emotions lie-

Beneath the skin and muscle

my fragile heart begins to cry:

Like a waterfall of tears

it recalls all the years

the joys and the fears

the happy and the sad

the things that made you mad

the things that made you you

the things you use to do

the things that made you mine

the things that made me yours

the things that were entwined.

Now forever-

torn apart.

And my heart?

Will it start?

To beat-

again?

Or will it forever hold its breath?

Crying and grieving your untimely death.

 

My heart longs for hope and my heart longs to see,

the silver lining that will one day be in front of me.

But in this moment?

It just needs

To be:

Sad.

And needs to be mad.

And needs to be broken.

And needs to feel everything unspoken.

Everything not expressed.

Everything not at its best.

Everything as it is.

Everything not addressed.

Everything that use to be-

his.

 

One day, I know deep down, good will come out of this.

But right now my heart is plunged into this deep dark abyss.

And there in the depths of my soul and the depths of my sorrow,

is the One embracing my heart AND my tomorrow.

He joins me as I re-live the past and present feelings,

until I’m ready for new hopes and future healings-

that will outlast

and surpass

all that I can grasp

in the years to come.

Someday.

But right now?

I am undone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Switching the Why to What:The Battle of Logic and Heart

The reality is that we live in a broken world. Nothing is perfect. Life is this intermingling of pain and joy; disappointment and fulfillment; death and life. We may try our hardest to shield our children and loved ones away from as much grief and pain as we experienced growing up or have seen others experience but we cannot protect them from everything. And when something or someone hurts or shatters our reality of innocence or level of comfort we almost always ask, “Why God?” We might do this unconsciously but when we ask “why” we are actually coming to this conclusion of thinking that it is God himself who wounded us NOT the person or situation. That is one of the downfalls of free will.

People and situations hurt us but it is the person or situation hurting us NOT God. For example,when a parent is not emotionally invested in their child the child begins to think that God the Father is like that too. They believe things like God is busy and he and already knows what I’m thinking so why do I have to tell him what he already knows? So, without even realizing, coming to conclusions like this actually begins to shape our relationship and understanding of God that is actually NOT true at all.

The reality is that God IS emotionally invested in us and cares about how we feel. He is NOT too busy for us EVER. And yes he knows what we are thinking but that is not the point. The point of having a relationship with him and praying is all about CONNECTING. He longs to connect because he knows we need and crave it.

We are wired for connection: to be heard, to be seen, to be understood, to be loved, to be cared for.

And going back to the “Why God?” question. That question is actually an intellectual question and it is expecting and intellectual answer. I think because we live in such a broken world sometimes there are no reasons why things happen. And even if there is a logical reason why something happened what we really need in times of hurt or loss is not a logical answer. What we really need is a HEART answer. More than anything our heart needs: comfort, to be heard, to be valued, to be seen, and so on.

When there is a hurt or loss it will ALWAYS come down to what we need from God and are not getting.
Let me give an example of this. My husband dying of  stage 4 colon cancer at 29 years old is a time most people would ask, “Why God? Why would you take him when he was so young? Why do I have to raise my son without my best friend and love of my life? Why couldn’t you just heal him? I want him back.”

IMG_1069

Let us say God miraculously raised my husband from the dead and healed him of cancer and he was given life again.  In essence, I would be getting the answer I wanted and asked for. But is it what I REALLY need when I am hurting?

But I think what happens sometimes there has been so much hurt or loss in our lives that even if we wanted to we still can’t accept or receive what our hearts REALLY need.

That is where inner healing work and counseling can help unravel the inner struggle of what keeps us from being able to receive from God. In order to receive we need to clear away the walls or ways we try to guard or protect our heart. And there probably is a good reason why it’s protected but instead of hiding it away from others and ourselves it really needs to be hidden away  IN God. He is the safest person to guard our hearts because he not only wants to guard it but the one who knows how to tend, mend, and fix it.

A few months before Ben was diagnosed with cancer I was hitting a wall where I couldn’t receive from God so I began to see a inner healing counselor who began helping me unpack why I couldn’t receive from God and why he felt so far. As the walls or “debris” as she calls it began lifting I began to hear from God and was able to feel, see ,and hear where he was in my life more clearly.

She also taught me how to pour my heart out before the Lord when I began to feel angry or overwhelmed during intense times during Ben’s cancer.

Some of these periods had screaming and cussing and everything ugly you could think of before the Lord. Not at him but WITH him.

I beautiful image a friend got for this “pouring out” was breaking plates with God when she was angry. Not physically, although that would be cool to do one day in a safe place, but in her mind when she needed to work anger out with God. I never realized we have that much freedom with God to be able to do that.

But that is the beauty of a patient and loving God. He is not in a rush or afraid of what I needed to express first. He met me where I was at. And it was in those times  I eventually could begin to unravel what I REALLY needed.

I began  to learn how to switch my question of “why” to “what.” “What is God doing?” and “What kind of people are going to come alongside of me in my time of hurt and loss? “and “What do I need to receive from God in my time of loss or hurt?” and “What does my heart need?”

I think there are times that God does satisfy that intellectual question of “why” but I love how he cares about the “what” as well. As I have said before many times he cares about our WHOLE being.

Are there places that you need to go back to that you missed out on the “what” and having your heart tended or cared for? Are there conclusions you have made about God or yourself that you are beginning to realize are actually not true  but actually more about the person or situation? Are there places where you still need to struggle with the “why?” Let me know your thoughts or if I need to expand on something more.