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

The Need For Community: Don’t Hike Alone

I have always felt like  hiking is a lot like life. There are ups and downs, there are times when there seems to be nothing but an uphill climb, there are times when you need to rest, there are times when you feel you aren’t going to make it; but if it’s a long hike you should always walk it with other people.

Many churches talk about marriage, have marriage conferences, constantly talk about how to have a healthy marriage, and so on. Which is good, and we shouldn’t stop talking about it, but if that takes up most of the sermons and focus it leaves single people, single moms, and single mom widows like myself feeling very left out.

Ben was my “hiking” partner in life  and it was devastating  to grieve and to lose him when he died.

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Another dad carrying my son on a group hike

Hike Reflections That Transfer to Life:

  1. The actual hike I recently went on helped me feel less like a single mom but more like mom with a child and a great community of people who were there to lighten my load when I couldn’t hold my son any longer. Losing Ben made me feel overwhelmed and alone but “hiking” life with community helped me see that my family is more than just me and Zeke, it also includes the family of God. Being in community certainly doesn’t ever replace or feel equal to having a husband but it does lighten my load and it does give me encouragement when I am tired and feel like I can’t keep going.
  2. It helped me realize that raising my son will look different from the rest of my friends who have husbands. But my son is well cared for by other dads and other men who love him too. Maybe not the same as Ben, but these men still love him and that is something all kids need and deserve.
  3. We are all on this  life hike together. God did call us to be “fruitful and multiply” but the over arching thing I think God wants for all of us is to be in community with people of all relationship statuses. Being married isn’t the best relationship status we can strive for, it is just ONE relationship status that we can be in. Whatever relationship status we are in, God wants us to love everyone; to seek after His heart; to care for one another.
  4.  We should strive to not only strengthen our marriages but to be aware and be alert on  how to care and to include people of all walks of life and relationship statuses. I am going to keep this in mind if I ever do get married again. If I get married I want to intentional in how to include all kinds of single people: single moms, widows, divorced, people with no family, and so on.  Being intentional means that I will have to think of things and activities that anyone can enjoy no matter what relationship status or walk of life they are in.

A Few Activities Everyone Can Enjoy Together:

  1. Hiking of course!
  2. After church, or just because, pack a lunch and have picnics outside together
  3. Having game nights
  4. Playing sports after church or during the week together
  5. Craft or sewing sessions together
  6. Building projects for families in need
  7. Raise funds for people in the church or a cause and coordinate garage sales together where people can offer things to contribute to the garage sale and ways to help on the day of
  8. Cooking and/or having meals together

Note: Doing activities together must also take into consideration realistic times things  start and end. Single people without kids have the ability to have events that start at 10pm or go on spontaneous trips. Single moms, single widows, and married people can go to these events but most the time it takes planning ahead of time of  who can take care of the kids, if places are kid friendly, and nap/ feeding times.

And people with kids (myself included) when hanging out with people who don’t have kids make sure the majority of the conversations don’t revolve around just topics on kids. We need to make sure we talk about things everyone can contribute and add to.

Some Topics Everyone Can Talk About

  1. Good movies/TV shows and why we like them
  2. Hobbies
  3. Favorite travel places and stories
  4. How work is going
  5. Dream Job/worst job
  6. How to pray for one another
  7. Where do you feel stuck in life and walk with God?

All Relationship Statuses Matter

I felt very validated at my church when one of our pastors actually said that single people are just as complete as married couples and have a lot to offer the church community.

Ultimately we all need each other. We cannot “hike” life alone. For the all the different kinds of single people, may we be people who recognize that we have a lot to offer  our communities beyond babysitting. We have resources, talents, and gifts that bless married and unmarried people. And for people who are married, be people who not only focus on strengthening your marriages but being good friends to others and loving people who are married and unmarried and include them in activities and events.

May we strive to be people who appreciate and affirm people of all relationship statuses no matter what relationship status we are in. And may we all strive to be intentional in how to include one another in each others lives. We exist to carry one another’s loads, to encourage those in marriage and not in marriage, to care for our children, to care for the world around us, and to reflect Christ in how we love and live our everyday lives. When we are in the family of God  together  we all have a lot to offer one another and are ALL COMPLETE relationships in Christ.