Trudging Through the Winters of Life

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It’s been a long winter in some areas of Canada. As I write this blog at the end of March, I watch for a robin or some sign that the calendar page will turn soon. I wait for a new beginning, a spring full of colour and sunshine.

A couple of nights ago as I sat in front of the wood fire, watching the flames dart here and there, I thought of the movie Kiss and Cry. This true story of a Canadian girl wants life over death. She wants a new beginning after months of surgery, chemotherapy, exercises, and disappointment. She has a career in skating and singing, but her winter continues. She does not see her springtime.

I was intrigued by the way 18-year-old Carley Allison lived a day at a time to her death. I was captivated by the way her family and boyfriend walked her to death’s door. And her constant response to their concern and distress was to smile. She didn’t deny where her journey was taking her, but she showed yet another way to move toward her death.

Some of us are going through this with another. A few are not able to smile. And many of us won’t even attempt to walk a similar passage of time with a loved one who is facing death. If you can, do it. The ones whose footsteps are shorter than ours will help us. And at times, they will lead the way.

If you have walked a loved one through this time of their life and death, jot down a few notes as a reminder of sharing this holy time.

Grief Can Surface on Any Corner

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Do you ever wonder when you turn on the news what crisis, tragedy or loss of life the broadcasters are going to throw across your television screen? When I watch, sometimes I am brought to tears. House fires, airplane crashes, car accidents, and the list continues. Sometimes names of missing persons flash in front of me with people’s faces, names, and locations.

Realizing that each incident, involves women, men, and children, I always take it further to think about their families. Who is grieving? How does Grandma grieve alone in her apartment or retirement home? How do parents mourn loss when they don’t know all of the particulars? How do families tell their children, cousins, and neighbours?

Some people can’t bring themselves to post personal and painful news. They need a little time before seeing their situation in print. Others use Facebook or LinkedIn to tell friends, immediately. Sometimes people ‘share’ these posts, so many people as possible receive the message.  Whichever way works for you is the right way.

This morning I chatted with a granddaughter who lives many miles from me. As we batted messages back and forth, I found tears resting on my face. It is too far to drop in and offer to stay with the children to provide some free mom-time. I can’t expect to see her for a casual visit or sit at the picnic table on our deck for a BBQ. So we do the next best thing, we pass our news back and forth as best we can and be thankful we have that contact.

We grieve in many different ways. News, both expected and surprised, emerges in many social media posts. We might feel helpless because of the miles that separate us from the one who posted. It is good to remember that we can show care in many ways. We are not expected to solve a problem, but it is always good to respond, to be positive and to help the sender take one more step along a difficult path.

Stay positive; provide whatever good news you can. Offer support even when circumstances have changed. And hopefully, your response will fill a void in someone’s life. Someday they might be the one to return the care.

As you reflect on ways you approach any given situation, think of people at the other end of the message, newscast or newspaper article. What comes to mind for you?

 

Today, Tomorrow and Forever

Even though grief is a natural response to loss, it doesn’t always give a person much warning. Granted if you’re walking someone along the unpredictable path towards their death, you have the opportunity to plan, to think and to make decisions.

However, if the death happens unexpectedly and you’re caught off guard, tremendous feelings of helplessness can fall into place. It is here that the body provides endorphins to give adequate energy to do what has to be done. Drawing support from other people is not always possible. Preparing a list of people to call, writing notices to inform while remaining in touch with one’s own needs can be difficult to keep the path straight in front of your feet. Even though tragedies, as far away as the other side of the world beg attention through the media, those who capture your heartstrings in your community, faith circle and family, warrant loving care.

A family situation can draw you quickly into memories.  That’s where I seemed to go in a recent experience of sorrow, regret, and love. Often those three emotions scramble for first place while making sense of any death. This is normal and can be counted on to appear at the most unexpected time. Honour them, give them a place . . . for a while, and except for love, release the rest. Grieving is a normal emotion — part of who we are. We grieve because we have loved. We would not want it any other way.

Drawing on good memories are winners every time when we walk the grief path. When I think of the one for whom I grieve, musician, writer and faith come to mind. Guitar picking as a master, barre chording as a pro while turning his first finger into a capo; a natural composer of songs; one who strove to understand the mind of a child to carefully explore setting and dialogue; and sketched images to life.

Rest in Peace: Daniel Guy Mann: November 30th, 1969 till January 22, 2019.
Son, brother, father, nephew, grandson, cousin, friend, and child of God.
You are loved.

Remembering our nephew, Daniel.

If you were to write about the impact of the last person for whom you grieve, you would make your own list. And with each talent, skill or interest you will stir up memories to stand in for your loss. Look for good thoughts. They are helpful and life-giving.

 

 

Grief and Christmas

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I looked at some old pictures today. My mom and dad were in them. In many ways, it seemed like I turned the hands of the clock backward. Thoughts began to form in my mind. Laughter and favourite sayings brought a smile to my face. Special celebrations marched before me in my memory. This wasn’t always the way, as I remember when I had difficulty looking at pictures, and I recall thinking for a long time that it would have been special to have had my parents longer.

This morning I wrote an email to a friend whose mother died a short time ago. Even though we come close again to remembering our own emotionally painful time when we do this, it is still good to find a way to care for others.  Especially at Christmas when we want every chair to be filled, we are aware that one or more precious people may no longer be with us.

Some of the words I wrote are:These are significant days with special memories. It’s a painful period of letting go a little bit at a time, as your mind, soul and heart release grief. And at Christmas, when we are used to gathering our friends and family together, we resist letting go of a loved one’s presence. 

And that struggle to keep close and to let go is heartbreaking, and it robs energy day after day. You have the year of firsts ahead of you and in many ways similar to your father, you will make your path through in your own way.

Suffering through his death not so long ago and now your mom . . . leaves insurmountable grief to unpack a little at a time. You will do it in your own process. I’ll keep you in my prayers.

You will easily see that death is the grief for this individual, however, there are many other situations in one’s life that cause deep sorrow: divorce, estranged relations with family, a missing loved one or friend, articles, keepsakes, a limb, poverty and many more.

Perhaps during this Christmas season, you could write a note to someone who is grieving. Maybe your love and compassion will help to ease their pain.

If this blog has brought back some memories, perhaps you can jot them down in your journal to recall at another time.

Reflecting on our loss

Grief is a natural, normal and healthy response to loss. A variety of experiences interpret it from misplacing Grandma’s ring, to adjusting to the loss of a loved one. Each person copes with grief in his or her own manner, learning to find comfort and draw strength in helpful ways. Children are often the ones who grieve naturally, without apology. Their freedom to show honest feelings can be an example for the rest of us.

I saw a small child openly sob when the top of her ice cream fell off the cone. She couldn’t speak from the shock. All she could do was sob and point to the quickly melting pink ice cream that lay in a pool on the sidewalk. Surprisingly, she didn’t want it replaced. She looked at what was left on the cone and began to lick and eat it. Walking away, she glanced back several times, perhaps wondering how it had happened. As I watched, I learned a few things about children and grief. The child didn’t want her ice cream cone replaced. She cried openly at her loss. She looked back often, trying to figure it out. Those three lessons could fit well with me most days.

The question is often asked if we’ll ever get over our loss. A good response is, “Do we really want to? Perhaps a better question is how can we learn to live with it in positive and healing ways. Herein presents the challenge.

A Rough Road through Grief

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This summer, we decided to visit Mississagi Lighthouse on the furthest tip of Western Manitoulin. We looked at pictures of beautiful views of the property and the third floor platform. We read detailed descriptions of the resident building housing the set of steps leading to the visitor’s powerful telescope. In past years, the purpose of this lighthouse was to direct boats away from rocky terrain and rugged shoreline. We could understand the need for such a structure after viewing the shore.

What took us by surprise were the many miles of washboard road leading to the lighthouse. When we realized the scattered gravel was laid over stone, the rough ride was understandable. Did we turn around? No, we didn’t even consider it. Why? Because we wanted to see the lighthouse that had protected ships from dangerous water and built trust betweenship captains and the revolving beacon of safety and life.

Unpredictable emotions of grief can feel like a ride over a washboard road. Noise strips peace and tranquility. Vibrations mentally shake off self-confidence.  Jarring motions separate stability from intentional purpose.

Grief can do all that and more. This is often the way we feel when grieving — life becomes unpredictable as we experience vibration and jarring of what may have been a satisfying life. And yet we continue to walk the path. Because we know that we go through it, to get through it.

Furthermore because grief smacks us in our tear ducts when we least expect it, calls out our sobs at the most inappropriate moment, and robs us of all opportunity to say and do what we would in ordinary time. For in grief, we do not answer to normal anymore but to the new-normal before us that draws us step by step into an unknown journey.

In our desire to reach the peace and tranquility of the old lighthouse, we had to drive the washboard road from the highway. Going out seemed to be easier — we knew what to expect.

Did some thoughts come to you during this time? Take a few moments and write about a few of the bumpy roads you travelled in the grief.

 

 

 

 

Grief Walks In Our Midst

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Grief has many faces, takes numerous shapes and speaks in a variety of voices. Grief can be welcome, yet it can rob one of sleep. Grief can saturate your mind, or set you free. Grief can paralyze, or bring personal growth.

“And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief.” (C.S. Lewis). Grief is hard work. It can tire a person totally. If all one wants to do is sleep, it could be because he or she has worked so hard during their waking hours that they’re brain-dead, muscle-weary and silence-stricken. And if you look around, probably a good percentage of these people are bending their mind trying to gain some kind of understanding, seeking, searching, looking up and down, inside and round about, looking for peace of mind.

I can cause myself grief thinking about areas of life I can do nothing about. I think about orphans in war torn countries. Scenes flash through my mind of tragedies where children are left without family and put in the hands of strangers. I consider those caught in fires, tornadoes and earth quakes.

At a local author’s day, I recently had opportunity to listen to people’s stories. Wonderful redeeming situations that have lifted them from despair. Telling painful memories allows them to stretch beyond the facts. It’s helpful if we can share someone’s burden. We don’t have to solve it. We don’t have to offer options. It doesn’t cost us money.  Just knowing that grief walks in our midst gives us opportunity to share another’s burden. In doing that, we often find we’ve lifted our own . . . just a little.

 

After you’ve read these few paragraphs, perhaps some thoughts come to mind to jot down in your journal. Writing them today, leaving them for a while, and then returning to them often encourages one to add a few more lines.

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Mixing Joy and Grief

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When thinking that one definition of grief is ‘nowhere to place one’s love’, then I think today’s blog title fits. Mixing grief in what was, while acknowledging joy with what is — offers a common familiarity for many of us.

Recently I decided to organize my pictures. As I went through photographs from baby books to Sunday school picnics to sport’s schedule, in the midst of what seemed like ton’s of family photos, I became aware of seasons of life experiences.

It was enjoyable holding these pictures, thinking about the settings, and looking at everyone’s expressions. When I saw people playing musical instruments, I could hear a song in my head. When I looked at ball fields and hockey rinks, I could hear the excitement of the fans in my memory, cheering the team on. While admiring yearly school pictures of our four children, names of favourite teachers also came to mind. Even looking at pictures of our deceased child  (1972) brought happy memories of the fun we shared together as a family for a short time.

So there’s nothing in any of these pictures that would give me new grief, for in each picture I found excitement for life, anticipation in the situation and a sense of all is well. What stirred my tears and quickened my heartbeat was to look into the eyes of my five children, so innocent, dependant and filled with anticipation for life.

As a parent, I always wonder, self examine my parenting skills and think when I’m going through pictures. We began our family young in the late 50s without much money to spare. It was a blessing to realize the trust our children placed in us. We openly responded with unconditional love. With two sets of grandparents, three great grandparents, and lots of cousins, aunts and uncles for the children, love was abundant.

When I look into their eyes as babies, children, teenagers and adults – through the lens of family life, school pictures, music, church and sports, it seems life spun quickly through the years. So for me, the grief is only stirred in my pictures when I recognize the yearning to hold those babies again, while checking parental skills and recognizing that was a season . . . and this is a new one.

Take a few moments to think what was and what is now, what is ongoing in different ways, and what is gone forever, and then seek to find your peace within it.

Happy to Have Had, Even if There is no More.

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What does this quote mean to you? Does it create feelings of gratefulness in your memory? What kinds of articles and items come to mind when we think of downsizing?  We could spend time brooding about the items we’ve cherished and for one reason or another, we have to say goodbye, or we could reflect on their meaning. Think for a moment about a child’s blanket — a cherished comfort in the darkness of night, or in times of distress. As the child grows, he or she finds a different sense of security in a doll or a truck hidden under the pillow. When change happens, it might seem like jumping off a cliff without a rope. There is definitely an awareness of those precious moments when life was familiar as breathing — and now gone.

When our children were growing up, we had a ‘boot-hill’. There was always a part of our property that was spread over a hill.  I remember one particular cat of which the entire family was fond. There was a lot of crying and moaning during the time when this kitty released life. And then there was the pillow on which she rested. And then there was the trek across the back lawn and up the hill. To dig the hole was one child’s task, to put kitty into it on her pillow was another one. And to make a cross with two sticks was created by another child.

Saying goodbye was ‘so hard’. It seemed we’d been doing that for a week, but now it was different. There was no turning back. It was over. And we needed to stay there in our grief until we were ready to look at the beginning of the above quote.

When the time is right, we can think, “How lucky or fortunate or happy or blessed I am to have had that ‘something’ that makes saying goodbye so hard.” And now the children had another memory to add to the six years of the cat’s life. They had the time to remember, name and say, “Happy to have had, even if there is no more.”

List a few happy times in this latest period of grief. Also note the relief you experience.

When Sorrow Walked With Me

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On April 6, 2018 the Humboldt Broncos tragedy changed Canada. That seems like a broad statement, but it’s true. In fact, people from around the globe send their commitment to the fundraising project – one effort by one woman provided a response. Parents, brothers, sisters, extended family, neighbours, friends and strangers connected. Even people who didn’t know those who lost their life or those who were injured, wanted to reach out. Social media proved to be a great way to connect, to show love and compassion. Why was all of this important? Was it to help? Perhaps to share their pain? Maybe to enter into the sorrow with the families? As the quote suggests, through sorrow and sharing it with others, we learn. We learn about love, trust and sharing in new ways of living with grief. We learn that being vulnerable allows others to come into our pain . . . and that is healing, even in small ways.

I, for one, could not watch a news broadcast without tearing. As a hockey famly, we were eager to put a hockey stick on our front porch to pay tribute, to remember and to remind others. There’s something else in the picture of the hockey stick beside our front door and that is the clear circle that a crock made on the floor. When I look at this image I see what was and what had been through the winter – a dusty, messy porch floor. When I moved the crock to make room to take the picture, I saw the clean circle, and choose not to sweep,  clean or erase before taking the picture. What do you take from the image? Is there a before and after for you? There usually is in most life tragedies. Life can be messy . . . and grief can be painful  . . . and emotional pain can be hard to live with.

And so we connect in whatever way is helpful to share our pain, to take us through an agonizing time. Maybe we can help others and ourselves to make it a little easier. Perhaps we draw on our faith or understanding to strength us until we find the words.

Jot down some notes in your grief journal. Write whatever comes into your mind. Try not to edit or fix. Leave it for a while and when you come back to it, it may be just the answer to give you peace.