Into the Storm

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The longest drive

I was driving home from visiting my oldest daughter for her birthday.  It’s a long tedious drive I had done dozens of times.  After losing her sister, only 20 months younger than her, and her best friend, I count every birthday as a blessing.   She finally looked like my beautiful girl again, except now she was a 23-year-old woman.  Grief has given her a maturity in her eyes too young for her sweet face, but on this day, the circles under her eyes seemed faded and I could now see hope and possibilities shining from within her.

The house she lives in still holds recent memories or her sister.  Bittersweet to look at, but I am still so thankful to look at them.  The funny thing with grief, there is no right way to view loss.  I say it again, THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO VIEW LOSS!  Some people need to put every picture away to cope through their day, some people need every item and picture their loved one held in their presence.  I live somewhere in the middle, I need to keep certain things, and all the pictures, but I have learned that I need to find uses for some things, I need to give it a purpose.  That is just me, I made boot planters, I had blankets made from clothing, I had bears made, I made Christmas ornaments from sympathy cards.  It has given me a feeling of purpose to give things a purpose.

At some point in therapy, even before my daughter passed, I learned most of us carry around these past hurts and feelings we let drive our actions.   We have an emotional feeling about a situation and we impulsively act on it without acknowledging the feeling, processing how it makes us feel and letting it move past us.  My family of the ADHD  variety has always struggled with impulsivity, some of that changes with maturity luckily.

Through losing M, I have had to do this a lot.   Process.  As I was driving home I made the analogy it is like driving into the storm.   Why would anyone want to do that?  Driving into a dark ominous mass that is right in front of us gives us the opportunity to come out the other side.   To try and run from it, ignore it, or pretend it isn’t there does nothing for us.  It eventually catches us off guard and unprepared.

The kind of grief I have been dealing with is called complicated grief.  It’s the only name they can give someone that has suffered through an unexpected trauma.  All grief is different, complicated grief means I didn’t get a reason for my loss like cancer or a car accident.  The passing of my daughter is complicated, to say the least, so what I am doing to keep myself together? Just about everything.

I was driving home thinking about an unpleasant conversation I was going to have about her passing.   It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have, but I knew that if I didn’t have it I couldn’t put this storm, this dark cloud behind me.  I have been focusing on the positive, how to help others in her name and this felt icky.  Just like cleaning out her closet, this needed to be done.  I needed to feel how it made me feel, acknowledge it, have the conversation and move forward.  I made the call as I pulled over at the rest area.

 

 

IMG_4421.JPGAlmost home I see the evening sunset after the rain. The grey clouds moving in the direction I had just come from.  The conversation wasn’t wonderful but I had made it.  I could take a deep breath without thinking about what might be said or what should be said.

Thinking about my recent visit to my daughter, I remember and appreciate the little white butterfly that said hello when I first arrived.  It may or may not have been a little hello from heaven, but I appreciated it all the same.  I have realized we get the signs and messages when we need them, maybe not always when we want them.

My friend at work recently got married.  She had a beautiful wedding in a beautiful private place in either Alaska or Canada.  The wedding she planned as a young girl with her best friend.

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The most beautiful couple

Every young girl these days most likely has a wedding Pinterest site.  When I was young I cut up pictures of gowns and saved them.  My friend from work had done the same I am sure.   She had everything she ever wished for, the most beautiful place, the most beautiful dress, the handsome groom, but she didn’t have her maid of honor, her best friend, who had passed a few years earlier.  On that day, as she stood in the most beautiful place, in her expensive dress, looking into her handsome groom’s eyes, a monarch butterfly circled her and then landed on her white dress.  At that moment she was breathless.  Heaven had sent her a little gift.  Her best friend and maid of honor had sent her love.  Here is the picture of that moment as she stood in the sunshine, still shaken by the storm but surrounded now in light and love.

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Deer Hope

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Deer wait outside my daughter’s place of work

The day before we left on our mission trip as a family, I wondered what on earth possessed me to consider taking four of us on a mission trip at the same time.  We were working, playing sports, and wrapping up the school year, along with getting ready for our exchange student, starting our nonprofit and managing life.  Frantically running around packing and arguing with each other, tying up loose ends, we left at 3:30 in the morning on our ten day trip over the border.

We arrived and at first, I felt the tiredness and homelife responsibilities tugging at our mission.  I was worried I had made a mistake, but I had gone out on a leap of faith that this was something that would be healing for our family.  Serving others would give us a break from the constant torment balancing our grief with the daily grind.

When I had the idea over 6months earlier, I had asked for a sign I should take my family to Mexico to help those less fortunate than ourselves and was answered minutes later by a family donating a large portion of our financial portion so we all could go.  I knew that gift couldn’t be wrong, I just needed to believe and keep pushing on.

After the first couple of days, I noticed a change in my husband.  He was smiling.  He was also sweating as he hand-nailed and framed along with 14 other people on his work site, but he seemed genuinely happy working and focusing on his project.  He had learned about the father on his site who was providing for his children by working in a restaurant in the kitchen.  He took time off work to make sure he could be there for the building of his house.   My husband worked in a kitchen when we were first married also as he finished college with small babies and a wife at home.   He had also taken this week off work to build this man’s home.

2932DC27-B63D-4512-85CB-5C739FA9B3DE.jpegMy youngest daughter doubted her purpose of being there.  She was teaching kids in a language she didn’t know.  She struggles at home with being an introvert and communicating with others sometimes in her own language.  By the end of the trip though, she was engaged, crafting and playing with the kids near the work sites.  As I walked by the local store near our camp I spied her smiling and sharing a coconut with another mission friend and my heart melted a little.   It was not a mistake for her to come.

My middle child has been struggling (like all of us).  Life can be hard even for the happiest of kids.  I catch her on her phone hiding away from our tent.  She seemed homesick and I became worried.   It’s not something she shows others, its what I can see.  I cry and pray for her heartaches.  I need her to connect.

The next day is a long work day.  I see my same daughter as I walk from site to site passing out band-aids and Advil for mild injuries.  She’s working hard and everyone says she’s a trooper.  Later I notice shes spending more and more time with the two young girls on her site and the next day she takes a soccer ball and her water backpack for the girls.  She also askes for me to look at one of their rashes and listen to their chest cold.

The following day our pastor tells me how she just shines in this place.  I wonder how I can help her keep it if I can, and I am very thankful for it, that shine   I asked her about how she is doing and she tells me how she has made a very strong connection with the family, especially the two girls.  The little girl sits in her lap and tells her how she is very sad, how she misses her sister.  She tells her in Spanish that her sister is in heaven and she misses her very much.  My daughter tells her in her high school Spanish, that her sister is also in heaven and that she also misses her very much.    When I hear this story and I see my daughter I know in my heart it is no coincidence.  How many families applied to have their homes made this year by the mission group, and out of those that applied then this family was chosen? They could have been on 9 other sites, my daughter might have decided to work with the vision clinic or the children, but the family and my daughter were put together. My daughter talks more to the young girl and learns that not only did they also lose their sister, but they lost her the same month and the same year.  God uses broken pieces.

my daughter with her sweet gi

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My daughter with the sweet girl who lost her sister also and who is getting a new home

I came home and my oldest daughter who was unable to go with us, tells me about a baby deer that a mother deer has given birth to a couple days earlier.  (if you’ve read from blogs past since she lost her sister, deer follow her a lot, even look in her therapy windows.) She tells me the mother deer hangs out somewhere nearby waiting for the dear to stand up on her wobbly legs.  My daughter passes by the deer day after day and calls the local animal group to ask anything can be done.   My daughter is concerned the baby deer is ill.  The mother deer still hangs nearby.    Today I talked to my daughter and she tells me the baby deer is gone, but the mother deer still hangs in the same spot, with her other slightly older deer babies, waiting and watching where she left her infant. To be honest, I cried and I pray the vet has the deer.

I got off the phone with my oldest and notice my youngest is keeping herself busy by painting a bible cover she got at GoodWill.  She hasn’t been in the same room with me when I was having the conversation.  She finishes her painting as I walk in the room and I see she is adding a deer to her painting, along with the verse from Psalms 121:1-2  I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord the maker of heaven and earth.  

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Summer craft 

Before I left Mexico I had a sign language conversation of sorts with the mother.   I asked her how many children she had.  She told me three as she pointed at the two in front of me and then pointed to heaven for her third.  She asked me the same question and I said four as I pointed to mine and pointed to heaven.   I watched her grab a jacket and place it on her youngest, maybe concerned she might catch a cold as the weather had turned.  I don’t need to know Spanish to understand.

I look back at that moment and I know she could also relate to the mother deer if I could tell her the story.  As parents that have lost their child, we cannot lay down, we cannot give up though our heart stays in the same spot where we left our baby.  A piece of it will always stay there, with our child.  We continue on while we simultaneously stay close and hold tight to what we hold dear.   (Pun intended.)   I am fascinated that God sent me hundreds of miles from home to meet another grief mama.  I wonder if I’ve somehow lessened her pain a tiny bit or at least let her know she doesn’t walk alone.  (Now if I could only speak in deer, I would tell that deer mama the same thing).

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Broken Pieces

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I sometimes struggle with the idea of being broken.  First of all, we are all broken in different ways.  I used to say, “no one gets out of this world alive.” What I meant by that was that everyone has their “stuff.”    Years ago, I used to think I was the only one that had issues to deal with.    I then became a charge nurse at work, and boy I figured out I was wrong.

If you are old enough to remember Lucy and her .5 cents for psychiatric advice, you would kind of know what I am talking about.  At my desk, I would sit at a couple times a week, it even had a little window you could slide shut at one point, I would give my .5 cents worth of advice and counsel for whatever it was worth.   A charge nurse not only makes sure the floor they are working on runs well, but they look after the basic welfare of their co-workers while they work.   You would be given confidential information that wasn’t really for management to deal with, and then you would have to discern what was best for the department and your co-worker without breaking their confidentiality.

I would have co-workers with sick children or spouses, injuries to work around,  some personality conflicts and other issues that would come up during the day.  As I sat back one day I realized everyone was dealing with something.  One person has a husband working out of state, one has adult children living with her that she helps support, another takes care of her aging parents on her days off, one was awaiting a total joint surgery, someone else also has a learning disabled child to care for at home. We all come to work with our stuff and we set it aside to get the job done, but on occasion, they need help making that happen.  That’s when I knew that everyone was dealing with something.  Some of us a little more or less or different than the other person.

Some of us have more “stuff” than others, and sometimes our “stuff” is unlike anyone’s around us.   I know in my case, I found it unbearable to share how I was feeling verbally with others around me and I began writing.   I have no idea why I can write so openly about my deepest feelings more than I can talk about them.   My husband had a great statement this morning, “no matter where this all leads you, it’s doing something, it’s not doing nothing.”

I thought about being broken.  I have been broken as if I were smashed, stepped on and swept up and discarded.  That is how broken I have felt with my loss.  I am so broken that I feel like I walk around as a whole person, that has been glued back together and repainted, only to have the surface scratched daily to reveal my brokenness.  The only thing that helps is the knowledge that I still have a purpose, that I will see my daughter again, and that I do not walk this road alone.

Today is 14 months since the loss of my daughter.  It honestly is like a blink of an eye.  When I need a few minute mental reprieves, I think about how she could be studying abroad or on a mission trip.  I guess she is, there’s just no way to text or track her on her GPS like find my iPhone.   I know that I will carry her with me every day and in all things I do. I know that most people that have lost someone close to them, like a child or a spouse, feel the same way.

Yesterday I listened to my pastor take about the miracle of feeding the 5,000 with 5 loves of bread and 2 pickled herrings.   To feed the masses he broke the bread.  It was only broken bread that was blessed and used to feed 5,000 men and their wives and children. We discussed in our group, how in history and in the bible, how broken people were always the people that went on to do extraordinary things.   I don’t blame God for my brokenness, I know we live in a broken world.   I do believe that he takes broken things, blesses them, and uses them for so much more than we can imagine.

Below is a song shared in our group about the story of feeding the masses and being broken.

 

Broken Boots

Going through my daughter’s things I ran into the issues of her boots.   They were her prized possessions.  She loved her Doc Martins and her Timberlines. The problem was no one in our family wore that size and I didn’t want to just give them away.   I decided to make planters out of them for her closest family and friends.   I started with the boots with the broken sole.

 

 

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To make these planters I took a pair of boots that were no longer going to be worn.  These had a large tear in the bottom.  I took out the inside lining and then drilled a few drainage holes in the bottom.  I spayed the outside of the shoe with waterproofing spray and filled with a seasonal plant.  You can keep inside the plastic container or fill the boot with potting soil.  I attached a laminated memorial tag to one and cardstock message to another.  You can cover the cardstock in clear tape to waterproof it also.