Navigating the weight of Mother’s Day

“…what follows will shift your focus from the brick in your pocket toward the joy of the day…” 

The heaviness felt on this day is challenging for those who have lost a child or a mother.

It doesn’t seem possible that this marks the tenth Mother’s Day without my son David. This blog was originally published in 2017. I modified it a bit, but it still speaks to my heart. I hope it speaks to your as well.

The commercials started a couple of weeks ago. Facebook will soon be inundated with celebratory pics and that’s the way it should be. So how can we navigate our hearts to celebrate with others while also carrying the deep weight of our loss?

This is a question we’re faced with all the time isn’t it? Life goes on and we need to keep up, but it requires balancing our pain in the process. Does it ever go away?

In the movie Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman’s character tragically loses her son. She is inconsolable, consumed by grief. It begins to affect her marriage and every other aspect of her life. Her mother also knows what it’s like to lose a child. Her brother died eleven years ago, and she begins to wonder how she was able to manage during such a devastating time. She asks the same question, “Does it ever go away?” Her mother describes it this way…

“No. I don’t think it does. But it changes though…the weight of it. At some point it becomes bearable.  It turns into something that you can crawl out from under and… carry around like a brick in your pocket. And you… you even forget it, for a while. But then you reach in for whatever reason and – there it is. Oh right, that. Which could be awful – not all the time. It’s kinda…not that you’d like it exactly, but it’s what you’ve got instead of your son. So, you carry it around… and it doesn’t go away. Which is fine, actually…”

I’m not sure if the screenwriter intentionally based this response from personal experience, but it sure makes sense to me. I can totally relate. Can you? Fictional or not, it’s a great word picture.

Mother’s Day will look different for everyone. For me, I will acknowledge the heaviness of the day. I’ll grab the oversized card David gave me ten years ago, a month before he died. I’ll read and re-read it. I was loved. He is missed. I am grateful for the precious time I had with David. He is forever in my heart. Tears and prayers will follow.

I will cherish the day. I’ll relax my grip on the brick in my pocket and embrace the joy right in front of me; spending the day with my husband, parents, my son Daniel and his wife-to-be, Savannah. (I’m also hoping there will be some sort of cake!)

And finally, to officially mark the end of the day, a private moment at the cemetery. The routine is always the same; make sure the flowers in the Green Bay Packer vases are upright and secure, brush away any grass on or around the base of the stone, soak in David’s smile from his photo etched on the black granite… and look for deer along the nearby treeline. I always look for deer. Tears and prayers will follow.

Oddly enough, tears of thanksgiving and praise will follow as well. They always do. On this special day for Mothers, the gravitational force from the brick in my pocket becomes perfectly balanced, as I simultaneously give thanks for both my boys. I like that. There is always room for giving thanks. What better way to spend Mother’s Day?

Oh, and don’t forget, it’s important for you allow others to celebrate you this Mother’s Day. The bitter and the sweet meet here, but you are so loved. You got this. You can multitask. You are all on my heart today. Have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

Dear Friend,

As Mother’s Day approaches, take time for yourself to acknowledge whatever you’re feeling. (I know you already feel it coming!) Please don’t ignore it. Reflect with sweet remembrance of your mother, son or daughter. I’m praying what follows will shift your focus from the brick in your pocket toward the joy of the day, as you celebrate with the people you love and who love you. God bless you. 

Living a Wonderful Life, in a Bah Humbug world.

… “I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again!” It was time. It was way past time.

After the beginning credits have stopped the scene zooms in on a small, quaint town where everybody knows everybody. The streets are pristinely decorated with Christmas lights as people hustle and bustle, getting the last of their Christmas shopping done.

In a local coffee shop, we see a couple talking about their upcoming divorce, but they agree it’s best to wait and tell the kids after the New Year. A single mom mourns the loss of her husband just months before. A man gets dumped by his girlfriend on Christmas Eve and he swears he’ll never celebrate Christmas or love again. Finally, George Bailey realizes that wishing to never have been born proves to be the best life lesson he’ll ever need.

Ahhh. Hello Hallmark Channel.

Two things I know for sure about these movies; there is always a happy ending, and the women always have at least 4 or 5 stylish winter wool coats. Who has that many wool coats? I’m mean, come on!

Before the credits roll, we learn the couple discover renewed love after getting stranded together in a stranger’s house while driving home in a blizzard. A widowed woman from church befriends the single mom, and helps her find a new job with great pay and great benefits, while reigniting her faith once more. The man who got dumped meets someone else he can’t live without. (I got nothing else here. It just happens.) And good ole George Bailey realizes he’s tired of seeing life as it could have been had he not been born. He simply prays, “I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again!”

David died in June 2010. Christmas came six months later, which we spent in Wisconsin that year. I couldn’t contain my emotions because I couldn’t control my anguish. I had to push myself to engage in conversations. I hid in the bathroom periodically because when the tears came, the tears came. No one needed or wanted to see that. All I could think about was losing my son. I had very little leftover to think about God’s. I felt guilty about this, selfish even. Was I dishonoring God? It is His Son’s birthday after all! Sigh.

The following year was difficult too. Mike’s Mom had been in the hospital for several weeks, and we knew she wouldn’t be with us much longer. None of us could have imagined Grandma Nancy would die at 5:33 pm on Christmas Eve. This was also our second Christmas without David, and while I missed him terribly I felt that it would be inappropriate to deal with those emotions under the circumstances. I did my best to compartmentalize those feelings for another day down the road. I felt I had to be strong, especially for Mike’s Dad.

By the time December 2012 rolled around I had no idea what to expect. I was pretty numb, almost indifferent. I was determined to just go with whatever happened. 

Until.

Until I had a conversation with one of my very best friends. (a friend I can be real with and she still likes me!) We were talking about everything, then De De told me her son KJ randomly asked her why she doesn’t decorate more for Christmas. I like the decorations. Hmmm. Okay. So, she grabbed a few boxes out of storage and went to town. She played loud Christmas music as she decorated the house and decided to claim the joy of the season of celebrating Jesus. She got some baking done too. This was so much fun Jan! It feels so good to slow down and reflect on the joy of Christmas.

Joy. There’s that word again. Ya know, I’d spent the past two years balancing my grief, but experiencing joy weaved in with Christmas traditions of the season hadn’t even entered my mind. Just like when De De had to spoon feed me crackers to get me to eat after David died, she may not have realized it, but she was doing the same with this notion of joy.

De De sent me pictures of what she had done and that’s all it took for me. A spark ignited, and suddenly I became excited to re-claim the joy of Jesus and the joy of Christmas traditions that used to drive me this time of year. I put lights on the Christmas tree and lit garland on the fireplace mantle, along with the snowman stocking holders which showcased David and Daniel’s stockings I’ve had since they were little. I also set out the nativity set that Grandma Rozga gave me a month before she died. I’m giving this to you early so you can enjoy it this Christmas. It was the last gift she gave to me and I will treasure it forever.

I also decided I would do something I hadn’t done in years; I turned on Christmas music and baked away. I actually had fun doing it, anticipating the moment when I would hand deliver the Christmas treats to our friends in the neighborhood. I hadn’t felt this joy for years, and I’m talking about a “Merry Christmas Mr. Potter!” type of joy. I couldnt wipe the smile off my face. It was wonderful.

I called De De later that day and sent her a picture of my finished work and the treats cooling on my kitchen countertop. I thanked her for helping me to jumpstart my Christmas spirit. More specifically my soul. I had been missing out on a lot of things in my life, a lot of joy that had been buried within me. I needed to open my heart up… “I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.” 

It was time. It was way past time. Maybe it’s time for you too.

Each Christmas brings its own challenges. This year we will spend it without Mike’s Dad. He passed away last month. But I know what I know; God is still good, and searching for joy is a choice. I choose joy.

Dear friend,

It is possible to mourn your loss AND celebrate Jesus’ birth at the same time. I pray that you will rediscover Jesus, the reason for the season and that you will find joy in the traditions of the past that you once loved and looked forward to. You may even start new traditions. What joy it will bring to your heart as you prepare for Christmas next week.  Grab the decorations out of storage and set the butter out to soften. You have work to do. 

God Bless you and Merry Christmas.

Jan

God’s Promises

Luke 2:10-11

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Jesus=joy, and joy=Jesus.

Romans 15:13

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Our hope is found in Jesus, and joy always follows this hope. And not just at Christmas time.

 

When the car sticker begins to fade

“…we need to fight our way out of the fog, and retrieve our precious memories.”

If you drive you see them everywhere. You might even have one yourself. I do.

I knew the minute I placed it on my car I would instantly become one of those people others gawk at. Admittedly, I’ve done my share of gawking too. The process takes a matter of seconds from start to finish. We strain to read the name and dates as we leave a haze of exhaust in the rearview mirror, carrying on with our busy day. I’ll leave the sadness in the car behind me, thank you very much.

Until.

Until someone we love dies and we become part of the club no one wants to be a member of. The laminated piece of paper that now dons our car window is a traveling memorial which represents our loved one. It keeps their memory alive. For us anyway.

Over time rain, sleet, snow and countless trips to the car wash take their toll and the sticker begins to fade. As we squint to read the fine print, we may ask ourselves, “When did this start to happen?”  “Did I even notice?”

I had to wonder if the fading sticker on my car had become a metaphor for my memories slowly fading out of my reach. Sticker or not, have you ever asked yourself similar questions?  “How well am I doing at remembering them?”

My son David took his life after smoking a synthetic drug called K2 in the spring of 2010, a week after graduating from high school. He was 18.

The distance between that devastating day, almost 9 years ago, and my world today continues to grow, and so does the gap between my memories. I used to recall the smallest of details about David, but now?  I strain to remember what his voice sounded like!  I can’t imagine not being able to remember! Photographs and memories are all I have left of him. (That’s a sad but great Jim Croce song btw.)

As life marches on, this gap will continue to widen for all of us, making it harder to remember things like we used to. It’s heartbreaking. It’s also very odd because the memories we may have avoided because they caused us so much pain early on, are the very same memories we’re trying so desperately remember. This has been my experience anyway.

And beyond that, when I think about life events, I tend to place them on the “did it happen before or after we lost David” timeline. Nine years is a long time, but it drives me crazy when the years overlap each other and I question myself. I should know! It feels like an epic fail. It saddens me, and it leaves me with the same void I was left with when we lost him.

The mind plays tricks when we grieve. Why do I listen to the lie that I’m losing my grip on my memories of David? Details might get a little hazy at times, but I remember him.  Of course I remember him! This seems stupid even as I write this. Geez! Such as life in the confusing journey of grief. Am I the only one who struggles with this?

Our memories ebb and flow. Maybe that’s how it’s suppose to be. Maybe God protects us when our loss is fresh, and surprises us with the gift of beautiful memories in the years that follow when we need them most. Maybe I’m making way too much of a simple thing.

Still, when the elements of time compete with our memories we can be fooled into thinking we’re somehow forgetting them. We need to cut ourselves some slack. This is not a reflection of our love for them. Our loved ones live in our hearts. That will never change. At some point however, we need to fight our way out of the fog, and retrieve our precious memories. If we don’t take action nothing will change. So Fight.

Take a deep breath. The process of jumpstarting memories you thought were forgotten will take you straight into the pain of your loss. It’s okay. Grab some Kleenex. Grab that photo album. Start a new one. Restore old family videos to DVD’s and watch them. Ask others to share their memories with you. It’s not as awkward as you think. You will both blessed as you reminisce. Older memories will comfort you as they rise to the surface again, and new ones can be clung onto with newfound joy.

And if memories of your loved ones were less than perfect, search for something good, something positive, no matter how minuscule. Forgive what needs to be forgiven, and salvage what can be salvaged, then grasp onto it. Make a commitment to finding peace and contentment with it. Let it be enough for you.

Dear friend,

Grieving people need to fight against the ‘woe is me’ mentality at every turn. Feeling bad that we can’t remember things like we used to is just one example. There are many others. You know this to be true. If we don’t take action nothing will change.

Our love for those we lost will NEVER fade, and we will NEVER forget them because they live in us. Push your way out of the fog once again and jumpstart your memory banks. The heart remembers everything. We just need a little help from time to time.

With heartfelt prayer for healing,

Jan

 

 

 

Is it time to unlock your grief room?

“It’s a place we visit from time to time, but we’re not meant to live there.”
 

When is it appropriate to move out from your grief room after someone you love has died? Every one has an opinion on this. It’s more of a state of mind and emotions than a room of course, but you get the idea.

I believe going through all of our emotions is important. Its necessary, but there comes a time when remaining here for too long can be harmful. We need to be able to engage outside it.

Maybe this means finally getting the counseling you’ve been avoiding. Having coffee with a friend. Going to a movie. Calling that friend back whose left you a million messages. Addressing that stack of laundry. Yeah, those yoga pants? You should wash those. Going to church on Sunday. Volunteering at church. Going back to Bible study again, or accepting the various invitations to join one.  Doing things you used to. Trying new things. The list is endless.

We have a million excuses.

It’s overwhelming and even harder to explain how such a place of pain can become a safety net. We find ourselves spending more and more time in it rather than outside it. Only you have the power to unlock your grief bubble and peer out into the world where life continues on.

We’ll never get over our loss but we need to work toward our healing, without taking out a second mortgage on our grief room. It’s hard work. Really hard. Have you struggled with this? I have.

I know I will always need to be healed from the inside out as I continue to miss my son David, and the synthetic drug battle also continues to rage on. This just adds yet another layer of grief.

Despite this indescribable anguish that grips us, God’s mercy is stronger. Where there is anguish there is also healing, and where there is healing, there is also living. Right now.

There comes a time when any good father gently guides his children forward. It’s a sign of his love.  Over the years, ours sons played sports. My husband and I were always there to root them on.  Mike may have told them to “rub dirt on it,” “shake it off,” or my personal favorite, “stop playing with bugs in the grass!” If the boys let themselves get side tracked, they wouldn’t be able to focus on the next play, let alone the next game. Mike was simply giving them the extra push they needed to move forward.  God does the same.

God wants to reshape, renew and redefine us. He is with us each and every time we muster the courage to venture out of our comfort zone. It’s a big deal. It’s a check mark.

I don’t know about you, but at some point during these cycles I just get tired of it. Don’t you ever want to engage in what’s going on ‘on the outside?’

Dear Friend,

No matter how recent your loss, spending time in our grief room is normal. It’s a place we visit from time to time, but we’re not meant to live there.  God meets with you here to be sure, but he also wants to lovingly ease you out into the land of the living. 

Some of you have spent far too long in this cramped space. I pray you will trust God nudging you toward the door. Crack it open, air it out a bit. Walk outside and feel the sun and wind on your face. 

Promises

Joshua 1:9