The Gifts of Grief

Grief is not a “gift” one wants.  Grief is forced upon you.   It doesn’t give you a choice.  It’s presence can be over-powering and suffocating.  You move through grief , taking life’s lessons as you go.  It’s not pleasant to endure.   As I look back,  I’m grateful for many of the gifts I received along this journey.

  1.  The more you love, the greater the grief.  On days when grief seemed impossible to endure, I remembered the great love that I had experienced.  And I realized that I wouldn’t have given up a single moment of that love to lessen the grief I was feeling.
  2. Seize the moment. You never know when death will come.  We are only promised this moment.  Don’t wait to tell someone how much you love them.  Never miss a chance to give a hug or smile.  You may not get another opportunity.
  3. Show your appreciation.  It wasn’t until after my husband died that truly realized how important he was to my life on a daily basis.  He prepared paid the bills, shopped for groceries, ran errands, drove me to and from work, held my hand, and listened to me talk.  I lost so much the day he died.  I wish I had thanked him more.
  4. Recognize the gift you have.  I was as guilty as anyone of complaining about my husband’s faults: he snored; he was a dreamer; he procrastinated.  After he was gone, I would have done anything to have one more night laying awake listening to his snoring.
  5. Cherish those you love.  Stop complaining about things that won’t matter in the long run.  Be grateful for the time you have now.  It’s not a competition on who does the most around the house.  Who took out the trash last won’t matter in the long run.  Decide to say only positive things about your spouse or family members to others.  It will change the way you think about the ones you love.
  6. Never miss an opportunity to show love.  Some might think I say “I love you” too much.   But, I promised that I would never miss an opportunity to say those words again.
  7. Relationships that withstand grief will be unbreakable.  My children and I had to learn to be a family of three.  We are probably closer than we would have been had their father lived. We spent lots of time together just trying to survive.  Many people don’t understand the bond that we have.  They don’t understand the reaction my kids have when they hear friends criticizing their own parents.  Others are not prepared for the defenses that come into play when any one of our family is “attacked” verbally or otherwise.  Our interdependence was formed through our grief.  As our family has grown, the defenses have spread out to in-laws and step-family.

When it comes to loving my family and friends, treating every moment as if it may be our last is the greatest  gift I received from Grief.  I never miss a chance to let my husband know how much I love and appreciate him.  I want all of my kids to know they are precious and loved.  I hold more tightly to those that I love because I’ve learned the value of  that love.

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“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  1 Peter 4:8 NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eagles

Life can be interesting. It is often a conundrum. We seek peace and calm and then complain of boredom. We look for fulfillment in our spouses and our children while blaming them for the bumps and difficulties that we face. We look for happiness in every moment, but destroy opportunities for joy along the way.

Humans are supposed to be at the top of “the ladder.” We are above all of the animals. We have opposable thumbs. We think and have the freedom to make choices about our lives. We control our own destiny. At least, that’s what we like to believe. And yet, when I watch a pair of eagles work on their nest and raise their chicks, I have to wonder. Are we really better? Eagles mate for life. Occasionally, a young female will attempt to steal the nest and the male from a pair. But, that doesn’t happen often or very successfully. The claws come out (quite literally) and the fight ensues. The established female will fight to the death to protect her nest, her chicks and her partner. Why are we humans not willing to fight to protect what we have? Why is it so easy to just walk away?

I’ve not been in the situation where my spouse walked away. My husband died. There were no second chances. During our marriage we fought. We fought with each other. We fought to stay together. We fought to raise our children. There were many times that I would not describe as “happy.” But, we had a life-long commitment to work through the bad times. We were willing to fight for our marriage and our family. I guess that’s why I love to watch the eagle-cams on the internet. I can relate to the pair of eagles as they work together to protect and nurture their family.

I was blessed with a good marriage to a Godly man. For eighteen years, we worked at keeping our family together. We laughed and cried together. We faced fears and illnesses. We coped with extended family issues. There were times that we both entertained the idea of walking away. But, the promises that we made to each other were real. We were together until “death do we part.” We were committed. And all too soon, he was gone. No do overs.  There were no more options for us. As a result, I don’t have any tolerance for the common excuses for breaking marriage vows: “I deserve to be happy” or “We’ve just grown apart.” No one deserves to be happy. You choose to be happy. You choose to grow together.

Now, I’m engaged. After 9 ½ years of widowhood, I’m planning a new life with another wonderful, Godly man. And, honestly, I am scared to death! I’m also extremely happy and blessed. As we make plans to blend our lives and our families, I am so excited about what the future holds. I never dreamed that I would get a second chance at love, a second chance to build a marriage and a new life. I know there will be challenges. We are not in our twenties. We have children (and a grandchild) and all the baggage that comes with a more mature life. We have dealt with death and divorce in our past marriages and as a result we face trust and security issues. But, we are committed to building a strong marriage on Godly standards. We will face life together and weather the storms that come.

During the ice and snow storms last winter, there was a video released of a bald-eagle sitting on its nest, covered in snow. At first, it was hard to see anything but the snow. Only the eagle’s beak was uncovered. Then the snow began to move. The eagle emerged from under the covering of snow and tossed it aside with its strong wings. While inspecting the eggs that were protected from the cold, the partner eagle flew down and brought food and relief. They were a team. That’s the marriage that I want to build. Again. No matter what problems seem to cover us up, we will be together. No matter what storms approach, internally or externally, we will stand against them together, supporting each other. When one partner is covered up, the other will be there with the support that is necessary and needed. No one walks away, grateful for the happiness but seeking the joy that comes from a marriage established with God as the center.

This year will be exciting, happy, stressful, scary, fun and joyful. And that’s what makes life so interesting: the Ups and the Downs. Strap yourself in, it’s going to be a ride to remember!

“but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 NIV 

Silk Flowers

Yesterday I put flowers on my husband’s grave. I do this whenever I make the trip home. For eight years I have brought new silk flowers to fill the marble urn on the headstone that marks his little plot of ground. There are people that think this is a waste of time and money. Terry doesn’t know or care if there are flowers on his grave. Actually, Terry didn’t see any reason to spend money on flowers when he was alive. The irony never fails to amuse me: I’ve put more flowers on his grave than he ever gave to me during our marriage. And I’m ok with that.

To be clear: I don’t put flowers on his grave to make Terry happy. I know Terry’s not in that cemetery. It’s just his shell that we buried. I do it because I want anyone that passes his gravesite to know that he was important to someone. Flowers are the only way I have left to say he was loved. It’s the one place that allows me to openly honor him. I will continue to refresh the bouquets as long as I can, in memory of the husband and father that Terry was. In memory of the love that I cherish to this day.

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Fear

When I was a child, I would watch my mother test the iron with her finger. Maybe you know the move: 1) lick your finger 2) lightly and quickly touch the ironing plate to see if its hot. One day, I decided to “test the iron.” I licked my finger and stuck it to the bottom of the iron. Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t picked up on the “light and quick” touch. And the iron was HOT. I ended up with a big blister on my index finger and a fear being burned by the iron.

There are lots of things in life we avoid because of the pain they have caused us in the past. Whether it’s a burned finger, an embarrassing moment or a broken heart, painful memories stick with us and may cause us to use caution in the future. In many cases it’s good to avoid something. I certainly avoid burning myself. I learned that lesson well. But there are other things that I probably shouldn’t avoid. I learned to ride a bicycle when I was six. I fell a few times before I learned how to balance and pedal all at the same time. It was tempting to stop trying to ride my bike after my first fall. But, instead of avoiding the bicycle, I decided to avoid the falling part. However, when I tried out a skateboard and ended up with road rash from sliding across the pavement, I decided to avoid skateboards completely. My life didn’t need skateboards to be complete.

One of the my biggest fears has to do with love. Specifically in loving others. Like most of us, I’ve put my trust in the wrong person at one time or another. I’ve allowed my emotions to rule over my good sense and fallen head-over-heels “in love” with a jerk or two in my lifetime. I’ve shared too much with a “friend” and then discovered that we were really just acquaintances. I’ve pinned all my hopes on another person’s word only to see everything come crashing down around me. As a result, it’s harder for me to trust. Harder for me to love.

After my husband died, I promised myself that I would never allow anyone to get close enough to cause that kind of pain in my life ever again. We had fought for our marriage and learned the value of trust and love. Love didn’t protect me from the pain of his death. In fact, it was that very love that caused the deepest pain. When he died, a large piece of me died too. And I was determined to avoid caring about or trusting anyone else. And life was really lonely and sad.

Although I could justify my avoidance in my own mind, I knew it was not right. I kept reading the scriptures like Romans 5:8, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” And John 15:13 “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Over time, I realized that I had to stop avoiding trust and love. It didn’t matter if I got hurt along the way, my example is Christ and He died because he loved me.

I may never have another chance at the kind of love/relationship I shared with Terry. Honestly, that makes me a bit sad. But, I will be forever thankful that I loved and was loved enough to break my heart so completely. Not everyone gets that chance. I will continue to look for ways to show trust and love to others around me and to honor the love the God has given to me.

Eight

There’s nothing really spectacular about the number 8. It’s not a prime number. In the dictionary it is “the number following seven and before nine.” It’s not a symbol of perfection like seven or three. It’s just eight. But there are some things associated with the number 8.

An octupus has 8 legs.

The Octet rule in science deals with the line up of electrons.

The eighth amendment prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments, including torture.

Eight track tapes were all the rage in mid-sixties thru the seventies.

“Eight is Enough” was a popular television series in the late seventies.

Eight O’Clock coffee is a well-known brand of coffee.

No one wants to be behind the eight ball.

Skaters work on their figure eights.

In music, eight notes make up an octave. There is also an eighth note, 1/8 of the whole. And, eight people making music together is an octet.

Eight babies born at the same time to one mother are octuplets.

It took me eight years to complete elementary & middle school classes. And then I spent eight more years finishing High School and college classes.

And finally, eight is the number of years you’ve been gone. Eights years of our kids lives without your input. Eight years of spending anniversaries alone. Eight years.

I miss you, Terry.

Terry Gene Benson
Feb 1, 1958 – Nov 2, 2005

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Tired

I’m tired.

I’m tired of being responsible.

I’m tired of “smiling” when it hurts.

I’m tired of solving one problem only to have two more pop up.

I’m tired of tears and pain and sorrow.

I’m tired of broken promises and lies and cheating.

I’m tired of being PC when the truth makes more sense.

I’m tired of insensitivity and immorality and stupidity.

I’m tired of ‘happiness’ at another’s expense.

I’m tired of excuses instead of honesty.

I’m tired of back-stabbing and slander and ugliness.

I’m tired of alone becoming lonely.

I’m tired of death and dying and grief.

I’m just tired of it all.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Matthew 11:28-29

Anniversary

An anniversary marks a significant event in life. Most times, we think of anniversaries as celebrations. But what about those anniversaries that aren’t so great? Death and divorce leave a huge imprint on the lives they touch. And these anniversaries are multiplied by every other special event was ever celebrated. We can not avoid the anniversaries, and we do not want to celebrate. We honor the memory while touching the pain they cause as little as possible.

Admittedly, it’s easier not to remember. I’ve been told that I live life as if it’s a circle. I always come back to an event. Some people live life as a straight line and just move away from unpleasant events. Yet, those sad anniversaries are just as important as the happy ones. These anniversaries give us a chance to review the past year, to see what growth we have achieved, to see that we are still living. We are given a chance to reflect on what we currently value, what is really important. While I don’t want to dwell on the rough times, I do think there is value in remembering. I guess I’m looking for whatever good there is to remember. I want to find value, and justify the pain that shoots thru me at odd times.

Too often society defines how we should react. We are told to be strong. Be brave. Don’t look weak. Don’t get mad, get even. And, the expectation is there: Get over it. Move on. The first year in a child’s life is measured first in days, weeks, months and eventually years. Anniversaries are often measured the same way. But, after the first anniversary of a death or divorce, we are supposed to stop noticing the passing of time. After all, its been a year. You should be “over it”, right? I expected that first year of widowhood to be hard. I was surprised how hard the second year was. I wasn’t “fixed”. I still had issues. I didn’t cry as much and the days weren’t as dark, but the scars were still fresh and tender. I was moving forward with life and any admissions of grief were frowned upon by most. I had little patience with my own progress. I often felt guilty about grieving because it showed weakness. I was blessed to have friends that understood, accepted and encouraged me to be honest. Never underestimate the value of a strong shoulder or a firm embrace. These can quite literally save a life.

My faith was all I had left when death destroyed my life. I had my hope. And while hope and faith are good, they don’t remove the pain or the regret. So often in the darkest days, I thought I was letting God down. I wasn’t recovering fast enough. I was too sad. I was angry. I was lost in a world I didn’t understand and I didn’t want to be there. People that had offered support, the people I thought I could depend upon drifted away and moved on with their lives. I had to inch forward into the world around me, careful not to make anyone uncomfortable with my neediness. I had to learn to trust myself and others, again.

As each anniversary comes and goes, I remember what used to be. I wonder what might have been. And, I mourn the losses. And, I remember that I am alive and I have a purpose. I believe that God has a plan for my life even if I don’t understand or (sometimes) agree with it. Each year gives me a chance to measure how very far I have come and what I have accomplished. I’ve learned to celebrate the inches instead of bemoaning the shortage of miles. The anniversaries still hurt. They always will. And, I will continue to celebrate what I can as each year passes.