Be Still, Just be Still

be still

Being still is hard.  Sometimes, it feels impossible.  It’s especially difficult for me when anxiety is running wild.  We all have moments of anxiety.  But for some, anxiety is ever-present.  It’s often linked to depression.  And, it can be exhausting.

Have you ever had so much caffeine that you can’t seem to put a thought together and just felt jittery?  That’s what anxiety felt like to me.  Anxiety is defined as stress that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event, the inability to set aside a worry, and restlessness.  When I feel that things are getting out of my control, I can get extremely restless and fidgety.  My thoughts are not always logical.  Everything around me can feel irritating.  I have a need to “fix it” or “hide from it”.

My first husband’s death sent me into a tailspin with grief.  I didn’t know how I was going to manage.  I didn’t want to manage alone.  The fears were so strong and so deep that just deciding what to wear in the morning was almost too big of a decision.  I wanted to know where my kids were at every moment.  I had nightmares,  so I didn’t sleep much.  I spent hours just walking in circles around the living room in the middle of the night.  As the months and then years passed, I believed that I was getting over it all.  But, the reality was:  I had just gotten used to coping with the anxiety and depression.  I could put on a good face for friends, family and co-workers.  I scheduled as much into my week as I could.  I worked full-time.  I volunteered with my church.  I volunteered for activities at the school my kids attended.  I stayed as busy as I could.  My kids grew up and life slowed down.

I found comfort in concentrating on anything.  Most people would call it obsessing.  Terry and I had dreamed of replacing our wedding dishes with depression glass.  So, I set about doing just that on Ebay.  I bought platonite place settings and serving dishes.  I bought emerald-green depression glass.  I found a particular glass goblet that I liked and bought a whole set in emerald-green and red as well as matching cocktail glasses.  I collected peanut butter glasses with state flowers.  I hunted for cottage cheese bowls (I had 5 different colors.)  I bought leather purses.  My kids would joke about all of the boxes I was getting.  I collected flamingos for the yard and for the house.  When I was looking for new things to buy, I didn’t have to face my life.

When both of my children left home, I had a more difficult time filling the time.  I would cook a big elaborate meal once a week and my son would come and eat.  But, the rest of the week, I would buy take out and eat in my driveway.  On weekends when my daughter wasn’t coming home or I wasn’t going to see her, I would just stay in bed and watch TV and sleep.  The only reason I would get up was to let the dogs out.  I avoided the reality of my life as much as possible.  Things that should have been important, just weren’t any more.  I felt like my life was over and I was just waiting it out.  I prayed and studied, but nothing seemed to make a dent in the numbness that had become so normal for me.

I had convinced myself that I was “just fine.”  I had worked through all of my issues.  As Tim and I began to talk about a future together, my very tightly wound ball began to come undone.  Emotions and feelings that I had not allowed to surface for years were suddenly in full view.  It was at that time, I sought the help of a counselor.  It took a few tries to find a good fit, but it was worth it.  I could sit and talk about my fears and doubts.  I began to work on issues that had been around for way too long.  I began to feel that I was gaining control; I was becoming a whole person again.

I was no longer afraid of being alone, of being still.  I realized that I needed time alone to spend with my Bible and in prayer, writing or drawing.  I had allowed grief to become self-doubt and fear.  I stood by as the enemy had robbed me of the ability of “being still”.  I had to learn, again, what peace comes with knowing God.

Stop the busyness.  Look at what God has for you.  Listen for His leading.  Be still.

Just be still.

Crispy Edges

My daughter looks forward to the pancakes at Cracker Barrel.  Really, she just looks forward to the edges of the pancakes; the crispy browned edges are her favorite.  But, when it comes to orange rolls or brownies, it’s the soft inner pieces that are the best.

Grief gives life crispy edges.  Edges that are delicate and break easily.  Edges that call to you at times.  I prefer to live in the warm, protected center of life.  That’s where my family is the safest and the happiest.  That is where I search for my  value and my worth.  But, there are times, that I must venture out to the edges and taste the bittersweetness that comes with memories.  Fragile memories that still have the power to break my heart.  Precious memories that fade a little with time, but still stir up so many emotions when unwrapped.

Today is a day for the edges.  Thirty years ago on this day, I became Mrs. Terry Benson.  We set out on the adventure of life together.  I see people talk about marrying their best friend and can’t help but wonder how they define friendship.  Terry was indeed my best friend.  We did  everything together.  We had one car for most of our marriage, so he drove me to work each morning and picked me up each afternoon.  He packed my lunch for me.  When the time came, he was a stay at home dad for our kids.  He never complained about me to my family.  He was only complimentary.  He didn’t call me rude names behind my back.  He was always uplifting and protective of me.  He loved my family and never criticized my relationship with them.   Even when things were rough with his own20140214-070338.jpg family, he never said unkind or mean things about them.  There were many times that we disagreed and fought.  And we always came to an agreement and forgave.  Our marriage was more important that either of us as individuals.

So for today, I venture out to the edges that are crisp and full of memories.  Today, I will savor the memories of the love of my early life, the father of my children.  I know that these memories don’t diminish the love I have now for Tim.  My past has prepared me to love him even more deeply.  The edges remind me how fragile life and love can be.  I know that I want to protect the soft center where my life and love currently exist.

Sometimes crispy edges are what we need.  And, sometimes its the soft center that we desire.  Life is made up of both.

A moment

All it takes is the mention of your name and I drift away from the moment.
My mind turns to my memories of you: your smile, your laugh, your touch, the scent of your cologne.
Reality fades into a dream world as the memories of you move to the fore-front of my mind.
In the midst of the swirl of activity, I go to that place and I’m still safe and protected with you.
You are always there and my heart beats a little faster at the thought of seeing you again.
Sadly, reality refuses be shoved to the side for very long and as quickly as the memories come, you are gone.
But for a moment, a precious moment, you were there, a reminder of how blessed I was to have you in my life.
I will be back. For your name is never far from my lips. I’ll be there to snatch another memory, another moment with you.
For it’s in my memories where love still lives.

I Confess

I’m a widow. This is my confession.

I don’t want to go to restaurants alone. It’s almost like I have a sign on my forehead that says “She’s all by herself.” I have done it, but I feel like I’m wasting valuable space.

Sometimes, I get take out and eat it in my car. In my driveway. I just don’t want to go into an empty house and eat alone.

Cheese and crackers are just fine for lunch and dinner and even breakfast. Chips and dip or Raisin Bran are also acceptable.

I sleep in my recliner most nights. I hate crawling into my bed all by myself. Too many memories.

I keep the TV on 24 hours a day. It keeps me company, and it muffles the outside noises. It helps make the house feel less empty, a little less lonely.

I talk to the TV. And the dogs. And myself. A LOT!

When I’m all by myself and I don’t have to get up and get dressed, I don’t. I’ve spent entire weekends sleeping just because I don’t want to get out.

I buy Peeps marshmallow chicks and bunnies every spring. Sometimes I get a box in every color.

I don’t like Peeps. Terry did.

Seeing couples around my age holding hands and just enjoying time together still makes me cry and a little jealous.

I still get mad at my husband and yell at him on occasion. I don’t think I forgiven him for dying, yet.

I still miss the other half of my couple.

I always will.

Today

There are things I miss:

Your smile and your laugh.

Falling into your arms for a reassuring embrace when things aren’t going that well.

Knowing that there’s always someone on my side, even if I’m wrong.

Feeling beautiful and loved just because you say so.

Unplanned date nights, just because.

Snuggling on the sofa watching television with you thee to tell me what I missed when I fall asleep.

Late night talks and dreaming and planning and wondering what tomorrow will bring.

I have become accustomed to missing all of theses things on most days. But not today.

Today my heart hurts and my tears flow freely. And the ache feels fresh and new.

I will count my blessings. I will look to tomorrow and dream of what is to come.

But today, there are things that I miss.

Eights Years Later

A close friend asked me this weekend if Valentine’s Day was any easier eight years after losing my husband. Without much thought, I answered “No.” After some thought, I think I will amend or at least explain my answer.

Valentine’s Day (although very commercial) is the day we celebrate love. In my ideal world, it’s the day of hand-written notes and super gooey expressions of love. It’s an excuse to go all out to tell someone that they’re special and loved. Now, Terry was not a super romantic. He tried, and he had his moments, but it was work for him. He was under the (mistaken) impression that one box of cheap candy from Wal-greens was enough for the whole family on Valentine’s Day. He did find ways to make it a day of special remembrances. I still have the last Valentine’s card he gave me. It’s silly and I cherish it.

The first few years after Terry died, I HATED February 14. It was a reminder of everything I had lost, the life that was stolen from me. Terry made me laugh and cry. He made me angry and helped me to calm down. He loved me deeply and completely. He was my confidante and my co-conspirator. He was always there, always ready. We shared our biggest dreams, our deepest fears, our greatest hopes. How do I “get over” losing that one person that was such a huge part of my world? I never will.

This year, eight years later, I don’t say that “I Hate” February 14. The day is not as crippling to me as it has been in the past. But, I still mourn what I’ve lost. I confess that I look around at the roses being delivered to the office and I am envious. I miss being special and having a special someone to shower with love and silly gifts and cards. I would like to have one of those special Valentine’s Day dinners with someone other than one of my kids. I wonder as I look at couples if they really understand how wonderful it is to be a couple. Do they just take it all for granted?

So, my answer is remains “No.” I close my eyes and try to return to those days when I was cherished. I try to remember feeling safe and loved and special. I give thanks for the love I did know. And, on those dark days that still overtake me on occasion, I ask “Why?” No, it’s not any easier after eight years.

Holidays

Holidays. Just say the word and for many of us it brings to mind parties and fun, trees and sparkly lights, decorating and packages, time with friends and family. But for some, it means bittersweet memories and tears, forced smiles and avoidance, noisy crowds and irritation. I talked to two different people today that mentioned difficult holiday emotions. For one, this is the first try at Thanksgiving and Christmas after losing a spouse. The other is facing the 3rd round of navigating the holiday season. Both are facing some difficult emotions.

The first holiday season after Terry died is a little blurry in my memories. Our loss was still just weeks old when we were faced with Thanksgiving. Christmas followed close behind while grief still had a stronghold on our lives. Thankfully, we were staying with a friend and spent the actual holidays with family, so decorating decisions were a non-issue. The following year we spent Thanksgiving in Oklahoma for a wrestling tournament. My only concession for Christmas decorations that year was a pre-lit, six inch tree.

In 2008, Gracie wanted to do Christmas right. I wasn’t sure how to face the memories, but I was determined to fulfill her request. I decided to stray from the traditional decor and go outside of the box. Every color my mother said wasn’t “Christmasy” was now on our tree. We bought pink, purple & lime green feather boas to use as garland. If it was hot pink, purple, orange or green, it was a decoration for our tree. We used flamingoes, glittered Santa’s and a few teddy bears from previous trees. The tree skirt was a hot pink sequined scarf. I even had two 4 foot tall stuffed flamingoes that stood guard. The only things banned from our tree was the traditional green and red. It was a new look at Christmas for us.

As the years have passed, more of the old ornaments from past years have been added. We make the cookies and peanut brittle and snacks that Terry loved. And we’ve added some new recipes. I’ve decided it’s okay to eat out for the holiday meals. Not having to worry about cooking the perfect meal relieved a lot of stress for all of us. We’ve kept a few things in our holiday traditions and added some new things. It works for us.

If you know someone that is facing the holiday season with more dread than joy, don’t avoid sharing your holiday excitement. Invite them to be a part of your holidays, whether it’s a party or a program at church or a cup of a special holiday coffee. And don’t be offended if your offers are refused. Keep offering. Because someday, they’ll be ready to share your excitement and joy. It will just look a little different on them.

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Darkness

When I was a child, my parents would take us to Six Flags over Texas in Arlington. At that time, the park was divided into sections that represented the six flags that had flown over Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederate and USA. In the Republic of Texas area, one of the rides was the Davy Crockett River Adventure. You would get on a big “boat” and float down the river. On the way, you would see Indians hiding in the trees and shooting at the boat. There were bandits that were trying to stop the boat, too. The first time I was on this ride, I was in kindergarten. While the adults could see that the people attacking the boat were actually mannequins and the shots fired were really fakes, to a five-year old, it was terrifying. At the end of the ride, the boat guide would start yelling “Oh no! We’re going into that cave! We’re doomed!” In front of the boat, a waterfall would part and the cave would open up to allow us to enter. And, then it closed behind us. I don’t remember much about that first ride. Except for the screaming. My Screaming. I panicked and nothing my dad could do would calm me down. I was certain we would never escape from that cave with it’s spooky skeletons. Of course, we did find our way out. I think all the riders on that boat were glad to escape the screaming little girl. It was YEARS before I chose to travel on the Davy Crockett River Adventure again.

The past few weeks of my life have felt like that river ride. Everything has been dark and a bit sad. Small things that would usually be no big deal have set off explosions in me. Memories have come fast a furious, many precious ones and some I’d rather forget. I know that they’re just memories to be visited and then left behind, but I can’t seem to walk away. I’m surrounded and I don’t know how to escape. This weekend, I entered that cave. It has been dark and scary and I know it’s not forever, but I feel the panic rising and the screams trying to escape just the same. I’ve pushed away those that care about me. No matter how many tears I’ve cried, it’s just not enough. The nightmare just continues.

But, I’m beginning to see the light that marks the way out. I know there is escape from the darkness. I see flashes of hope. Breathing is getting easier, the smiles are not as forced. There will be a few more tears before I’m completely out of the cave. I will come out! And I pray that it’s a very long time before I visit this dark place again.

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:5 NLT

Confession

I have a confession: I’m not crazy about life. In fact, I don’t like it much at all. And, I feel guilty admitting this. I have been given so much in this life. I had 18 years in a wonderful marriage to a man who loved me to his last breath. I have two fantastic kids, a great family and friends that knock it out of the park. I have a home and a good job and I get to serve and worship with some wonderful people throughout the week. I should be enjoying it everyday. But, I’m ready to resign!

Behind every ray of sunshine, there seems to be a dark cloud. I get something repaired and something else breaks. I’ve never been very good at criticism (taking it, handing it out is a breeze) and that’s all I hear: I’m too mean. Or, I’m not taking a stand. I’m too involved. Then, I’m not showing enough interest. My body is revolting against me. I need to get more exercise and get the endorphins pumping, but my knee or my back or my hip or my sinus’ keep me inside. Some days the only thing I do well is stand in the middle of the living room and cry. And I’m tired of crying.

So, I remind myself of the blessings I have and hold on to the hope that “this too will pass.” I look forward to better days and until then will paste on a happy face and pretend. Maybe my brain will start to believe. I’ll try to be a little less sensitive and remember that stuff happens.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 NIV

The Ring

A simple gold band. We had set the date and now we were looking for wedding bands. I liked gold. Terry preferred silver. I liked the sparkle of diamonds. He didn’t care for that. We decided on yellow gold bands with white gold overlays.

A shiny wedding ring. On October 17, 1987, I place that shiny new ring on Terry’s finger. Of course, it was on the wrong hand, but that was soon remedied. He wore that ring every day. I used to tease him that there was no way he could ever get away with taking it off. The white imprint of the wedding band on his ring finger was too obvious. Thru the years, my band was replaced with a diamond band, but Terry’s remained the same.

A well worn ring. No longer perfectly round, the white gold overlays faded after 18 years of constant wear. But there is nothing quite as precious to me as that ring that was returned to me in the hospital corridor five years ago. I wear it proudly as reminder of the love that we shared.

Terry, I miss you so much!

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