January 9, 2018 - I remember

I woke up this morning with a jolt. “In two days, Andy is going to die”. There was immediate absurdity in that statement for knowing I cannot foreshadow Andy’s death. He’s already dead. But that is where I am, reliving the week of Andy’s death. It’s interesting to me that as you come up on a 1 year anniversary, you start re-feeling and re-seeing the events of those days.  I can’t remember what I felt last week on a Wednesday morning. But I can tell you in minute details exactly what I thought and felt Wednesday a year ago. It’s as if an anniversary possesses gravity and orbit which pulls our body right back in to the moments leading up to, and the moments following, a significant life event. My mind is telling me that in two days I will once again be standing in my bathroom looking in the mirror trying to figure out how exactly I am going to get down the hallway, out the door, and into my car and drive. At that moment in time, I didn’t know if Andy had been murdered, or what had happened. I simply remembering thinking while looking at my reflection in that mirror having just hung up the phone, Andy was lying dead next to his car.

I remember driving to Andy’s house that morning, knowing I would be the first family member to arrive as my parents and sister lived out of town and my husband was away on business. As I turned the corner to his house I saw the street packed with cars as people had begun arriving to console the family. I remember how strange that felt, seeing all the cars and knowing the house would be flooded with people. As an introvert, I didn’t know how to walk in that door and see all the people, most of whom I didn’t know, on the other side. Having not yet been able to process the shock of the news delivered just an hour before, I knew this flood of people would bring out the emotions that had not yet surfaced. I don’t remember how I felt last Wednesday, but I can recall with great detail the feelings of that morning as I stared over the steering wheel at the front door of his house. 

I remember later that day walking outside and seeing my mom leaning forward on the side of a car. Hands over her face, shoulders pulled in to compact her body as tight as she could and sobs rolling out of her crushed spirit. I recall folding her back against my chest in silence knowing I was experiencing a moment that could carry no words. I can’t tell you how my mother stood during last interaction, but I can tell you every detail of this moment as she grieved her son.

I remember standing in the cul-de-sac with my father trying to make sense of all. The lines etched on his face deeper and more meaningful than I had noticed before. It was as if he and I had aged 20 years in appearance and wisdom in the 5 hours that had passed. I don’t remember the expression dad had on his face when I saw him a few weeks ago. But I recall in detailed memory the look on his face as we verbally grasped for any sense of how and what following the death of his son.

I remember standing around the kitchen island after putting food on my plate. I can feel the weight of its balance in one hand and texture of the cup in the other. I can see myself carrying it to the table and  then sitting while I pushed the contents around on the plate. Although, I can't recall the taste of the food because not a single morsel made it to my lips. I feel even now the pit in my stomach while wondering if I would ever eat again. 

I remember later that evening when my husband walked in the door. Having driven several hours to get back home after hearing the news, he bee-lined it straight from the door for me. I can vividly describe the details of that scene, the details of his clothing, and the look in his eyes. I don’t remember what he was wearing when he came in from work last night, but I can tell you as he came with arms wide open exactly what he wore.  

I remember two days later seeing Andy’s body for the first time. He was laying in the casket. Hands folded exactly so. His hair the exact shade of red I knew it to be. My first thought was “Where are his glasses? How is he going to see anything without his glasses?” I knew it was finally true that he had died, because he would have never sat there without his glasses. I don’t remember the feeling I had when I walked into a work meeting a few days ago, but I vividly pull to mind the details of surrounding that casket with family over in the far end of that room.

I remember walking down the aisle in the church and seeing the room flooded with so many familiar faces, almost a thousand people gathering in the love of Andy. I don’t know where anyone sat at Christmas dinner less than a month ago, but I recall the exact position of our entire family and that of many friends in the chairs of that room.

I remember walking up to Hank (as I call him here), the man who found Andy, in the lobby. I wanted to know who had experienced this moment with Andy and I wanted to pray for the impact this heroic moment would later have in Hank’s life. I had such concern for what trauma he may be experiencing in the days leading after.  There are moments when I can only recall the large aspects of my grandfather’s face, but I recall that of Hank's which I have only seen once.

I remember standing cold in the grass as people gathered around. I can now recall how amazed I was that people continued to show up. I don’t know who all was at my wedding, but I still know the faces of that crowd.

I remember the night before Andy’s death I was out to dinner with 3 of my friends, as my husband was out of town. I see us sitting with me telling them how run of the mill life had been that week and showing them pictures of my dining room, having finished painting it only 2 days before during the snow storm. My life had been so trivial, I recall, as one of the girls was discussing a significant life event in her workplace. I remember thinking how blessed I was in my job and having the feeling of “low key” in my life. I can’t remember sentences said in a conversation I had last week, but I remember this discussion almost 12 hours before Andy died.

Some people block out the memories around a traumatic event. I somehow have locked in my mind several, if not most, of the moments in time from that week. They are rich in texture and ripe with emotion that finds a way of flooding you in times of great loss. They have woven themselves into my daily activities, on occasion, but stand in the forefront now in the days leading up to “a year after”. Total recall. To be determined if it will be a blessing or a curse. But for now they give me comfort in reminding me of the love of relationship which surrounded us and which would ultimately softened the death of Andy. I’ve tidied up the “firsts” that come in the year following and I’ve somehow navigated the seconds, minutes, hours and days that come in the after, but the “I remember” of the details following his death forever (thus far) locks a piece of me in those moments. And it’s where I want a piece of me to always be. The sweetest of moments when Andy suddenly was more than just simply my brother.

I’ve faced the frailty of my own life having faced my own prospect of death with Lymphoma. But it wasn’t until experiencing the moments of losing Andy that I absorbed the “split second” landscape of life.  In two days, Andy will be gone. How would I do these next two days differently if I knew that going in? What would you choose differently for your next two days, so that in looking back later you will almost nostalgically find yourself saying “I remember…”. It is probably very different than what you currently have on your to-do list, and just maybe, now is the perfect time to rearrange.

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January 3, 2018 - Three crystals of flaky white snow

I’m sitting here watching the first flakes of snow fall, blanketing the grunge below it in a renewing white. In the first hours of snowfall I am reminded of how the earthly slate is gradually being wiped clean. No matter what lies beneath, the snow finds a way to hide the contents underneath. If only for a minute, the flakes are unstirred and able to recanvas the world in its opaque snow white. A clean slate. A freshly applied masterpiece. It’s breathtaking, really, at how quickly it all becomes transformed. The ugliest of landscapes suddenly rivals the most spectacular all because of the pre-scripted fall of a collection of ice crystals. Yes, soon it is marred again with the traffic of to and fro but for a moment, while undisturbed, it’s has the ability to be anything and everything you can imagine.

I see myself now, a year after my brother’s death, as the snow drifts down on the stone pavers outside,  that the past 12 months for me have been exactly like snow.  On January 11, I woke up to the ugliest of landscapes, seemingly unrepairable, scarred by the evil of life, forever transformed into “after Andy died” and from that singular moment of his body being found, unbeknownst to me at the time the very first flake started to fall.

It started with your praying us through it the moment you got the news. It started with friends and family gathering in his home the morning he died. It started the moment we began pulling the pieces together for his funeral.  It continued to fall as I traversed back into every day life at lightning speed, too soon now in retrospect. It started to accumulate on the sidewalks as I reached out to you in my struggles in the months that would pass.  And then as summer came, it built up along the grassy spots as I flubbered through not understanding my confusion. Finally, fall arrived and my crying out for restoration brought the most beautiful, peaceful, landscape-changing blanketing of snow.

Looking back, I see it took months before I saw the start of the snow canvas, enough flakes falling to begin to take its shape, but soon enough there it was covering the ugly underneath and renewing my landscape. But it, this restoration, started with a single snow flake. I know I am supposed to say 2017 was my worst year, I know those around me would expect this given what we experienced, but in all honesty, sometimes “the worst” finds a way of morphing itself into something else. The moment itself was the worst, but the aftermath, the snow fall, well, it softened my world into something transforming. I’m simply better at being. A miraculous outcome of tragedy.  

I’m able to function again now, albeit many months later, without the horrific triggers of his death infringing on my day. They no longer creep into my morning routine, my overheard conversations, or my leisurely moments. But I am aware I am at risk as I sometimes see it on the periphery of my existence.  A few days before his death, there was snow falling, this exact same week, and I felt a flinch at seeing the same forecast lining up to repeat itself this week. And next week, I will hear the ring of that phone call in my head while I am preparing for my day. But even in this experience (as I’ve termed it, traumatic grief) I am wiser than I once was. I have an ability to see a whole other side of the death experience that I didn’t gain with the death of my grandparents, or close friend from malignancy, or patients I work with daily. It’s as if a stone was pushed away revealing an existence I wasn’t aware of before.  Mastectomy did this as well, with its own insights provided, letting me know that we never really know it all. We think because we have watched something unfold around us, or seen something portrayed in literature that we suddenly “get it” because it was so comprehensively explained. It simply isn’t so. Until you walk in the shoes yourself you simply are an informed observer, a far cry from an experienced survivor. I get that now.  Never again will I assume I know what you are going through. And never again will I assume I’ve learned it all.

“We will thrive in the new scenery not despite the profound loss, but because of the gain and clarity that can come in the experience, even when it feels like tragedy.” These were my words on January 27th, a few days after his death when I wasn’t sure what was up and what was down, but I had enough togetherness to know and trust God’s promises. And I’ve kept those words on my desk this whole year as a reminder of where I was going. Thrive. Gain. Clarity. Three crystals of flaky white snow. 

2 Corinthians 13:9 (ESV) - “For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.”

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August 11, 2017 - He always calls us to something

Her blue eyes had always penetrated my heart. Anytime she was in trouble, she simply has to flash those blue eyes at me and I would crumble under their stare. Seems like just yesterday she was 3 and we were cleaning up play dough out of the carpet. They say the bond of mother and child is incomparable and looking into those eyes I knew there was no other I loved the same.  Her hand felt like porcelain in mine as we walked down the hallway, the weight of our discussion still heavy in the air. “Mom, do you think I made the right decision?” There it was, the elephant of the parent/child relationship.  She always needed my approval as her mom. She craved it as much as the yellow daisies out on my front stoop needed the afternoon sun. And I needed to know I had raised her in a way that she could make the right the decision. Isn’t that why God placed her in my womb? The weight of that was the ton of bricks I carried with me from the day I heard her heartbeat. This blue-eyed miracle had been my mission field. My chance to breathe Christ into the child God placed in my care. Who else would be better positioned to model everything God created us to be to this human being? Every morning I woke praying for her bouncing head of blond curls to go out into the world signifying everything God created her to be, not because of who I am to her, but in spite of who I am to her. Because I mess her up every single day with my humanity.  But I loved her, and I prayed for her, and I mothered her. And I did my best to be what God designed me to be – an example of living grace to those around me and his mission field to my daughter.

Except I didn’t. Because I am not a mom.

I’m acutely aware of that every day. Not because I feel that I need to be, but because almost all of you are. And more of you with each passing day. I feel it in what I read. What I watch. Where I go. In the words forming your sentences. It’s more obvious the further I move from here to there because as time passes the more I am not a mom.

I’ve been thinking about this more the last couple of months, not for the reasons you might expect, but because I have been focusing more on what I am instead of what I am not. Had I been a mother (or father), there would be this life-long need/desire/responsibility/longing/urgency/insatiable acute awareness that there was this being under my responsibility in whom I needed to make a contributing member of society. And as a Christian, a contributing member to the Christ’s society. Isn’t it what you all want as parents? For your kids to make good decisions? For them to succeed? For them to be lovable and to love in return? (Each of these definable by the person doing the defining.) I was recently talking with a friend of mine who was expecting and we were discussing the upcoming delivery. I asked her what she was most nervous about. This is what she said. She was most nervous about her responsibility in modeling life for a child and for the rest of her life.

It got me thinking (not for the first time; I’d already been pondering these specifics), about what my role is in this life. Unlike a majority of the women reading this screen, God didn’t call me to mother-hood. I didn’t hear a heartbeat on a monitor. I’m not experiencing one of the most incredible bonds of life. I’m not seeing those blue eyes looking up at me. I’m not caressing that porcelain hand in mine as we walk down the hallway. I don’t hear her asking the tough questions of advice.  I don’t send her out into the world wondering if I did enough.  I don’t second guess my decisions in how I am parenting every night when I climb into bed. I’m not doing all of the ups and downs of raising up another that you do on every single day.

But actually I do.  I may not be a mother, but God did in fact call me to something similar (though very different, so mothers don’t throw anything at me in frustration at that comparison).

The eyes are Chinese.
The hands are wrinkled.
The questions are about her husband.
The decisions are about advice given across the restaurant table.
Instead of tucking her into bed at night I send her back into her house hoping she’s ok.

God calls us to community. To intentional living where we invest in the people He places in our paths. You see, when you are not a mother, and even when you are a mother, are we not to see our interactions with those God places around us in somewhat of the same light? Should I not be just as equally invested in the walks of my friends and coworkers, and even strangers I am meeting for the first time, as I am in my family? Is not my responsibility to those around me equally as imperative as it would be to my children (a bit of an exaggeration, again don’t throw anything at me)? Whether they are 3 year old blessings given to us through parenthood or 30 and 70 years old friends God places in our journey, we are called to raise them up in the way they should go through investing, shepherding, and covering their lives in prayer. My “blue eyed daughter” right now might be a brown-eyed mother of one who needs someone to help her navigate depression, or a red-headed un-married women trying to understand rejection. Absolutely, as a mother you have been given the biggest blessing and responsibility. Pray, model, and love your child through life, as you give them back over to God for Him to do His (not your) will. Likewise, as a non-mom (or a mom) equally pray, model, and love your friends, coworkers and anyone else God places in your path through life. That’s what God created us for. Dive in and invest. Make a difference. Live mission-ally and committed to someone outside yourself. Are you doing that? Do you have people in your life that you are “raising up”? Do you have “blue eyes” that respect you enough to ask “do you think I made the right decision”? 

God may not always call us in the way that we think he will, but he always calls us to something. And he always calls us inside the life-stage where we are.  As I'm in what they call mid-life, I'm becoming more acutely aware of the question of am I doing what God called me to do in this life? He didn't call me to motherhood, so what did he call me to?  I believe that He calls us all, mothers or not, to investing more in others than we do ourselves. One vision of that is raising our children. One vision of that is raising the people around us.

Are you in mid-life wondering if you are missing the mark? Are you in a life stage thinking God left you out? Are you so focused on where you are "not" that you are totally missing out on your "I am"? Are you forgetting to focus on the raising up the lives God placed around you? God strategically placed you, as you are, for this very moment.

She said she had the fear of the responsibility that comes with raising her unborn child. If we are doing it right, we have the same human driven fear in the responsibility with friendship. At the end of my life, I need to know one life saw the grace of God and was made more meaningful simply because of the existence of me. It’s got me thinking. 

You can access previous posts HERE.

May 12, 2017 - Some bearded man with the clip board

I’ve read that when you are grieving it can take 18 to 24 months (MONTHS) for sleeping and eating patterns to return back to normal. I find that to be an interesting data point. And is that an estimation? Do you take all people that are grieving, throw them into a bucket, take a poll of raising hands and come up with 18 to 24 months? Does it matter what relationship you are to the person who died? Was this a scientific study? Did someone send out a survey? Or maybe some bearded man with a clip board followed you around for hours on end from meal time to snack time, table to table, and again stood at the foot of your bed counting the fretting and rolling patterns of your not sleeping. Maybe they weren’t sleeping because of said tall bearded man in glasses standing in the dark scrawling notes on a note pad? Call me crazy. That intrigues me, 18 to 24 months of awkward, or at least “off your normal” pattern of eating and sleeping. I’m sure it’s true, at least for some duration of time. Well, I know it’s true.

For me, early on, it was the sleep and the eating. I remember the first few days after my brother’s death (if you are new to this, my brother passed away unexpectedly a few months ago) I simply could not eat. I could fill my plate with food and I could sit down at the table, but I could not eat. I might be able to manage a fork full or two, but then it simply would stop. There was not hunger. There were no stomach growls. In fact, to even see someone else eat seemed utterly out of place. Why would anyone need to eat? (The mind games of the subconscious have been enlightening these last 5 years since mastectomy). This drastic transition in eating was short lived. I soon returned to eating, obviously, but the patterns of eating were indeed different and that lasted for a while. It was subtle, but was there and that lasted for a few weeks into months. Eating became something you did to survive. Gone was the enjoyment of the smells and tastes of food. The enjoyment of watching ingredients come together into a masterpiece was obsolete. Favorite foods didn’t carry an accolade.  The entanglement of nourishment with social interaction became untangled. Food had transition to its organic structure intent on becoming part of mine. And there were other things, not just food and sleep, that teetered out of balance as my world shifted on its axis in this new state of grieving life without Andy.

While eating and sleeping habits seems to be back to normal, though at times sleep can still be a battle on any given week, I’m finding I still greatly struggle with maintaining motivation.  Going to work every day and functioning at the top of my game seems to be absolutely all I have to give. Anything above that is a motivation sucker. I get home and it’s time to cook dinner and I can’t find the motivation to get ingredients into their pot. It’s a Saturday morning and I need to get some stuff done around the house and it takes every ounce of my power to get that task started. Once I do get started, I seem to be good to go, but that actual process of starting the given task is completely touch and go. And this has been going on for 4 months now. I seem to have nothing to give to you, to the house, to anything other than my job (and that is out of necessity) without a serious internal power talk to get me going. This is 100% out of the normal for me. To give you some perspective,  I am a complete go-getter at baseline. Prior to Andy’s death, I would see my to-do list and the first thing I would do is see a list of 10 items, with plans of tackling 2, and end up tackling 8. That is just how I work. No procrastination in me. Not a bit. Get in there, get it done, do even more than what you have on your list, get out, enjoy the rest of the day. Now, it is like signing up for a root canal just to take out the trash. I have nothing left to give. And it drives me crazy. The bathrooms need to be cleaned. The house needs to be vacuumed. The bags need to be packed for the trip. The gifts need to be purchased. The list needs to be made. The groceries need to be shopped. The meal needs to be prepped. The laundry needs to be laundered. The gathering needs to be attended. Instead, I see those items and can’t find the motivation to get it done. And when I do, I get one item done (usually that’s dinner) and then find myself mentally spent and not wanting to do anymore. This is not the me I know. And it’s not acceptable. Type A Sally needs Type A Sally back and she needs her back now. I miss her. She was a delightful and productive soul and she totally made me whole. Listen, I don’t need to over achieve, I’d settle for simply achieving at this point in the game, because this level of perpetual underachieving has me out of sorts, not in that it’s not ok for that to be where we are at times, but because I find this new Sally so completely unreliable and foreign and exhausting and challenging and frustrating and guilt inducing and simply not-ok-for-the-long-run and most certainly not where I want to land. 

There, it’s said. This is not where I want to land. I didn’t lose Andy to land here.  We don't always choose where we land. But maybe we do get to say where we want to go after we land. I want to at least be able to balance again. I want to be the woman who can balance work and home and do them both well instead of conquering work and then swimming upstream outside of work. And it all comes down to motivation, and I guess throw in a little being mentally spent at the end of the day. I lost Andy to be a better version of Sally as I learned to thrive in this new scenery. I know it is coming. In so many ways I am thriving…but not yet in task motivation. In fact, I’ve under achieved. It’s complete de-motivation.  I’m sure it’s just my brain still doing its sorting dance as the pieces continue to fall into place. Maybe I can hire said bearded man with the clip board tallying up grieving statistics to come keep me on task. 

So, why am I throwing all of this out on the table for the world to read? Well, if you have been reading my writing for any time at all, by now you know me. We in this one-up-each-other  society spend too much time sweeping life under the rug, instead portraying our life’s perfect moments, our perfect days, and our perfect families. Meanwhile women (and men) are drowning in everyday life wondering what in the world is wrong with their “imperfect life”. And that makes me utterly heartbroken for our world and what we’ve done. If you are grieving, you need to know that these strange new pieces of your personality you are seeing, still 4 months later, are completely normal. (And this doesn't just apply to grief, it applies in many scenarios in life that punch you in the gut. I was just speaking of this with a friend whose spouse just got a cancer diagnosis.) Grief is a superpower. Not in that it makes you better, but in that it has super natural abilities to impact you. There is no shame in that. There is awareness in that. We need to lower the expectations for life to be what it used to be, at least initially. You simply may not be able to juggle it all for a while. Is the world going to crumble because I have an extra layer of dust on my bedside table this week? Nope! Is the national debt going to grow because I didn’t get that extra load of laundry done? Nope! Might I have improved mental stability because I skipped vacuuming the loft? Quite possibly.  I can’t skip everything forever, but I can allow myself different expectations and prioritize differently than I did before. And I can ask for some grace period with family and have open discussions about “this is what you can expect from me, this is what I can and can’t do successfully right now” and “this is how you can help me” moving forward. I’m also telling you this because I spent an entire month wondering what in the world was going on with me.  I can only imagine the upcoming anesthesia is going to worsen this for me. You know how me and anesthesia don’t mix so well. So there’s that. 

Eighteen to 24 months of disrupted sleeping and eating patterns. I’d say motivation is totally reasonable to add to that list, well and maybe a few other things as well Mr. Bearded Man with a clipboard. Maybe things get under my skin a little easier too.  Here’s the silver lining. I’m overly motivated in other ways. Like cherishing things in life.  God’s gifts in chaos. 

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May 5, 2017 - Thirteen minutes

“Oh, my soul, you are not alone. There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know.” -  Oh, My Soul ; Casting Crowns

My friend, Kelli, posted this song quote exactly at the time I was  finishing up writing this piece. I’ve been standing in awe these past two years at how God has been so perfectly timing and aligning his teachings in my walk (I'm silly, we all know my walk has been simply traversing his teachings). Last year was my “Be Still” year. It seemed everywhere I turned and in everything I read or attended, God was reminding me in his teachings and readings that he was calling me to a year of being still and to rid my life of worry. Being still was not my nature as I am a full blown type A personality (except I’m introverted) driven to details and needing to control the outcomes of life. I was quickly learning that God was wanting to slow me down to see his pace, pray the worry out of life, and experience his presence in the details of the here and now. It's totally worked, by the way, as worry is almost non-existent now for me after a year of His indwelling in me its harsh consequences and lack of value in my life.  Be Still has now carried over into this year of my “Waiting” year as I see God very purposely showing me to live in the present in acute awareness of the people and opportunities around me. I used to live every moment in anxious anticipation of “what next”, “when is the next thing coming”, “how come I don’t have all of the desires of my heart”, “when will I marry”, “when will I have children”, “when will I retire”? There was the insatiable desire to have the next thing.

In this constant anticipation of having the thing I didn’t currently have, I was missing out on the blessing of the thing I currently DID have. When I was in middle school, I couldn't wait until I could drive. When I was in high school, I couldn’t wait to be in college. When I was single, I so desperately wanted to be married. So I missed out on so many blessings that came in being single. The freedom to spend my time choosing to do what I wanted to do. The freedom to pick up and go wherever I wanted to go. To spend my money how I wanted to spend it. To sleep when I wanted to sleep. You get the idea. The idea that Sally got to be who God and Sally wanted me to be in that life stage. Now that I am married and in an incredible job, I want the next thing…to be married, retired and traveling. Let’s break it down even more simple that that. Look at any given day. How many days do we spend the entire morning thinking how we can’t wait to get home from work to the evening? Or we spend our entire week in anticipation of the weekend. It’s not that anticipation is bad. It’s awesome to be hopeful and looking forward to things. But there comes a point that we are living so much in anticipation of the next thing that we totally miss out on what God has placed us here for in the first place. A relationship with him. God walks with us here in the present. And only in the present. I’ve been living in anticipation of the next life stage missing out on the blessings of the current here and now of what God has placed me in. He hasn’t created me for tomorrow. He created me for today. For this very moment, for a relationship with him, for my story, and for the person sitting right next to me.

It’s easy to have this perspective when we are talking about the good things in life. I’m in a good job and an awesome marriage and place in my life. So it’s easy enough for me to say “Sally, focus on the present. Focus on this good job. Don’t think about retirement yet which is 20 something years down the road.” It’s a little more difficult to want to live in the present when your current situation isn’t so delightful. And that is where my year of “waiting” becomes a little more evident. What if your “present” is heartbreak? What if you are 40 years old and you have spent the last 20 years of your marriage, and 3 miscarriages, waiting for children? How are you supposed to enjoy the present and waiting? Or what if you are 63 years old and still single and your only desire is to be married? What then? How do you enjoy the present and still waiting? What if you just lost your 3 year old to cancer and you are currently standing in their empty bedroom for the first time? What if you are standing at your mailbox holding divorce papers? What if you are looking at the MRI seeing your brain tumor grow? What if you are heading into your 13th surgery in a few weeks? What if you just tragically lost your 44 year old brother?

I don’t have the magic answer for you, but I do know that I can identify with some of the scenarios above and have found a way to find joy despite circumstance because Christ has a way of bringing perspective when you spend time praying for it. But particularly in this last year of his teaching me about times of wait a few things have come across my path that have gotten my attention. One in particular that really turned things around for me was hearing this statement recently for a second time:

We desire relief more than we desire righteousness.”

Let that sink if for a minute. Do an honest self-evaluation of your current circumstance. How would you rank yourself on this? If God uses circumstance to grow us to him, we should almost be more joyous in circumstance than out of circumstance for we know that it is in that circumstance that we are growing in relationship with Christ. When I learned to grasp this truth, it also gave me endurance for the storm. It’s as if this awareness gives me that extra boost for those last three miles of the marathon. I want so richly to be in communion with God that I can endure the waiting, the trials, the grief. While I crave RELIEF, I want RIGHTEOUSNESS more. Now that certainly isn’t absolute. Because when is the last time I have had to endure true persecution, or when is the last time my storm has been unbearable. But it does help in the day to day trials of life and it helps me when I do face those tougher battles of life. Even when my brother died a few weeks (now months?) back, I can see that God is growing me, and many of you, closer to him in Andy’s loss. So I am weathering that Storm better in that knowledge. I want relief from the grief, but in the grief, I am growing. So I keep walking.

An additional truth that has carried me through periods of struggle was when these words were spoken to me.

“How can God use you where you want to be, when you won’t allow him to use you where you are?”

This was absolutely eye opening for me. It’s as if I am saying to God, you can only use me as your vessel if you give me the desires of my heart! Never would I be so bold as to say that, but don’t I sometimes act that way in my bitterness, anger, and entitlement for not having something? Instead of embracing my current situation and allowing God to use me in my present situation (this doesn’t mean removing a healthy longing), I spend all of my time wishing this away in expectation for “what next?” Hasn’t God purposed my here and now to be my story exactly as it is - every sentence, every word, every letter, every punctuation- for growing me in relationship with him and the people around me? “What next” will serve its purpose…but only when the time comes. Let God use us where we are. Look around you. What does God want you to do right now that you are missing because you are living for tomorrow? God wants to use your today, this very hour, these thirteen minutes in between meetings to do something. This is your story. Today.

Loosely related, in a few weeks, I head back into the operating room for surgery #13. I’ve known about this for a few weeks but have yet to put it to paper, or really even to words. Earlier this week I was saying how strong emotions must be inter-related. When I feel mad, I often cry. When I face giants on any given day, I miss my brother more. Our hearts are connected to our heads. So when I am passionate, I’m am fully passionate. I’m headed back to the OR for some respiratory issues – some shaving here, some shaving there, some stents up over there. It’s an easy surgery I’m told (I don’t know how you decide that), but after 12 surgeries in this lifetime, particularly after these 6 for mastectomy, they all become inter-related emotionally. That’s why I haven’t put words to it as of yet. But God is the God of surgeries, and anesthesia (which I detest and don’t do so well with), and all the things that come with this, so I put it there for him to heal. This too is my story. Life after cleft lips, lymphoma, radiation, fibrosis, and mastectomy. The OR is my nemesis. But I’ve learned that in my fears and emotions too, not just while I wait, I find God.

To access previous blog posts - click HERE.

March 23, 2017 - If I end up losing it all

"If  I end up losing it all, but in the process still gain God, it is worth every minute." - Unknown

I’ve had this quote on my social media wall for years now. It’s my profile quote and has sat there speaking whatever it speaks on the side bar as “my statement”. We all have something, don’t we.  A verse.  A quote.  A pep talk. Something we keep on our mirror or tucked away in our bible, on our desk, flashed on our screens to say what we need to say exactly when we need to say it. Some of our mantras are statements placed as pep talks to ourselves when we are feeling exactly at our lowest. A little mental boost to pick ourselves up right when we need it (maybe our favorite bible verse). Other times our mantras are perfectly placed words proudly touting exactly what we have conquered (our marathon stickers on our cars or words we truly live by). Sometimes our words are perfectly positioned statements not to ourselves, but to the exact person across from us that we want to read (think of our political posts we carefully posted on our walls). What do you have? Bring it to mind. This one above for myself, it’s got me wondering. There’s nothing like a life altering event in your life to test your life quote. 

"If  I end up losing it all, but in the process still gain God, it is worth every minute."    Hummmm...

If you are a Christ follower and you do what you claim you do, put Christ above everything else, a life altering event will really come to test that commitment.  We are so careful to claim that we have our faith in Christ, and we do…right up until the moment our earth comes shattering down. When is the last time your faith has been tested? I don’t mean run of the mill I had a rough day testing. Though those days serve their purpose in teaching us to run the race of life. I mean when is the last time you had to dig deep and put it all on the line and trust God in your circumstance? Think back to that moment. How did you do? Were we willing to give it all up and give our all to God? Few, if any of us, have the Abraham moments of God calling us to the altar to lay down our sons (Genesis 22 – The story of Abraham and Isaac; Check it out. ). But let’s think about it. Maybe more of us have that circumstance than we realize.

Are we not called to give ourselves, our situations, our spouses, our children, our everything up to God on a daily basis? Are we not in every circumstance called to give ourselves to Christ and therefore choose his will for our lives over our own and that means in every circumstance, be willing to lose everything in order to gain God? We have to be careful in how we interpret that. We live in a fallen world. Humanity sinned. Therefore we live with the curse of sin in the world. The grace is Christ saved us in the end if we choose to believe he died in our place and choose to put our faith in Him. But as we are still on this earth we fall prey to choice and the outcomes of choice. There is cancer, there is horrific circumstance, there is the outcomes of choice, there is divorce, there is heart break, the list goes on and on, but as we find ourselves in circumstance, do we not find ourselves in relationship with God and therefore in the opportunity for the glory of God to be seen in circumstance? But how many of us truly see life that way? An opportunity despite circumstance to grow deeper in relationship with Christ.  And not only an opportunity, but at times, a calling. Ask Abraham.

Do we look at our circumstances as an opportunity (or even a calling?) for our relationship with God? Or do we get so caught up in the “woe is me” that we can’t see past that. Easy enough to say “yes” in the simple hardships of life. But what about the doozies. Can we really say we can walk away from everything for God, better yet that we would CHOOSE to lose it all for him? Or when not by choice and we find that we have lost it “all” do we find glory in God despite that?  It’s hard to say because so few of us have been in that circumstance before. But maybe we have been closer than we think. Maybe if we look at it differently we will see it better.

Reaction may be a good litmus test. Do we spend our lives seeing life as happening to us? If I look back at my life and see birth defect happened to me, lymphoma happened to me, prolonged singleness happened to me, so-and-so-broke-up-with-me happened to me, she-is-mad-at-me happened to me, mastectomy happened to me, fibrosis happened to me, Andy’s death happened to me….well, my whole life becomes about life happening TO me and me absorbing life’s crushing moments.  It could almost feel like a non-stop journey in life’s washing machine. And I’ve had the most beautiful life. What about the really difficult lives out there that are not so “beautiful” on society’s scale?  Let’s just look at one of those moments. I remember when I first was choosing mastectomy. There was a moment when I was driving in my car down the interstate when I really got angry. I was thinking how in the world after having already done lymphoma and chosen to go the radiation route instead of other treatment routes, that by now choosing that I now needed a double mastectomy. There was this bitterness. It was a moment of “God, you brought me out of lymphoma to THIS?” It was a ridiculous irrational isolated moment that spurred from anger. It served it’s purposed in my processing of thoughts, but in that moment driving down the interstate, I couldn’t see past yet another hardship in life happening to me. Do we find that we get so caught up in the bitterness of life happening TO us that we can’t see past what God wants to do IN and THROUGH us?  What about this. Fast forward now almost 5 years, if I had known then just how much mastectomy would change my relationship with God, with my husband, with my family, hey even with you that are reading this, well, I would have had a totally different thought process on that interstate. It wouldn’t have been another bitter “life is happening to me” moment. What if I in foresight, in faith, have a reaction of God drawing me through life and into him it  and it becomes this molding process of not shattering (life happening to me) in circumstance but creating (bring me through life) in circumstance? I think this become equally as crucial in hindsight looking back on circumstances of how I know view mastectomy in my rear view. Did it happen to me as an event that created another hammer dent in my timeline chiseling away at Sally? Or did God draw me through it as he grew me closer to the people around me and in relationship with him as he continues to create his version of Sally?

 Life happening to me is someone holding a hammer and beating away at a once whole Sally. God bring me through life is a Sally being built from the bottom up by the master creator.  Being built is a shaking process, but at its center is a strong hold.  Sometimes it is the difference between going forward and standing still. It’s a moment of hardship instead of a moment of absolute devastation. It most certainly separates happiness from joy. And it is the provider of hope instead of constant reactive searching.  Looking at some of my tougher moments in life I bet if I drill down deep, and I’m brutally honest with myself, I can determine if God truly is the center of it all.  Do I view those moments as life happening to me, or life happening through me with Him giving me life and purpose from the center out? I really do think there is a difference. And I really do think it’s a pretty good litmus test of how we view God and his role in our lives when the going gets tough.

Do you find your world crumbling when you find yourself in the middle of chaos? Or do you find yourself still centered and only your surroundings shaken? Do you find you whole world crumbling when you miscarry? Or do you find yourself still centered and only your surroundings shaken? Do you find you whole world crumbling when you find yourself living pay check to pay check or even without a pay check? Or do you find yourself still centered and only your surroundings shaken? Do you find you whole world crumbling in infidelity? Or do you find yourself still centered and only your surroundings shaken? Do you find you whole world crumbling when you _____ (fill in your circumstance? Or do you find yourself still centered and only your surroundings shaken? Do you find you whole world crumbling when you are called to take it to the altar? Or do you find yourself still centered and only your surroundings shaken?

Do I find my whole world crumbling when I lose my brother? Or do I find myself still centered and only my surroundings shaken?  

You see it’s not just about being ok on the other side. When have we ever not been ok, for the most part? It’s about finding your true center. Do we speak our mantras and post them on our walls and mirror, or do we truly live them when life comes to a fast halt? Will it be worth losing it all? Do i truly believe that? On some levels, mine was tested this year. I have some re-centering to do.  I’d say, that is exactly what should have happened: drawing nearing to him in the process.  Don’t be afraid to admit you need to re-center. And also don’t wait for your life altering moment to do it. Those will come, so you might as well start now and get a head start.

"If I end up losing it all, but in the process still gain God, it is worth every minute."    That was a bold statement for me to quote several years ago.  Learning it takes more than talking the talk.

James 4:8 - Draw Near to God and he will draw near to you…

To access previous blog posts - click HERE.

March 14, 2017 - The only acceptable option here

I’ve sat down to write on numerous occasions, but each of those posts have been left unfinished. It’s been almost a month since I’ve finished something (A safe place to land). Almost a month and half since I’ve written on this topic (Traumatic Grief). Now that I’ve written, I leave a similar disclaimer as I did before. This post is not intended for everyone as it contains some details of my brother’s death. It may help you to continue to read. Or, you simply may not be ready for this information as of yet. If you are unsure, have someone you know and trust read it for you first and let them help you decide. If you are a teenager or younger, maybe have an adult help guide you as to whether you should continue to read. Please trust me in that, I have your best interests at heart. I write not only to help me in my journey, but also to maybe help others in theirs.

I knew I would need to revisit this topic again because there simply is a lot there, but the trouble with grief, and particularly traumatic grief (if you missed the first post and need the background on this, you can find that Here - Traumatic Grief) is that you have to relive the moment to go back and discuss it. So even as I type words here on this page I am putting myself back into the places I am not necessarily wanting to be. It’s not ideal, so I had to wait until a safer time to write. It’s been 2 months since Andy left us. But I had 42 years of Andy, so 2 months is simply a tick mark on that scale. To me, he left me yesterday. “Yesterday” changed me for forever. A few weeks ago I had to travel for business and I was smack in the middle of figuring out how to deal with my trauma grief. My brother had died a tragic accidental gun related death a few weeks prior and I had not yet fully figured out how to process that. I found myself steamrolled not only THAT he had in fact died but also HOW he had died, and now I was somehow re-living that detail over and over in my head for hours on end. I could be vacuuming my house and I would find myself in the front seat of the car with Andy as he grabbed his coffee cup and laptop and then his bag and then…., or I could be driving to work then getting out of my own car and then be right there with Andy in his car……, or I could be lying in bed in the middle of the night and I would find myself covered in Andy’s blood unable to revive him. Those are the unprompted examples. Worse, there are prompted examples because those are sudden and tend to go to darker places. Prompted examples are scenes from TV shows, discussions in everyday conversations, news stories, story-lines from books that remind you of whatever trauma you are experiencing. Prompted or non-prompted it is a reality you are bombarded with while navigating traumatic grief and it’s tough because some you can control and some you can’t. And you are about to see just how much it floods your world. A few weeks ago as I was trying to re-incorporate myself back into my life after Andy’s death, I was traveling alone for the first time and in that short 48 hour trip this is how that unfolded:

  • On my way to the airport, I stopped for lunch, grabbed a table and ordered my meal. As soon as it arrived a group of 3 people sat in the booth behind me. Their occupation: Shooting range employees. For the next 30 minutes they discussed targets, bullets, how bullets exploded on impact, and various aspects of such. For the next 30 minutes, I forced myself to keep the contents of my stomach and my eyes in their respective locations. 
  •  I arrived at the airport and while in the security line stood next to 2 border patrol (?) agents with guns on hip in line next to me. Seeing those flashes of metal on hip, immediately turned to Ron and said our key word (yes, we now have a key word) so he would know we need to start talking about any topic at all – well, I realized Ron wasn’t with me. 
  • While at my gate, I met the most delightful lady who wanted to engage in conversation about her husband who had recently died unexpectedly – we spent the next 30 minutes discussing such. But we were talking about a husband who recently died unexpectedly.
  •  Somehow when we boarded the plane, her seat got changed and she ended up next to me and wanted to know all the details of my brother’s death (this ended up being ok, but I end up answering a few more questions that I was comfortable answering at her request; and as soon as she heard it was accidental it really went from there).
  • I arrive at the airport to get in a cab who had the news on discussing all kinds of violent stories in the newscast. 
  • The book I took with me on my trip – my “safe to read” book opened with a gun scene as I didn’t realize the main character was a cop. 
  • Arrive back from my trip, get in the car, turn on the radio “women shot when dog jumps on night stand and dislodges boyfriends gun…” turn off radio. 

The point of this “bullet point” list is you can’t escape your “triggers” no matter how well intended you are.  See, you can say "let's bite the bullet and get it done"... well, that's a trigger to someone whose brother died from a gun shot wound. It's simply every where. And this is my list from only 48 hours. What about yours? Your list, if you have traumatic grief, could be larger than mine in a day’s time frame. This I know: I go to the store to buy my next “safe” book and find out “a Man called Ove” spends the entire book talking about his dead wife and trying to find a way to join her. Nowhere on the book jacket is any of that said. Or I want to invest in my friends and they want to talk about what is going on in their lives which may include an “unsafe” topic for me, or I need to round on my patients at work and that includes dealing with death and dying.

But really let’s face it: I can’t avoid funerals forever. I can’t not ever ride in a white BMW again. I can’t not park next to a Tesla ever again. I can’t not carry a laptop around with me because he was when he died. I can’t avoid THAT section of town. I can’t avoid THAT restaurant forever. I can’t not go to the mall because his favorite store is there. I can't not watch that show because it was his favorite. I can't not look at those pictures because he's in them too. I can't look not look at that document because it now says Andy's estate. I can’t be mad at you because you are mad at him. I can’t never cook those steaks in my freezer for the rest of my family because he was supposed to eat them with me. You simply can’t stop the world from spinning and you can’t live under a rock forever to keep the conversations under control, and you can’t avoid the street your brother died on, and you can’t never step foot in his house again even though that brings you to your knees…………………. You simply can’t. (Note: some of this list above shifted away from trauma grief and into routine grief. Don't confuse the two as they are very different.)

So if you can’t…you certainly have to figure out how you can. And that is what I have been spending my time doing. The level of trauma has changed from hour 2 to hour 24 in that I have gotten better at forcing myself through it. In hour 2 of “yesterday”, just hearing the word “gun” spoken could send me into the corner of a room in tears. Now in hour 24, I can hear (I know when to close my eyes) a shooting on the television screen and still continue with the show. My heart beat rises in my chest and my adrenaline rushes, but you would never know. In hour 2 of “yesterday”, I couldn’t drive onto the street where he was killed without melting into tears. Now in hour 24, I can drive by the scene and glance at the parking space and continue driving. Bile rises in my throat and water fills the lid of my eyes, but you would never know. In hour 2 of “yesterday”, I had to leave the table when you spoke of your son going to target practice. Now in hour 24, I can sit through the conversation and nod my head. Inside my head I have tuned you out and am thinking about what I have to do after work tomorrow until you have finished speaking, but you would never know.

Hour 2 was about how I can’t. Hour 24 has become all about how I can. It’s a process. Not a 23 hour process as represented on this “my brother died yesterday figurative continuum” but in that in these almost 9 weeks I’ve moved from crumpling in the floor at the reminder of the trauma of how Andy died to now slowly returning to television, books, conversations, and outings. I visited Andy’s grave a few weeks back, and I actually did go sit in the parking spot in which he died a few days ago. I’m still traumatized on the inside, though less as my heart and mind have found safer ground, but more functional on the outside. I imagine maybe even “tomorrow” I can actually listen in full to your conversation as you tell me about your son’s target practice, because in time, all things heal. There will remain a scar, but we do in fact heal and almost always function again.

Why am I telling you this? Because no one is talking about it. I had never heard of it or wasn’t exposed to it before “yesterday”. You may find yourself here and I don’t want you to be caught off guard when you suddenly find yourself needing to ask the waitress to change tables and everyone else at the table looks at you like you’ve lost your mind. You haven’t. And don’t second guess yourself for needing to ask your friend to change the topic of conversation. It’s ok for some things to be “off limits” for a while until you heal. You need to be ok and proactive with setting some boundaries. You’ve probably never had to do that before, but now is the time to be bold and step out and say this is ok, and this is not ok until further notice. You are just processing some things you have never had to process before. What has helped me the most? Surrounding myself with people who are praying me through it. Don’t do this alone. I have a small group of women who I update regularly. They check in on me, they give me words of encouragement, and when I am having a tough “trauma” day, they pray me through it. I’ve surrounded myself in a wise counsel of Christ-centered women who have proven to have my best interests at heart, who have supported me when life has thrown me the tough curves, and who have sought God’s ways over their own way. They’re my trauma team. And I know when life comes at me again in the future, they will be there for that too. For now, their only task is praying me through this trauma grief and it has turned this experience completely around for me. I’m relishing in Hour 24 because of their steadfast prayer.

Andy died “yesterday” and it is a day that has changed me forever. Still, there is so much left to do “tomorrow". What choice do I have left but to rummage through this trauma grief with my team in tow? So I’m pushing out the “I can’t” because “I can” is the only acceptable option here. I want to leave you better prepared should you find yourself here. There is only one way to do this and that is with someone else. Trust me on that one.

To access previous blog posts - click HERE.

February 20, 2017 - A safe place to land

I am a person with a double edged sword.  It’s not a new discovery, something I have been chiseling at over the past 4 ½ years as God carried me to and through double mastectomy, but rather something more finely caricatured this last year and particularly this last month as I pick at every character flaw as one would when navigating the frailty of life following the premature death of a loved one.  My sword will cut you. It has cut you if you have known me for any length of time.  One side of my sword cradles you in its curvature like a hammock against the human form. It’s warm and inviting begging you to bask in the safety of my being, for I cherish relationship and create gravitational pull to my center. The other, less nourished side when carelessly flipped with the switch of my hand, will bring a slit to your heart and leave you broken. But you see, they lie in tandem. Both are attached to the same handle. And with one, you get the other.

We live in a world where we all long to and claim to be tolerant, caring, willing to help you out of your whatever. “Are you depressed? Come find me and I will help you out. Are struggling with addiction? Reach out to me and I will help you find resources. Are you in the middle of infidelity? Grab my hand and we will walk the road together. Is pornography filling your screen? My outlet is your answer. Is financial burden weighing you down? I’m here to help you find the next steps. Are you considering suicide? I’ve been there too.” We seem to have all the right words to fit all the right/wrong scenarios when we know they are going on. And we truly believe we are the person to carry the weight of the situation with our friends when we find out our friends are in trouble. Words spoken at all the right times is not our problem. This is where we excel. We have it all figured out how to be the right friend at exactly the right time. But God is really starting to work in my heart about where I might be failing in all of this.

I’ve  recently been looking at this a different way. I think most of us can say we all would go above and beyond to help our friends get whatever help they needed if they simply came an asked us for it. I think the problem doesn’t lie in whether we would help when asked but rather in whether we have created a safe place for them to even come and ask at all. This is where I fear I may have greatly failed people. You see, I am a person with a double edged sword and my sword has cut you.

Here’s the scenario. I’m sitting at dinner with a group of friends and we say:

 Tasha lost her job because she showed up drunk. How could anyone do that?” I just subconsciously said to everyone at the table, if you are struggling with alcohol, I am not a safe place to land. 

“I can’t believe she is taking him back. She is letting him walk all over her.” I just subconsciously said to everyone at the table, if you are struggling in your marriage, I am not a safe place to land.

“I don’t know how Susan can deal with it. I would be mortified.” I just told everyone at the table, if your teenage daughter ever gets pregnant, I am not a safe place to land.

“Why in the world would anyone not pay their bills?” I just subconsciously said to everyone at the table, if you are struggling with your finances, I am not a safe place to land.

“I can forgive anything, but I cannot forgive someone lying to me.” I just told everyone at the table, if you ever make a mistake with me, I am not a safe place to land.

“How could anyone consider ever suicide? How selfish!” I just subconsciously said, I’m not a safe place to land.

“My next door neighbor just got arrested for drugs. It’s the talk of the neighborhood.”  I just told everyone at the table, if you ever make that mistake you will be too, I am not a safe place to land.

“Pornography. There simply is no forgiving that.” You’ve got it. I’m not a safe place to land.

“I don’t understand how people simply cannot put the fork down.” If obesity and weight loss is your struggle, I’m not a safe place to land.

And just in case we’ve never said any of the above……

“Did you hear….” You’ve got it, I can’t keep your heartbreaking miscarriage secret either… I’m not a safe place to land.

There are hundreds of scenarios (these may seem over simplified and silly above, but you get the point). If you didn’t find yourself in one of the bolded sentences, create your own. I promise we are all in something. And they happen multiple times a day in our conversations. Ask yourself, just like I had to ask myself almost a year ago and now more recently as I dig myself apart during grief. Are you a safe place to land? I’m wondering how many of my friends have struggles they are going through privately that maybe they could have come to me with had I been better about verbally creating a safe place for them to land. I think specifically about a coworker who successfully committed suicide a few years back. I don’t carry guilt about that, for we aren’t to do that, but we are to carry awareness and change for moving forward. I think about it in conversations to choose my words wisely when discussing topics that would otherwise often carry judgement. We never know who is actively participating in the conversation or even overhearing from across the workroom and what their internal struggle is. Are they desperately hanging on by a thread and searching for a safe place to land?

Women undergoing mastectomy are in an emotional journey and they need a safe place to land. I discovered this 4 years ago, so I prayed long and hard and with God's prompting accepted being vulnerable and went public with that journey. Now I’m discovering it in some other areas of my life, most recently grief and traumatic grief with the tragic loss of my brother after his accidental death a few weeks ago. Maybe I can be a safe place for you to land in your future if you face something similar. I've said in the past, you never know what your future will bring and therfore what you will become an advocate for. But also, more relate-able to every day life, I’m searching my soul more with this short post about where are we being judgmental in our open conversations and stripping people of safe places to reach out for help when they need it? This post doesn’t carry a lot in it, but it’s a topic that’s been heavy on my heart for a while now, particularly this past week while I was away. We need to rid ourselves of our judgmental swords and create safe environments. The former takes a lot of soul searching, but the latter really just takes a little practice and shift in conversation. We owe it to the people around us because there is so very much at stake. Most likely, as in the case of my coworker, she may have needed me more than we realized. 

To access previous blog posts - click HERE. 

January 30, 2017 - Traumatic Grief

Notice: This post may not be for everyone. Immediate family members or younger readers: it may be too soon for you to read this one. It’s about traumatic grief and contain some basic details of Andy’s death intended to help others who may face something similar. Though you already know the details, you may not want to read them right now while you are healing. It's even ok to make the decision to skip this post. Alternately, it may help you heal as it did one family member. It helped me when writing it. Maybe ask a friend you know and trust to read it first. (Or for young readers, ask your parent or an adult you trust to read it first. Just trust me that I want the best for you.) 

The last time I saw my brother, he was lying in a grey casket. He finally has his glasses on. I hadn’t seen Andy without his glasses in over 20 years (minus an occasional dip in the pool and even then I thought that looked strange. It’s interesting how something as simple as a pair of glasses can tie everything all together). The time before that, I saw Andy in the same casket without his glasses. It wasn’t Andy. It’s as if not having his glasses on completely removed everything I knew of Andy. I now know in retrospect I was in shock. He did need his glasses, he truly didn’t look like himself without them, but at the moment, while in shock, I couldn’t piece together why my brother was lying in a casket and why was he there without his glasses on. It was a shock-induced obsession for me where everything else about the scene didn't matter. The time before that, we were standing in my mom’s kitchen eating cheese dip and taco salads. We kept dipping the chip in and out of the crock pot watching the cheese strand from the top layer of the pot to the bottom layer of the chip as we raised the chip higher and higher into the air. We were laughing about the remarkable properties of processed cheese. Later that same night, we opened Christmas gifts, where ironically I had bought him a gift from his favorite gourmet cheese shop while they had bought my sister a wooden cheese tray. We didn’t notice the irony then.  The time before that I didn’t actually see him but we were on the phone talking about wire transfers and bitcoins (I had no idea what they were). We weren’t laughing that time, but we were bonding in a new way for he and I. The time before that, we were sitting at an Italian restaurant discussing an upcoming beach trip that he won’t be coming on now, and making plans for opening night of Star Wars: Rogue One. They had scored tickets and had invited my husband and I along the following week. Turns out Andy wouldn’t be able to go to that either. The time before that, we were in Tennessee at my grandmother’s funeral. I remember he and I standing under a tree holding the rope of a tire swing. It was a swing of our childhood. We snapped a picture of us standing there thinking it might be the last time we saw the swing (we would be right), and I remember as the picture was being taken the thought went through my head of how fast our childhood went by (we were right about that too). I also remember he and I talking about items in my grandmother’s storage shed. We were frustrated how we always wait to gather as a family at times of death. (Oh what we really didn’t know). The time before that, we were in the Caribbean. I remember laughing at dinner as Andy continued to order items on the menu. And laughing again as he dove down to chase the sea turtle. And again as we all sang at the top of our lungs on the back of the rental boat. And again as we “took in” the sites of the people’s attire we saw on the ship. And again when we sat at the Mexican restaurant laughing and again eating cheese dip, but this time not processed. I normally wouldn’t be recalling these memories so acutely (I have a terrible memory) , but I am finding when you are in grief, and maybe particularly in traumatic grief, they come into full view and they stay, and they eat at you, and eat at you, and eat at you. Gloriously, they eat at you.

Traumatic grief is not something I had really considered before Andy’s death. I’ve lost friends and family members before. Just 6 months prior, I lost my grandmother.  One year prior, sweet Pat. Two years prior, a father in law. Five (?) years earlier, dear Ann. And in between each of those other people as well.  I see death of children on a routine basis. I’ve helped friends prepare for the loss of family members when faced with malignancy or other diagnoses when the end seemed inevitable. Preparing for death is something I have learned to do both out of necessity and also out of God’s gifting. Life comes to an end. Sometimes it comes early, sometimes it comes in what we would call “mid-life” and sometimes it comes after a life long lived. Despite the timing, because we are creatures created for relationship, we never find ourselves ready and we are left longing for what was left behind. We want one more day, one more hour, one more second to do something more. It’s an innate longing, proof that we are created to relate. What I was not prepared for was the other emotions/experiences, that I’m not sure I know how to fully describe, that follow a traumatic death as occurred in the case of Andy. Andy died from an accidental bullet wound to the head. He carried a concealed weapon. The weapon discharged in his bag while he was getting out of the car on his way into the office. He was the first to arrive at his office building. Someone else arrived after him and found him. That someone, who I have met with and will forever be indebted to as a civilian choosing to do the right thing in what had to have been a traumatic situation, tried to revive Andy. Andy didn’t survive. His coffee cup and his computer survived, but Andy didn’t. I wasn’t at the scene. But I have the scene memorized. Because my mind stored the events. Just like the memories of the last few times I spent with Andy.

So while we have the grief of losing Andy as anyone does when they lose someone close, we also have the traumatic grief of the situation. Andy’s last moments where not a peaceful death of dying in your sleep like we all want to go, nor were they moments of time spent with loved ones in your last hours of life. I recall friends and family members dying of malignancy and gathering at their bedside for wonderful peaceful last moments and I cherish each of those. We didn’t have those with Andy (though we cherish our last memories with him as I listed above. What a blessing to chase sea turtles, my favorite animal, for my very first time with Andy! And I relish in the dancing and singing on the back of that boat!). The circumstances of his death being accidental, sudden, and too early in life leave us unsettled with more things to process.

I’m calling that a "traumatic grief". I imagine psychiatrists have some technical term to label it perfectly, but this is the term I have chosen. It can be applied in any number of scenarios where the situation carries its own scale of trauma for the people left behind. It doesn't even have to be a death. Any event can carry trauma with it and in the cases of grief, there may be traumatic grief. I am not here trying to assign which is better or worse to experience.  I simply say that there are numerous levels and scales to grief and grief is not just grief. My last post spoke more to the depth of grief as I discussed the adjectives and how I couldn’t find the right words to describe the feelings (you can find that post HERE - Adjectives). That is one vantage point of what we experience. This aspect I am speaking of now related to traumatic grief is another vantage point. I had little knowledge of it before now because I was inexperienced. Another example of thinking that because we have seen something on TV, we think we are experience. Boy, are we so terribly wrong.

Ron and I really enjoy what I would call dramatic television. “Blue Bloods.” “Homeland”  “Madame Secretary.” “ The Black List” "Call the Midwife".  I mean it’s our thing. I’m not a romantic comedy kind of gal. I like  drama or feel good drama. I need action to keep my mind guessing. I detest the predictable sappy love where "Beautiful boy doesn't like girl. Beautiful girl doesn't like boy. Boy likes girl. Girl likes boy. Married." It's just not my thing. Give me FBI profilers solving a crime. Give me bleeding heart politicians actually trying to do the right thing. That will win my heart! But when I was watching “Homeland” this week and the victim is seen slumped over the steering wheel from a gunshot wound, I rather suddenly and unexpectedly melted into an inconsolable puddle on the living room floor.  And yesterday, while driving in the car listening to our David Baldacci Book on tape and the FBI agent described a too close to home murder scene, I again melted into a puddle into the seat of my car. I broke down again on the way to a funeral for a family member. It was too soon to attend another celebration of life. I wasn't ready to walk through those doors again. I'm finding Wednesdays, the day Andy died, are particularly tough for me. Every Wednesday I wake up with a skiddish heart. Very simply put. I’m traumatized. As a result, I’m having to alter my choices to protect my heart. I now realize I will have to resort to being a romantic comedy girl (woe is me!), which I previously detested. I have to make better selections until I heal. I have to be more aware of my surroundings and be proactive in preparation. Going to a funeral, take a few extra minutes outside to prep myself. Choose carefully, when picking out a book. Turn on more lights in the house to mimic day light. Simply, be proactive so I can be less reactive.

I say all of this for a few reasons. First, who knows what lies ahead of you. You may find yourself in some level of traumatic grief. Life is going to feel different for you. Wednesdays may always be hard for me. You may have to alter your choices for a bit to protect your heart. There is a lot to process in routine grief. There is even more to process in traumatic grief. I think it is crucial to not process that alone. You may need to find someone to help you process. Be proactive so you can be less reactive. Also, if someone around you is navigating this, realize they are fragile. They need some space. They also need less space. Get in their zone and smother them in prayer. You both need to realize that the timeline of grief may be extended in this situation. It’s just an awkward thing to navigate. I don’t have the flowery eloquent words here to say in this entire post as I sometimes do when I write. “Awkward” is the best word I have. People don’t know what to say. You don’t know what to say. And it’s just simply an awkward situation to navigate. But what you need to know is YOU are not awkward. You are just traumatized and grieving. And those two things together change things. So be patient with yourself. Allow things to feel “off”. Work may give you 3 days of “bereavement”, but know that simply means you have 3 days to attend events. You are going to need many moons to navigate. Don’t set a timeline. Just go. And go slow. And above all else, be open about how it is going. Find someone else who has been there. Find someone who has done traumatic grief. That is your best resource. And then pray yourself through it and surround yourself with people who are praying you through it. Then, simply go.

Wise words from Tony Evans of God meeting us where we are. He's meeting me here:

God didn’t keep Daniel from the lion’s den; He met him in it. He didn’t keep Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace; He joined them in it. He didn’t keep Joseph from being a slave to Potiphar; He gave him favor in it. And He met him in the prison as well. The proof in knowing you are where God wants you to be in your detour is that God doesn’t deliver you from it but rather joins you in it.

To access previous blog posts - click HERE. 

January 27, 2017 - It's what the adjectives always knew

January is something I have never felt before. I think the English language failed us in choosing the word. Maybe the Greeks failed us too. And the French.  And the Germans. And the Latins, whoever they are (Ancient Rome - see, I paid attention in school, Ms. Waicus).  I have no idea. I don’t speak those languages. I’m your typical American, affluent barely in my own language, but I know I haven’t yet excavated the words for what I feel. Or maybe there are words that perfectly encompass all that I feel, but rather it’s the adjectives that give the words scope and grandeur that continue to let me down. The words start out perfect, for you think their meaning will suffice, but later as you apply them to your circumstance you find they do anything but justice to where you currently lie. It’s like the perfectly shaped frozen yogurt that is placed into your crispy chocolate waffle cone only to minutes later dribble its way into a sticky melted puddle onto the once shiny linoleum floor.  It started out great but ended up sloppy and failed.

"Sally, how are you?"

“Sad” seems perfectly appropriate on Day 1. Day 15 shows you “sad” is a ridiculous term to use. “Out of sorts” is reasonable to describe the night you climbed into bed with your shoes still on. “Out of sorts” in no way describes the current state of wondering thoughts that find you when you can’t sleep. “Grief”, as a word, is a catch all that really catches nothing. It’s simply a starting point that doesn’t even begin to describe ache that as time morphs leaves you breathless or even vomiting when you think of the events of that day.  These words, generic nouns of feeling, are pale in comparison to what is actually being felt. Would adjectives, carefully chosen and applied to the noun as taught in English 101, fix the language folly? “Great sadness.” “Profound Sadness.” “Heart breaking Sadness.”  “Terribly Out of Sorts.” “Prolonged Grief.” (It’s only been two weeks so I am wrong to use prolonged as of yet, but I have it here for illustration.) “Unbelievably Shocking.” Adjectives do in fact help as they certainly were intended to do. They quantify. They give depth. They color. They paint a scenery that the noun can't even begin to landscape. I have a cat. But is it a long haired cat? A short haired cat?  And then it is calico? It is striped? It is evil (as many cats are)? Or loving? Or playful? See "cat" alone tells you it only has claws. Or does it? Is it a declawed cat?  Is the cat yellow? Or grey? Or black? Is it a kitten? Or elderly? Maybe it is a hairless cat and I have fooled you all along. So how in the world can "Sad" tell you of my sadness? These simple nouns of emotion do this aftermath of tragedy a terrible injustice. The ice cream starts out perfectly placed and and as time goes on, it ends up on the shiny floor.  Adjectives (and my flowery, run-on, hard-to-follow-overwhelming sentences)...well, they help me, the one who processes life through words, find some sort of purpose in the up from down of all of this stuff stuck in my heart and head. It’s nothing unique to me, any one of you have experienced the dictionary’s mistake, this lack of finding the suitable word to describe the things you are feeling, but all of us will one day experience it in a new way for the first time after losing someone like Andy and all of you will be frustrated at the lack of suitable words to describe what you feel.

As I was sharing with a coworker/friend this week, not all of the emotions are “overwhelmingly downtrodden”. I am also “awkwardly amazed”, as it caught me off guard, at how some of the things I feel are “incredibly uplifting”. It’s as if all my emotions are now “overly amplified”. I would have predicted, had I been asked in foresight, that the world instead would have been dampened or softened by the “intense grief” and “sudden sadness”, but instead it’s as if the world is magnified through a looking glass and I see everything in a finer focus. Laughter is louder, love is more evident. Grace is more gracious…to name a few. Maybe that is God’s way of getting me through it. Or maybe that is His gift to balance it all out. Either way it simply makes it all just a little more doable. I'm relishing in these "amazing emotions" that were unexpected as it makes the "less enjoyable emotions" more easily endured.

Tragedy, as experienced in Andy's death, changes us all. Look at 9/11 where we all became more tolerant of our neighbors, grasping at each other for some sense of comradery, desperately searching to find a way to back to normal on the other side. We bonded together in love, resilience, and forgiveness, and formed a cohesive unit of us in the world. Maybe the smaller (larger for me individually) scale tragedy of Andy is doing a smaller (larger) version of that in me. I’m searching for normal and pulling at things around me to bring them back close. I’m traumatized by the immediate aftermath, as we all were in those early days of the towers, but just like then it's intermingled with the great things that come too. We wanted/want to have our loved ones near. We called/call each other a little more often. We felt/feel emotions more richly. We lived/live out the adjectives. “Heartbreaking Shock.” “Strange Thoughts.” “Epic Emotions.” “Intense Love.” “Forgiving Hearts.” “Abundant Grace.” “Profound Sadness”. Everything was/is heightened to a new level.  But as time went/goes on, while we all remained/remain changed, we found/find ourselves able to thrive again in the new scenery. So shall it be for those of us moving forward without Andy. We will thrive in the new scenery, not despite the profound loss, but because of the gain and clarity that can come in the experience, even when it feels like tragedy. 

The dictionary still lets us down. We don’t have optimal words to describe the emotions that have existed for centuries, (sad is still just sad, and grief is still just grief) but our understanding of each grows as our experiences do. When you ask me how I am doing, I'm still going to say "sad". It's the only word I have to offer you. But now when I say those words I will use, there is something underneath I'm not saying. It’s what the adjectives always knew but I never did. 

It began as a story of prophylactic mastectomy and became a smattering of everyday life. I write so I can remember. I write so I can advocate. But mostly, I write to overcome. 

To access previous blog posts - click HERE.