Three Ways to Overcome the Lies of a Mourning Heart

All of us will mourn in our lives. Perhaps it will be the death of someone we love, or a relationship gone wrong, a loss of health, or a job terminated.  A mourning heart can convince itself of all sorts of things that aren’t true: My husband didn’t really love me or I could’ve made him stop smoking if I really wanted to. Maybe you’ve heard some of its criticism, too: My friend never liked me.  I didn’t deserve that job.
And, of course: It’s all my fault. Continue reading →

Boo Boo or Fun Badge: It’s All in The Way You Look at It

My husband could see fun and adventure in everything. Years of being an ER doctor left me far more able to see danger. As he tossed each one our daughters over his head when they were just gurgling babies, I always complained, “Please stop it – you are going to drop her!” Or while he raced through the parking lot pushing them in a grocery cart, I yelled, “Neil, that’s dangerous!” barely audible over their gleeful laughter.

Once we were on a family camping trip at a local state park. Early in the afternoon we hiked around the lake, and stopped for a treat afterward at the camp store. The girls ordered ice cream cones that were far too big for their little hands, while Neil and I chugged coffee. The trail that led back to our campsite was a steep downhill path lined with gravel and dried pine needles. Powered up by their ice cream, the girls ran ahead as fast as their little feet would carry them, while Neil cheered them on. “Neil, they shouldn’t do that; someone is going to get hurt!”

I hadn’t even finished the sentence when three year old Jordan crashed face first and slid downhill on her belly for several feet. Continue reading →

Sometimes The Best Prayers Are The Unexpected Ones

I didn’t start out to pray. I just wanted some exercise to help settle the thoughts that swirled in my head. I decided to walk the old train track trail behind my house, where it follows the river along the cliffs. I was not in a hurry, and took my time. Gradually my breathing slowed to match the easy rhythm of my pace. And then something wonderful happened.

I saw God on my walk that day. Continue reading →

Life is Guaranteed to be Unpredictable; Mourning is Not

Every one of us suffers through the deaths of people we love, and grief is a strange companion. Sometimes it fades into the background and lulls us into believing it has loosened its grip on us. Then, without warning, it’s back, uninvited, unwelcome, and unkind in its sneaky ways.

I was reminded of this only a few weeks ago. My daughters and I were all together celebrating a birthday, strolling through shops and boutiques, breathing in the unexpected spring warmth on a day that was still winter, enjoying dinner together, laughing at family jokes. I was fine.

On the trip home I started to feel the first prickle of sadness in my stomach. Continue reading →

When Your Heart Wants To Help, But Your Head Has No Idea What To Say

I recently had a request to resurrect this post from back in 2015. It’s still true…..

People respond to me in different ways now that Neil has died. Some people pretend they don’t see me because they don’t know what to say. Others pretend nothing has changed. Some offer advice and worst of all, some people tell me it’s time to move on. I know they all mean well and want to help; they just don’t know how to do it. How do you help someone who’s faced a great loss when you don’t know what to say? It’s actually easier than you think. You don’t have to say a thing; you just listen.

Recently, a dear friend brought me dinner. We sat at the table long after the food had grown cold and she invited me to reminisce. She didn’t find it awkward or uncomfortable to be speaking about the dead and listened intently as I rambled on about how Neil and I met and fell in love. She chuckled with me over funny family stories and laughed at some of the ridiculous arguments Neil and I had over the years. She loved when I showed her my collection of the crazy little frogs that Neil drew on everything he wrote – messages in the girl’s lunch boxes, notes he left for us around the house, and especially on his signature homemade holiday cards. Continue reading →

No One Really Has it All Under Control

It’s hard for a perfectionist to live with ‘good enough’ but it’s even harder for most people to live with a perfectionist. Neil and I had different ways of doing things. I always folded towels into trifolds; Neil folded them however they fit in the drawer. I washed the dishes right after dinner; Neil washed them before bed, or even worse, before breakfast. I can’t even count how many arguments we had about whether the toilet paper should unroll from the top or the bottom. It was hard for me to relinquish control of the household when I went to work, just as I am sure it was hard for Neil to always be under my watchful eye.

One night I came home after a long shift in the ER and crept upstairs to kiss the girls tonight. I saw a strange chunk of hair on the steps, but didn’t pay much attention to it. I set it on the handrail to throw away on my way back down. My two youngest daughters shared a bedroom back then, and both were sleeping soundly as I tiptoed in and blessed their foreheads. I checked my oldest and blessed her, too. All was peaceful and quiet as I went in to the bathroom, until I noticed what I thought was a mouse behind the standing towel rack. It turned out to be another chunk of hair. I didn’t scream loud enough to wake the girls but I did get Neil’s attention downstairs. Continue reading →

What To Do When You’re Stuck On The Rock Wall Of Life

We were guests at a Memorial Day celebration. Children ran around laughing and playing, and adults sat chatting and sipping cool summer drinks. Curiosity captured the crowd’s attention when a huge truck backed up the long, narrow driveway. As everyone watched, the drivers got out, adjusted some mechanical gadgets, and slowly raised a huge, portable rock wall.

The kids swiftly lined up to give it a try, and with the complete fearlessness most children possess, scrambled to the top and rang the bell of success. There wasn’t really anything to be afraid of since they were all belted into place, and three people could climb side by side and talk to each other, so gradually the adults tried it, too.

“Come on; let’s go get in line,” Neil urged. “No, you go ahead without me.” I had all sorts of good excuses: I don’t have the right shoes, I forgot my sunglasses, I have to help the hostess, but as I watched everyone else having fun, I gradually convinced myself to try it.

With all the nerve I could muster, I started the climb. The belt wrapped around me like a diaper so there was no way to fall. Yes, I thought, this is fun and safe! Concentrating on each foot and looking closely at the wall’s indentations in my path, I slowly made my way up. I specifically avoided looking down just to prevent any sudden panic and within a few minutes I made it to the top and proudly rang the bell.

“Woo hoo!” My daughters called up to me. “Way to go, Col!” Neil yelled. I enjoyed my success and the fabulous view of fields and farmland until I realized there was a line below me waiting for a turn. It was time to go down.

Oh dear, it was time to go down. Continue reading →

The Truth Is We Are Never Really Alone

Before Neil and I were married, we often talked on the phone for hours in the middle of the night. After he closed his restaurant and sent his staff home, he relaxed with his feet up and called me. Sometimes I was at work in the ER, or sometimes I was sleeping at home. Either way, the world was generally fairly quiet at three in the morning.

During one of those calls, when I was home in bed in the dark, I thought I heard a strange sound in the house. Neil insisted we hang up and call 911, but I refused. What if it was just the pets, or Gina thrashing around in her crib? It didn’t really sound like that, but with Neil still on the phone I decided to search the house.

I grabbed the flashlight from my bedside table and tiptoed out of my bedroom. From that angle, I could see the entire first floor. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and everything seemed to be in place. I stood quietly for a few seconds, waiting for another noise or flicker of movement, but there was nothing. Next, I climbed the stairs, Neil breathing in my ear on the phone, but conversation halted to minimize any noise. Continue reading →

It’s All in Your Perspective (And How to Keep It)

Neil loved water: oceans, lakes, pools, showers, hot tubs, steam rooms, he loved it all. And he enjoyed being in it in it, whether to swim, kayak, sail, float or simply sit in the sand feeling the tide wash over his toes. I enjoy looking at water, but I don’t need to touch it. I’m perfectly content to watch a waterfall from the path or feel the rhythm of the ocean from the shore. How you feel about water depends on your perspective.

My water hesitance is based on several things. First of all, water is often cold. I hate cold. Second, water is often deep. I can’t swim. Neil coached me for a while, but I couldn’t master it. I could probably float well enough to save myself or one of the kids in an emergency, but to swim for fun is beyond me. That brings me to the third reason I don’t go in water very often.

I was taking swimming lessons at our local park in the summer after third grade. I did fine until the day it was time to jump from the diving board. Continue reading →

Twenty Years Ago Today: No, You Can’t Know the Future

When I went to bed on December 27, 1996, with Neil reading quietly in bed beside me, I had no idea that Jordan would be born the next day, or how much drama would be involved in her arrival. After struggling with preterm labor for two months, dealing with medicines, bedrest, and frequent doctor visits, I should have known things wouldn’t suddenly become easy.

Neil and I woke up leisurely to weather that promised to be unseasonable warm, and then sipped coffee in the living room, admiring our enormous Christmas tree. As I got up to refill our mugs, my water broke, and after the initial shock, it was a relief to know the time had really come to go to the hospital.

As we drove the hour to the medical center in Roanoke, the contractions started coming hard and strong. I distracted myself by singing along with the radio. When Celine Dion’s powerful voice noted, “It’s all coming back to me now,” I belted the words loudly right along with her, thinking it was ironic that I had forgotten until then how painful labor really was. Continue reading →