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 →
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.
This is a true story about a miracle. I think miracles happen every day, but we’re too busy and distracted to notice. Every now and then, though, something marvelous catches our attention. It may not even be dramatic, but it breaks through our usual deafness.
I usually start my day with a cup of coffee. When Neil was alive, he often delivered a steaming hot mug to me in bed. Sometimes we went outside to the patio, but frequently he sat in bed with me and we chatted about the day ahead. After he died, I missed those morning moments more than anything else. Gradually, I learned to fill that time with prayer, and began to chat with God instead. (I’d love to say the miracle was that God brought me coffee in bed, but no, that’s not it.) Continue reading →
The back of my beautiful house looks down onto the river. Many people walk or bike the trail that meanders alongside it, and in the summer people kayak or canoe or float inner tubes in the water. One day, I was driving down my narrow gravel road and saw three young people walking. Two boys and a girl, they looked to be in their early twenties. They were wearing wet bathing suits and dragging a single inner tube behind them. They had no shoes, and as I steered around them, I noticed the girl’s feet were bleeding. I realized they must have come up from the river.
I looked down at the comfy slip-ons I was wearing on my way to the grocery store and stopped the car. As they caught up, I offered the girl my shoes. The gratitude in her face was overwhelming as she reached out and took them with a joyful smile. Her companions looked surprised, but they shrugged and kept walking. Continue reading →
The box was heavy and I dragged it awkwardly as my mother offered to help. Determined and stubborn I answered, “No, I can do it all by myself!”
Do you think this childish scene happened when I was a whiney 5 year-old? Or maybe when I was a petulant teenager? No, this incident happened just two weeks ago! A grown woman with an immature need to be independent and self-reliant, this is not a new story for me.
For example, a year or two before Neil died we had an argument and refused to speak to each other for several days. During that time I bought a new treadmill, and after the three delivery men plopped the monstrous box in the middle of the living room, I set out to unpack it and put it together. Continue reading →
I sat at my desk toward the end of the day, looking at the beautiful row of flowering pear blossoms outside my office window. As I watched, a couple came out of the hotel next door, heading to the restaurant across the parking lot. She was pleasantly dressed, and wore her gray streaked hair pulled back from her face. He wore jeans and a button- down shirt, strolling comfortably in well -worn boots. They were just an ordinary couple on a trip together, talking easily, on their way to dinner. I was fine with that, not sad or jealous at all. I almost looked away in time, almost got my attention back to my desk, but then I saw it.
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. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago I got to visit my sister, who lives near the ocean in New Jersey. After dinner one evening, we all packed up and went to the beach, her husband and three sons to play in the water and she and I to just relax on the shore. The sky was a beautiful mix of blue and white, and a gentle breeze blew through my hair as we sat. Without even realizing it, I drifted back to another day at the beach years ago………
I’m standing in the ocean, water up to my knees. Neil is calling me to come out farther, where he is only covered to his ankles. I am not a water person, but he is. The sun is beating bright; people are splashing and laughing all around me. I watch a line of pelicans fly overhead, and I’m suddenly brave. As I walk out toward Neil, the water gets oddly shallow and soon I find myself laughing with him on the sandbar. It gets hot out there is the sun beats down, without a cloud in sight. Continue reading →