Category Archives: Dealing with Grief

Two years ago, (actually on May 21st) My Sweet Mama had fallen and broken her Femur. Her bird came to Shady Acres while she was in the hospital. We didn’t know it then, but Pretty Boy would become a permanent resident of Shady Acres until he died, almost a year to the day after My Sweet Mama went home to Heaven.

This was my facebook post, two years ago this morning:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10205716244117739&set=a.1140451303851.2022252.1004477626&type=3&theater

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Caption, May 25, 2017: Charis reads to Grandma Yoder’s bird, Pretty Boy. Charis is very concerned about her Grandma Yoder. She made her a card this morning, and put this picture on it. She wrote:
“Der Gremoe Yotre I am retig to your Brde. Love Charis. (And if you can’t read that, there is something wrong with your reading skills.)  

(*** for those who just can’t figure that out, here is what it says.  “Dear Grandma Yoder, I am reading to your bird.  Love Charis.)

On this rainy morning, the memories are making it hard to function. There is much to do today. If all is well, Blind Linda moves to rehab this morning. There is packing and paperwork and phone calls to be made. The unknowns of this are difficult for me.  (Will she ever get better enough to come home?  Will she be carefully tended in the nursing home?  What can I do to help everyone in this situation and still take care of my home and my husband and my family?  What is God saying to me about here and now???)

There is so much for which to be thankful, and even when I selfishly wish for time to sit and think and “wash the windows of my soul” (that’s CRY, if you didn’t know!) I know that God makes a way in our wildernesses, and He cares what we feel and how we grieve and He knows what is going to trigger our grief.

My Aunt Dottie’s fall on Monday of this week has given me a thousand memories of My Sweet Mama.  Aunt Dottie and Mama were friends, peers, sisters in law and almost the same age.  (Less than four months separated them).  Often church and family gatherings found them together, as in this picture, taken at a July 4th picnic, in 2009:

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Sometimes on Sunday Mornings when I see my Aunt Dottie, it makes me so homesick for My Sweet Mama that I turn my head away and think HARD about something else.  Aunt Dottie is a brave and classy lady.  I feel deeply for her in this latest episode.  I know it is devastating and discouraging and disheartening.  She’s doing better, but still is in Christiana Hospital. Please pray for her.

Then last evening we received word that Lawanda Zehr‘s father, Loren Martin, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. Lawanda is married to Daniel’s nephew, Pete Zehr, and this young couple has had a special place in our hearts for a number of reasons. This has triggered a host of emotions for me, too, and made me think of losing Daddy and how difficult it was once the reality set in.  With this being the anniversary of Mama’s fall and her homegoing (June 16th),  it feels like the loss of my parents is suddenly right in my face, and “in my way” no matter which way I turn.

And so.  What is the best thing to do on days like today?  Each person is different, I know, but for me, it’s a tried and true coping mechanism.  It’s to give thanks for any and everything that I can think of (while planning for a time when I CAN sit and think and cry) and getting on with the next thing that I need to do.

Which is to go and pack clothes for Linda’s move.  Mark them with her name, pack them carefully into the suitcase that is hers, and get a move on.  The transport will be there in another hour and a half and I have more than enough to fill up those 90 minutes.  (Plus, this computer is driving me batty by not keeping up with my fingers as I type.  This irritates me into being done for now. )

Blessings on you all today — may your day be filled with Grace and Glory.  May there be purpose in the mundane and excitement in the everyday.  May you find Gifts that give pleasure, Friends that give comfort, and a Sense of the Presence of JESUS that make everything look better.

My heart gives grateful praise.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, disabilities, Family living, Grief, Heaven

Chapters in December

The skies are grey and heavy with rain on this Saturday a week before Christmas.  I’m supposed to be editing my yearly Family Christmas letter.  The envelopes are addressed, and stamped, the cards are ready to go into the envelopes, and the letter is mostly finished, but it’s been a difficult task this year.

Certain Man is home today, in the house, working on tomorrow’s sermon for our congregation at Laws Mennonite Church.  I’m sitting for the first time since I got up!  And I did sleep in this morning.  In fact, when I got up and saw that it was after eight o’clock, I rattled around the old nursery rhyme in my head, editing it as I went.

Mary Annie has grown so fine
She won’t get up to feed the swine
But lies in bed till eight or nine
Lazy Mary Annie!

This week has been another week in the journey I continue to make in life.  I think the last months I’ve felt more like I was walking in my Mama’s footsteps than I ever have before.  One of the things that is evident to me is that the Mama I remember best was far younger than I am now.  And often things come up that hit me squarely in the face that were things of the years when I considered her “old.”

One of the things that has been entirely too reminiscent of her has been this thing of getting accustomed to my partial plate.  Mama had a bit more vanity than I do, and she went the route of implants and caps for most of the teeth she lost, but as the years passed, she was forced to go with dentures.  They were a sore trial to her, and they hurt, and they didn’t fit right, and they wouldn’t chew the things she wanted them to chew.  Lots of times she had sores in her mouth from where they rubbed, and she was dependent on me or someone else to take her to her dentist in Dover to get things adjusted or repaired or replaced.  I feel so sorry sometimes when I am dealing with even a minor maladjustment to my partial plate and I think of how she must have felt and how miserable she must have been with the constant lack of satisfaction with her teeth.  I wish that I had paid better attention and tried harder to help her get that one issue resolved.  I felt like I did run her to Dover a lot, but if she felt the despair in proportion to what I feel, I’m certain that she often wished that either she could just do it herself, or that I would have understood better and done more.

And then there is that issue with her feet.  In the last months, the feet that I inherited from her have been giving me a fit!  Last week I had a few days when I felt like I couldn’t walk!  I have been seeing a specialist, and he had told me on my first visit to his office that my feet were not in any kind of good shape.

“The arthritis in your feet, particularly your left one, is very advanced,” Dr. Menendez said that day in September.  “You have some bones in there that are ‘lipping’ and there are calcium deposits and just bad arthritis.”  He sat at the end of the table, holding my foot so gently in his hands, like he was willing it to be better somehow.  I saw a look in his eye that I decided to read as “compassion” instead of “pity” but I knew that he had seen something on the x-ray that told him that I wasn’t lying when I said that my feet sometimes hurt.

“I don’t feel like I’m in any sort of a crisis right now,” I said to him.  “Rather, I’m here for sort of a base line consultation at the advice of Dr. Wilson, and because I have a feeling that in the not too near future, I may need some help.  I also wanted to know if what I am doing now is the best thing I can do for them, or if there is something more I could be doing.”

He affirmed all of the things that I had been doing, prescribed a different anti-inflammatory, and told me that if I ever felt like I needed some shots in those feet, I shouldn’t hesitate to call him.  He did think that “putting them up whenever I could” might be a good practice to pursue.

I went out of his office that day with a heart that wanted to turn away from this aging process.  Dr. Wilson has told me (more frequently than I care to remember) that I’m “a young woman trapped in an old woman’s body.”  Excepting that over the years since he started to tell me that, the “young woman” has mutated to being a bit more age appropriate for the body, I’m rather forced to admit.  I remember hearing Uncle Johnny talking at one of our family reunions some time before he died.  He said, “You know, I’ve always been able to count on this body of mine to pretty much do what I want it to do when I want it to do it.  But something has started to change, and this old body is letting me down!”  Yepper, I’d say that pretty much catches it.  This old body is letting me down.

In the months since that first visit to Dr. Menendez’s office, I’ve had a life so full of happenings that I’ve hardly had time to think about feet.  There’s been canning to finish, lima beans to freeze, a beloved sister in law living in our yard, a dishwasher that needed replacing, seven family birthdays and a trip to Ohio, parties for my grandsons, Grammy days with my granddaughter, an ordination for Eldest Son, a new foster baby in the family, Thanksgiving, a Christmas Open House for Certain Man’s office friends, Christmas preparations and shopping and then the usual things with Our Girl Audrey and Blind Linda.  Life just hasn’t stopped, and that business about putting my feet up just hasn’t been a happening thing.  And slowly I became aware that there was something just not quite right with these crazy feet of mine. And last week, when it was rainy for a few days in a row, and I could barely motor, I called Dr. Menendez’s office and asked if I could come in for shots. The thing that really put me over the top was that the foot that hurt the most was my “good” one.  That kinda’ scared me because when my “good knee” went bad on me, it had to be replaced before my “bad” one.

They put me on the schedule for Thursday, a week out, and I hobbled about and got ready for the Christmas Open House, and prayed.  And the pain diminished and I felt a whole lot better about things.  I started toying with the idea of not going.  But then I had a regularly scheduled visit with Dr. Wilson, and decided to ask his advice about whether I should have it done.  I thought maybe he would advise against it.  However, it was my first visit to him since he had read the x-rays, and he had some strong words to say about it.  “Go get the shots,” he said forcefully.  “By all means, get them.  It’s Christmas, you are going to be on your feet a lot, and it just doesn’t make sense to not get them.  I really think you should!”

And so, on Thursday afternoon, I tromped off to Dr. Menendez’s office.  I thought I had prepared myself quite muchly for this encounter.  I had taken My Sweet Mama to her specialist often for this sort of thing, and I knew that it wasn’t pleasant, but as I sat on that table waiting for the doctor to come in, I was overwhelmed by such a feeling of Déjà vu that it almost took my breath away.  My feet stuck out the end of the table, and the veins, purple and prominent made their tracks across them in almost the same pattern that I had seen on Mama’s.  And when Dr. Menendez brought his spray for numbing, and sprayed it on my foot while putting a needle into almost the exact same spot that Mama often had hers, the pain from the needle wasn’t even a scosche compared to what was crashing through my heart.  My Mama!  My Sweet Mama!  What she must have felt those many times that she went for these shots, hoping to find relief for the pain that dogged her every step.  What had she thought?  Did she really think it was going to work this time?  Did she think she would spring out of there, able to do all the things that she so longed to do?  Did she somehow know that she was fighting a losing battle with time and aging and a body that was “letting her down?”

It was another chapter in my Decembered grief.  I missed her terribly in that moment, wished for the chance to talk to her again, and ask her more about what was in her heart.  Dr. Menendez put bandaids on the the drops of blood that appeared on the tops of my feet.  He smoothed some callouses off the bottom of my feet and reassured me that I would feel better.  I chatted with him cheerfully over the pain in my heart and took myself out of the office and into my mini-van and headed home.  And then, as I motored towards home, I talked to My Sweet Mama and cried some overdue tears.  The years slipped away so quickly.

But my feet are feeling so much better.  The weeks ahead hold so much promise.  The offspringin’s and the grandchildren are coming home for Christmas and I don’t feel nearly as incapacitated as I did a week ago.  I’m looking forward to the celebrations of Joy that are ahead.  The message of Christmas is that of incredible hope.  A Savior is born!  He came to us, in our sorrow, our need, our pain.  He came to bring Light and Healing and Life.  He came to bring Peace and Joy.  All the things that are wrong with this old world will someday be put right by this Precious Christmas Gift.

And that includes bodies that let us down.  My Sweet Mama’s feet don’t hurt her anymore.  She’s dancing in her brand new feet, and they are beautiful.  What a glorious expectation!  What a thing to look forward to!

My December Heart gives grateful praise.

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Filed under Aging, Dealing with Grief, Family, Grief, Heaven, My Life

Asparagus Thoughts on a Red Kitchen Kind of Day

It feels like it’s been raining a LOT in Delaware.  I’ve always loved rainy days, and (usually) I’m the one who is delighted when I look out and there are clouds and it’s cool enough to justify running the pellet stove one more day.

The asparagus has started to grow prolifically   I look at the shoots, growing so tall in the wet and spring and wonder, briefly, if there is asparagus in Heaven.  Nope, I’m pretty sure there isn’t.  Especially since you can’t have a crowd of more than two or three without great controversy concerning this vegetable.

I’ve loved asparagus for years, relishing the first picking, often picking it before it was really quite ready, and always taking one of the first pickings to My Sweet Mama.  She often “had a hankerin’ for a mess of asparagus” before there was enough in our sparse patch to take to her.  But the patch has grown over these last few years and we have plenty this year.  I’ve already given away a big bag to a neighbor, and plan to give some more.  There is a lot out there and a whole lot more coming.

I don’t quite understand what is wrong this year with my taste buds. I picked the first batch, cooked it up and scarcely tasted it.  It felt like it stuck in my throat, then lay in my stomach, heavy,  like a bite of bad food.  I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything wrong with it, and was gratified when Daniel and the rest of my household ate it up.  The next picking, The Offspringin’s grilled to go with an early spring cookout.  There wasn’t an abundance, and grilled asparagus has never tempted me, so I wasn’t a bit jealous when they ate that.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve picked it, washed it, snapped it, cooked it, and just haven’t wanted to eat it.

I’ve wondered about the phenomenon over the last several weeks, and felt this gnawing sadness at the back of my conscious thought.  The coming Mothers’ Day celebration has added to the knot in my throat and the catch in my throat.  And then a picture, found inadvertently this week, brought me face to face with the fact that the Mama I’ve had for every single Mother’s day for 62 years is gone.  And I cannot even walk into the place that she called home and find any resemblance of Alene Yoder there.  I knew that in my head, but somehow, stamped in bright read and changed windows and different flooring, was the proof that things have changed forever and my Mama is gone.

The kitchen when she cooked asparagus and a thousand other things with the touch that she learned from her Mama, has been decimated and remodeled to someone else’s taste.  And someone else, who has their own memories and opinions and ways of doing things, will soon be rattling around in my Mama’s house, making it their home.  And part of me hates it so much I feel like throwing up.

Mom's kitchen

I know that things have to change.  I know that it is probably easier for the house to be completely different if there is going to be different people in it.  What am I to expect?  That someone who isn’t my Sweet Mama would move into her house and leave it exactly the way she did, and do everything the way she did?  How would a clone of my mother really work out in my life and in my emotions?  Would it really be helpful?  I promise you!  NO!!!

And so, I give into the changes that have been made, knowing that it isn’t really up to me anyhow.  For me, there is no right, no real choice in this matter, except that I can choose to be happy, to be realistic, to embrace what is mine to remember and to love, to acknowledge that what is most tangible isn’t what is the most real.  And to remember happy times of laughter and love and good, good memories that cannot be changed by a sledge hammer and a paint brush.

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Mothers’ Day, 2015

And so, Mama, once again, I am so thankful for the Mama I had.  I knew that I was going to miss you, and I knew that it was going to be hard.  I’m often surprised at the things that bring a fresh stab of grief and make me pensive and quiet.  Today I remember a year ago when we had no way of knowing that a short 12 days later, a fall in your bedroom would set the course that would take you away from your sunny kitchen and from us.  

I knew I was going to miss you so much, Mama.  I just didn’t expect that missing you so much would cause asparagus to taste and smell like grief.

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Chilly Mornings and Shadows of Sorrow

The promise of a beautiful day made us decide to let the fire go out in the pellet stove. I came down in the early morning darkness, and it was chilly in the farmhouse at Shady Acres.

My heart felt bleak, too.  The last few days have been a struggle to stay optimistic.  I told someone earlier this week that everybody was grumpy!  OGA has been touchy and a little schitzy.  BL has been difficult beyond my ability to understand.  And my own restless heart has been impatient and selfish.  When I felt like even BL’s pulmonologist was a bit peevish this week and I resented being sent for a chest x-ray for BL, I was brought up a little short on the fact that the problem (just might!) lie with me.

This morning, when my alarm went at its usual time, I felt the darkness in my soul.  I turned over, accosted immediately by an unaccustomed ache in my head, and a stuffy nose.  But morning’s work was waiting, so I did what needed doing, the usual morning routines; Making  beds, combing, straightening what needed straightening, washing my face, getting dressed, using moisturizer, washing my spectacles.  Certain Man was already downstairs, having had difficulty with heartburn early in the night.  I came down to find him soundly asleep in his chair.  I went to get my morning vitamins and coffee.

How very much I’m missing my Sweet Mama.  The memories of her last few weeks of life have been hounding me, and the sadness sometimes feels overwhelming.  I know she’s okay now.  I know that she would say that the difficulty of those hard, hard days are but a part of a long forgotten past, and that she blesses the tempest, lauds the storm that tossed her safely on the Heavenly Shore.  I know she’s okay! 

But sometimes it doesn’t feel like I am.  Not all the time.  Not when I have something I want to ask her.  There are just life questions that only a Mama can answer.  Not when I have something I want to tell her. I wish I could see her eyes light up with that familiar gleam, and hear her opinions and reactions and verdicts on human nature.  Not when I just wish for the physical essence that was my Mama for all of my life.  The sound of her voice, the taste of her cooking, the smell of her cologne, the visuals that defined her — her pretty dresses, her neat hair, her beautiful face, her gentle touch.  My Mama.  Everything so gone.  So unreachable.  The aching void is made more acute by the color and light and authenticity of my memories, and by these long nine months.  (“Lord Jesus, she’s never been gone this long!”)

I bring myself into the comfort of the blue recliner that I purchased with money that I was given from Mama’s account, and shiver in the predawn quiet.  Folded on the back of the chair is the trusty afghan that Middle Daughter found, barely started, among her grandma’s things.  Deborah brought it home, worked on it furiously and finished it before Christmas.  When I opened my presents in our family Christmas gathering, there was this lovely blue and white afghan in a familiar stitch, lying in the tissue paper.  And when I heard the story behind it, I knew it would do more than warm me on chilly days.  On this morning, when it is easy to feel bereft, I reach for my afghan and stretch it over my toes and snuggle my arms under its  welcome protection.  It’s time to think.  It’s time to allow myself some grieving time.  It’s time to allow myself to be comforted.

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Allow myself to be comforted?  Sometimes I don’t even want to be comforted.  Sometimes I just want to feel the ragged, broken shards of grief, and I just want to feel the reality of this loss.  Sometimes I don’t want to listen to reason (she was so miserable so much of the time in the last year, she was getting older, we all have to go sometime, it must have been “her time”).  And sometimes I don’t want to listen to hope! (She is healthy.  She is happy.  She is more alive than she has ever been.  She had the promise of Heaven.  She was going HOME to be with people she loved as well her Savior.  She believed.  She had fought a good fight, she had finished the course, she had kept the faith.)

But in the softness of the afghan, in the reiterating of my sorrow, in the tears and in the memories, I find myself (strangely) comforted once again.  I think of the colors she loved, the spring time yearning she always had to dig in her flower beds and make something pretty.  I think about the fact that she fostered relationship with me and my siblings in such a way that we truly knew her, and in these days since her passing, I have things that bring up specific, wonderful memories that remind me that I was so blessed to grow up with the sort of Mama that she was.  Not perfect, but never wavering from her commitment to raise us to love Jesus and to make sure of Heaven, and to love each other and to do all we can to see to it that the next generation knows the way HOME.

Comforted?  Yes, I’ve been comforted.  Easter is just around the corner when we celebrate the victory of JESUS over death and the grave.  When our RISEN LORD became the cornerstone of our Faith.  Where a cross and an empty tomb became a place for me to hang this heart that sometimes feels so fragmented.

Is it enough?

Indeed, it is!

And this old heart gives broken, grateful praise

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Family, Heaven, Holidays, Praise, Resurrection, Uncategorized

The Train Goes Round and Round the Track, and Mama’s Canary Sings.

Whenever there is noise that covers the immediate area, Mama’s bird, Pretty Boy, turns on the trills and chops until it pulls my heart towards the memories of another room, sunny and comforting, with a familiar form in the recliner.  Mama is listening to that same canary, and there is a smile around her thin lips.

“I love to hear him sing,” she would say.  “He doesn’t sing so much, unless there’s some kind of noise, like water running or certain music.”

This week I needed to go out to Country Rest Home.  I parked in the front lot, facing the window where Sweet Mama spent her last days, took her last breaths, and from where her spirit took flight to Heaven.  I tried not to look at her house, tried not to think, but I knew, I knew that I was going to go over to the house that was first my parents’ home,  and where Sweet Mama lived for almost ten years alone.

I finished my errand at Country Rest, and sat in my car for a bit.  And then, when I was pretty sure that no one would follow me and that I would be alone in my journey, I parked my van in front of the familiar front porch and looked at the curtains and blinds in the windows and bushes and (now wintering) plants that look just about the same as they always have.  Except that there was no light inside.  Mama almost always had light.

I stopped at the mailbox and retrieved some mail, and then went in through the front door as I always did.  It smelled just like my Mama’s house.  Her smell was there.  I felt my heart quicken just a bit with the recognition of the sweet, identifiable scent of Alene Yoder’s house. I was home!

I came around the corner, into the living room and it was then that the import of her absence hit me full.  The house was empty.  From where I stood at the opening into the living room, there was a broad expanse, with almost nothing to break up the space.  All the way at the other end, a lone folding chair sat at one table space, and a hickory rocker was pulled up to another.  A small, rickety bookcase, that had served as her bedside table for as long as I can remember, was against a far wall, and two recliners were snuggled together inside the short wall to my right like Daddy and Mama were using them when they shared their nightly devotions together.  The silence was a roaring noise in my ears.  It felt like I should be able to call, “Hey, Mama!  I’m finally here!” the way I must have done a thousand times over the last ten years, and hear her respond from the next room, “I’m here, come on in!”

I began the trek across the big living room, into the dining room, my footsteps muted on the carpet in the deserted house.  And then I heard the sound of weeping.  A whimpering noise was coming from somewhere in my throat, spilling into the empty house, running rivers down my face and dripping off my wobbly chin.  The sound in my ears made me only cry harder, and I stood helpless against the onslaught of grief, suddenly fresh and raw and anything but reasonable and restrained.  I plodded into the deserted study, hovered at the door of her bedroom where she took her last, catastrophic tumble.  The floors were swept clean, and there was no vestige of my Mama there.  “Oh, Mama, Mama!  You are so gone!  I miss you so much.  I miss you so much!”  I stood where her recliner always sat and wrapped my arms around the empty space and brought them tight against myself as if I could somehow hug the place where she always was, but I came up with nothing.

It was probably in that moment that some things began to sink into my fur brain.  I realized that I was never again going to feel my Sweet Mama’s presence in that empty house.  I would have memories, and as long as the smell was there, and the shell of the house was largely unchanged, I would remember her, and think of her, and feel the familiarity of this place that held so many good times, but I wouldn’t be able to feel like she was there somewhere, lurking just around the corner.  And that was a big enough thought that I decided to not stay any longer.

I picked up the rickety little bookcase and thought I would take it home and see if Certain Man could sturdy it up and maybe it could be useful somewhere in the house.  And I got into my van and headed for Milford.  Home was waiting, and the afternoon was gray and chilly.  I came around the corner at 36 and 16 and considered stopping at Mama’s grave.  When all was quiet at Greenwood Mennonite Church and there were no cars in the parking lot, I pulled in and parked beside the brick steps going into the country cemetery, and walked over to the granite marker where we laid her body to rest.

I was crying again, and I traced the letters on the stone.  “Why???” I asked aloud.  “Why???”

And that was when I felt like I was held gently by my Heavenly Father.  “Are you asking why she went to where she is happy, healthy, and free?  Do you think she is worse off now than she was when she was with you here?”  I looked at the grass, almost totally grown back over the grave, and thought about Daddy’s body, now there for ten years, and thought about why the grief was so unmanageable on this January day. I thought about her there, in Heaven with Jesus and Daddy, with her parents and many, many friends.  I thought about what it was like up there, and wondered again just how it would be.

“There’s a city of light mid the stars we are told,
Where they know not a sorrow or care.
And the gates are of pearl and the streets are of gold
And the building exceedingly fair.”

The song rose unbidden in my heart and the next thing I knew, I was singing it in a shaky voice to the falling light.  The cemetery was quiet, and the notes were anything but beautiful, but I grew stronger as I plowed on.

“Let us pray for each other, not faint by the way,
In this sad world of sorrow and woe.
For that home is so bright
And is almost in sight,
And I trust in my heart, you’ll go there.

Heaven.  Our someday Home.  Her present Home.  I cannot begin to understand what was waiting for Mama that June night when she left this all behind and stepped into GLORY and LIGHT and PEACE and PRESENCE and ETERNAL LIFE.  But this I do know.  It wasn’t empty.  It wasn’t quiet.  It wasn’t full of any memories that made her weep.  Mama was Home, and I believe it somehow smelled and looked and felt familiar, but still so far beyond her wildest expectations that it’s unfathomable to us mortals.

I turned away.  Homefolk were going to soon be worried.  It was time I headed on out to Shady Acres where my life still is, and where the people I love still gather.  My tears were over for now.  There will be more, and there will be days when the grief feels fresh and raw and unmanageable.  I’ve come to know that it’s all part of the process.  I don’t like it, but I’m trying to make it my friend. There are valuable life lessons to be learned here, and I don’t want to miss them.

And so, tonight, for the process of letting go, for the part that empty houses and tears and gravestones fill in that process, and for the hope of Heaven and for Jesus, who made it all possible; for this and so much more:

My heart gives grateful praise.

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A birthday Gift for Mama

The grief walks stealthily these days, pouncing at strange moments, catching me flatfooted and unprepared.  The mild, misty mornings and the green grass and blooming forsythia remind me that nothing is quite right this year.  The busy, busy days of before the holidays have given way to a welcome lull.  I’ve stirred around in my empty-ish house and worked at the paperwork for the State that has been accumulating for almost three months, and I’ve made an effort to think happy thoughts and to remember good memories, but I’ve cried quiet tears onto the torn tapestry of what is my life in this time and in this place.

They say that the holidays are the worst for missing people we love, and I know it’s true, having experienced the passing of Daddy at Christmas ten years ago, and now this, the first year without Mama.  Not only is it that she has participated with almost every Christmas Eve for thirty years, but Mama was born on January 1st.  For all of my 63 January firsts, it has carried the extra special connotation of my Sweet Mama’s birthday.  This year she would have been 87.  The thought of her birthday is dogging my days.

I wanted to go to her grave last night.  I had that terrible aching need to just talk to her, and even though I know she isn’t there, it’s still the place that works best for me when I need to talk to her.  Certain Man encouraged me to just drop everything and go, but the evening looked full enough that I thought it best not to.  My head told me that I could say anything over my sink full of dishes that I wanted to tell her and if she was going to hear, she could hear it as well here as she could if I was out there.

“Oh, Mama,” I whispered when there was no one to worry about the tears sliding down my face.  “I wish I could talk to you tonight.  I don’t have anything BIG or important or terrible or wonderful.  I just need to hear your voice, to have a place to talk comfortably, to tell you the things that I know you would be interested in, to have you cheer me on, to encourage and to remind me that it won’t always be this hard.  Whenever I was grieving, your love and concern always helped to hold me steady.  And your prayers for me were something that I counted on.”  That made me stop to consider the fact that Mama would care very deeply about this grief that I’m feeling over her death.

That was enough to make me thankful that where she is, there is no sadness, no coming back to our human emotions of grief and loss.  She’s There and it is light and joy and the very presence of God, and there is no more “death, neither sorrow, nor crying.” (Revelation 21:4)

She’s there, not saddened by the things that tug at our hearts.  Things like a great-grandchild picking up a Christmas ornament selected last summer from Grandma Yoder’s things.  She carried it to the couch where she cradled it lovingly and wept for the Grandma that always loved her, always played with her, always had time for her.

Or, Peppermint Bark Candy, on sale at Hallmark, always our signal to stock up so that she would have plenty in the months ahead when she couldn’t get it. I blink back my tears and walk on by.  I bought some before Christmas at regular price, just for the sake of the memories.  I don’t need any more.

That empty chair in our family’s Christmas celebration.  No one spoke about it, but I kept feeling the void.  And then I opened a gift from Deborah, and it was a lovely blue and white afghan, done in a familiar stitch.  My heart nearly burst when I heard her say, “I found this among Grandma’s things, Mama.  It was only begun, but I finished it for you so that you could have it.”  It’s soft and beautiful and I cannot tell the difference between the stitches of my daughter, and those of my Sweet Mama.

Remembering how she always tried to be first to say “Merry Christmas!” on Christmas morning, carrying on a family tradition from her parental home.  She never wanted to be the one to say, “Thank-you, the same to you!”

Visits from the couple that comforts me best, Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys.  My Daddy’s brother, married to my Mama’s sister.  They make monumental efforts to connect, even when the ravages of time make it hard for them.  Sitting in our house, reminiscing, talking, shedding tears together helps me gather my courage to go on.  Their steadfast support and the reminders of their love has been integral to my healing.  The commonality of grief between my Mama’s sisters reminds me of the many facets of my Sweet Mama’s life, and her deep and vibrant relationships with her family.  How fiercely she loved her siblings, and there were cousins who were kindred spirits and friends for her entire life.  They are grieving, too, and my heart goes out to them when I hear their pain.

Meeting with our Church Family in our renovated church building.  It’s warm and inviting and the pews are so comfortable.  Everything is so different, but the thing that tugs is my beloved Aunt Dottie, sitting alone in almost the same place that she would sit with Sweet Mama on Sunday mornings.  How Mama would have loved this new church building, and it would have been so interesting to her to see the changes that have been made.  I can almost hear her saying, “Oh, if only Daddy could see this!”

There are just so many things at every turn that remind me of My Sweet Mama.  But I’ve wallowed around enough in these past couple of days.  I’ve decided that I’m going to use that sudden stab of grief to recount things that make me happy when I remember them about Mama.  I’m hopeful that remembering the joy will transform the paralysis that wants to invade these old bones when the sadness is tenacious.  The New Year is a good time to start.

The thing is, Mama would approve.  She always believed that you could decide to be happy.  “If you smile for a while, you’ll forget that you are blue!” she would carol to me when she thought I should cheer up.  (I wish I could find that old song.  It’s helped me a whole lot in my life!)  So here’s my birthday present to My Sweet Mama:

I’m going to smile for a while. I just might forget that I’m blue.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Grief, Heaven, My Life

The Lows, The Highs.

This week has been a roller coaster for me.  Monday morning I was talking it over with Jesus, and telling Him how sad I felt.  And telling Him that I just wanted to undo the last fourteen months.  “I want Frieda back, whole and healthy and alive and HERE!  I want our church to not be burned.  I want Mama to not fall full on her face on a cold tile floor at our “borrowed” meeting place on a Sunday morning in February (a pivotal incident for embarrassment and infirmity in her life).  I don’t want to think about the health issues and infertility issues in my family that were exacerbated this year.   I don’t want Mama to fall in May and break her femur.  I don’t want her to have suffered those four weeks.  I don’t want her to have died.  I want her here, healthy and alive.  I don’t want Youngest Daughter, Rachel, to struggle to find a job for six months, with all sorts of reversals and setbacks and disappointments.  I don’t want Middle Daughter, Deborah, to be diagnosed with a genetic liver condition (http://www.alpha1.org/) that has given great cause for alarm.  I’m just so tired of everything! And I’m just so sad . . .”

And (Believe me!) there were a few other things in there that I “didn’t want” that can’t be said here.


Where do we go when life is too much for us?  How do we choose life and hope and peace when it seems like an exercise in futility?  What do we do when the people we love are hurting and struggling and doubting and failing? And what makes us think that it will ever be okay again?
Listen, dear friends!  Here is where I’ve chosen to focus:


Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19a

 

If there is anything that I’ve learned on this sojourn, it is that praise makes the darkest night navigable.  And while there may be all sorts of things that make me sad, I still need to choose that He does all things well, and that He is to be trusted.  It probably won’t ever all be “okay” again.  That’s what Heaven is for.

And if I can’t sink my “trembling soul” onto that immovable rock, then I’m pretty sure there’s no hope for this season of my life, this time, this place and my future mindsets.

The last few days have been better than that terrible Monday.  For every one of the “I wants” there have been blessings that I can choose to look at, be grateful for, and acknowledge God’s hand, working for our good.

I’m as convinced as ever that faith is the key to having a life focus that gives courage and hope.

It didn’t end at the Cross, and our Sunday’s coming!

My heart chooses grateful praise.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Grief, My Life, Uncategorized