Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My First Easter Without Him

As I vividly remember from my first widow journey, those immediate twelve months following the passing of a loved one is full of “firsts”. The first Christmas without him, the first Valentine’s Day, anniversary, Thanksgiving, etc. Sunday was my first Easter without my beloved Joel. It was, let’s just say…an interesting day. I’ll try to put it into words, but honestly…I’m not sure I totally can.

It started out a little rough on Saturday night with me setting out the Easter baskets for the kids. I was so upset, as they were the puniest Easter baskets I’d ever put together. Had it not been for a friend who sent the kids some little gifts in the mail, specifically for their baskets, they would have been even punier. It was virtually impossible for me to get out and shop while trying to recover from three foot surgeries. I went out Friday to one store for less than 30 minutes after getting my stitches out and grabbed what I could. The pain was horrendous in that short amount of time.

Then the Easter clothes. What Easter clothes? I would have loved to doll them up for the “official” first outfit of spring that typically coincides with Easter. They would have loved their new clothes. Instead, I dug in their closet to try to find something that would work and shoes that would still fit (that was the bigger dilemma).

I also planned to do an Easter egg hunt for the kids on Saturday before my adult daughter had to leave to go back to school, but I had her busy doing so many other things while she was home, and I never got around to asking her to fill the eggs with some sort of goody, let alone hide them in preparation for the hunt. I’m simply not ambulatory enough to do that right now.

A friend picked up the egg coloring kits for me, because I was determined to at least do that with the children. Guest what? That didn’t happen either, because I forgot to get the eggs to boil, and by the time I remembered…it was too late.

So, Easter hadn’t even arrived yet, and I was already feeling quite down over the fact I felt like a holiday mom “failure” – puny baskets, no new Easter outfits, no egg coloring, and no egg hunt.

Then comes Sunday…

Much like THE Resurrection Day over 2000 years ago, God’s grace rained down on me!

The kids woke up and found the baskets and were elated with what the “Easter bunny” brought them. They acted like every little thing they pulled out of their baskets was the best thing ever. Thank you God for your amazing grace!

We went to High Point (about an hour and a half away) to spend the holiday with my in-laws. We had a wonderful church service, followed by a delicious lunch, and then…my mother-in-law planned an Easter egg hunt for the kids!!! Another act of God’s grace. They still got to hunt eggs and had a blast!

Now…for the interesting part…I struggled emotionally all day. I didn’t want to have a meltdown and ruin everybody’s holiday. So, I worked really hard at controlling my emotions. In doing so, I essentially felt numb virtually all day. No tears. For that, I was thankful, but it was simply odd. I felt like I simply “floated” through the day. I went through the motions of the day, but that was just it. I couldn’t “feel”. It was a very hard day, and yet…my emotions were in “lockdown” in a way.

My mother-in-law gave me a HUGE gift by offering to keep the children for three days of their spring break (they’ll be home later today). So, when it was time for me to leave for the day to head home, I left alone. And when straight to the cemetery. My MIL told me the marker arrived the week before, and I wanted to see it, and I hadn’t been to the cemetery since the day we buried Joel’s earthly body. It was long-overdue for me, especially considering I was there every single day after my last husband died (but, Joel isn’t buried in the same town in which I live now).

I drove towards the cemetery, expecting to have a meltdown when I got there and saw his beautiful marker. I was so pleased to see it, however. It looked just as beautiful as I had hoped. I took lots of pictures…of his marker (our marker)…the raised area where his casket was buried but the ground is still settling, and the area beside him where mine will one day go.

His daddy is buried right above him, and his mother has a plot there too. It’s a beautiful cemetery with a precious pond just below Joel’s spot. Before going any further…I know Joel’s spirit is already with the Lord…it happened the moment he took his final breath in this life and entered the next. The cemetery is mostly for those of us left behind, but I also want to have a place set aside for him that brings me comfort, and this place does.

Surprisingly…the “numbness” continued. No tears. I talked a little, but no tears! I felt there was a load of them ready to unleash, but I didn’t know when. For whatever reason, it wasn’t then. I stayed for a little while, and then got back in my car and headed back home.

After I finally settled in for the night…ready to read, listen to worship and praise music, elevate my leg all over again…I felt only one thing “nothingness”. I hated that feeling. I was in a perfect place to grave, and I felt an unleashing of grief tears was just upon me. And…I felt they would come soon, especially since I was along. But they didn’t. I simply went to bed. And a new day began, but it was MUCH, MUCH different. Stay tuned…



Friday, April 14, 2017

It Used to Be My Favorite Day of the Year

As bizarre as this may sound, Good Friday used to be my favorite day of the year. I always felt I truly couldn’t celebrate Easter without having experienced Good Friday. No Resurrection without a death…right?

I always found a Good Friday service to attend, which would help set the mood to usher in the rest of Easter Weekend. I loved the somberness of the day…not in a morbid sort of way. Simply, I wanted to try to experience even a fraction of the pain the followers of Christ felt on that Crucifixion Day. And, I wanted to rejoice, even among the sorrow, when Christ said “It is finished” shortly before his final statement and final breath. I knew the end result…the pain of the day would lead to rejoicing on the third day when the grave was found empty! Death had been conquered forever! I knew the end result…the followers on the day Christ was crucified didn’t. I knew victory was around the corner…but, they had to wait for that major pronouncement. I’ve always appreciated the beauty of the darkest day in history…the day death died.

Today…Good Friday…doesn’t provide quite the same emotion for me as many from prior years. I’ve lived in a “state of somber” for nearly nine weeks now. I still know the truth of what this day symbolizes…

  • Christ paid the ultimate penalty for my sin, allowing me the opportunity for life eternal with Him
  • His ultimate death ushered in the day eternal death died
  • Easter is coming!
  • Because of His ultimate sacrifice, I have the promise of spending eternity with both Joel and my previous husband (Chris) who went to Heaven already – along with many other believing family members and friends
  • I no longer fear death!!!

For me, however, the beauty of the “somberness” of this day simply invades the broken spaces of my soul in a new way. I know the truth (like I mentioned above), but the feeling it evokes (which used to bring me peace) just makes me sad today. Does this make any sense? I’m having a hard time even understanding my own feelings, I think. The best way I can express it…I am weary from being sad all the time. I long for joy to return and happiness to fill those empty crevices of my soul. That being said, today feels so sad. I want to just skip ahead to Sunday. But, that’s impossible…we can’t have the Resurrection without the death. The same was true for Joel. He couldn’t reach Heaven without dying first. I just wasn’t ready for him to go…

Forgive me Lord for not being able to allow the sadness of the day evoke feelings of everlasting joy for what you’ve done for me on the cross. I am eternally grateful. Today, however, I’m still aching, and the hurt is so heavy. Show me a glimpse of the joy you have prepared me for eternally. I need to see hope today. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Gift from Romania

Learning how to parent my four youngest children alone has been one of the hardest things to try to figure out since Joel went to Heaven. This is not an easy crew to parent, friends. Or…maybe they’re easy, and I’m the messed up one. Regardless, it’s been extremely hard!

These children are grieving – each in their own way. They are trying to figure out what it’s like to have me as their only parent. They test me. They disobey me. They ignore me. But, they also lavish me with love in their own special, individual ways. Two have diagnosed special needs, and I’m convinced one of the other two does as well…just not yet diagnosed. They were a challenge for both Joel and I to raise together, but this puts solo parenting into an entirely new dimension. And…honestly…there are very few people out there who truly understand what I’m going through. So, that makes this road feel even lonelier. But…God knows…I have to keep reminding myself of that. He’s actually parenting all of us!

You can only imagine, then, when I had not one…not two…but three unexpected and urgent foot surgeries in March how truly out-of-commission I became. I was literally frightened. Not because of the physical trauma I was facing. No – I honestly didn’t know how I would be able to care for my children from crutches and a wheelchair. How would I be able to drive them to/from school and daycare when I have to keep my foot elevated in a chair during the bulk of my waking hours? What now God?

It would be an understatement to say the church we’ve found in our new town…actually they found us…has been nothing short of amazing! As soon as they received word of the loss of my husband and the fact we just moved here in October, the recent adoption of our four youngest children, and the fact I’ve now been widowed twice by the age of 45…they stepped in and have tried to meet every single need imaginable. You truly wouldn’t believe it. So, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when they started trying to figure out a plan for meeting my kids’ needs too. With some help from my mother-in-law at various times as well, the church filled the remaining gaps with various women. They would arrive at my house at 6 am to wake up the children, get them ready for school and then take them to their school and daycare. After the morning drop-offs, they’d stop back by the house to literally wait on me hand and foot (no pun intended)…make breakfast, coffee, freshen up the house…whatever was needed. They’d return again in the afternoon to do the pick-up run, feed the children (and me) supper, give baths, and help put the children to bed. They were amazing!!! The only drawback we all noticed was that it was very hard on the children having various people in and out all the time. They really needed consistency. I, and many others, started praying for a consistent “nanny-type” person to be able to do the entire job, and I had enough donations given for this specific purpose to cover two weeks, but I couldn’t go beyond that. At the time, we thought two weeks would be sufficient. That was before surgery number three…the one that landed me with a wound vac and even less mobile.

God did provide a nanny, actually a group of 4 ladies from the same family that made it work for the two weeks originally requested. But, we knew we still needed one person who could commit to caring for my children – being my hands and feet – I’d still be a voice – for at least another three-four weeks. The dilemma – where would I find such a person, and how could I pay them? We are still having to be very financially cautious right now, and even more so with these initial medical bills and being out of work with an unknown return date, as of yet.

But, God… He had the perfect person in mind. We just didn’t know it yet.

Enter Damaris…

Damaris came recommended from a friend of a friend of a friend. And…get this…she’s Romanian! Romania is a neighboring country to Bulgaria! So, Damaris and my Bulgarian kiddos were neighbors when living across the world from where they are now! I find that so cool, and such a God-wink.

This precious young woman has such a servant’s heart, and her humility is unmatched. Not only has she come into our home with such ease and taken on every task handed to her…the biggest being that of caring for our crazy crew…she’s always asking if she can do more. She has definitely been a gift hand-picked by God to get us through this challenging time while I heal to the point of being able to do everything I was able to do before.

But, that’s not all. A group of people (I have no idea who they are) have raised enough money so far to pay for her for 3-4 weeks! What a gift, as I certainly don’t have that in my budget right now.

We love this precious woman already. She’s also a follower of Jesus Christ, as I am, so that’s just a bonus!

Here’s Damaris and her newest little friend, Katerina…

Monday, April 10, 2017

I Had to Wash the Sheets

If you happened to read an earlier post of mine about my sheets, you know I had no intention of washing them anytime soon. It was one of the last tangible links I had to my husband. We slept in those same sheets together the night before he entered the hospital. Although almost completely gone, I could still catch a small whiff of his scent through the sheets (or maybe it was just my imagination, but it still made him feel close). I vowed I wouldn’t wash the sheets until they were falling part or simply too scary to sleep in anymore. Sorry folks…I know that sounds gross (and, I’m a very clean person), but grief causes you to behave in ways you never dreamed possible before.

The sheets were holding up quite well until…

Remember me telling you about my “bed buddy” – Austyn? He’s been sleeping with me for several weeks now. Well…I guess he slept a little too soundly the other night and soaked his PullUp, pajamas, AND the sheets! The poor little guy certainly couldn’t help it, but I was so disappointed. However, I didn’t let him see that disappointment; I simply pulled the sheets off the bed and tossed them into the washing machine for cleaning. Another closed door.

My brain tells me this probably sounds completely ridiculous, but my heart knows it’s completely rational under the circumstances, and you have to do what you have to do to survive a tragedy such as this (especially having experienced a widow journey now TWICE).

It seems with every tangible change in this journey, there is a heart change that often accompanies it. Such has been the case with my sheet washing experience.

I’ve struggled so hard to believe Joel is really gone. I’m not crazy…I KNOW he’s gone. I was there when he took his last breath. I saw his lifeless body in the casket. I watched the casket lowered into the ground. I KNOW. However, the suddenness of it all, and the fact he was so full of life just in the days leading up to his brief illness makes this whole thing seem ludicrous. Like…HOW can this be so?

I think on that day I washed our sheets for the first time since he went to Heaven, my heart finally believed Joel isn’t coming back. He’s really gone. And, I wept…HARD…almost as hard as when I first heard the words he wasn’t going to make it. And, thus, my grief journey took another turn…

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Eight Weeks

It’s been eight weeks since Joel went home to Heaven. Eight weeks. I can’t believe he’s been gone that long. And yet…it’s really just been a short amount of time. I guess the days just feel so long. I haven’t reached the point in my grief journey yet where the days fly by. Oh…how I wish I were there.

Part of the reason is because of my temporary health crisis following my three foot surgeries in March. I’m still bound to a recliner for most of the day with a wound vac attached to my foot that has to remain elevated on two pillows for the bulk of the day. For some reason, God allowed this to happen and so soon after Joel’s death. I have yet to understand this. But, He is sovereign and knows the big picture. I trust Him completely. I still hurt.

I have way too much time on my hands sitting in this recliner. Too much time to think. Too many memories to drift back to, and too much time to cry. While crying can be healing, I feel like I do entirely too much of it. Every time someone comes to visit, and we start talking about my love, I can hardly get two to three words out before the tears start falling. I miss him terribly. Here they go again…I can’t write about him without crying. Unless you’ve been in similar shoes, there’s no way you can possibly understand this type of pain. I would rather someone cut off my leg…both of my legs, for that matter…than be without my best friend, my husband, my love, the daddy to our children. As harsh as that sounds, I can’t imagine how that type of pain could hurt this badly. Physical pain can heal…pain of the heart…always exists.

From experience, I know it won’t feel this painful all the time. I know there will be good days in my future. I know I’ll be able to genuinely smile and laugh again. I know my children will heal as well. I know my purpose in this pain will be established. I know God will use my pain. I know God will use Joel’s death for His glory.

While I know all of these things to be true…it doesn’t stop the ache I feel in the center of my core at this very time. I want it to go away. I hate feeling this way. I hate being this sad. I look for joy, because I long for it.

Oh God…Help me this day! Protect my bleeding and broken heart. Restore my joy! Show me something to smile about today. I desperately need You! My hurt is overwhelming me today.