So This Is Life After Loss

Today marks a milestone in my life.   Two years ago today my mom slipped into heaven.  I cannot even begin to put into words what the loss of my mom has done to me.  I can tell you that I am not the same person I was.  Loss has a way of changing you.  Honestly, I wouldn’t wish this plight on my least favorite person, I wish I could spare us all from the kind of pain the last two years has brought.

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As the anniversary of her death approached, I knew I wanted to write something about her, a tribute or letter, something.  But, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Every time I would sit down to write, I found myself avoiding opening a new Word document.  When I finally did, it sat empty for days.  Finally, I forced myself to start writing words in hopes that I could express what life has been like without her.

And, now that I am finally typing words on a page, I can hardly see them through the tears.  I knew this would happen.  I knew I would cry like a baby when I tried to tell you all how I feel.  So instead of ignoring the fact that this is really hard, and that it makes me cry, I am going to share some of the more painful things I’ve dealt with over the last twenty four months, and some of what I’ve learned.

I just want to keep this all so real.

I know where my faith lies, I don’t doubt the love of my heavenly Father, I’m not angry, at least I don’t think I am.  What I am is lonely.  It’s ironic because I have a wonderful husband, a daddy that I adore, three beautiful children, precious sisters and their families and in laws and friends that are like family and yet, there is a place inside of me that stays so desperately empty.

There’s just no one in life like your momma.

I know there will be some who can’t relate to me, but to those who can, you know what I mean.  No one loves you like your mom on your best days and your worst.  No one cares about everything and nothing like she does.  She kisses your boo boo’s, hugs you at night, and makes your world feel like a safe place.

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I was lucky enough to have my mom as my best friend.  Many of you who know me, know that we actually “shared” a job.  We worked closely together for eight years.  I called her every day and we had coffee several times a week.  We attended the same church and she was in and out of my life ALL the time.

How do you fill the void after a loss like that?

I don’t have the answer.  As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I’ll ever have the answer.  What I do know is that I don’t pretend like everything is okay because it’s not, I don’t act like I feel happy all the time because I don’t and I don’t try to answer the question “why?”  Because I can’t.  I just pray a lot, cry often and remember with thankfulness that I was hers and she was mine.

What a gift.

As the days and now years roll by, life keeps going on.  Kids grow, birthdays happen, the holidays come and you continue to celebrate the best you can.  But, in all the happenings, there is always an empty space, one that we all try to avoid talking about so our happy event doesn’t feel so sad.  I’ll never understand how happiness and sadness can co-exist like that, but they do.

This year my sweet niece will get married.  She is overjoyed, we all are really.   She couldn’t be marrying a nicer fellow, and he’ll be good to her, I have no doubt.  Recently we had a bridal shower for her in my home.  We invited family and a few friends, people we knew who’d remember her when she was just a little thing. My younger sister, our daughters and I were hosting the event and we wanted so much for our mom to be a part of it.  Our hearts were broken that she wouldn’t be there in person to smile and be the proud grandma she was.

Family was everything to her.

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My goodness this was such a LONG time ago!! We all had small children and we looked like babies!

 

We finally decided to go through her things and pick out a few pieces that we could include in the décor.  That was so hard.  Everything we looked at or touched brought back memories.  She loved different dishes, especially the ones that seemed to have no matching pieces.  She felt that they were original and in need of someone to appreciate their beauty.  Basically what she had was a bunch of mismatched dishes, but she loved them and now we love them.

After spending some time laboring over what to use, we decided on a crystal bowl, a lace table cloth and a picture she had of my niece when she was just a little girl.  When the day arrived for the shower, we carefully displayed mom’s things, and made up our minds to make the best of a painful and yet wonderful situation.  How is that possible?  For something to be painful and wonderful?  I don’t know, I just know it was.  Some things in life are just too great a mystery for me.

I’m learning to accept that.

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Last Sunday I wore the dress to church that I wore to momma’s funeral.  This is the second year in a row.  I’ve decided that every year I will wear that dress on the Sunday before my mom’s passing.  Every other Sunday of the year, it will remain in the closet.  But for that one day, I will wear it and remember.   Kind of a marker in time. You wonder why I would do that?  I don’t have an answer, it’s just something I want to do as a remembrance.

Sometimes you just do things because they help your heart to feel a little better.

There is no other reason.

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The past few years has brought a lot of change.  My one and only daughter, moved out and went to college in another city.  She had been at home for community college the two years since her graduation.  A week prior to her departure, my first born son and middle child left home to attend college.  He was fresh out of high school and looked for the life of me like a little boy. But, someone said eighteen was an adult and he believed them so he took off to chase his dreams and an education as well.  Two months later, my mom passed.  It seemed everywhere I looked something had changed.

I was left to pick up the pieces of my torn apart life.

These days I spend a lot of time talking to my heavenly Father, both on my knees and silently in my heart.  I couldn’t have made it without Him.  Next year my youngest child will graduate and head off to college; more change, more loss.

I always thought when my final child graduated and left home that my mom and I would sit on the porch and have long conversations about raising children and life in general. I thought I would take care of her in her old age and glean from her a lifetime of wisdom.  I thought so many things, but now I know none of them will ever be.

She is gone.

I have been very candid with all of you in this blog post.  I need you to understand that loss doesn’t come and go, it comes and stays.  Those of us who have suffered its icy talons in our souls understand just how life changing it can be.  Today, this second anniversary of her death, reminds me that we aren’t promised another breath.  Knowing this has given me a new perspective on how I live my life.  On how I look at relationships.

On everything.

These days, I am loving deeper, taking more risks and focusing on my goals like never before.   I use the lens of death to see how to live my life more clearly.  Life is short, it’s hard, wonderful, painful and amazing all crammed into a number of years, months, days…and then it’s over.  Our time on earth through.

Done.

Finished.

What will the people you leave behind say of you?  Did you love well?  The THINGS won’t matter, what WILL matter is the time you spent with them and the love you did or did not show.

Trust me.

I hope you don’t feel sorry for me when you finish reading this.  I know it is sad and revealing, it has been a very painful season.  I hope you understand that my mom loved well and that is why she is so deeply missed.   The tears I cry are a reminder of the great bond we shared.

I have no regrets.

I challenge you to hug your family today, tell them you love them and you always will.  Be good to them.

One day they’ll be thankful that you gave them something beautiful enough to cry over when it’s gone.

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Love you Momma…

A gift from my mom…

While cleaning out some drawers at my mom’s house, we ran across a stack of cross word puzzles.  She loved them and continued to work them until she finally lost her sight.  I was thumbing through the pile, looking at her handwriting and remembering when I noticed a folded sheet of typing paper pushed down into the middle of the stack. It would’ve been so easy to miss, I am so thankful I didn’t.  On the paper was a short poem I believe mom left for us, I cried so hard when I read it.

I want to share it with you…

Death Is Nothing At All

I have only slipped into the next room.  I am I and you are you. 

Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way you always used to. 

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. 

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. 

Play, smile, and think of me. Let my name be ever the household word that is always was. 

Let it be spoken without the ghost of a shadow on it. 

Life means all that it ever meant.  There is absolutely unbroken continuity. 

What is death but a negligible accident? 

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? 

I am waiting for you-for an interval-somewhere near, just around the corner. 

All is well.

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Doing Hard Things, the beginning

I am a little bit of a “scaredy-cat.” I’m just going to confess that right here and now.   I try really hard not to be and I constantly remind myself that I need to push past it and keep trying new things, hard things, lots of things. But, there is always this little voice inside of me that freaks out when I am introduced to something that I feel might be a bit of a risk.

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Give an example, you ask?

Well, I don’t like to fly. I know, I know, I am married to a pilot. A guy that flies all the time. But I don’t, and I don’t like it, it scares me. And, I don’t like to run. I know, I just finished a half marathon, but I don’t like it, it hurts. I don’t like scary rides. The answer to that one should be obvious. They are SCARY. I especially don’t like the ones that lift you multiple stories in the air and then let you fall like dead weight until you can feel your stomach in your throat, literally. The hard stop at the bottom is unpleasant too.

I don’t like being sleep deprived, scolding my children, mowing the yard or deer meat.

Basically, I like my comfort zone, because, well, it’s comfortable. But, and I think you probably know what I am going to say here, the Lord won’t let me stay in my comfort zone. He keeps pushing me to the edge of it and shoving me out. Right out into a non-comfortable zone. Into places that are hard, situations that are scary and into things I never thought I could do.

I can’t decide if He likes me that much or if I am paying for some past oath I took about being comfortable in my old age. I’ve told you times before that God must have a good sense of humor, I see traces of it all through my life.

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The view out of the window once we reached our cruising attitude on the way to Germany.

So, keeping in mind I told you flying is not my favorite thing, I found myself standing in line recently waiting for the gate agent to give me a boarding pass for a flight that would last eight and a half hours. Yes, you read that correctly, EIGHT and a half. Honestly, my insides were turning flips and I’m sure I had the involuntary swallowing thing going on as she asked me the standard questions.   Things like my name, for my passport and my favorite question, “Has a stranger had custody of your luggage, Mrs. Carlson?” Sometimes I wonder what they would say if I said, “Why yes, I always let complete strangers hold all of my things, don’t you?” And then I would point at some unsuspecting random soul and say, “there he is now, the stranger who held my luggage.”

If you’re letting complete strangers hold your luggage in an airport, well, we need to have an entirely different conversation.

But, I was too nervous to say anything but, “no.”

She finished her brief interrogation, handed me the boarding pass and sent me to the waiting room. And like all the other obedient souls, I sat down, pretended to watch TV and waited. When it was finally my turn to board the flight, my mouth was so dry, like Sahara Desert dry. Did I mention I was flying standby? I don’t want to forget that little detail. Well, because I was flying standby, I needed to keep all my luggage with me in case I had to be quickly removed and catch a later flight.   I didn’t want my luggage headed out of town without me.

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Quite by accident I ended up in first class for my first flight to Europe.  I understood how great it really was when I flew in coach on the way home.

So, for your mental picture amusement, I had on a large backpack stuffed with snacks, my multiple three ounce bottles (liquids and gels are apparently dangerous and must be downsized), a blanket, tennis shoes and running clothes. My purse which was strapped on like a sash, you know over your head and hanging on one hip, like the Miss America sash. Lovely. Then there was my industrial size piece of luggage. Well, technically it checked all the boxes and met criteria to be a “carry on,” but, it weighed as much as a small child.   I had every pocket stuffed completely and fully all the way around the poor thing. It was supposed to stand up, but because the front pockets were so full every time I tried to let it stand it would fall forward.

I was pathetic.

Don’t ask me why I think I need to pack so many things, I just think I do. You never know what might happen and you never know exactly what pair of shoes you might be in the mood for, you know? Some of you out there are shaking your heads and feeling validated because you know EXACTLY what I am saying. And then there are others, like the friend travelling with me, who literally carry a back pack and THAT’S ALL. I don’t know how you backpackers do it, I am in awe. No matter how much I pack I still wish I had packed that “other shirt” or “other pair of pants.”

The struggle is real.

Once I boarded the plane and got settled, I started to pray. The kind of solemn prayers you send up when you feel like you might be facing the end. You know, bless everybody, and help them to be good people even if I’m not there to see it. Don’t let them forget me, yada yada…those prayers. Then I sent a text to my husband to let him know I loved him and I always would. I told him if anything happened to me to go on and live his life to the fullest and I would meet him in heaven. I wanted that to be the last text I sent him, you know…just in case.

The butterflies in my stomach were working overtime and my excitement was palpable.  I was headed  to Europe, a place I’d always dreamed of going.  And now my dreams were about to become a reality, that is, once I was finished with this  flight.

First stop,  Germany.

And then the plane took off.

 

Something to think about: 

I think  we were designed to do hard things.  It fulfills something way down deep inside of us to meet a challenge, to rise to the occasion, and to do more than we ever thought we could.   Somewhere in the midst of all the trying and not giving up, joy begins to seep into our soul.  I honestly believe joy is born and thrives when we push forward in our lives, when we stand on the edge of what we believe  to be our limitations and don’t allow them to stop us.  What is your hard thing?  Your scary thing?  Look  it in the eye today and walk toward it, even if you only take one step.  One is better than none.  

overcoming-fear-pic-9“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

90 Seconds of Light: Called Out

Recently I was at a concert with my boys and I wasn’t being very kind.  I’m just going to go ahead and say that up front.  I talk about kindness, preach kindness to my family and I was being a hypocrite this day. Ugly, but true.

Let me explain.

I drove up to the event expecting, well, I don’t know what I was expecting but not this.  The music was too loud and I was very tired so I told the boys we were going to step into the building next door to get some coffee. I assured myself and them we would go back and listen to the music once I was more awake and hopefully in a better state of mind.

We stood around the coffee pot that was out of earshot but not too far away from the concert and talked, well teased about it being too early for “all of this,” referring to the volume.  My youngest stood and mostly listened to me tease about it, but occasionally made a comment. I was too busy preparing my coffee and talking with others around the pot to hear him much.

Finally he said something that completely caught me off guard and humbled me.

“I would never perform for a crowd like this one, they don’t look happy at all to be here.”  I knew he was talking more about me than “the crowd.”  I stood there and thought “what message am I sending to my son right now?”  Basically I was reaffirming the conclusion he was drawing, you should hide your gift so others won’t have a chance to judge you.

I was so ashamed.

I had taught him throughout his entire life to think the best, to be kind and be an encouragement to others who are growing and trying; to be a support, not a hindrance. What had happened to me? Why was I being the exact opposite of what I had tried so hard to instill in him?  Just in case I didn’t feel horrible enough, he finished by saying, “The singers are just trying to do their best.”  I realized quickly that I had a choice to make.  I could stand there and justify my actions, because, after all, it was early and it was loud.  Or I could swallow my pride for making a bad decision and go back to the concert.

And be the encouragement I knew Christ wanted me to be.

After a short pause to assess the damage it was obvious I’d done, I walked over to the sink and poured out my coffee. I looked my son in the eye and said, “I am being so cynical,  and I don’t want to be this person.  I’m sorry, let’s go listen and be a blessing.”

We walked into the concert together and I prayed in my heart for forgiveness.  When did I become so cynical?  When did that become okay with me?  I am so thankful for the courage my son had to “call me out” on my bad behavior.

I never want to be okay with that kind of attitude.

The concert ended up being very good, lots of great songs and a time of worship.  The singers had the sweetest spirit.  But, honestly I learned more standing around the coffee pot than I did anywhere else.

My kids, as grown as they seem, are still watching. I desperately want to live what I say I believe.  I want to be true, not an unattainable false perfection, but genuine and authentic. And when I’m living contrary to that, I thank the Lord he sends folks to call me out on it.

Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

I Peter 3:8  “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”

Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy  and to walk humbly with your God.”

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for not letting me get away with my bad behavior.  I never want to be okay with a bad attitude or with making others feel small.   I desperately want to be an encouragement to those around me.  Help me to be authentic and transparent and to love those you’ve placed in my life.  Father, you know it is easier to say “I love” than to actually “live it out.”  Change me, Lord, change the deepest places inside of me so I look more like you.  I am so grateful for a seventeen-year-old who knew enough to not be okay with hypocrisy, he saved me from myself.  Thank you for not giving up on me, you are my biggest fan.  I will love you forever.  In Jesus name,  Amen.