Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Journey Through Loss

The last three months we have been operating in 'survival mode'. Everything has been kind of a blur. We have just been literally getting through each day as it comes the very best we can. My life was forever changed on February 17, 2008. In my mind, whenever I am discussing something from the past, my mind mentally asks 'was that before or after Feb. 17?' Because that date forever changed me and how I view life. That was the day my mom breathed her last breath here on earth. That was the date that I understood the heartache of losing someone you love. That was the date that my heart ached and I wondered if it would ever stop. Up to that point in life, I had a more carefree, light hearted outlook on life. I knew others who had lost loved ones. I cried over tragedies and losses that others had and were experiencing. I thought I understood loss. But now I realize that I didn't understand it at all. Loss can only be understood by actually experiencing it. As Beth Moore would say, 'you can't learn about this in the classroom, you can only experience it by taking a field trip'. What a field trip I have been on since that dismal day in February. And it's a field trip I would never have chosen. I feel like I'm part of an exclusive club now--the club of people who have lost a parent. It is a club I don't want to be a member of, but that I have no control over. Now when I talk with a friend who has lost a parent, they immediately give me that look that says 'I totally know what you are going through'. And I know that they know and it is comforting. They are a part of the exclusive club too.


The few days leading up to my mom's funeral was uncharted waters for my siblings and me. We had to make decisions we had never had to make before. We had to walk through the 'casket' room at the funeral home and pick out a casket. I remember walking through this room feeling numb, like I was in a dream. Just two days prior I had been in Nashville celebrating my oldest son's birthday. And now I was picking out a casket. Decision after decision we had to make... What kind of casket? What color casket? What and who to include in the obituary? Do we have visitation? What time do we do visitation? When do we have the funeral? What kind of monument? Where in the cemetary? What do we have written on the monument? Before Feb. 17, my opinion on all of these decisions to make would have been: 'you know, none of these things really matter, the color of a casket, what a monument says, etc. etc.' That was before. That was before I became a member of 'the club'. Now, it became extremely important, our sole mission. We wanted every little detail to reflect who my mother had been to us and make her funeral, her last 'hoorah', a total celebration of her. I learned that all of these details matter a great deal to those who have lost someone they love.


I remember walking into my mom's house for the first time after she had died. Seeing her shoes sitting beside the chair she always sat in. Sitting by her chair was an unopened coke--her drink of choice. The shoes--that is what dug a knife into my stomach--seeing the shoes. I don't know why, but I could hardly stand seeing them sitting there.


I remember walking into the viewing room at the funeral home for the first time. That was another first that I would give anything to not have to experience.


I remember standing at the top of the hill in the cemetary with my siblings, discussing which plot to choose. I remember the bone chilling wind ripping through us, making us shiver uncontrollably--or maybe we were just shivering uncontrollably and the wind was helping it along.

I remember not feeling like nor being able to eat for two days straight.


The funeral was exactly everything she would have wanted it to be. There was 'Elvis' music playing softly in the background. There were pictures of all of her children and grandchildren everywhere, her pride and joy. Flowers filled and overflowed the room. My mom loved flowers--that would have made her happy. Reverend Shaw, whom my mom had always been fond of, did my mothers service. He quoted several scriptures, including Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:


"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace."

This verse is especially meaningful to me. It is the verse I chose to have read at our wedding. It is the exact verse my mother-in-law had quoted to me the day after my mom died. It was the verse the Reverend chose to read at my mom's funeral. I love how God does that. It is His way of showing He is present--His pep talk of encouragement when you're just about to call it quits.


Reverend Shaw also read 'Lord of the Dance' and quoted other scriptures regarding 'dancing', as my mother owned a dance studio and it was her sole passion aside from raising her five kids. All five of us children stood up and took turns reading a tribute we had written to our mom and a poem my brother had chosen. I remember reading over 'our tribute' earlier that morning, thinking that I wished it had some real examples of what life had been like growing up with my mom. But God had it all under control. To our surprise, a women who had babysat us for several years stood up and talked for five minutes about all of those funny, quirky things that captured life with our crazy brood. Again, it was amazing to me, how God made the funeral fit together like a glove. Reverend Shaw, who my mother had not been in contact with for several years, made the service represent exactly who my mom was. And then bringing in what we had to say along with our babysitter...well, all I can say is 'it was a God thing' through and through. Truly. There are moments in life when you feel God's presence so tangibly that you can almost touch Him. Her funeral was one of those moments. Strangely, and again, I know only God can do this, I felt joyful that day. The Bible says in Nehemiah 8:10: 'The joy of the Lord is my strength'. I can attest to that. He somehow brings you joy in the dimmest of circumstances.


That celebratory 'high' lasted only through that day...and then came some of the hardest weeks. I had to go home and do my life. I had to be a wife, take care of five kids, homeschool, take kids to practices, cook, clean...and when Eric traveled I had to do it all on my own. Everyone was counting on me and I didn't feel like being counted on. Those couple of weeks after the funeral were just ones of complete sadness. And I really questioned my faith in God. Why did He do this and why did He let it happen the way He had? I just literally felt like quitting; throwing in the towel on my faith. Why? Why? Why? So many questions. And no answers. Believe me. I really let God know how I felt! And I believe God wants us to do that. He knows how we are feeling anyway, so why not get brutally honest? He wants us to be brutally honest with Him so He can meet us right where we are. He, again, made himself so tangible to me right when I was about to say 'forget it'...He continued to whisper to me 'The joy of the Lord is your strength', over and over again. Moment by moment He got me through this time. It wasn't easy. It was messy. Let's just say I didn't win any parenting awards during this time! I guess you could say many things in my life had to take a backseat so that I could walk through this grief.


After these couple of weeks of intense sadness and faith questioning, my emotions turned a 180. I became mad--mad at just about everyone. Mad at my husband. Mad at my children. Mad at friends who didn't call me. Mad at friends who called me but didn't say the right things. Honestly, there were a few people I was so mad at that I wanted to punch them in the face (thankfully, I didn't :) ). This anger came out of nowhere and it surprised me. I mean, I know I can get mad, but not that mad! Once again, God guided me through it. He kept showing me over and over: the joy of the Lord is your strength...the joy of the Lord is your strength.


A month after my mom died, my brothers, sister and I began the process of going through and cleaning out her house...a process we are still going through. This has definitely been hard. But, surprisingly to me, it has also been therapeutic and some of the most memorable times with my siblings. My mom kept EVERYTHING. Every report card, every craft, every school project and paper. Now, I am not an advocate for keeping everything your children make, BUT I will have to say it has made me rethink my 'clutterless' mentality. I enjoyed finding the twenty seven poems I wrote in third grade. And the letter I wrote to Captain and Tenille in first grade which included a first grade picture taped to it...(obviously, my mom never sent it--so that's why they never wrote back:) ) Looking at old pictures, talking and laughing about memories with my brothers and sister was some of my most treasured time spent with them. I feel like it created a tighter bond between us all. We laughed and laughed at some of the things we came across. You know those things that only your family can laugh at because only they 'get it'...

I have experienced the Body of Christ in a way I have never experienced before. The outpour of love from people has been nothing short of supernatural. I have received hundreds of sympathy cards (at the beginning, these cards got me through the day), offers to watch my children, weeks of meals, house cleaning....and I have received sweet little momentos--a cross with a bible verse, a beautiful flower arrangement for my kitchen table, a tree to plant in memory of my mom, a bonsai plant along with several other plants, starbucks 'just because'... it has been incredible. A close friend told me that this is how God is tangibly pouring His love out on you--through the body of Christ. I sure have felt loved.

It is true, I am finding: time does heal. I am starting to feel a normalcy slip back into my life these days. The emptiness is still there but it is not as vast as it once was. Sometimes I feel its sting more than other times. My daughter's piano recital that I couldn't share with my mom. Ouch. When I ran in the mini--there was no one to call that would be proud of me. Ouch. My brother's wedding day. .. Mother's Day. Double, double ouch...When I am driving somewhere and I start to call her on the phone and then realize I can't...He continues to show me at new heights that I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me...and apart from Him, I can do Nothing. I can honestly say that the Lord has been my All in All; He has carried me through every single part of this journey.

"My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He ALONE is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken....Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge!" Psalm 62:1-2, 8

1 comment:

gingerswann said...

maria,

what a wonderful, beautiful legacy your mother left behind! thank you for sharing your journey to healing with others... the lord is so faithful!

(so excited to find your blog!)