Thursday, December 25, 2014

Dear Matt,

Dear Matt,
It's Christmas. My grief moms group hasn't met in a couple of weeks. The busyness of the holidays has kept us apart, and we are all struggling. Thank God for the internet and FB chats! We talked yesterday about wanting to crawl under the covers and sleep until the new year, or go away somewhere, anywhere. The holidays are, undeniably, a time for family. But for us, they have become painful reminders that our families are not complete. Nonetheless, we treasure the joy of the season, for we know the truth, that Christ's birth is the reason we can truly celebrate. There is joy in that.

We talked about heaven, which we often do, wondering what it's like. We envisioned the excitement, joy, and laughter that must surely be present. We pictured our kids in the company of angels, having parties, and hanging out with other loved ones. We talked of what our kids would be saying, telling us to "Get it together." and "It's all good." We talked about hope, truth, and joy. We mentioned you all by name: Matt, Dustin, Kaylie, Tyler, Declan, Sloan, Craig, and Trevor. We cherished seeing your names in writing and the freedom and validation in mentioning them.

We don't talk about the "What ifs" or the "If onlys," because we've learned that they aren't productive. They only serve to send us spiraling down, and we've worked so, so hard to fly! We want so much to make our kids proud of us. We remind ourselves often of how short this life is. Not because we don't know how short it is (for our children's deaths certainly did that), but because we struggle with how long life appears when we look ahead to it without our kids. We reassure one another that this short life will soon transform into a glorious reunion.

In the meantime, we treasure what we have. We count our blessings. We cultivate thankfulness and choose joy. We appreciate the little things. We cherish our families. We cling to God's grace. We make new memories, and we savor the ones we were blessed to have. We cry. We laugh. We wish we could have a snapshot of our "angels" together, but then we realize that we don't need one...because we get to spend eternity together, never to be separated again by death, for "there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain..." (Rev. 21:4)

I miss you, Matt. I wish you were here. I will always wish you were here...until I am there. 
Love, mom

P.S. - I hope you like your tree. :)


Friday, December 19, 2014

Candle Lighting

This past Sunday, we attended The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting ceremony. It's held annually on the 2nd Sunday in December from 7-8pm.

Needless to say, it's an emotional experience. I found myself staring in awe at the large number of candles lit around the room. Sad, and yet comforting. Comforting in knowing we are not alone, yet sad because there are others experiencing the same kind of loss. It is a reluctant camaraderie, but one that binds us together in hope and community.

Our particular group met before the 7pm lighting to share in a potluck meal. It's been a wonderful time to meet. There are no pretenses as to why we're there, and there's no expectation to be cheerful. It's okay to just be. To be cheerful if we feel like it or to cry if we feel like it. It's a recognition that the holidays are tough because someone we love, our child, is missing. It's the acknowledgement that no matter how many years have gone by since the loss of our child(ren), there will forever remain an empty spot in the family.

We lit our candles and spoke our children's names. There is nothing more precious, or comforting, than speaking their name. Several in our group also recently ordered stones with each of our children's names on them, and they were amazing to see and hold during the service. We began the service by lighting five specific candles. Our chapter leader lit the candles and read the following: (written by Darcie D Sims and Sherry L Williams)

As we light these five candles in honor of our loved ones,
We light one for our grief,
one for our courage,
one for our memories,
one for our love,
and one for our hope.
This candle represents our grief.
The pain of losing you is intense.
It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.
This candle represents our courage;
To confront our sorrow,
To comfort each other, and
To change our lives.
This candle is in your memory.
Remembering the times we laughed, the times we cried.
The times we were angry with each other.
The silly things you did, and
The caring and joy you gave us.
This candle is the light of love.
As we enter this holiday season, day by day we cherish
the special place in our hearts that will always be reserved
for you. We thank you for the gift your living brought to each of us.
This candle is the light of hope.
It reminds us of love and memories of you that are ours forever.
May the glow of the flame be our source of hopefulness now and forever.
We love you.

I loved the idea of lighting five candles, one each for our grief, courage, memories, love, and hope. However, I have to take difference at the glow of the flame being our source of hopefulness. For the Christian, the source of our hope is Jesus Christ. The hope of eternity, found only in Jesus, is what gives me the strength, comfort, and courage to continue this earthly life until my life is done. 

Our candles lit, we watched a slide show of our loved ones as soothing music accompanied their precious photos. We shared poems, memories, and tips for getting through the holidays. The hour passed quickly for the remembrance of our beloved children, and it was time to blow out our candles. It seems like such a simple thing, to blow out a candle. But it can be painful, as it feels as yet another ending, another good-bye. Thankfully, I had just read a Compassionate Friends leadership post on Facebook that spoke of ending the service and the mixed emotions that can accompany blowing out the candles. It was endearing to me, and I shared it with those in attendance. It said, "Remember that we are not extinguishing their flame, we are pushing their light and their love into the world." 

I found this statement to be quite comforting, and it gave me the strength I needed to blow out my candle. There were many tears, many hugs, and much hope at the end of the service. We gathered around in a circle and took turns bidding good-night to our kids. For whatever reason, I hate saying goodnight to Matt, so I always end by saying, "I love you, Matt. See you later."

As we drove home, I was thankful for the support and compassion of The Compassionate Friends group. It has been said that the time with our children, no matter their age at their death, would never have been enough for us, but yet we can be thankful for "the little while." With tears running down my face on the drive home, I was able to say, "Thanks for the little while." 

Finally, as I stated earlier, there is nothing more comforting for bereaved parents than hearing their child(ren)'s name(s). If you didn't participate in the candle lighting ceremony around the world, just know that you can light a candle any time, any where in memory of their precious child(ren). If you do, would you please let that parent know? It would make their day, I'm sure of it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

There's no pain killer for grief

 I wish there was a pill to take for the pain of grief when I am ambushed by those aching, bone-deep moments of missing Matt. Those moments come like a thief, unexpected and unwanted, breaking and entering into my heart. I miss my son, and the missing is made more intense with the holiday season. 

Matt's siblings wanted to get out the Christmas decorations last week. As long as I didn't have to do it, it was fine by me. (I've never been into decorating, regardless.) We put up a small, artificial tree that we call Matt's tree, in addition to our regular live tree. Last year, we decorated "Matt's tree" with Christmas ball ornaments in his favorite color of blue, along with origami birds and blue ribbon. (Blue was his favorite color, and he liked to do origami when he was younger, about pre-teen age.)

This year, I decided to decorate his tree in a Green Bay Packer theme. (Thanks to a Facebook friend for the idea!) I went shopping in search of green and/or yellow ornaments and garland. Driving to the store, I shut the radio off after trying three different stations. (All were playing what I call "jacked-up" Christmas songs.) I was surprised to realize, however, that I actually didn't mind them this year. It just depends on which ones are playing and how "upbeat" (or "jacked-up") they are. Last year, they were unbearable. 

However, no sooner did I step into the doors of the retail store when the sound of, you guessed it, Christmas music blared from the speakers. There's just no getting around it if you're out and about during December. It wasn't long into the shopping trip, either, before grief ambushed. It just seemed everywhere I looked the message on every shelf and aisle was "family." And here I was shopping for ornaments for my son who died, who is no longer here. It just sunk me into a pit, and I left the store empty-handed, heart bleeding. I cried all the way home.

I slept horribly that night, and the next morning dawned dreary and rainy. I ached for Matt, to hear his voice, to watch him interact with his brothers and sisters. I miss cutting his hair and buying him shoes, both things which I did this past week with his siblings. I tried to throw off the heavy cloak of sorrow, to swallow the lump in my throat, hoping to shove the ache out of my heart. Instead, I yelled at the kids all morning. I wondered, "Why isn't there a pill for this horrendous pain?" 

Lunch came and the kids had corn dogs. I listened to the conversation around the table and heard the kids asking who wanted the "crunchy" part. The crunchy part. The kids used to fight over who got the empty sticks because the crunchy part was what was left on the stick after they ate the corn dog. Matt loved the crunchy part. It was his favorite. I heard Matt's sister eating her "crunchies," and I started to cry. I just wanted him there. Ambushed by a corn dog. Heart ripped open. Wondered why I just couldn't call it a day. Death sucks. Grief sucks, and there is no pain killer for grief.

After lunch, however, I talked to one of the women in my grief mom's group. (I will forever be grateful for these women!) She shared that when she's struggling, God often reminds her to keep her eyes on Him, that He doesn't tell us to forget our kids or shame us, but says, "Look to me." What a word of encouragement and truth. I needed to hear that, for I had taken my eyes off of Him. I saw, like Peter, the circumstances around me and doubted. (Matthew 14:28-31) I saw the countless Christmas's, birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions ahead without Matt and began to doubt that I could get through them. I feared for Matt's sister, who still struggles with anxiety and appears so broken at times, that she would ever be whole again. I doubted God's goodness, that He would allow such brokenness.

But God. God, in His precious Word to us, whispers like the tender, compassionate, and loving father that He is, reassurance and grace. His word came to me, once again, through the words of Ann Voskamp. I bought "The Greatest Gift" this last week and began to read the daily Advent readings. The December 1st reading highlighted Isaiah 11:1-2 and verse 10. Verse 1 says, "Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit."(NAS) The first paragraph of the day's reading continued with the following: 

The mattering part is never what isn't. The mattering part is never the chopped-off stump. It isn't what dream has been cut down, what hope has been cut off, what part of the heart has been cut out. The tender mattering part is --- you have a Tree....

I finished the reading weeping. They are powerful words for a hurting heart. Words that identified with a heart that felt cut out, cut off, and cut down. A heart that very much resembled a chopped-off stump. God knew our hearts here on this earth would be broken, wounded, and hurting. So He provided what mattered. A Savior. One who would weep with us. One who would ultimately die for us. My hurting heart was humbled. And it was hopeful. Hopeful because I have a shoot to hang on to. A shoot that sprang from a seemingly dead stump. That shoot is the salve I need for the pain of my grief.