Month: December 2015

Eagerly awaiting a New Year

Copyright: Min Chiu

It really bothers me when people complain about their age, like getting older is a sad thing, like the future is never going to hold what the days of their youth used to hold. Several months ago this year, I turned 30—I was eagerly awaiting 30 and not dreading it. I wince if I hear someone gripe about turning another year older as if age is this terrible thing we just have to “deal” with because I know there are people who would have given everything to celebrate another birthday, another year.

When my 34-year-old husband was dying of cancer, I remember being so bitter and angry when I’d see elderly couples holding hands or sitting across from each other at dinner or one pushing the other in a wheelchair as I pushed my husband in his wheelchair thinking, “That was supposed to be us “Someday,” not now.” The bitterness clung on when he died and it seemed like everyone around me got to celebrate another birthday, another new year, but my husband didn’t. The bittersweet reminder of the gift of age followed me into my grief journey into the many grief support groups I encountered where it always seemed like I was the youngest person, holding onto dear life to the four years I got with my husband, while others talked about the 50 years they got with their spouse. It didn’t seem fair, but now my heart celebrates that I even got those four years to begin with, just as my heart eagerly awaits each new year now, without him, not because I want to be without him, but because for some reason, I still have the privilege to get out of bed every day, the privilege to take another breath, the privilege to be walking on this earth. Aware of this privilege that I did nothing to earn, I do not mourn my three children’s birthdays in sadness for how quickly they grow, I do not mourn mine for how quickly I age because I was painfully allowed a glimpse into the gift of age and time.

I challenge you for 2016 to eagerly await your birthday and to celebrate it. Be in awe of and learn from the seconds, hours, days, months and years you had before this very moment. Rather than mourn the years piling up on one another, celebrate the moments that lead to this new year as a precious gift; even the really bad, really messy years, even the years we made mistakes, the painful years, the years that are full of regrets. Regrets are only wasted if we don’t change.

A little bundle of Hope

Copyright Amanda Carden

Hope in something greater than the current circumstance. Hope in something yet to be seen. The force of Hope drives one to push through the darkness into the light. -Nicole Hastings

 

I distinctly remember the night I prayed to God for a sign that everything would be OK. It was a different prayer than those I had prayed every night for the three years of my marriage to a man who had terminal lung cancer, but we went on with life like the cancer wasn’t there—never talking about it. It was our way of hope…or denial…or a little of both.

But in the quiet of every night, I’d lay my hand on his chest while he was sleeping and pray for his wholeness and healing. Then I’d lay in silence and watch my hand go up and down with the movement of his awkward breathing. But one night I awoke anxious and worried this silent illness was going to destroy my family. I reached my hand over to my sleeping husband and prayed to God for a sign I couldn’t ignore, a sign He was there, a sign that my husband would be healed. The next day I took a pregnancy test that came back “positive.” When I went to tell my husband we were about to have a third child after two years with our twins, he just smiled. That’s how he was, never really stressing about anything and taking things in stride. He said, “On my way to work the other day, I distinctly heard God tell me that if we were to have any more children, that I would live to see them.”

And so this little baby, our daughter, became my husband’s hope. Throughout my pregnancy, my husband’s illness rapidly progressed; during my first trimester and second trimester he endured aggressive chemotherapy treatments. By my third trimester, the chemo had failed and he was placed under home hospice care. We held onto God’s promise that he would live to see his baby girl’s birth, but to be honest, every day it got closer to her delivery, he declined further and I felt a heightened urgency. Whether I wanted to admit it then or not, he had one foot in the grave. This reality played games with my head and heart—holding onto God’s promises while terrified of delivering this baby into a fatherless family. No time to nest and fold baby clothes, as never-ending lists and instructions for the  administration of various medicines were handed to me, changing every time a nurse came to the house. I spent my time arranging oxygen refills, running special grocery trips for my husband’s bizarre food requests (that he couldn’t eat anyway and ended up in the trash) and helping take care of his and our two-year old twins’ daily needs.

As I grew bigger, bursting with the life of expectancy, I would sit on the edge of the bed and watch him punch holes in his belt as he was fading into just a bony frame. I didn’t even recognize it then, but I know now that I was mourning the loss of him way before his last days. Every day for a long time before these last weeks, a little bit of the man and life I loved slipped away.

At my final appointment with my midwives at the hospital, I wasn’t able to say out loud what was going on until I crumbled on the examining table. I explained the situation to her the best I could and sobbed that I couldn’t go into labor on my own at home, I had no one to take me to a hospital at the spur of the moment, and with the 35-minute total labor and natural delivery time of my twins, I didn’t want to risk having the baby at home by myself with two two-year-olds and a husband who could barely get out of bed. The midwife was the only person I could tell out loud that the doctors gave Phil six weeks to live, and the week I was telling her was week three of those six. The midwife listened intently and, without hesitation, said, “We’re scheduling an induction a little before your due date to give you both something to hold onto.” So the date was set. I chose my grandmother’s birth date. I got some push-back from people, saying inducing unnecessarily was playing God and I was putting my baby and myself at risk, but I had peace knowing that the induction was a divine appointment set by God himself. He promised us my husband would witness the birth of our daughter, and now we had a day and time to hold onto that promise.

The delivery day came and the nurses reserved two hospital rooms; one for me and one for my husband so he could hook his oxygen to the wall and rest in between his visits to me in the other room. It was the first in a long time we were alone, just he and I. Finally, after 24 hours of waiting my husband got up out of his wheelchair and stood proudly as he watched his daughter’s birth. He moved around from station to station taking photos of her. It was the first time in months that I had seen him move so quickly and sturdily, and when it came time to hold her, he took his shirt off and took his oxygen tubes off and breathed her in. and held her close to his bony, fragile frame and whispered, “Skin to skin so she’ll always know who I am,” and kissed her little cheeks. “She looks just like you,” he said to me, beaming with pride.

While I was recovering, he was up writing all night and going around tracking down the nurses who had assisted in his daughter’s birth, first bath, weighing, and the midwife who delivered her, asking them to write down their firsthand details of her birth. He later put them in a folder that he addressed to her. I was confused and hurt for a long time why he didn’t write any letters to her (or the twins) himself, and I’ve come to some solace and peace knowing that this was the best he could do for her—to leave her others’ memories of her, memories that he wouldn’t have the chance to have. Two and a half weeks later, he took his last breath.



I’ve come to some solace and peace knowing that this was the best he could do for her—to leave her others’ memories of her, memories that he wouldn’t have the chance to have.


It could be very easy to focus on the tragedy here, the sadness and unfairness of a short-lived promise from a God that, on the outside looking in, could be judged as cruel and unjust for giving my husband only a little taste of fatherhood. I could say, “even after all the prayers, even after all the faith and hope and positive confession, he still died, so what gives, God?” Although my mind and heart play ping-pong with these lies all the time; I push through to the finer details that disprove that theory. The fact is that my husband had a type of cancer that should have killed him in six months to a year, and yet he lived more than ten years with it, four of those living out his biggest dream and highest calling by having a family of his own. Because of the chemo he went through the first time he was diagnosed with lung cancer in his early 20s, the doctors told him he would probably never father children, and yet we conceived identical twin boys and a daughter within our four-year marriage. He was on death’s doorstep, and I know it was God Himself and all His hope and grace that brought my husband to our daughter’s delivery date.


This entire story is by the grace of God and it’s only the grace of God that fills me with hope to this day. If I was to be asked if I thought that God let my husband and me down, I would say ‘No, He gave us Hope.”


I can pretty much guarantee that none of these miracles were because we were so good at prayer, and such great believers we manifested them with our own believing. This entire story is by the grace of God and it’s only the grace of God that fills me with hope to this day. If I was to be asked if I thought that God let my husband and me down, I would say ‘No, He gave us Hope.” And after Phil’s death, God showed me through this grief journey that hope isn’t something that always changes our circumstances, but instead gets us through them by putting our hope in something greater than the current circumstance. Hope is something yet to be seen. It’s the force of Hope that drives one to push through the darkness into the light; it only takes a little spark to ignite that force.

 It’s amazing to me how the eternal vastness of God gives us hope that comes in the smallest of packages like our little 7 lb. 7 oz. baby that gave her daddy the strength to make it a few more weeks than the doctors had allotted with his prognosis—but it’s much more than the hope of children or leaving a legacy here on earth—it’s a hope that points upward. Through all that I have learned through my grief journey, I can’t look anywhere else but up. All other directions have failed me.

Isn’t that what Christmas (not the season, not the winter solstice, the actual context behind ‘Christmas’) is all about? The celebration of the hope that arrived more than 2000 years ago, wrapped in a small bundle (Luke 2:12), and the hope more than 2000 years later that keeps pointing us to a day where God will wipe our tears, there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more illness, no more dying (Rev. 21:4). Until that day comes it’s Hope that keeps us from giving up and holding onto every day with joy and patient expectation in this crazy, unfair world.

In a holiday season when it’s so hard for so many who have lost someone precious underneath all the commercial fanfare and hype, Hope is the small spark that remains deep within.

Nicole Hastings

My husband with our daughter when she was born.


Hope is something yet to be seen. It’s the force of Hope that drives one to push through the darkness into the light; it only takes a little spark to ignite that force.


Save

The presence of your gift

Copyright: ouh_desire

On an evening in December 2011 my husband, Phil, received a phone call. We had just nestled our twin babies into bed and cozied up on the couch for a movie. Since it was late in the evening and it was a number Phil didn’t recognize he let it go to voicemail. When he listened to the message he got up from the couch and went to the front window and looked out past the drapes into the night. Then he opened the front door and brought in a basket covered with a bright green blanket and set it at my feet. He let me listen to the message, “Look on your front step, Merry Christmas,” the mysterious voice said.

We looked at the basket for a few minutes, letting the excitement of a random gift from a stranger sink in. What could it be? Inside was a plethora of toys for the boys, homemade Christmas crafts, goodies and a book titled Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright and a mason jar full of change and bills. My heart was full of amazement and gratitude and wonder; why us? Why did we receive this special gift?

I looked through the basket, reveling in the care that someone took to prepare it for my family and then I read the little book, Christmas Jars. Looking back on it, I can see how the timing of and receiving that book was quite prophetic as it narrates a story about a journalist (my former and brief profession) and a widow within its plot. It tells of a family that planned their Christmas around giving to others, saving spare change all year to fill it by Christmas and give it secretly to a stranger. We received such a jar and in turn started a jar of our own.

A few weeks prior to the mystery gift, on Thanksgiving night I rushed Phil to the emergency room because of a breathing attack; that night was the first real reminder that his cancer was still there, stalking us silently throughout our four-year marriage. He was diagnosed Stage IV and two months later we were married, but we lived like it wasn’t there, until it reared its ugly head that Thanksgiving. Before that, hardly anyone knew about his illness that we kept silent about being terminal—we wanted to live for the hope of healing, trying our best to not let diagnosis or prognosis steal our present—but it was scary, and would creep in at the most in opportune times, mainly when I’d watch him with the twins or sleeping beside him at night. I’d pray and wonder at the same time: How long do I really have with you? How long can we keep you?

Throughout the following two years mysterious gifts kept showing up at our door at random times or during the holidays and in turn, we would strive to do the same out of humility and gratitude. After Phil started chemotherapy the second trimester of my pregnancy with our third child and then a few months later started receiving home hospice care October 2013, the gifts intensified. There wasn’t a day that went by that there wasn’t food, clothing or financial gifts at our door. He couldn’t work and I couldn’t earn any income taking care of myself in my 9th month of pregnancy and twin two-year olds, and yet, we never went without anything. He and I would sit, amazed at the generosity of people—some we knew, most we didn’t, and it would still drive us to give, in some way, somehow because the giving was so overwhelming what else could we do but pay it forward? I know these provisions were the workings and signs of God’s presence in an impossible situation; generosity moving through people who would take time away from their own families to give to ours. Phil died a week before Thanksgiving that year and the outpouring of gifts and provisions continued into the Christmas season and months after.

I had managed to get a little tree that promptly turned brown as a few ornaments hung on it, that’s all I could manage, however people came in droves to bring wrapped gifts for my children and I. Come Christmas Eve I couldn’t see the floor of my living room there were so many gifts. That night, while my children all slept, I just sat there in awe at all the gifts.

I spent Christmas morning and day opening the presents with the kids, although I was heartbroken that no matter how many gifts we had to open there was one thing missing, each gift reminded me of the goodness in people and the life necessity that gives our lives meaning; receiving love and giving love, even if we did nothing to earn it.

Nothing can fix the terrible absence and loss someone feels when their loved one has died, it can’t be fixed with a freezer full of meals or an abundance of toys or money in the bank, but don’t let that stop you from giving to someone who is hurting because behind the incredibly helpful and practical gifts, is your presence and your time. Don’t assume it won’t help if you give to the homeless man on the corner; “What is $5 going to do in the long-term?” and don’t assume you should mind your own business when you see the lonely neighbor down the street, that taking the time to bake a few cookies won’t help them. Your gifts to the lost and lonely don’t fix their circumstance, but long after the money was spent, the food was eaten or the items are worn and tattered your gift still remains intact; the gift of your presence has the power to restore hope and faith in the goodness of people and the God behind it all. And when I feel incredibly lonely and the terrible, infectious lies start to pour in that I’m all alone and no one cares anymore, I go through the several dozen cards I received from all around the country, I look at the little mementos or books on my shelf, and I know that each of those things carry the presence of someone who cared behind it and most importantly carries the provisions and presence of my God.

Now, it’s Christmastime once more and there’s no gift I can give to my children that can replace the one thing they need the most; their daddy, but through my experience of being on the receiving end of so much giving and love, I can’t let material gifts distract me from the real gift I can give my children, my presence in their lives and in turn to teach them that what they choose to do with their presence in other’s lives is important and powerful.

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

                                                -Luke 6:38

 

 

#thegiftofyourpresence

#ChristmasJarsbyJasonFWright

Children’s Grief Therapy Hack #1: Angry eggs- Part 2

Copyright: Nicole Hastings 2015

My twin boys were two when their daddy died and their grief was left unattended for awhile because I was so lost in my own. I didn’t have the slightest clue about how to tune into their grief or what to do about it. They were so young and it was hard for them to comprehend all that had happened and why their daddy was for so long lying in bed and then one day he wasn’t. The boys’ grief came out in droves of crying tantrums, night terrors, acting out and aggression. Just like adults, children can grieve in different ways unique to their own personality and individual experience with the person they lost. One of my boys was very inquisitive, sensitive and open about his feelings from the beginning. The other boy seemed to shut down, refusing to talk about his dad. Instead, his grief came out in physical aggression and acting out. Since they’ve gotten older, we continue to talk openly about anything they want to talk about regarding their dad, and I’ve recently noticed my son who tended to react to grief more physically, getting angry really easily. Any little thing would set him off.

A counselor suggested I let him bang on a piece of wood with a hammer. I tried that, but it quickly escalated into “what else can I hit with a hammer?” so I didn’t revisit that idea. I was wracking my brain to see how I could help him visualize his anger in a safe and productive way when I remembered the dishes I broke with a sledge hammer. If I had just swung a sledgehammer at nothing, I’m sure that it wouldn’t have had the same effect as my seeing the brokenness that laid before me. So I made him “Angry Eggs”: blown out egg shells with angry or sad faces drawn on them. If he’s feeling angry, instead of destructive behavior that might harm someone, himself or a part of the home, he can crush, stomp on, or smash the egg and see the result; tiny little broken pieces of eggshell. When he first did this, it was almost an instant calm and redirection for him. So now, if I sense he’s getting overwhelmed and angry for no apparent reason, I ask him: “Do you want to break an Angry Egg?”

 

 

How to make Angry Eggs:

Items needed:

1 or more raw eggs

1 large needle or safety pin (or I used a corncob holder!)

1 Sharpie marker

Step One: Take an egg out of the carton (preferably at breakfast or during baking if you need an egg anyway)

Step Two: On one end of the egg bore a small hole in the shell with the needle. You might have to make it small at first and gradually make it bigger; the size of a grain of rice should be big enough.

Step Three: Make a same sized hole on the other end of the egg.

Step Four: Clean off the egg if there are any eggy drips and blow into one of the holes on the egg. The yolk and whites should come out the other end, if it doesn’t, make the holes a little bit bigger. Voila—an intact, empty eggshell.

Step Five: Draw any kind of face you want on the egg. If your child is old enough to be gentle with the egg, he/she can draw her own feelings faces.

Step Six: Smash away or save in the carton for another time when emotions are running high. I always have plenty available to reach for at a moment’s notice.

 

*Disclosure: I am not a licensed therapist or counselor. I am merely sharing things that helped me and my family. Please refer to your or your child’s therapist to help identify grief patterns in his/her/your unique experience.

 

 

Mom and Dad’s DIY therapy hack #1: Break some stuff-Part 1

Copyright: Candus Camera

 

“Wise anger is like the fire from the flint; there is a great ado to bring it out;

and when it does come, it is out again immediately.”~ Matthew Henry

The first year after the loss of my husband, I was constantly swimming with anger; anger towards cancer for stealing my husband and my children’s father, anger towards things that were said or done or weren’t said or weren’t done. I woke up with anger, I went through the day with anger and I went to bed with anger. If grief and healing were a moving machine, steeping in anger and bitterness wedges itself between the gears and stops the machine. Anger kept me at a standstill. It was a distraction from the deeper roots of my loss. Anger shut me off from myself, my family and my God, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. Yes, anger is very common in grief, it’s OK to feel it in your loss, but my anger was infecting every other part of my being on top of struggling to comprehend the trauma and tragedy I had just endured. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t do anything other than relive all the things I was angry about. I kept telling myself I was justified in my anger. So many things went wrong and if I let go of the anger, would that would mean I would be saying everything was “OK?” Logically the answer is ‘No,’ that’s not what it would mean, but anger has a funny way of distorting memories and making you cling to them for dear life. Holding onto anger catapulted me into the deep end of the pool, swimming in depression, bitterness, despair and negativity. I had to get it out some way, somehow, because I was drowning—so I chose anger as my life preserver.

I was seeing a counselor who was trying to help me process and work through my anger. One thing that helped me was EMDR, but that and the counseling cost money on top of the expense to find childcare for the therapy sessions made it difficult for me to attend consistently so my counselor suggested a cheaper therapy for me to try at home; breaking dishes.

So, one night when the kids were in bed, I went out into the garage and bagged up all my old dishes; dishes that reminded me of all the meals I had with my husband and all the conversation and memories those dishes held. Preparing meals on, washing and putting them away every day, over and over again was another staple to my making a home with him; cooking, eating, cleaning…the simple tasks that gave me a purpose, a reminder that we were a team, a family. So pulling out these dishes from packed boxes I found I was even angry at the dishes, how dare they remind me of what I had for a split second in my life, like a dangling carrot that was then ripped away. It wasn’t fair. I didn’t want to be left with dishes, I just wanted my husband back and I couldn’t, so I put all the dishes in a trash bag and then that trash bag in another trash bag and then in yet another; per the directions of my counselor. I placed the bag in the middle of the garage floor and I just stared at it for a long time, seeing if I could muster up tears or some other feeling, but nothing came. So I grabbed the sledgehammer in the corner of the garage and took a swing at the bag. It was a lame excuse for a swing, as nothing even broke and it was as if the bag was taunting me, “You can do better than that…” So I took another swing and heard a crash. Once the momentum began I swung at that bag over and over until the tears came and the anger bubbled to the surface. I don’t know how much time passed, but when I finally stopped, the once bulky bag lay tattered and flattened, all those dishes smashed to tiny pieces. I was exhausted, but felt a little bit lighter than before. There’s just something about actually seeing the result of my anger that helps to free it, seeing the pieces and the destruction rather than letting it all swirl around in my head and letting it destroy me. There’s something symbolic about being able to then pick up the pieces and toss them in the garbage. I wish I could say that one night of breaking dishes got rid of all the anger for me, but it was the first little crack in the giant dam I had built up inside me. Eventually that crack got bigger and bigger, allowing more and more emotions to flow and be felt much more easily.

 

Common sense tips for breaking stuff:

  • Do this in a place where you feel safe and your children are being taken care of by someone else (I didn’t want my children to walk in on me wielding a sledgehammer!)
  • Be intentional about it, and, I would suggest, be sober.
  • Wear eye protection if you don’t bag it up, although bagging it up means less stress (and shrapnel) about cleanup afterwards

 

*Disclosure: I am not a licensed therapist or counselor. I am merely sharing things that helped me and my family. Please refer to your or your child’s therapist to help identify grief patterns in his/her/your unique experience.