Tag: Grieving

Zen and the art of mothering in mayhem

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This is a society where moms are inundated with the pressure to create gourmet meals, and cute crafts and activities for our kids, but when you’re mothering in mayhem, looking like a put-together woman seems like a far and distant world. Tackling the overwhelming and incredibly taxing responsibility to try your best to maintain any sense of “normal” for your kids when everything is crumbling around you is no easy feat. But there are a few things I’ve learned in my experience of caring for my dying husband and three children under 3. So here you go, from one mother in mayhem to another:

  • The small victories: You might not remember even the last minute, but trust your mothering instinct. I don’t remember a lot of the day-to-day when I was the caregiver, at age 28, for my 34-year-old husband who was dying of cancer. I’ve heard the comment: “I don’t know how you did it…” to which I usually respond, “I don’t either!” It’s strange how I can remember some of the finest details of the chaos that ensued around my family the last few weeks of my husband’s life, but the basics seemed to just happen on autopilot…I think.. I still can’t remember how everyone got fed, bathed and the twins off to daycare, manage tantrums and the surge of drugs and dosages that my husband needed to remember to take, but couldn’t; not to mention that small detail of keeping a newborn alive by nursing all hours of the night, pumping and storing milk, and changing diapers and clothes—over and over. This juggling of all the other people I was responsible for, while trying to recover from delivery (strong emphasis on trying…well, there was no trying actually, I just didn’t “recover” from delivery and post-partum, my body just patched itself together and survived it). There were people who tried to help, but didn’t know how, so the majority of responsibility still landed on my shoulders. I managed…I probably didn’t do a stand-up job, but I did it! There’s not enough time to treasure every moment with your kids when you’re just trying to survive, to fight through another day, to keep yourself, your spouse and your kids alive. Pat yourself on the back and celebrate the small victories—when my husband was alive and in home-hospice, those victories included: nobody getting tangled in his oxygen cords; keeping the liquid morphine out of my twin toddlers reach when my husband would forget and accidentally leave it on the nightstand; and the nights when none of the kids woke up while I was carrying my husband to the shower and back—those were victorious nights! After my husband died, my toddlers may have watched countless hours of television and eaten pizza or frozen lasagna for three days in a row, but they were fed, the baby was fed, happy, dry and still getting tummy-time, and at the end of the day, we’re all still alive and somewhat sane—that’s a victory not to be overlooked.
  • Realize you don’t need to be supermom and go it alone: In our society, independence is revered and treasured, but mayhem, crisis and trauma reveals a deeper human need—connectedness and community, both of which require asking for help and revealing vulnerability that you can’t, and shouldn’t try to go it alone. The “zen” part of your mayhem is simply asking for help and humbly receiving it. That knowing, in your mayhem, you have people in your corner and if you don’t, ask for it. When you are tackling your kryptonite, whatever that may be: lack of sleep, grief, illness, etc., that someone can help bear the load, there’s always someone who can help—they can’t take it away for you, but they can help. Many people who help in small ways add up. When we ask for help there is a peace and humility in knowing we’re not supposed to be alone in this life, and we’re especially not supposed to mother alone.
  • Self-care is not selfish: In caring for my husband and children, I honestly forgot about myself—even the basic needs. When the helpers in my home took more showers and wore clean clothing more than I did, that’s a sign that self-care went out the window. I mentally was not able to take care of myself at that time. You know how the mom-thing goes—everyone else is taken care of first. When I came home with a newborn and realized absolutely none of the nursing clothing I had fit, it took me three or four days of wearing oversized t-shirts and wrapping my chest in a towel when my breastmilk came in to finally ask a friend to go shopping for me. I couldn’t even fathom leaving the house to go shopping for myself, if I did, it would have been a scene from “Night of the Living Dead,” I’m sure of it. After my husband died, the self-care situation didn’t get better until recently, when I finally started giving myself permission to take care of myself and convince myself that it isn’t selfish to do. I did myself a huge disservice and made it much harder on myself trying to take on the “I’m strong, I can just carry on” attitude for the better part of three years. And the best part, to the joy of my frugal self, is that self-care doesn’t equal expensive. When I started to look at baths, showers, naps, walks, reading for a few hours in a coffee shop, or even finding a really good deal on a hotel room for a night as therapy, it was easier for me to wrap my head around investing in those things, even if it meant paying for a sitter to make it happen, to spend a little time on myself.
  • Permission to retreat: Taking time away from the mayhem may not be an option, but eventually, if you find a small sliver of time, take it and don’t feel bad. Even if it means locking yourself in the bathroom to pray or meditate (which might include not doing or saying anything at all and just being quiet). I didn’t want to leave my house for long periods of time when my husband was still alive, but I did use the bathroom as a sanctuary. I didn’t have any privacy as my make-shift bedroom was in the living room and people were ALWAYS around, so the bathroom with a lock was the best bet for alone time. I remember just sitting on the floor for even just 10 minutes to escape helped to gain enough strength to handle whatever was going on outside that door. I didn’t have a lot of mental energy to pray, but I know my spirit was crying out even when I was silent. Leaning into the silence and retreating to a sacred space only my spirit could access was finding tiny eyes in the storm. After my husband’s death, showers became my retreat. Now , I have gained enough strength (and the kids are in school for a few hours a day) walks or just sitting in nature to be with myself and God have become my retreat. It only takes a little peace to make a big difference, but you have to fight to search for it sometimes. It’s worth the effort, I promise.

Ultimately, it took me a long time and many trials to realize that I can’t throw a proverbial life preserver to anyone else, including my children, if I myself am drowning. Someone I respect once told me: There is peace in the waves of crisis. If we stop treading water and fighting for the shore, just hang on and let the waves bring us to shore instead. I’m praying for you, whomever you may be, going through the mayhem. You can do this. You can hang on. You can reach the shore.

 

 

The Final Goodbye: Coming to terms with my husband’s death and how it wasn’t my fault

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“She began to understand quite clearly that truth cannot be understood from books alone or by any written words, but only by personal growth and development in understanding and that things written even in the Book of Books can be astonishingly misunderstood while one still lives on the low levels of spiritual experience and on the wrong side of the grave on the mountains.”

-Hannah Hurnard, “Hinds feet on High Places”


 

My husband has been dead two years now, and I still cringe when I hear the comment, “Well, at least you knew he was sick, at least you had time to say ‘Goodbye,’” which is an unfair assumption, because I didn’t. I didn’t have time to say ‘Goodbye’ because we weren’t encouraged to allow space for the reality of what saying ‘Goodbye’ would really mean. We were surrounded by a doctrine that if illness was talked about, we were in some way holding back the blessing of healing. We were surrounded by phrases like, “Just believe in healing…” “Just minister to it (the cancer)…just lay hands…” “Don’t ever say the ‘C’ word…” “Claim healing and it will be yours!” “Just believe…”…and we did, all of the above, over and over and over. Call it the “Name-it-Claim-it theology” or “The Prosperity Gospel theology” or “just-plain-crazy theology,” but whatever it was it was under the giant umbrella of hope, and it was hope that helped my husband get through the first five years of his cancer diagnosis in his early 20s and it helped us make it through the four years of our marriage. (After all, he did live with a disease for ten years that statistically should have killed him in six months.) It helped us cling to hope, it helped us find faith, it gave us fuel to fight…until…it didn’t. When the foundation of all we were taught to say was crumbling around us, and no matter how much we “claimed” healing, it seemed the opposite was happening. All of a sudden I was faced with the reality of death and the burden of giant questions that emerged when the box we had put God in was ripped wide open. I had to ask the questions: Is there more to hope than this? Is there more to the idea of time than what we think we know? I had to swallow that even in the midst of hope, the gift of our time here on Earth is finite, no matter how long or short. It’s not something we earn by how well we pray or believe, the time that’s given is already there, already waiting for us.

Let me preface by saying, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with the hope and expectancy for healing—people have conquered incredible feats with hope– but it’s not hope if it leaves someone feeling guilty or ashamed or forsaken when life doesn’t play out the way we wanted it to. Through the last two weeks of my husband’s life I was told that his healing wasn’t happening because I wasn’t peaceful enough about the situation. I was told that I shouldn’t tell anyone my husband was in hospice, that I should take down the online updates about our family because it wasn’t anyone else’s business, and that the words ‘cancer’ and ‘hospice’ made people give up hope and think negatively. I was told to tell people that my husband was “doing just fine” in his last days. All of this confusing theology swirling in my ears and around in my head resulted in an incredible burden shackled to my feet. I was tormented by “What ifs”: If I had said ‘Goodbye’ then, would that mean his death would be my fault? If I prayed for his suffering to end, did that mean I was giving up on him? Did that mean I was a failure at praying for my husband? Did it mean he just didn’t believe enough—that I didn’t believe enough? I know better now, and I know God a whole lot better now too, but when the opportunity was still there, because we wanted to cling to hope so badly, there was no final ‘Goodbye,’ no special moments that gave any ”closure”—the kind people expect in a long illness, you know, “The Fault in Our Stars” kind of thing. There was certainly no using the ‘D’(death) word. No one, not even the hospice workers, explained what ‘5 Wishes’ was or what the dying process looked like, so I couldn’t even brace for it—which may sound naïve to people, and they would be correct. I was a naïve 28-year-old way in over my head and my husband was a 34-year-old doing everything he could to stay on this earth for his wife and his newborn daughter and two-year-old twins, and if that meant not acknowledging it, then that meant not acknowledging it—and I don’t fault him for that.

But it’s usually in our finest moments or in our suffering that we want more time, or we want to turn back the clock or we want to freeze it, and when death happens, something deep within keeps looking at that clock as if we could do something to change it. The day my husband died, I was asked by someone if I wanted to request for him to be raised from the dead. I had heard from people after his death, “We didn’t come to see him because we thought there was more time…that he’d pull through…”


 

…life happens quickly and slowly at the same time. Sometimes we have the privilege to determine its pace for a while and sometimes we don’t…


 

A friend recently sent me an article published at Christianitytoday.com called “On dying and reckoning with the Prosperity Gospel,” in which Morgan Lee interviewed church historian, Kate Bowler about her own battle with cancer and her perspective of the Prosperity Gospel in the midst of illness. I was brought to tears reading it because she was able to explain beautifully what I was struggling with on an incredibly painful, profound and personal level:

Prosperity gospel is a reflection of American avoidance of our finitude. Their denial of the inevitability of death taught me something about American confidence. Americans want to be in control. Self-determination is a theological good. It’s really hard when it comes to the fragility of the end. In almost all circumstances, I can understand why someone would go to a prosperity church. It has so many obvious appeals pragmatically, theologically, and emotionally. But when it comes to sickness, it offers so few resources to its folks. The saddest stories that I heard in my research were when it was obvious that people would lose to whatever sickness they were facing. But the church was not able to surround them with comfort and tell them that they weren’t to blame or that there were questions and uncertainties beyond our knowledge. They couldn’t tell them that God was present in the suffering of his people, not just in the triumph of them.

I have no PhD in theology and I’m no expert on what hope really means or why some people are healed while others are not. One might think that I should be jaded by hope or Christianity, or even God, but I can’t be, even though I’ve tried…I can’t not believe in hope, all I do is hope. Hope was, and still is an essential part of my daily journey. I can’t imagine what life would have been like without hope from the day I met my husband, until his last breath. I can’t fathom what my life would be like now without the hope that I embrace with each new morning. Where would my children be if I could not show them hope? I never did, and never will, give up hope, for hope is essential for our time here on Earth—along with faith and love. (1 Corinthians 13:13). I used to be so bitter about all the things that were said or not said, done or not done, because it felt like time was stolen from me, but I can’t be anymore because I see everything was said and done because we all wanted my husband to stay here for a little longer, just a little more time. I can accept now that life happens quickly and slowly at the same time. Sometimes we have the privilege to determine its pace for a while and sometimes we don’t. I can now see hope as something not used to manipulate a situation to the way we think it should go or to convince God to give me more time because I believed enough, but as the driving force that brings us through whatever this life brings us. God’s clothed us with the comfort of hope that our souls so desperately need. Hope is something greater than the current circumstance. Hope is something yet to be seen. It’s the force of Hope drives one to push through the darkness into the light. Hope is a surety that surpasses physical time.

But I do imagine sometimes…what if I got to say all the things I needed to say and he got to say all the things he needed to say, and the children and I got our special photographs with him in the hospice at the end? What if we got “The Fault in Our Stars” ending? The bottom line is our time is finite here on earth, so even if all the prayers for healing worked the way we wanted, and he lived to a ripe old age, if we had a choice, we’d always opt for more time. It’s human nature, I believe, to be time hoarders, because deep down we are not satisfied with the finality of this fragile lifetime. Deep down, in everyone, I believe there is an ache for eternity. We still face living in the paradox of grieving when people leave this world, we want to go back in time, wanting to change it, wanting to freeze it forever and never let go, desperately wanting more time and also wanting to move forward. God knows this. This is why we have memories in the first place, something locked deep inside that somehow, in some way, time is frozen, just for a split second. It can be a blessing or a curse depending on the memory. The smatterings of the past pave the present we walk in, but only the knowledge that one day that clock will be broken for good (Revelation 21:4, 1 Corinthians 15:55-57,) can help me walk into the future while I’m still here on Earth.


 

Hope is something greater than the current circumstance. Hope is something yet to be seen. It’s the force of Hope drives one to push through the darkness into the light. Hope is a surety that surpasses physical time.


 

As I slowly and painstakingly go through my husband’s things, I fantasize that maybe I’ll run across a letter, one final letter addressed to me saying all the things he wanted to say. But I know that letter doesn’t exist. I take my fantasies of the “Final Goodbye” and drive that energy into the tangible memories he did leave me with, like this one:

The song we swayed to for our first dance as a married couple at our wedding was Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” I was naïve then to the profound statement that song would have in our marriage, but I don’t think my husband was, and I think that’s why he picked that song. Perhaps, in a way, he picked that song as his “Goodbye” to me.

Now, I recognize the “final Goodbye,” was only an intro to an “eternal ‘Hello.” I wait, patiently and impatiently, knowing it will come…in due time.

 

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

If I could make days last forever
If words could make wishes come true
I’d save every day like a treasure and then
Again, I would spend them with you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do, once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go through time with

If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true
The box would be empty, except for the memory of how
They were answered by you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do, once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go through time with

-Jim Croce, “Time in a bottle”

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.


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