Tag: widowed parenting

The emotional pressures of parenting

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We’ve all been in that pre-kid era where we’re sure we know what kind of parent we’ll be. Admit it, you’ve taken a note or two in your past when seeing a parent with his or her kid in the store and raised an eyebrow or two. I know I have. The parent I was going to be looked awesome on paper, but I never took into account the emotional impact of having children until I was hit with the reality of my own life playing out.

My late husband and I weren’t “trying” and we weren’t “not trying,” but when we were told at our six-month gender-reveal ultrasound that we were having not one, but two baby boys, that “perfect parent” image in my head slowly dissipated. Truth is I hadn’t spent much time around children up to that point, and now we were going to have two of them right off the bat. Driving home from the hospital with two newborns, I kept thinking, “I’ve never been around babies and now they just send us home with two? We’re not equipped! We’re not prepared!” But deep down, I knew my heart would never be the same. I was introduced to a whole new set of emotions and discovered emotions I never even knew were there. Bringing home those babies (now first graders!) created a major a paradigm shift in me—albeit it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. Not only did I realize (much later) that I was struggling with post-partum depression after my twins were born, I was trying to handle the terminal diagnosis of my young husband. These emotions were real, raw and honest—sometimes more honest than I would have liked them to be.  These are the emotions of parenting that we don’t usually talk about amidst the pure joy, love, elation and “happily-ever-after” when baby(ies) comes home:

  • Self-doubt: There are so many times I lay awake wondering if I’m making the right choice for my three kids—especially since my older two just went to kindergarten. The mom-on-paper me was going to homeschool and do crafts every day. The real-life-mom me is faced with having to come up with a sole income for my three children and myself. We want the best for our kids, but in this society we are inundated with so many decisions and choices and information when it comes to “the perfect parenting way,” it’s sometimes difficult to sift out what we don’t need in order to find the nuggets of truth—truth that settles our hearts and souls when it comes to our parenting. They are there, the nuggets, and when self-doubt comes swirling around, remember, write them down if you have to, the truths you’ve settled on. They’re different for everyone.
  • Mental exhaustion: Pre-kids it was easy to make a space for dreaming about how we were going to parent and the kind of kids we were going to have. Now that they’re here, 99 percent of our brain space is devoted to keeping these people that we are in charge of alive, safe, nurtured and growing. Not only do we have to multi-task for our survival and theirs, to make it through the day, but once kids are in school, juggling our schedules and their activity schedules is downright exhausting—even if all you do is sit in a car and drive around all day or fill out a monthly…weekly…daily…sometimes hourly calendar. I’ve found that giving up an activity to make time for self-care (and sleep!) has been the best way to combat this.
  • Pressure to be like our parents—or not be like them: Having children of our own undoubtedly makes us look at our parents and our childhood in a whole new light. Either we are even more grateful for the sacrifices our parents made for us, or we recoil at how we were raised and vow to never raise our children the way we were brought up, and sometimes a mixture of both. All kinds of emotions relative to our parents or ourselves, can rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times—resentment, comparison, anger. Bottom line is that we are the parents we choose to be. We cannot change the way our parents were, but we can take our experiences of our childhood, learn from them and apply them to the way we parent.
  • Not feeling joy 100 percent of the time: So many times after my twins were born I heard, “Oh twins! How much fun!” And so many times after my third child was born and my husband died, I heard about how blessed I was that “at least” I had three kids. But if I was honest, being with two, and then three children under three years old at the time and dealing with the whirlwind of emotions that come with post-partum depression and grief of the loss of my husband was anything but fun. Full-blown tantrums, crying throughout the night (sometimes x 3) and the incredible pressure of finding things to do to keep everybody’s minds and bodies busy when all I wanted to do was crawl in bed and sleep didn’t feel like much of a blessing at all. I didn’t feel the joy everyone talked about that comes with having kids and it wasn’t a barrel of fun. These emotions were completely counterintuitive to the fierce and intense love that I had for all of my children the moment I saw them. How could I not want to be around the people that bring me so much love and that I love in return. Bottom line is these feelings have NOTHING to do with your feelings about your children, but everything to do with your circumstance or mental state. Seeking professional help, accountability and someone to talk to honestly and openly can help tremendously.
  • Guilt: This is the top of the list of negative emotions I believe trouble parents. We have self-imposed or externally imposed guilt about so many things when it comes to parenting. Guilt about having the TV on too much, guilt about what and how you’re feeding them, guilt about which school they attend and which toys or sports activities you cannot afford to buy. Guilt about working and not being home enough, guilt about not working and not contributing to the home financially…the list goes on and on. Guilt is when you’ve done something wrong and you know it. Shame, on the other hand, is disguised by guilt, and is when you yourself or your feelings are wrong. Do I feel guilty about my parenting because I really could improve on some things or do I feel shame about the way I parent because I’m just not a good parent? That negative self-talk and putting shame on yourself about doing things that are the best you can do at the time is so detrimental. Change the things that you know need to be changed and that you have control to change. For example, if you yell and are impatient with your children that’s a behavior and response that can be changed and improved on. But don’t feel unnecessary shame and guilt if you had to feed your baby a bottle instead of breastfeed or put your child into public school instead of private because of circumstances beyond your control.

In our optimistic, positive, happy-shiny society, it’s hard to admit negative emotions as a parent and it’s doubly hard to address them and deal with them. I’ll never forget the line from the movie “Room,” when the mother apologizes to her son for not being a good mom and her son replies, “but you’re my mom.” We can’t choose the circumstances we find ourselves in and sometimes we can’t choose the feelings that come up with those circumstances, but we can acknowledge them, fight against them if necessary, and push through to the truth that we are to live out as parents: be the best parents we can be with what we’re given and what we know. We need to always be willing to learn more and recognize that, even though sometimes the circumstance cannot be changed, being willing to change our emotions and perspectives accordingly are the best things we can do for our children.

*Previously published in “Multiplicity Magazine”, by Nicole Hastings

Copyright 2017

Back to school: Writing “Deceased” instead of your name

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It’s the first week of school for my kindergartners and preschooler. It’s a buzzing season of new school clothes, new light-up shoes and lists of blue folders, sharpened pencils and washable markers. Butterflies in tummies and holding back tears—for both kids and momma. The first couple nights were filling out paperwork. Name. Address. Phone number. Mother’s contact. And then the next line always gets me. Father’s contact. Instead of writing your name, I have to write “deceased.” I could have chosen to just leave it blank, but I need people to know you existed. I wish I could have just written your name. I wish there were more lines to write about how your smile lit up the room and your laugh was contagious, how you were stubborn as hell and how, when people look at your boys, they are looking at you only years younger. But I can’t and even if I did, it wouldn’t change the fact that you’re not here. It won’t change the fact that no matter how much I talk about you, no one will really know you the way I knew you. I try to keep your memory alive, even if it’s just a mention on a contact page. At the doctor’s office, at school, at the dentist… writing something, anything, in that blank spot still means you were here and you are remembered. Writing ‘deceased’ means you lived and your life mattered to many­–to my life and the three little lives we made together. I wonder if I’ll stop pausing when I get to that blank line someday. If I’ll have to stop explaining to the teachers why my children talk about death so freely and why I encourage them to. Explaining that I hope their talk and play doesn’t bother the other children whose parents may have only taught them their goldfish “fell asleep” or was simply replaced by a look-alike. I wonder if it’ll ever stop stinging when seeing the dads picking up their kiddos from school, watching their children wrap their arms around their chests. I wonder if I’ll always keep wondering if my daughter will ever experience that…

All I know is that in this new and exciting chapter of our lives, when the kids go to school and meet new friends and learn new things, I’m, for the first time, alone in a quiet house. To be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this chapter for a long time. A little quiet time for momma to breathe, maybe sleep a little more, and to miss you without being on a 15-30-minute time limit with three little kids under six. But now that the chapter’s here, there’s an ache in my heart for you and my kiddos who are moving forward with their growing lives, and I’m here holding their hands along the way, dreaming you were here to hold our hands too…but when I wake up, it’s quiet and lonely and I’m writing ‘deceased’ instead of your name.

I don’t want to have fun with my kids

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It was the end of Spring Break week, my twin preschoolers and two-year-old was home with me all week and everyone had been under the weather so I had cabin fever. That Friday we were all on the mend and I was bound and determined to go do something “fun” with the kids. I chose the Museum of Natural History because we had free passes.

With three little kids, it takes about two hours to get ready to go anywhere, so I needed to keep giving myself a pep-talk throughout the process—“Come on, Nicole, you can do it. You HAVE to go do something fun because that’s what Spring Break is supposed to be—FUN!” Farther into the getting ready process, the pep talks slowly started to sound more like me trying to convince myself this would be FUN. Lunches and snacks packed—check. Extra pull-ups and extra changes of clothes—check. Everyone pick a toy to bring for the long ride—after running around, a few tears and a minor crisis—check. Everyone in the car buckled up—check. I get into the van and then get right back out because I forgot to feed myself that morning so I needed to grab something, anything, to eat. Run back into the house, grab a banana and a handful of almonds. On the way back out to the car, I realized I forgot the free passes. Run back into the house to grab free passes. Lock the door and get in the van. Keys in the ignition—check. Off we went to have some FUN.

My kiddos aren’t the most tolerable when it comes to long distance transportation—for them fifteen minutes is long distance—so there’s always a little sense of urgency and panic driving an hour away because almost anything and everything could happen in that timeframe. Bathroom emergencies, squabbles, tears, and sickness…you’re always on the brink of being prepared for something to happen. Safe to say, we got to the museum parking lot in one piece, unscathed by any serious issues. With relief and pride I patted myself on the back for having made it and thought, “Hey that wasn’t so bad…” My heart sunk as I saw the parking lot, jam-packed with cars waiting in rows for a space to open up. We spent thirty minutes driving around and around until I victoriously found a spot. Phew. We made it. Kids out. Snack bags over the shoulder. Heavy two-year-old in one arm, the other is filled with coats for “just in case” weather that is always a possibility in Denver. My apparent need for fitness was blaring as I’m getting out of breath and breaking a minor sweat while I make my way up to the entrance with kids in tow. We did it! I glanced down to make sure the tickets were still in my purse and noticed something I hadn’t before—they had expired. Morale was low at this point, but not totally crashed, so onward into the entrance. Then I saw it. (If a defeated, frustrated, crying, yawning emoticon existed, insert it here.) The lines were wrapped around to form a maze of barriers. There were people everywhere and my pep talks were no more. Now my thoughts were only, “This is NOT fun…” But I was still determined to get through the lines and go through the museum, because my stubborn nature dared me to leave, and my conscience dared me to play with the idea that I am just not a fun mom. We stood in line for thirty-ish minutes because I kept having to leave the line to chase after the two-year-old. I was trying to keep up everyone’s spirits, but in my peripheral vision, I noticed how everyone else’s kids seemed to be angels standing in line, while mine were uncontainable monkeys swinging from one rope to the other in excitement. Then the “I have to go potty” plea rang in my ears. We left the line to head for the bathrooms. My twin boys don’t want to go into the “girly bathroom” anymore, so they insisted on going into the “Man one.” Needing to take my two-year-old daughter potty, not to mention myself, had to wait so I could make sure BOTH boys came out of the restroom. (My Mom-radar is on high-alert!) Men went in and men came out, but not my boys…I could hear them singing, and giggling and turning the hand-dryer on and off and on again. Every five seconds I’d crack the door open and request their presence; ultimately knowing I’d just have to wait. When we were finally reunited, the task of going into the women’s restroom had just begun. I ended up convincing them to go into the women’s restroom with me anyway because there was no way I was leaving two five-year-olds to wait outside (I’ve binge watched way too many drama/crime shows to make me paranoid enough to not do that!) We made our way into the women’s restroom, alas! There’s another line. We finally got through the business that needed to be done and headed back out to stand in line, because, dammit, we were going to have FUN!

Since our visit was no longer free, I had to swallow hard as I tallied up how much it was going to cost all four of us to get in. I couldn’t really afford to have all this fun we were about to have, but I reasoned that a) it would be cheaper to get a museum pass, and b) the membership line was way shorter, so we chose that line. As we stood in line, the kids got more anxious and excited, and I felt my blood pressure was rising. “Just get through the line, and it’ll all be OK.” Then one of my boys grabbed the other and head-butt him. With tears from one, laughter from the other, and my two-year-old squirming out of my arms to go explore, I had finally reached my breaking point. “Ok, that’s it—we’re leaving!” I stepped out of line and started for the exit with protests trailing behind me. The boys were crying the whole way back, but I just kept saying to them, “That wasn’t fun. We’ll try again…” (Thanks Love&Logic!) Truth was I felt like crying too. I felt like the biggest failure. Truth was that for so long “fun” wasn’t even on my radar—being the caregiver of my husband with terminal cancer, and twins and a newborn all at once—now the dust of grief finally began to settle, and I couldn’t do this one thing. Would I ever be able to have fun? Would I be the uptight, serious mom forever?

Everyone had quieted down on the return drive and we ended up stopping at the local mall with the free play place. I let the kids run around as we played tickle monster and hide-and-seek. We stopped for a small treat of M&M cookies and sat at the table trying to count how many birds got stuck in the mall , which would swoop around overhead once in a while.

That night as I was putting my boys to sleep, I apologized for the museum-thing not panning out and we talked about manners in public and maybe next time we could try again. I tucked one of my boys in and I told him, “I’m sorry we didn’t really have fun today,” and he replied, “I had a lot of fun!”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “What part was fun to you?”

“My favorite part was doing the puzzle with you,” he said, drifting off to sleep. I was stumped. I didn’t remember doing a puzzle until he said something. Before all the chaos of getting ready and out the door, we sat on the floor in our jammies doing a puzzle together. It took 15 minutes to put together that puzzle and it took me all day in my mission to “have FUN” with my kids. He remembered the 15 quiet minutes we spent together. That’s when I realized I didn’t want to have the kind of “fun” with my kids that I pressure myself into—expensive outings, spending money I really don’t have to spend in the first place. The kind of “fun” that I fake smile the whole time because I’m so tired from making sure we’re all together and alive in busy public places. The kind of “fun” I force upon myself because I feel like I have to compensate for their dad not being here and they’re stuck with me—sometimes sad, sometimes irritable, sometimes too-serious mommy.

My son taught me something so profound about my kids and myself. The fun times remembered and cherished are the times spent just being together. Being in each other’s presence. It could be at a park, it could be putting away laundry while pretending socks are silly puppets; it could be holding hands walking to school. This realization took the pressure off me to stop attempting to do activities I just can’t do with my kids in this season—as a grieving, widowed mom, whose outings with my kids I have to do solo, not to mention they’re 5, 5 and 2…little kids come with so much grace and so little expectation. All they want is time with you, time together. All the other high blood pressure moments we parents put on ourselves are lost to them in grace.

One day museums will be fun. One day I will be able to take them to a movie theater with ease. One day we can take a road trip. One day we can go to Disney World and have some serious Fun. But not now. Not in this season. Now, I’m OK with puzzles in our jammies, digging worms in the backyard and spending a couple bucks to eat ice cream in the park, because those are the moment my kids cherish. That’s the kind of fun I’m after now, and I know my kids will show me I can be a fun mom.

 

Re-purposing the brokenness

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I just got my phone evaluated by a “phone expert” the other day. It wasn’t working the way it used to and I didn’t understand why. It was the same phone I had gotten a year ago, so why wasn’t it functioning the same way it had before? This is my first experience with a smart phone, a world I’m totally ignorant to, so the poor phone guy had to keep explaining terms that were foreign to me. He said that I needed to upgrade my phone to a new one. But why? I just got used to the one I have—I don’t want a new one! I want it to work the way it did before. He explained if I wanted to experience what I had previously with this phone, I’d have to get a new one, because this one was outdated. Done. But I resisted. I don’t want a new phone. I just want to make this one better! In the phone world, I guess I can’t have that, but it does make a good metaphor for what I’ve been learning in other areas of my life.

I have been waiting for my inner wounded soul to “get better.” Waiting for the day the clouds would part and all of the sadness and loneliness and anger and despair would lift and I would just feel…better. I didn’t really know what “better” would look like, but I catch myself fantasizing sometimes about what it would resemble, not being able to put a finger on anything in particular or in great detail, but honestly, “better” looked like anything that was total opposite of how I’ve been feeling. Only now, something has been stirring inside me to abandon “better.” Truth is, I’ll never be what I once thought my ideal of “better” was, and I don’t really want to be “better.” God prodded me to seek a different meaning for my new…whatever you want to call it—life? Chapter? Season? And there’s no instant upgrade involved in God’s timing here on Earth most times. The only way to get there is to re-purpose the brokenness; not replace it.

Perfect, tangible, visible examples that come to mind as I’m trying to grasp what is happening in my own grief experience is best explained by a specific art form of re-purposing broken materials into something that the object wasn’t at first intended to be, but is worked with and formed into something completely different than before, transformed from the original pieces. Take mosaics for example, or the ancient Japanese art form, Kintsugi, of taking broken pottery and fusing the pieces together with gold or silver—the end result is far more valuable than its original form.

In our culture today re-purposing, or up-cycling has become somewhat of a cool, hip, artsy thing, but it’s nothing new. God’s been up-cycling from the beginning. Taking broken things and not necessarily upgrading the broken thing to a brand new thing, but taking the broken pieces and using them for a re-purpose, a more valuable purpose, a greater purpose.

So while I do have to give in and upgrade my phone in order to have it work the way I need it to (OK, I don’t HAVE to do that, but it might simplify tasks a little bit). I don’t have to sweep my brokenness under the rug or into a dustpan and throw it away, praying all the pieces will just go away. If that was the case, how many more pieces would be lost? Precious pieces that, though painful, are so beautiful, like the pieces of cherished memories; our first kiss, our wedding, dancing in the living room, holding our twin babies… the bittersweet pieces of my husband holding our daughter for the first time as he struggled to breathe, or my taking his hand when there wasn’t anything else I could do in the middle of the night, or watching a man so broken give all the broken pieces of his life to God and in turn, receive a peace that overcame him in his last breath…and all of the tiny, unbearable shatters of my former life through this grief journey. All those pieces are painful–crushing at times–but I can’t throw them away and I don’t want to upgrade to a life where those pieces don’t exist. All I know is that while I can’t see it completely right now, the pieces that are being put back together now will resemble nothing of my former life, but will still contain all of it. There is beauty in my brokenness and one day I’ll see the final result, but until then through painstaking patience, I’ll keep giving each piece, no matter how deep it cuts, to my God.

I’m not a dad

Copyright: Annette Shaff

I have heard a lot from single moms and dads, widowed or otherwise, that now they “have to be the mom AND the dad.” While practically I totally get that, I find I can’t burden myself further with that thought; feeling like I need to be the dad for my children, now that theirs is dead. It’s too exhausting to try to put pressure on myself to do the impossible because I will never, ever be able to take the place of their dad or take the place of a father figure that may be there in the future. Ever.

The kids and I went out to lunch with my children’s godfather a while back and the kids weren’t used to going out, as I know all too well, going into a restaurant with three children under five is exhausting and not enjoyable at all, so they were testing the boundaries along the way. Needless to say, I was already frazzled at the ‘kids being kids’ behavior at the table—nothing too crazy, just a little loud for my nerves, but it was what the waitress said that derailed me. She told the kids to “ask your mom and dad if you can have….(insert whatever it was they requested, I can’t remember, a soda? A pony?)” It was a logical assumption on her part since I was there with a male, but nevertheless it threw me into a pretty dark place and the only thing I was able to see was the absence of the man who was supposed to be there to help me during the crazy restaurant times, and the endless waking at night, the tantrums, the amazing milestones, the how-to-throw-a-ball moments. Even more glaring was the obvious fact that after spending just a few hours with their godfather, I could see their mannerisms change, how desperately they need a man to help them in this crazy journey of life and, no matter how much I try, I can never ever be that for them. So I stopped putting that unrealistic expectation on myself.

Sure, I can, and do, lots of “dad” things with my boys. I know how to change a tire and check my oil. I am not into sports (their dad really wasn’t a diehard fan either), but one thing he always looked forward to was playing catch with his boys, one of the first things he showed me when we started dating (he was a sentimentalist) from his childhood box was a glove and ball he saved for “his kids one day,” he said I can play catch with them; I can throw a baseball and catch one too, I can even throw a football in a way that it spins…a spiral? Shows how much I know… I can go to Home Depot and take a class and figure out how to use an electric drill or build a birdhouse, the pictures would hang crooked and the birdhouse may lean, but I could do it! I can figure out how to grill a steak. We wrestle and play pillow fights all the time, I give them piggy back rides and teach them right from wrong, I take them on hikes and dig for worms—but I do all of this as their mom. Doing all those things with a man, that ideal situation boys have to learn the ropes of manhood, will remain untouched by me, no matter how good I am at all the above.

What I can do, though, is teach my children how a woman should treat herself and, in turn, be treated. I have been implementing one-on-one date nights with my boys so we can talk and have fun and they can see Mommy not-so-stressed. I can implement door-holding and pulling out chair rules, but I hope that one day they will see these date nights as something more; that Mommy is out with them, taking the time to spend time with them, investing in them and their importance and responsibility to one day grow up not only chivalrous, but strong, grace-filled leaders. When my daughter is a little bit older, I will do the same with her. While their dad may not be here physically, his finest attributes shine brightly in his boys. I see his heart when they constantly praise and compliment their little sister telling her how cute and beautiful she is. I see it in the quiet times we sit together and they look at me and hug me tightly and whisper to me, “You know what, mom, you’re beautiful.” In my ugliest moments (inside and out), their dad never failed to remind me that I was beautiful to him and now my children who have seen all my weaknesses and ugly moments can see that beauty too and all is right in the world when, for a moment, I feel their daddy shining through in those small, but powerful moments.

The last time we got dressed up for a date, my son tugged on my shirt and motioned for me to bend down to eye level. He swept my hair gently and whispered into my ear: “When I grow up, I’m going to be Daddy and marry you.” While my heart melted, I know in the future this will change, but how do I want my children to remember how I handled this situation that’s been handed to us? With dignity and grace, and fierce perseverance. How do I want them to remember me? As their mother. Nothing more and nothing less.

A father to the fatherless, and a judge (defender) of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. God setteth the solitary (lonely) in families…

-Psalm 68:5-6 (KJV)

Impatient knitter

copyright: GraphVision  via Shutterstock

Anything involving sewing, knitting or crocheting is beyond me; I just don’t have the patience for it. In fact, I have always struggled with patience and wanting to see the final result quickly, rather than enjoying the time in between the raw material, or the process, and the finished product or result. Sometimes the time between start and finish can be boring, sometimes elating, and sometimes, it can even be painful and oftentimes, really hard, but a skilled seamstress pushes through and sees the value in the finished product is well worth the hours of work put into it.

I have been slowly going through my late husband’s things for the past two years since he’s been gone. I have avoided his clothing all together, until I saw another widowed friend who told me she had a company make a quilt out of her husband’s shirts. I have been carefully going through his things, putting a lot of thought into the things I want to keep; not just to stay in a box, but to re-purpose them in some way that would be useful, beautiful and meaningful for his three children. The quilt was my answer to what to do with some of his clothing.

One day I finally gathered the courage to cut up my husband’s shirts to prepare them to be sent off for the final product; three quilts for our three little ones. The first cut was the hardest, and then it was therapeutic, going through each article of clothing and remembering all the moments held in those clothes. I held his shirts to my face and breathed them in deeply, trying to retain his scent, even if for only a moment. I was on a roll when one of my four-year-old twins came bounding down the steps and he stumbled across my project.

“What are you doing?” he cried, and he crumbled at my side, sobbing, clamoring for all of his daddy’s shirts and hugging them tightly.

I tried to explain to him that I was making something special for him, his brother and sister to keep for the rest of their lives.

“But these are already special,” he sobbed. “Glue them back together, or Daddy will have nothing to wear when he comes back!”

My heart broke for my little boy, wrapping himself in his daddy’s clothes, and I realized that seeing the brokenness of something that was once whole, the shirts, brought him to the final realization that Daddy really wasn’t coming back. The floor was a mess with scraps and pieces of items that were so much a part of the one person who couldn’t be there to wipe our son’s tears away.

I tried to explain to him that Daddy didn’t need these clothes anymore and we could remember him by special blankets that would keep us warm. That answer didn’t appease him and he bawled. I tried to say that God would clothe Daddy with much better shirts and he would look so handsome, so he didn’t need these, and I offered a solution that he could keep some of his father’s pants in a box to keep, untouched, and his brother, who had quietly listened in on our conversation, piped up in his thoughtful and clever manner: “People don’t wear pants in heaven?”

This grief journey has been hard enough for me to comprehend, and at that moment, I realized how much harder it was for a 4-year-old child to see this mess and not being able to see the final product. How could I explain something to them that I didn’t fully understand myself? It was a mess, this whole thing, and it was heartbreaking to look at, but the only thing that keeps me going is that I know God is continuing to knit all these unidentifiable pieces together. One day, we’ll see the beautiful finished product, but for now, I have to trust the messy, painful, unclear pieces are, somehow, in some way, valuable in their own rite to this whole journey. I don’t like it one bit and not being able to explain something to my hurting child is unbearable, but I know I can’t explain God, but I can describe Him to my children the best I can through all the ways He’s showed up and held our family.

Reading my Bible the other day, I kept thinking about the Biblical references to knitting and weaving, the most recognizable one being Psalm 139:13-14. Why did God choose that metaphor for knitting or weaving us together in our mother’s wombs? It’s significant to me to remember that God didn’t just wave a magic wand and-Poof!- here we are. Instead, raw, organic materials were taken and put together to form something even more beautiful (Genesis 2:7-8). All of life is a process, a delicate and intentional process that takes great care to develop to successful accomplishment. While I don’t understand, and, to be honest, am quite uncomfortable at times with the process, it brings me comfort and hope to know that the final product of these bits and pieces of God’s process will be wrapped around my children and I, to bring us warmth and comfort and finally, maybe finally, clarity and peace. For now, patience in watching each strand be woven together with the next brings me a little closer to the hope I cannot see, but know is there.

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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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

Thanks+grieving

Nicole Hastings

“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

 

As we embark on the holiday season with Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, we are expected to and expect others to participate in and feel words like “joy,” “cheer,” “peace” and, “giving thanks.” When I was younger, I couldn’t wait for this season to start so I could experience and immerse myself in all the words I mentioned above. There was something magical and heart-changing about the lights, decorations, and the spirit of giving. Now, after experiencing the deep-cutting and profound loss of my husband, I have tip-toed up to the holiday season holding my breath. For a griever, the holidays can be a ticking-time bomb of memories and triggers. For me, it marks a chain of events that makes it hard for me to catch my breath all winter long: the end of October is my daughter’s birthday, mid-November is my husband’s death-date, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day (the day he and I met,) the end of February is our wedding anniversary, and then the beginning of March is our twin boys’ birthday. Winter for me is an emotional “kaboom” so this year I’ve been bracing myself, being incredibly intentional with extra self-care and thinking ahead how I will mourn on these days while also living life as it goes on and creating new memories with my little ones. With that said, I’m focusing this post on the concept of “giving thanks” from a griever’s standpoint.

If your loss is fresh and new, you may feel like you want to disassociate from any of the Holiday Spirit words splashed all about the country. You may feel like you just want to skip the holidays that focus so heavily on family and being together. You may feel guilty for wanting to skip the holidays or others may be making you (intentionally or unintentionally) feel guilty about wanting to bypass the holidays. Whether your loss is new or a while ago, there may be a lot of “shoulds” going around your head, or being suggested from well-meaning family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and even strangers. “You should be thankful you still have a job, so many family and friends to support you, your kids, your house, your health, that you don’t live in a third-world country, that you have food in the fridge etc.… (fill in the blank)” Or if you’re a person of faith, well-meaning individuals may want to comfort you with, “Well, be thankful he/she’s in Heaven.” “Be thankful you’ll see him/her again.” “Be thankful he/she’s in a better place.” Therein lies the paradox of being a griever—being surrounded by so many things you’re thankful for. And you are. You are thankful for all those things, but you are also missing someone and it’s OK in the midst of all the thankfulness to say, “I’m hurting, this sucks, I’m lonely, and it’s not fair…I know I will see them again, but for now, right now in this moment, I want them to be here with me. I don’t want them to be gone.”

As a caretaker of a grieving person (that means anyone who is in the room with a person who has experienced loss: family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor) please throw the “shoulds” out the window. If someone around you is depressed or a Holiday party “downer” and in angst because their loss is bubbling up with this holiday season, don’t try to give them a pep talk of “Well at least you…” phrases. Believe me, they are painfully aware of all they have to be thankful for. They are painfully aware not to take things for granted, that time is short, and the things and people in their lives are not going to last forever—they are thankful for the presence of each of those things. Even more so, with all the other things that we grievers are so grateful for, we are grateful that we can grieve our loved one at all; meaning that if we never had the privilege to know them, we’d never have the privilege to miss them.

But for a moment, even in the midst of the cheer and laughter and joy, if you are the caretaker of a grieving person, grant the griever permission to feel the pain, the sadness and the terrible ache of missing their loved one. Also know that there’s no forcing gratitude, humility, joy and peace on someone else; those are deeply personal things someone who’s going through the deep, dark valley will have to come to while on their own pursuit of and grappling with God.

So this holiday season, if you know someone who may be grieving (whether they verbalize it or not), put all the “chin-up” cheerleading phrases on hold, and don’t be scared to give the griever permission to feel his/her emotions by acknowledging the griever’s bittersweet holiday experience. Some might say, “Well I’m not good with sad things or people who cry.” Well, I say to you in the most gentle way possible, “Get over yourself, it’s not about you.” And it’s not. When comforting a grieving person, giving them the gift of permission and a safe place to miss and feel the loss, is a priceless gift that will aid in his/her healing. It will be something the griever will be thankful for; they may never say it, but you can be assured they feel it.

I will celebrate holding your hand

By Nicole Hastings

“I never knew holding someone’s hand could feel so inviting, so familiar and so new at the same time. Holding your hand, I celebrate it, I mark it on calendars.”

-Anita Krizzan

Almost six years ago, I made a vow to hold my husband, Phil’s, hand through the brightest days and the darkest.

Two years ago today, November 20, 2013, I held his hand as he took his last breath. His hands were still warm, and strangely familiar from all the Palmolive dish soap he’d use as a professional window-washer was still comforting to me. Even though everything had changed in that one second when he left the world, for just a little longer, I could still hold his hand.

One year ago today, the day Phil died, crept up on me even though throughout the whole first year I fantasized that “after the first year, everything will calm down and I’ll be ‘better’.” I spent the day sitting on a rock next to a rushing river. My toes were cold and my hands were huddled in my coat to try to keep warm, but my cheeks stung bitterly as each new tear intensified the cold. Surrounded by mud, rocks and the dormancy of the encroaching winter, I sat on that rock for a long time staring at the pile of river rocks where I had released some of Phil’s ashes. There was no warmth or comfort and I realized, sitting on that rock alone, that I would never be ‘better.’ Entering year two was like when the anesthesia wears off and no pain medication in the world could numb the gaping wound that Phil’s absence left in my life and our children’s lives. The tender gift of shock and adrenaline had long worn off and I had to face the pain head on. I sunk into a deep depression because I fought the pain, I tried anything to keep me from remembering all the hurt and trauma, trying to cover it up with bandages of busyness too scared about what I would find if I took the bandage off. Only recently have I forced myself to start “rehabilitative therapy,” re-learning how to live without a part of me, without the security of that warm handhold.

Today marks two years of surviving without Phil. I will wake to the sunshine and I’ll lay in my bed with the conflicting “get up!” and “just five more minutes!” I’ll drag myself out of bed, I’ll make myself coffee and get the kids their cheerios as they watch morning cartoons. I’ll sip my coffee trying to shake the drowsiness of another dreamless sleep. The pain of missing Phil and the last time I held his hand will still be there, deep inside the barrel of my chest, and I’ll say ‘Hello’ to it and refill my kids’ orange juice. I’ll clean up after breakfast, try to fold some laundry, and play trains and Legos with the kids for a while. We’ll get ready for school and walk over to attend the little Harvest Party at my boys’ preschool. I’ll make crafts with them, fending off the achy feeling that always bites at me when I see my kids doing things that mark their growing up and how I wish their dad could see too. I know he’d stand back with me and watch them string pasta noodles and goof off with their friends, he’d put an arm around me and give my shoulder a squeeze and then reach down to hold my hand. But he won’t do that, he’s not here, and I’ll be watching on my own thinking to myself, “See, see our beautiful children.” My daughter will reach up and take my hand, motioning to the swing set. I’ll push her on the swing and she’ll laugh and smile with her whole body, just like her daddy used to do. Then we’ll all walk home together, holding hands. And on a day that I wish was just another day of laundry and Legos, it’s a day I will always remember as the day Phil left us. Now I know I don’t really want to be “better” if better meant that I didn’t feel all I feel, if “better” meant I had to stop talking about and stop remembering Phil and all that encompassed our brief, yet impactful encounter with love, marriage, parenting together and dying together; holding hands through it all.

So today, I don’t want to be better, I don’t want a “new normal”—what’s normal anyway? I want to live with all the life I have to live, loving fully and all that love brings; joy, elation, security, pain, sadness and disappointment. And even through the depressing days, the angry days, the sad days, I want to always remember and honor being able to hold Phil’s hand, but  also look forward to tomorrow and maybe, one day, be there to hold someone else’s hand, no matter how long or brief. There are a thousand words in holding someone’s hand, do it often and remember it always.