Tag: Widower

Re-purposing Condolence cards

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I recently finished The Minimalists’ 30-day challenge to get rid of things every day for 30 days. Since the passing of my late husband, I’ve been slowly doing this already, ( READ on my other site: His Stuff. My Treasure.) but there was a lot I just sort of shoved into a corner hoping maybe it’d just fade away…but we all know that’s not the way it works. There were things I wanted to keep, but really didn’t want to just keep in a box to collect dust and I’m not thrilled with the idea of an alter or shrine that displays all of my husband’s things, that’s when I got the idea to start incorporating memories of my former life into my daily life in the form of art; in other words, re-purposing my grief. Making the memories beautiful and functional at the same time. So when I was going through things to get rid of for the challenge, I knew I just had to do something with the huge, 6-inch thick stack of condolence cards I received (warning: So sorry the resolution is terrible, but it’s good enough for you to get the gist of what’s going on. I know, I know I need a better camera for blog photos…I’ll get there…eventually, and I’ll re-take these. Sorry to your eyes! I’m a writer not a photographer, eek).

But what to do with all these? I honestly didn’t really need to keep them, but they reminded me of so much goodness and kindness I just couldn’t part with them. Then I thought of an art project I could make out of them and here’s what I came up with and step-by-step instructions for how to turn your memorable cards into art you can enjoy (I plan on doing this with my wedding cards, but this can work with really anything from baby showers, to birthday, to graduation cards, etc.)

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What you will need:

  • assorted greeting cards
  • blank mat board, with the opening to fit a standard greeting card size (you could go bigger or smaller though, I’ll add to this post how to do a bigger mat when I finish the wedding cards one. If your mat is smaller, just follow the steps and cut the card strips down a little, pretty self-explanatory)
  • hot-glue gun and glue sticks
  • personal paper-trimmer with ruler

 


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STEP 1:

Cut your greeting cards into strips. Since I had quite a few I needed, I cut them into about 1/2 inch strips, but depending on how many you want to use you could go bigger, I just wouldn’t go smaller than 1/4 inch or they’ll be too flimsy to weave.

*Tip #1: If you want to keep the messages in the cards before you cut them up you can save the part of the card with the messages, or take a photo or scan them to keep on file. I personally didn’t feel the need to keep the messages, as the final product is enough of a reminder for me.

*Tip #2: I color coordinated the greeting cards so there would be some unity in the final product. Warm colors, cool colors, and dark colors etc.

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STEP 2:

Take your hot glue gun and glue each strip to the back of the mat. The colored side you want showing face-down as you will be weaving through the back of the mat. Glue all the strips down on the top leaving the bottom of the strip free. Glue all the way across the mat until it’s covered. The closer together you glue the strips, the tighter the weaving will be, the further a part the more space you will see in between if you like that look, do it! See photo for a better explanation:

Back of the Mat

Back of the Mat

 

Front of the mat

Front of the mat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It should look like this from the front when you’re done with this step.

 

STEP 3:

Take your other strips and start weaving front to back through the glued strips on the mat. See photo for better explanation:

What the weaving will look like from the back

What the weaving will look like from the back

What the weaving will look like from the front

What the weaving will look like from the front

Keep weaving until you’ve reached the bottom of the mat. The end gets a little tricky, but be patient and it’ll work out. *Tip: push up the previous strips you’ve already weaved to make a tighter weaved look and to make more room for your awaiting strips.

When you’re finished, take your hot glue and glue all the remaining strips down on the sides and on the bottom of the mat.

This is what it should look like after gluing all the free strips down. (From the front. It's OK if the back is messy with glue, no one will see that.

This is what it should look like after gluing all the free strips down. (From the front. It’s OK if the back is messy with glue, no one will see that.

 

STEP 4:

Add your own touches to the piece. Head to your local craft store and get creative. Find a decal that represents something you’d like to memorialize about your loved one (if they are condolence cards) or to tribute the occasion you got the cards. Since my handwriting is absolutely atrocious, I got some stamps with sayings I thought I might want to use and also went to the paper aisle to get somethings that might look nice. See photo versions for a better explanation:

IDEA #1

IDEA #1

I found these date tags super cheap in the paper aisle/scrapbook aisle at Hobby Lobby. My husband died in November, so I thought I might want this as a decal. I decided against it eventually because I didn’t want to remember that date–BUT you might, or you can use the date of a special occasion like a birth or wedding or graduation.

IDEA #2

IDEA #2

Not too sure about this overexposure, but you get the gist (I warned you I’m not a photographer!). Going with the date theme, I used the months that my family received these cards. The months that were the hardest and we needed the most support and encouragement. It’s nice to remember the love we received even though remembering those months is really really hard. Again, I eventually decided against this, but just as an option to give you ideas.

IDEA #3

IDEA #3

This is what I settled on. I chose a stamp with a Bible verse already on it and a blank gift tag in the paper aisle of Hobby Lobby. If you are good with fonts and lettering, go for it! I just used my glue gun and glued it down once I decided on it.

FINAL STEP: Choose a pretty frame and display it!

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Now this sits on a book shelf in my living room and whenever I see it I’m reminded of all the generous souls who lifted up my family during such a tragic time. And the cards aren’t just sitting in a box collecting somewhere. This is what I call “re-purposing grief.” Sure the memories will always be painful, but the point of it is to take items and memories and make them functional and incorporated into your life now to not remember the pain but the love. And love ALWAYS wins!

 

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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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This little light of mine

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“I invite you to consider that to inhibit, delay, convert or avoid grief is to condemn yourself to a living death. Living fully requires that you feel fully. It means being completely one with what you are experiencing.”*

-Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

Growing up, I remember Halloween as a marker of a joyful holiday season about to begin. Once the leaves started to turn, embarking upon Halloween was met with excitement (and candy) and was followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas (and more candy). It was innocent excitement of being someone else for a day, using imagination and thinking outside the norm. For a shy, awkward kid like me, dressing up and boldly asking neighbors for candy was liberating. Now, watching my children get excited about dressing up (which is actually a daily occurrence in my home) and candy and pumpkins, I’m brought back to my own childhood excitement…with a caveat. I’ve been a little unsettled about Halloween ever since my husband passed.

First, our daughter was born two days before Halloween, and with death and life so strong at my own doorstep, celebrating the holiday that year was out of the question both practically and emotionally. The first Halloween after Phil passed was a warm, autumn evening and the streets were filled with children and neighborly hospitality. Seeing my twin boys trick or treat for the first time was exciting and their laughter was contagious, but I my stomach turned a little when we passed houses with skeletons and tombstones in their front yards. I could handle the cute costumes, but I couldn’t, and can’t, get past the zombies, ghosts, skeletons and ghouls. Having been face to face with death and dying, I can’t understand why anyone would want to pretend to be dead, or the living dead for that matter. So, tiptoeing carefully up to this coming Halloween, I was hesitant if we should even celebrate. However, I came to my own conclusions recently and decided to follow far more closely the holiday celebrated on the next day, Dia de los Muertes. The Mexican holiday drives home the permission to honor and remember loved ones who have passed even years after the loss rather than focusing on the dark and sinister side of death and the supernatural that Halloween is rooted in.

I recently attended a workshop called “The Paradoxes of Mourning” taught by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., founder of The Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado. He has devoted more than 20 years to helping the bereaved and teaching caregivers for the bereaved. I learned many insights that I treasure and keep close to my heart, but the one truth I learned that lit something deep inside was Dr. Wolfelt’s ability to explain the difference between grief and mourning. Grief: our inward experience of loss. Mourning: the outward expression of loss, honoring both the person who has died, as well as honoring all of the wrapped up emotions, thoughts and memories we survivors are left with. This stuck with me so much and I realized a pinnacle reality in my own grief journey—I haven’t mourned at all. Believe me, I have been, and still am swimming in grief, being so alone and stuck inside the swirling waves of it that I was not really given permission, nor did I know how to give myself permission to mourn. To be honest, I really didn’t know the difference between grief and mourning until that workshop.

It’s coming up on two years since my husband’s death and the death of our future together, and I have just now begun to scratch the surface of mourning. So, my point about all the Halloween stuff is this: In order for me to walk out of the land of the living dead (which is how I’ve been living this past year and a half) and into the land of the living, it’s incredibly important for me to be intentional with my mourning, to schedule my mourning (another post explaining these concepts later) and to invite others into the process; you, the readers. Shutting down and living in the dark with my grief is a scary and dangerous place to be—I don’t want to live in the darkness of “Halloween” anymore. So this Halloween, I start with the mourning journey. I start with giving light and honor to the man I loved and lost. And as I walk the dark streets with ghouls, ghosts and the living dead rubbing shoulders with me on October 31, I remember that I can overcome the darkness, the terrifying shadows of unaddressed grief, trauma not dealt with, and the lurking ghoul that is cancer with light, and in turn, these apparitions have no place in that light.

This Halloween, while my kids are reveling in candy euphoria, I will quietly be honoring the life that brought me so many blessings, remembering the pain and sorrow the absence of that life that has brought, and the light that bridges the gap between the two.

 

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.

-Psalm 119:105

 

*Wolfelt, Alan. Ph. D. Living in the shadow of the ghosts of grief: Step into the light. Fort Collins, CO: Companion Press, 2007. Print.