I Still Dream the Dreams of Grief…

At first the dreams were just awful.  Dreams that would make me feel depressed for a couple of days.  Maybe they were nightmares.  I usually dreamt about him being sick, being angry with me, being disappointed.  And then I would wake up and carry them around with me until I could shake the emotions. I didn’t dream all the time but when I did these dreams would dominate my waking emotions.  Once in a long while I would dream something sweet…something, I think, that was closer to reality but they were so infrequent that the other dreams tainted them.

After I remarried I would dream that he knew I was married and so would be there but would not want to interfere so would stay in the background of my dream and wait for me to talk to him but, always, still dying. Or, that we both knew I was remarried but he would still be sick and I would want to help but knew I couldn’t.  That I could no longer help him, as a wife, in these dreams would breed such a heaviness in me that I would always weep in my dream. Sometimes, I would wake up crying.

After some time I realized that I needed outside help.  I had loved my husband and I knew that he loved me.  Our marriage was tough sometimes, yes.  We used to say that we were like fire and ice.  The fact that my dreaming only consisted of negative emotions, though, was not healthy and I knew it.  I made an appointment with a Christian counselor I had seen once before.

This counselor listened as I tried to explain, as I cried, how I imagined that all of these dreams must be rooted in some kind of truth.  I obviously still had unresolved issues with hurt I had harbored towards this man I had loved and lost.  There was a part of me that carried, as though still real, his reactions towards me out of frustration or a short temper.  And then there was the issue of my remarriage.  Consciously, I knew that God had given me a new life with a new husband and that it was good.  Subconsciously, I must have taken ownership of what I imagined others opinions were of my remarriage and applied them to my dreams.  I don’t know.  This is certainly not an area where I have expertise.  I only know my own experience.  Desperately, I desired to either not dream at all or to have more dreams where I remembered him whole and happy.

When I left the office that day I had some tools.  The counselor said that I, quite possibly, had a form of PTSD – post traumatic stress syndrome – which is quite common for family caregivers.  I had never heard that before and it was something that brought me relief.  She encouraged me to talk to someone I trusted every single time I had a dream like that. Also, to journal it…to write it down.  Something about verbalizing and writing it was important to help my brain embrace the truth of him being gone.  That what my dreams were communicating was not reality.  So, I did that.  I prayed for healing and I did that.  It helped.  The first time.  The heaviness of those dreams in the first years don’t happen anymore.

I still dream, though.  Two dreams, of Cliff, in just the past week.  They can still throw me, a bit.  Not like before though.  I dream, usually, that he is healthy but somehow there is the tension of being married to someone else and also, usually, to Cliff.  Funny stuff, sometimes. Dreams are just dreams…this is the struggle – to be okay with my mind doing what it needs to do and remembering that it does not substantiate my reality.  It does not necessarily indicate what is true.  My memories can be loving and sweet in my dreams as well as my waking moments.  Sorrow lasts as long as it lasts. “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” Psalm 30:5.  My joy, increasingly, comes in the morning. Even as I still dream the dreams of grief.

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Embracing the future I did not anticipate by releasing the future I had expected .

als a loss surviving

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I love to write. I love to share what I am learning…what God is teaching me. But, writing about the most devastating things takes me awhile, obviously. Believing that God has a purpose in the pain gives me the ability to put it down in words…even a few years later. God is all about the present…my future in Him is awesome and waiting…He has it planned out already. I want so much to talk about that. But, I cannot without sharing the past that has brought me to this present. So, here it is…the one experience that, by far, has been the most difficult to expose in written word…

“The weather had been unbearably gloomy. There had been a few weeks of inversion in the valley and it had been thick. It was winter in Idaho. Still, it felt unusually heavy, anyway. It was that way – outside and inside…

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Embracing the future I did not anticipate by releasing the future I had expected .

87186942756063409_1zB7aYwy_b

I love to write. I love to share what I am learning…what God is teaching me. But, writing about the most devastating things takes me awhile, obviously. Believing that God has a purpose in the pain gives me the ability to put it down in words…even a few years later. God is all about the present…my future in Him is awesome and waiting…He has it planned out already. I want so much to talk about that. But, I cannot without sharing the past that has brought me to this present. So, here it is…the one experience that, by far, has been the most difficult to expose in written word…

“The weather had been unbearably gloomy. There had been a few weeks of inversion in the valley and it had been thick. It was winter in Idaho. Still, it felt unusually heavy, anyway. It was that way – outside and inside. Heavy and thick and cold. We had been waiting. Waiting for almost two weeks, now. It was mid-winter and we had been expecting this for over 19 months. 19 excruciatingly painful and significant months.

February 18th was the first real sunny day in weeks, where we live, so the nighttime sky was crisp and clear. I had gone outside to stand in the cold about 9:30 p.m.. As I whispered to heaven, I was visually struck by a “star” that was extraordinarily bright. Bigger than the rest and glowing with an iridescent ring at its edges. It was directly above my yard, which is surrounded by trees, and right in my line of vision. I had not seen one like that before and I haven’t since, but, that night, it was there and I was sure it was God’s gift to me. It was a message, I thought, to communicate God’s visible presence with me as I stood on my back patio, feeling completely singular now, breathing in the cold. I was comforted and moved by the thought that the God of the universe; author of breathe and life, had given me this type of gift.

Cliff had made the decision to stay at home, not going to a hospital. We, my children and I, had kept watch around the clock with Cliff, caring for him, giving him his meds, doing what we could to help him be as comfortable as possible. We watched and prayed, read the bible to him, we kissed him and loved him as he transitioned from this earth to his real home in heaven for those two weeks before he left. Twice God allowed us to experience Cliff’s awareness and joy over someone there that only he could actually see. With really no ability to lift his head or even really smile he did both as he looked at something or someone unseen to us. After walking with him in his excruciating journey it gave us hope and relief.

At 4:30 that afternoon of February 18, after living 19 1/2 months with Lou Gehrig’s disease, Cliff, my husband of almost 32 years, left this earth for heaven. We had walked a terrible and holy journey together which was now complete. He had been released from the struggle. There was thanksgiving for no more suffering.. We, as a family, prayed together in that room…we were thankful to God for his life and the welcome home party we knew he was experiencing. There was also a vacuum. There was continued weeping and heartbreak. We were now left with a different type of struggle; learning how to go on with life, without Cliff.

~This process of healing and learning to go on has been “quicker” for some of us – including myself – because, I believe, in many ways, God had begun to prepare us two years earlier…even before Cliff’s diagnosis. I know my process of grief began the day we found out.~

Back to the “beginning”….

In March of that year, 2008, we had begun to notice a “twitching” in the muscle of Cliff’s upper right arm. Everyone gets muscle twitches but this “twitching” never stopped. Then, his right hand began to weaken. By the end of June he had experienced things “slipping” out of his grip. This is what prompted the visit to a neurologist on July 3rd, 2008.

The diagnosing neurologist, after initial testing, knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Cliff had developed, at that time (thanks to the ALS ice bucket challenge people are now more aware of it), a relatively uncommon disease known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). As he straightforwardly gave the news to Cliff he told him, “If you have people to pray, get them praying”. Cliff was in shock. He said that he knew his life was about to change radically but could not comprehend all the doctor was saying.

Cliff hadn’t thought it was necessary for me to see the doctor with him. He truly believed he just had a pinched nerve or some other relatively minor thing. He was a very healthy and physically active 51 year old guy. Really, in both our minds, nothing truly life threatening could be going on. So, I stayed at the office working while he went to the appointment. He called me immediately after leaving the doctor’s office. He asked me to meet him outside so that he would not have to explain anything to the other staff before sharing the news with me. I knew then that it was something we hadn’t even imagined. I was afraid.

Cliff loved baseball so, obviously, knew who Lou Gehrig was…a 1925 Yankee’s first baseman. They shared the same birthdate – June 19th and Cliff also played first base for a time. But, he knew nothing of the disease that was named after the famous ball player. He was in disbelief as he was told that ALS is always terminal…that the projected life span of an ALS sufferer is approximately 3-5 years or 18 months to 3 years, depending on the study you look at. Later, looking at how the disease is described and what it does to its “victims” left us without words.

The ALS/TDI website describes ALS this way,
“[ALS] is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks motor neurons in the brain (upper motor neurons) and spinal cord (lower motor neurons) and affects muscle function. The motor neurons control the movement of various voluntary muscles including the diaphragm. Associated with the loss of the ability of motor neurons to function in ALS, the various muscles cells waste away (atrophy), resulting in increased muscle weakness. Ultimately, accumulated loss of motor neuron makes it impossible for voluntary control of normal muscle function.” (www.als.net)

Basically, over the course of the duration of the disease, many ALS victims lose the ability to do anything for themselves, the loss of dignity is acute and unless they die of pneumonia or choking, the diaphragm atrophies and the lungs fail. It is a devastating disease. To this date, there is no cure and no real, effective treatment. It is always fatal.

We drove home in tears and shocked silence. Once in the driveway Cliff asked me to call our financial advisor and insurance agent, who happens to be my nephew-in-law, and make sure Cliff’s life insurance was in order. We asked him not to say anything until we had communicated with our kids. We cried on the phone together. Robert was not only involved in our lives because of his job and as family, he was also an elder at our church. He had been a part of our lives in ministry for many years, at that point, and he and Cliff were close.

Inside the house, our oldest son, Justin, was the only one at home. He had come home for the summer after graduating the previous May from a Christian college in Southern California with a degree in biblical exposition. He was headed toward the mission field and had intended to go back to get a teaching certificate in order to, potentially, open more doors in other countries. That was not to be. We called him into the room and asked him to sit down and told him of his dad’s diagnosis. He struggled to wrap his mind around it.

We had a 4th of July church event scheduled that night with some of our kids and most of our leadership attending. We decided that we would still go and Justin rode with us. Telling them sooner than later, we figured, would be better for everyone. On the way there we called our second son, Jordan, who was a wildfire firefighter (now a smokejumper) and was stationed out of a town a couple hours away. That call was heartbreaking for all of us.

My legs were lead when we arrived at the park and got out of the car. I’m pretty transparent and I knew my face would show my emotion. We wanted to wait to tell our church family until we had personally told our youngest son, Jake, and his wife, Cortney, and called our daughter, our “baby”, Chelsea, who was away from home for a long weekend. After a few moments of greeting with people we called Jake and Cort away from everyone else and all sat on the ground while Justin stood “guard” so we could have some semblance of momentary privacy. To explain this devastating diagnosis to this young couple, the parents of our only two grandchildren at that point, was a wrenching experience. Jake was stunned and Cortney began to, immediately, feel the sting of the loss of a Godly, loving grandpa to her little girls.

We then needed to make the awful call to our daughter, Chelsea, who was about 600 miles away. At that time she was 19 and making plans for her future, excited about what God had in store for her. We told her, as gently as we could, about her daddy. She was devastated and confused. She did some of her own research which was only brought on more heartbreak for her. She could not get home fast enough.

We did have, as the doctor asked, people to pray…hundreds of people began to pray that night, July the 3rd, after we shared with our kids and our church family at that Fourth of July BBQ. So many tears, so much heartbreak. To wrap our minds around a fatal diagnosis…it was too much.

It took me about two weeks to really ingest this and for my mind to clear enough to process. I was in shock. In retrospect, it took until the fall of that year for me to fully understand the reality of this disease and accept it. I am naturally a pretty realistic person. I would like the truth, as hard as it may be, upfront, please. Just lay it on the table. It didn’t help that after a second, third and fourth medical expert, professional opinion…we still couldn’t get enough definitive answers for the questions we were asking. We wanted why’s, how’s and when’s. Not possible. There is not enough known about the progression of this disease in relation to each individual patient to be able to give specifics. That was very difficult for me. For both of us. I was forced to relinquish my demand for answers in favor of placing my trust in my God who knew exactly what He was doing.”

The future I thought I might have had a few years ago is far different than the present I am in. What my future holds now may not be what I anticipate, at this moment. Regardless, what happens in the lives of God’s people is never random. God is sovereign. He knows, He plans, He is intentional…about our journey, our growth, our character, our comfort and healing, our usefulness in His hands in the lives of others, our relationship with Him…He is all about our good and His glory. No matter what my/our situation or circumstances. That is truth, eternal truth, and that continues to give me hope. My prayer is that the depth of this truth will resonate with you and will bring you hope and healing, as well.

Overlapping

Sitting at my dining room window, computer placed strategically so that I can look outside, I am seeing the fields in front of my home turning green, leaves beginning to sprout on the chestnut tree in my yard, tulips beginning to reach for the sun this first day after the first day of spring. It’s still cold outside. But the sky is blue and the clouds are cotton. I think spring must be a gift from God to remind us that there is hope and new life coming as the bleakness of a winter that seemed like it would not end is beginning to fade into something softer.

Thinking, as well, about my new life this morning and the conflicting emotions that still seem to rise up, unannounced, and I suddenly remember how, years ago, I would put together song playlists to burn to cd’s. I was picturing how, in trying to blend the songs, I would fade the end of one song and overlap the beginning of the next song on top of the first so that the first song would slowly fade as the overlapping song took on more volume.

Yep, that’s how I think I am viewing my life. This past Sunday would have been my 35th wedding anniversary with Cliff. He has been gone over three years, now. Monday was one tough day, I can’t lie about that. (I’m one of those who generally don’t feel the full effects of things until after the event. A blessing, I think.) So, anyway, on Sunday we got to celebrate, with a baby shower, the soon arrival of a third precious grandson who will also have Cliff’s name as his middle name. I was fully aware that day that it was no accident that March 17th was the one day that worked best for most involved for that shower. So like God. Life goes on…and on. Hope.

Sometimes I know my life seems (and feels) contradictory. How can I still grieve the loss of one husband while rejoicing in the gift of a loving, sweet, second husband? Hmm….it’s not clear to me. Life just does not fit into a tidy little box. We want to squeeze God into one, too, but He won’t go.

There are days when I must willfully choose thankfulness over bemoaning something lost. Forgiveness over harbored anger. Joy over despair. Other days these “things” just spring up like a well in my spirit and my heart is flooded. Overlapping melodies.

Today, again, my heart is kind of squeezed. Grief is a gift that keeps on giving. But I am not shattered, anymore. I just remember…my memories are an integral part of me. My whole “first life” is the makeup of who I am today. Healing and wholeness happen when we remember and acknowledge the loss while embracing the fact that the intensity of the volume of the first song is beginning to fade into the rising volume of the next. The second song carries a different and uniquely sweet melody and I am singing it out loud, as well.

Sing and welcome spring with me.

1-01 Steady My Heart

Seeing God’s purposes….

I have been so privileged in the past month to be in two of my son’s churches and my own, where the truth and hope of God’s word is spoken. I am a blessed girl.

My youngest son, Jake, is the children’s pastor at a church in Wyoming. As I sat in the Sunday morning service, I became increasingly aware of the fact that, after all the years and experiences of being in his life as his mom and in ministry with him, that this place and this time belong only to him and his family, as God has directed. I was so proud of him as he spoke from the front about upcoming events and plans. I was struck by the true fact that I am a genuine guest in that place…I have NOTHING to do with what goes on there (other than prayer). Hmmm. Just one of those interesting parental realizations.

I went with Jake the next day as he, my daughter-in-law and their sweet little boy went to the school to help celebrate my granddaughter’s birthday. My heart swelled with joy, love and pride as I looked out the window, watching him enter the playground area; the children swarmed him. He patted them, gently batting the boys around and laying his hand on the top of some of the kids heads. He laughed with them and they squeeled at the attention. I, again, thought how gifted this young man is…his calling is definite. My heart hurt just a bit at how much my own community lost when he moved away. A selfish thought. He is where God has placed him. I wondered, when I watched him play with all those little ones, if it looked a bit like that when Jesus loved on the kiddos and called them to Him.

If God had not taken Cliff home, Jake, most likely, would not be where he is. God is using him in that church and community. I can see God’s purposes in that.

The pastor at Jake’s church the Sunday I was there, spoke out of the book of Daniel (Daniel 1:3-21) and referenced the young Israelites captivity – they were taken from their families, friends, community, maybe women they were betrothed to – and their decision to obey God without compromise, in spite of their loss, while the attempt was made to indoctrinate them into a pagan culture. They refused to eat the food of the Egyptians (my guess is that it would have been super yummy) and asked to be given “pulse” instead which consisted of cooked edible seeds, such as lentils, chick peas, and the like, believing it would be dishonoring to their God to make that compromise in their diet. They saw it as a “gate” into compromising in other areas, knowing they would end up looking like the world around them. They could have taken the easy route but opted to risk for the sake of obedience. And what was the result? After three years the king found them ten times more wise and in better condition than the most fit and able of all the men in Egypt. Now, there were, later, still ongoing accusations, trials and suffering but they stood firm and were, ultimately, rescued. Lesson? God honors those who honor him.

In retrospect, we certainly can see God’s purposes in the suffering of those men. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

Justin, my oldest, pastor of his first church a couple hours away, loves God and His word. As in any ministry, there are difficult times. This is one of those times for my thoughtful, prayerful son and his sweet wife and little baby boy. There has been pain. God is refining him. I would love to think that when we go through painful times, we learn enough to carry us through until we reach heaven. That just isn’t so. God is all about our character, our use in other’s lives and His own glory. Pain is the fertilizer of the soil of life. It will bear sweeter, bigger produce.

When Justin was little God spoke plainly to us that He had intentional plans for ministry with Justin. As long as we are left on this earth, there will be more and, maybe, much greater things for him to accomplish. This man, my son, is a reflection of Christ in his love for people and desire to speak truth in a world where truth is very relative. He is also much like his dad in his passion to help people learn what it means to really follow Jesus. Not just giving “lip service”. I am always challenged by him. He is wise with God-like wisdom. One thing he recently said is this, “If we are comfortable it produces cowardice. If we are complacent we are prone to being cold-hearted. If we are cynical we will have a callous heart.” I told you, he speaks truth. God has given him insight, to God’s own glory. God is using Justin in that church and community.

If God had not taken Cliff home to heaven, Justin probably would not be where he is. I can see God’s purpose in that.

Intense pain, sorrow, loss can cause us to develop a desire for comfort in our grief, complacency in our woundedness, and cynicism and distrust in our disappointment. It is a battle to return to a place of surrender. But, if I am unwilling to surrender to walking by faith, trusting God for an unknown future, and all things unseen that go with that, I will miss out on the most magnificent experiences He has, yet, for me. There will be more pain. There will be more loss. It is the human condition.

Then, this past Sunday the message in my own church was “The Perfume of Pain”. Revelation 2:8-11. The message was this; “God can use our pain for purpose. To be a fragrant perfume for others who are hurting”. And the question, “Am I allowing Jesus to take my suffering and make me more like Him?”.

The very same day, last Sunday, February 9th I read this in my devotional book “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young, “Seek my face more and more. You are really just beginning your journey of intimacy with Me. It is not an easy road, but it is a delightful and privileged way: a treasure hunt. I am the Treasure, and the Glory of My presence glistens and shimmers along the way. Hardships are part of the journey, too. I mete them out ever so carefully, in just the right dosage, with a tenderness you can hardly imagine. Do not recoil from afflictions, since they are among My most favored gifts. Trust me and don’t be afraid, for I am your Strength and Song. (Psalm 27:8, 2 Cor. 4:7, Isaiah 12:).”

I am seeing a pattern here.

Now, I won’t lie….when I let myself dwell on the potential of future suffering or sorrow like I have already experienced, I feel afraid. But, then I remind myself of God’s faithfulness to me, to my kids, to Cliff. He has caused all of it – the wrenching heartache, the endless weeping, the gaping emptiness – to become a fragrant perfume in each of our lives and in the lives of those we have opportunity to minister to and who need to know of our experience. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)

And, He has truly given each of us a new life ~ a new today and tomorrow. His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.

Almost three years now

It’s been almost three years since Cliff left.  I’ve been doing some reflecting these past couple of weeks.  I’ve been thinking some about the significance of my life with Cliff and how it shaped who I am, now.  I have been missing him, as well.  That will never go away, completely, I suppose.

I’ve been feeling a bit blue, lately.  As February 18th approaches I am aware that some of my “heaviness” is connected to this time of year.  There is an inversion and below freezing temperatures – the same type of weather that preceded Cliff’s departure.

But, I don’t cling to the sorrowful memories anymore.  There is so much more joy than sorrow.  God has given me an amazing new life.  It is like I have the chance to experience two lives on earth. My new life is just as full and rich as my previous life and, yet, does not diminish the previous life and experiences I had.  Sorrow is sometimes, still, a companion that I carry.  It just doesn’t weigh as much as it used to.  And, like in “Hinds Feet on High Places”, I have learned to embrace the traveling companions of sorrow and suffering as a part of this life’s journey.  In that fact, I find I have more joy and hope for the future.

God has given me a wonderful new husband.  A second chance at love.  He is so very different from Cliff – a fact for which I am grateful to God as there cannot be many comparisons.  Will loves God and loves people.  That is where the comparisons end.  I have so, so much to be grateful for.  Today, I will choose to have a thankful heart and not let my temporary emotions rule me.  I will “press on to the upward call of Christ” and “run the race as to win”.

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