Monday, January 16, 2017

What grief feels like: Joy comes in the morning

To pick up where my last post left off, not every day is like Disney. Just a few hours after I felt like I was deluding myself and that my grief could suffocate me: I ran 6 miles through Epcot with my heart as full as it could be. I certainly did not think that was possible - but it just goes to show you that the Psalmist knew something when he penned: "Though sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning."

What I learned about grief from Disney is this:  not every day is like Disney - and not every day is like Disney.
Meaning: not every day does grief have a strangle-hold on you...and not every day do you feel like life-is-the-most-beautiful-gift-and-what-a-privilege-it-is-to-live!

Perhaps, there is a play on words present here: it is this: joy comes in the mourning. If we let it. We do not have to let our hearts be touched at all - either by grief or by joy. In our sorrow, we can choose to let our hearts be entombed in stone, so that nothing can penetrate or hurt us - or heal us. In our sorrow, we can resist healing. We can put up the shield to joy.

But if we choose that, we miss out on the greatest gift we can receive from grief: it is all gift - given to you to be lived. This gift was what I encountered while I ran through the thoroughfares of Disney and the streets of Epcot.

My friend Karen, who was running the half-marathon, got up with me at 2:45 IN.THE.MORNING so she could be present with me before and after the run. Talk about dedication! When she was setting her alarm Thursday night, I asked what she was doing. When she explained that she was getting up to run with me, I thought, "oh.... um... i was not planning on doing that for her. i was just going to sleep and then meet her at the finish line. uh-oh...." [thankfully her race was canceled, so we could both sleep in!]

We rode the bus from the resort to the start (just outside of Epcot)...and we waited for about 2 hours. I thought that someone would ask me about Dan - or at least why I was running - but no one did. In fact, no one talked to us at all - which I think is kind of weird, now...but, then again, I guess I wasn't initiating a conversation with them either.

About 4:45/5am, I walked to my corral to wait. ...and wait. ...and wait. There are 6 corrals (I think), and I was in #5. They release a corral - then wait a while to release the next. I think our corral finally started just about 6am. While I waited, I centered my thoughts by the praying the Rosary.

Then, the run started. We started by running along a "highway" (aka 2-lane road) toward Magic Kingdom. Along the way, there are character stops - I ignored them because there were lines at least 30-people deep. While I wasn't running for time, I also wasn't not running for time! As long as it felt good, I was going to run.

Here's one of the great things about running Disney: it's not a run you do for time. There are thousands of people so the odds of you getting a PR (personal record) are pretty slim - unless you are a cold-hearted jerk who wants to take zero pictures.
However, even though you're not setting out to PR, you still feel really great about yourself because you're passing all these people because you actually trained for the event (technically, you trained for more than the event) - which, let's be honest, DELIGHTED me!

That day, it just felt so good to run. 

Just after mile 3, we entered Epcot. The sun was just beginning to rise, so they had everything lit up. It was beautiful!

While running past "little China" (or whatever they call it), they were playing one of the themes from Mulan, "I'll make a man out of you!"

EPCOT! PURPLE EPCOT! [Purple is the official Team-in-Training color, and thus became the theme color of the weekend.]

While running down this road, I had the thought overcome me: 
THIS is what it means TO LIVE.
 
One of my friends/former TRIO colleagues was helping with a water station at Mile 4.8. I was so excited to see her! I planned my water breaks so that I could stop at hers. I was glad I spotted her right away! She was stationed at the "French Quarter" and had this awesome sunrise view.
The only time I walked was along this wooden boardwalk. It was wet and very slippery. I wasn't really interested in injuring myself beyond the tendonitis!

Approaching the final stretch!
One final selfie before the kick to the finish line. At this point, my hips were starting to tighten up - but I was going to push to the finish line!

As I approached the finish line, I started to quicken my pace/sprint. With each step I took, I kept repeating, "For Dan, for Dan, for Dan, for Dan....!" until I crossed. After I crossed, Karen shouted to me from the sidelines - and then I was knighted with my medal. (okay, it's not like getting knighted, but what do you call it? medaled? you bow your head and they place the medal over your head)


Thanks be to God - the author, the sustainer, the perfector of our faith! 

"I have come so that you may have life, and have it to the full." (Jesus in John 10:10)

 
It is all gift, my friends.

All of it.






 



 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

What grief feels like: a thousand times

Well, if we're Facebook friends, then by now, you've seen the jubilant photos from Friday:


I ran a 10K at Disney! For the Leukemia Lymphoma Society as part of Team in Training! It was a very jubilant time. I mean, runner's high + happiest place on Earth = jubilation.

But what these photos don't show you is the amount of...depth of pain and grief that I was experiencing on Thursday, the day I traveled to Orlando. You may see my posts and know things about me that I don't know about myself. Like that I am strong enough and brave enough - that I am enough to do hard things. ..and participating in this race was one of the hardest things that I have done post-losing Dan.

Because on Thursday, grief was choking me. It choked me in the morning...on the plane...on the bus to the Expo to pick up my runner's packet.

For lots of reasons - this race...I didn't think it would actually come, and yet, here I was working toward it. Running has given me a focus. Something to keep me pushing forward. . ..and it also marked a milestone of sorts. It's been nearly 6 months. I don't even know how that it possible - but it is. I guess back in August when I thought about running this, I thought that maybe some things will be different. Maybe this will be a major turning point. Maybe...I don't know.

When I say the grief was choking, I mean it - literally. I felt an intense pressure on my throat as I tried to not completely break on the bus to the Expo. The depth, the intensity - and the doubts pulling me down - all said that I could not do this. I couldn't. It hurt too much. In the happiest place on Earth - how ridiculous to be surrounded by the bright shiny people. I felt so isolated in those moments. My ankle hurt. What if I couldn't do it? What if I failed? What if I didn't train enough? I could not do this. How stupid of me to have even tried.

The best way to describe these times: it's like Dan is dying all over again. That when I face these "milestones" I am facing his death in a new way again. The reality of the depth and intensity of my loss/his absence is more pitched than before.  ...and I think that's what grieving is: we lose them over and over again, in little and big ways. Some describe it as waves coming over you.
[either way, it sucks]

So, as I drown on Thursday, I reached out to some very close friends and told them how alone and inadequate and grief-choked I felt. ...and my cousin Valerie called me and got me talking to break the choke-hold. ...and Heather sent me motivational words. So, I checked in. ...and started to feel more peace. Allisha called me and talked me through the run itself. I could do this. I am going to do this.

I found this shirt and knew it was for me:

Never, ever, ever give up; Eventually you learn that the competition isn't about the other runners; It is the voice in your head urging you to quit. Run - until you're done!






Grief hits us a thousand times. At times, grief overwhelms us. At times, grief steals all the good, the light, the joy, the peace. But, it is not eternal. It is temporary. It will come - but it will not win. Run - until you're done!

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3


Saturday, December 24, 2016

O Come, Come - a Christmas letter



Dear My Friends and Family,

I have wanted to write this letter for a few weeks now, but have struggled with the appropriateness, the timing, the desire to have it look just right...and so, it's now Christmas Eve, and I've written no letter.

It's hard, honestly, knowing what to write. Do I recap the year? Do I tell you about all the times that we enjoyed in the first 6 months of 2016? Do I share pictures of our anniversary weekend to Traverse City? Do I create a funny cat Christmas card of a series of pictures Dan took of Acadia? Or, do I write an honest letter about me now - and make you cry in the midst of the joyful family photos? It seems like anyway I'd do it...it wouldn't be entirely accurate. In the past six months, I have realized that there is an element of sadness with the happy now; a bit more bittersweet. ...a bit more...real.

The last few months have been long, and hard. I find that I have only so much focus to give and most of that focus has gone into work. We have experienced a shortage of teaching and advising staff this fall - and I was teaching 3 classes (two were sections of the same class). There were points that I felt like I had gone far past the breaking point. I was glad to just get.through this semester. Christmas was the farthest thing from my mind.

As long and hard as they have been, there is also a light in those days. By the grace of God and intercession of Mary, I have been brought much closer toward the heart of Jesus. I have found a family at St. Mary's (our church) from our small group this spring at Alpha to a group of women who welcomed me with open arms (literally) at 'Wild Goose' to an opportunity to praise God with others through singing.

When I wanted to write a letter to you, my family and friends, this advent season, it was because I don't want you to miss the beautiful invitation that is advent: O Come. 

O Come, Come Emmanuel: My birthday falls in mid-November...and the days leading up to it were hard. I missed Dan. He always missed my birthday due to it falling right when he was traveling to NAILE (the North American International Livestock Exposition aka Louisville). Saturday, November 12, I attended Mass. Father Mark invited us to imagine our heart as a castle and in the center, our throne room where God (should) reside.

As I imagined mine, I felt like I was so far from being ready to enter the throne room. As Mass continued with the Eucharistic rite, I was just overcome with sorrow. I was so sad, so grieved, so heartbroken; as we were praying the Eucharistic prayers, again I saw the castle. This time, I saw the throne room. There were two thrones. But, both were empty. I first thought this must be because Jesus has come out of the throne room to find me - lost in one of the rooms. Because, wouldn't that be just like Jesus? Leaving the throne room to find us? In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul tells us that he (Jesus) considered equality with God not a thing to be grasped - and so he emptied himself of his right to divinity to come to us.

However, the Holy Spirit nudged me to look around - to realize that I was in the throne room. I was not far off; so if I was not far off, where was God? In my sadness, He left the throne to sit beside me. To comfort me in my sorrow, he came to me. He was embracing me. ...and this is the beauty of Christmas - that Emmanuel God has come to us; to be with us; to embrace us in our time of deepest sorrow (or joy).

Rejoice! Rejoice - Emmanuel shall come to you: this time of grieving, it will not be forever. Jesus, the promised Messiah, has come to bind up the brokenhearted. In this time, we will grieve; in this life, we will taste the bitter and the sweet. He has come so that he can be present to us - with us - and to bear the pain and burden we carry.

O Come All Ye Faithful - I wasn't planning on really decorating for Christmas. I'm in Iowa for almost two weeks, and I didn't really see the point. I also really didn't have the energy. ...and then in a burst of time and energy over a December weekend, I had a clean and decorated house. It was my own Christmas miracle! (But really, it was. I have had very little energy after work to do much) Honestly, it was a gift. And I decided to host a "cocktails and caroling party." I invited some friends - and we gathered at a local elder community. Just singing for someone else with others brought so much joy to my heart.

At one point, one of the residents asked how we were all connected. Those present included my brothers-and-sister-in-law, friends of Dan's, our friends from work, and my friend Leslie. We were connected because of Dan...because of me...because of God bringing us all together: The faithful.

[Friends with kids: teach them the hymns! ...and go sing for others - because as Buddy the Elf says: the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!]


While worshiping to O Holy Night this Advent, these lines struck me in a new way:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn! Fall on your knees - oh hear the angel voices! 

You guys, for the first time, Dan's soul has finally felt its worth; in the presence of Jesus and God the Father and God the Holy Spirit - Dan knows how much he is (and always has been) loved. For him, a new morning has broken, surrounded by glorious light, everlasting love and peace. ...and for him, he now hears the angel voices singing in exultation:

Sing choirs of angels - sing in exultation; O Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above: Glory to God - all glory in the highest - 
O Come - let us adore him;
O Come let us adore him;
O Come let us adore him Christ the Lord!

In whatever mood this Christmas spirit finds you - the bitter or the sweet - the mourning or the joy: our invitation remains the same: O come. We are all invited to come. Come. You can praise the Lord with loud singing or with tears; both are precious to Him - because you are sharing your heart with Him.

Come.

May we know how much our souls are worth to Jesus; how much we are loved and held. May we hear the angels voices as we raise our own in wonder, in worship, and in love.

Love,
Jessica





Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Eight Decembers ago, part 1

I'm not sure what triggered this thought this morning, but December is a pretty special month in the Dan & Jessica story. It's our love month. Meaning - this is the month that God did some pretty big miracles in our hearts to bring us together.

We met on April 29, 2008 at the AGR Graduation Party held at Outlaws (the "country" bar in Ames). So, depending on who you ask - we either met at a bar (Dan) or at a graduation party (me). Both are true. Dan asked me out that night - which was the first time I'd ever been asked out the first time someone met me - so I was immediately intrigued at this "decisive" person.

That summer we went on dates, but were...weird. Neither of us would have said that we were boyfriend/girlfriend, but this was the most consistently that I had gone on dates since 2004. (to be fair, I didn't date much) ...and on October 6, we had a very definite break-up talk. I cried while we talked, not because I really liked him - but because I really liked him. Meaning: I was going to miss him - not the idea of him (which is why I think a lot of us stick around with guys who are just "sort of" into us); I genuinely liked who he was as a person - and I would miss his presence in his life.

His response was, "Can't we still be friends?" (which is what he always did; go on a few dates and remain friends) And I said, "No, I don't think so. It doesn't work that way." (with my heart) But, God did a new work in my heart. I went to bed that night asking God to bring Dan back - if it was His will - when he was ready. Because the jist of our talk that night essentially was that Dan, recognizing that I was amazing (my words), but he didn't think his heart was in the same place mine was, and that I should be with someone who cherished that amazingness.

The new work that God did in my heart was - the next day, I was able to thank God for bringing Dan into my life - rather than being mad at God/Dan for not being "the one" - recognizing that God had finally brought someone into my life who recognized my worth, but who also respected my heart enough to not lead me on. And so, within 3 days, I realized that Dan and I could be friends. I let go of all fears and expectations - and just let him be...and decided to be more of me with him.

I had always wanted to be married, to be in a relationship. I often put that desire on a pedestal. When Dan and I first met, I wanted Dan to be "the one" because I wanted that relationship (not him, per se). When we want the relationship more than the person, we often will make little sacrifices of ourself - suppressing part of ourself because we might be too much or not enough - we might be rejected. For me, I didn't know how to be vulnerable with Dan. I didn't know how to trust him with my heart. I didn't know how to broach the subject of our different approaches to our faith life (Catholic vs. evangelical).

So, we broke up. God healed my heart. I started praying for "raspberry pie" (which happened to be Dan's favorite dessert - but I wasn't intentionally praying for Dan): i.e. the gift of God's grace which would be the perfect-for-me, yet surprise of a mate. [The weeekend before we broke up, I had been at a junior high retreat and the speaker gave the analogy that God's grace is like chocolate cake - which I found unappealing - so I replaced cake with raspberry pie. The raspberry pie analogy spoke to me as something I knew would love (because I love raspberries and I love pie), but had never had before.]
We had dinner the night of the election; he didn't come to my awesome 29th birthday celebration - and I didn't care because there were other guys I was also interested in there.

Then came Thanksgiving. I emailed him with an invitation to come with me to our church's Christmas play, Esmerelda (which I had previously been afraid to do when we were "dating"). He wrote me back the Sunday after Thanksgiving with a 3-paragraph response.

THREE PARAGRAPHS.

I knew that something had changed. [oh yes, I had also been praying since my birthday that God would do a miracle in Dan's life] I didn't know what, exactly...but something - because THREE PARAGRAPHS. [and yes, he agreed to come]

Two days later, I was musing to God wondering if this was all just me-sided (like I invite and he responds, but he wasn't really interested). Ten minutes after I asked God my question, Dan called inviting me to dinner that night. Ok...so, maybe not just me? 

That was December 2nd. We were going to go to Esmerelda on December 11 and agreed to have dinner beforehand. I learned that night that he was going to be in Ames on Christmas and thought, "I should invite him to our house; no one should be alone on Christmas." ...and then thought better of it because...awkward. I made the mistake of telling my mom this - who said, "You should invite him to our house; no one should be alone on Christmas." [I know Mom, but...awkward] 


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What grief is like - the journey

[This quite accurately sums up all that I've been feeling in the last 6 weeks, I think. It's more of a poem, and while outside of my normal writing, I like it. I guess I needed to write this more than I thought I did. It was a journey for me, and fitting to end the way it does since it is All Saints' Day.]

What grief is like...

Currently, it feels like injustice.
...and injustice feels lonely.
That is not to say that I am alone. I am not.
I am surrounded by people I know love me and support me. I know that.

But, grief feels lonely.
To sob while your heart breaks,
deep, heaving sobs while sitting in your car
sitting at a stoplight trying to catch your breath

that is lonely.

To turn to the radio for cheer or comfort,
and hear a line like "your world's not falling apart,
it's falling into a place"
is like a fresh slap in the face
courtesy of your bright, shiny Christian station.

"stop holding on and just be held" is the new "let go."

Grief isn't simple. I wish it was.
I wish it was as simple as letting go and being held.
But, it's not. It's a knot.
A knot of love that is somehow a memory
A memory of love that once sweet tastes acrid in its wake

Where once, in the freshness of death, I could see clearly
The purpose of life, the purpose of love - it was all in its place
Now, the further we drift, the more fog overtakes me.
All I know is this life; how could I understand what it means to live in the wake of loss?
All I know is this earth; how can life exist when the love that was life is gone?

What I once knew, I do not know.
How to see God,
how to hear God,
how to find God in this darkness -
It is no longer clear.

The foolish sing of God's simplicity.
He is not so simple.
He is both / and. not either / or.
I understand the difference between cause and allow.
But, why does death lead to life -
but here, life feels so much like death?

What is grief? what is life?
and why do both feel like a grind?
wrung out
strung out
hung out to dry
tired of the try.

But still,
we rise.
we shine.
we press on.
we forge ahead.
we will it.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
but sometimes, I crawl.
sometimes, I cannot stand, and I kneel.

The valley
of the shadow
of death:
it is dark.
But I fear not evil,
Your rod and your staff: power and might,
Your presence: Light.
You are with me.
So, the darkness trembles...

and I press on.
I forge ahead.
Thy will becomes my will.
Your saints surround me.
Your kingdom comes.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Announcement.....

If you follow me on Facebook, then you most likely saw the exciting news that I RAN TEN MILES (not a 10K, that's "only" 6.4 miles) on Saturday. TEN. MILES. The farthest I have ever run before - and, honestly, the fastest that I've run several miles. I never thought I'd say this, but it was awesome.
[and my time was, like 2:01 - I didn't get to the start line until 10+ minutes after the run started]



With the completion of 10 miles, I might as well tell you all: I AM TRAINING FOR A HALF MARATHON. That's right, I am purposely going to run 13.1 miles. My friend & running partner, Karen, and I are going to run the Disney half marathon the first Saturday of January (at Walt Disney World). We are running with Team in Training, the fundraising arm of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

I first heard of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training over ten years ago when a friend from college was training to walk a half marathon. Good for her, I thought - followed quickly with, I don't think I'll ever do that.  Over the years, I would receive postcards in the mail about training events starting and muse on the option. Ultimately, the postcard would find it's way to trash.

A couple of years ago, a student walked into my office at the University of Arizona extremely passionate about LLS. His daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society played an instrumental part in supporting his family through her treatment, which included a bone marrow transplant. Ben's energy was contagious. He was so committed that he planned to switch careers (hence his return to being a student) from investment banking to family studies/human development. It was at this time (May 2015) that I thought I could connect student development opportunities to the LLS mission.

In June 2015, Dan was offered his dream job at Michigan State. We made the decision to move and packed up in less than 2 months. The day we prepared to move from Arizona (July 28, 2015), we received news we never saw coming: Dan had T-cell lymphoma caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. We learned it was "Stage 3" - effecting lymph nodes in his neck and spleen. Later that fall, the abnormal T-cells were found in his spinal fluid.

Through it all, Dan had the best attitude. Continuing to work, plan, laugh - and LIVE even though treatments interrupted the schedule every few weeks. He viewed cancer as an inconvenience.

In January 2016, he was diagnosed with another disease, HLH (hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis) - even rarer than the cancer. He was declared in remission from the lymphoma in February. Long story short: the lymphoma came back with a vengeance in early July, and Dan passed away within 48 hours.

That week before he passed away, I had come home after a run - my longest so far this year (45 minutes). I was chatting, and wandering around the house, and he was lying on the couch (his back had been causing him severe pain for weeks). He reached out his hand to stop me. He pulled me to sit down next to him, and he said, "I love you."

I said, "Why do you love me?"

He said:
I love that you run. 
I love that you have dance parties in your office.
I love that you are doing things - and living life - because I can't.
I just love that you live.

So, I run ... not because I love running; but, because I can.

I am running a half-marathon because I am a good friend - and this is one of Karen's bucket list goals. We are running the Disney half marathon because if you're going to run a half marathon, why not run at Disney?

I am running with Team in Training because I want to support the research done for blood cancers. Cancer treatment options have come so far in the last 20 years; Dan was the recipient of good medicine and great care. I hope that together we can support even more advances so that those facing a diagnosis still experience the fullness of LIFE in the midst of treatment.

Karen and I have committed to raising $5600. Please join our team to cure blood cancers! If each of my 280 friends reads this and gives $20 - we are at our goal! 78% of each dollar raised goes directly into funding LLS research and providing financial assistance to families struggling with the cost of treatment. To support the cause for a cure: http://pages.teamintraining.org/mi/wdw17/JKiesling

 

Friday, September 16, 2016

What to Say

Haven't we all been there? Someone we love is hurting, and we want to take away the pain, and we feel a deep need to say something but we suddenly have a keen awareness that nothing we can ever say will come close. The result:

*Silence.*

That had been my default. I realize now that I have stayed silent in the midst of some of my friends' personal tragedies because I knew my words could do nothing. [and if my words can do nothing, what do I have to give?] [and for that, my friends, I am sorry; I am sorry that I was absent from your time of pain because I was so focused on myself and my inability - that I failed to just come near and be a friend to you]

Two months walking in the valley of the shadow of death has taught me one thing:

the grieving do not expect your words to do anything.  
So, stop worrying about your words so much. 

The best thing that you can give to the grieving is ... your story of their person. 

Really.

Tell them your favorite memory; tell them how you met; tell them the impact he had on you no matter the length of time. ...and, if you don't have a story, you should ask them to share theirs. The grieving have a lifetime of memories that we never want to lose...and yet, we may not want to become "those people" who just keep bringing up the dead. [Note: I am going to be one of those people. Dan-stories - us-stories are my favorite. So, just suck it up, friends, and listen.] (also, I know you will; I'm "just saying.")

What I want to hear from people, especially now, is their story of Dan. ...and what I REALLY want most from people, especially now, is their story of us....because, I haven't just lost Dan; I've lost us. And, if you know me at all, you know that my deepest heart desire is that my life positively influence others - and that extends, especially, to my marriage.



If you attended Dan's funeral, you might remember Father Mark saying that the hardest times for me will be coming. When I say "especially now" - I mean, "especially now." The shock is finally starting to wear away; the feeling is coming back from the numbing impact of Dan's death. Many people have been processing the absence of Dan for two months - but, it is just now starting to settle into my reality.

...and it sucks.

So, I'm going to need more hugs than I did earlier. If I'm crying, just let me talk about whatever my feeling is at that moment that is making me cry - and do not feel any need to try to talk me through the feeling or reason with me. Just let me share the feeling while I cry. ...and those stories - share those stories, my people.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What grief is like, part 2

The first time I fully felt the trauma of grief, I was in a yoga class in sunny, southern California. I was 2.5 weeks into this...[can't find an appropriate word so we'll leave it at "this"]. At the time, I was still very much feeling the tangible cupping of God's hands around my whole self - just like we might hold a tiny bird that has fallen out of its nest. I hadn't yet experienced the "sadness that just sits on your heart"...though I had moments each day that I cried. Honestly, God gave me a very blissful period where He literally flooded my world with light, life, love, and hope. I call it "buoyed by hope" (which is going to become the name of this blog, btw).

Anyway, I was lying on my mat as we started class, and the instructor began (like they all do), with: "Now, let go of the tension in your body...."

I felt a visceral panic at that phrase: let go. [I still do; word to the wise: don't ever tell people to 'let go' of their dying person. I didn't know how to then, and I don't now - and that just isn't the right phrase. Maybe it's me and I am just sensitive to words, but please, don't use that phrase with me.]

I realized that the tension I felt in my body was what was holding me together. The idea of "letting go" scared me. I felt like that if I lost that tension, I would be losing Dan all over again - and the idea of having to endure that again caused panic. [all while I'm just lying there and breathing; minds are powerful things]

As I moved through that session, I started to notice all the areas that I hurt, that were tense. My quadriceps, especially, seemed to ache with the poses. They'd never hurt before like that. My heart just kept wishing that this time could be over because I just couldn't do it - I couldn't confront this beast of tension...I couldn't slay the dragon of despair that had stolen my love.

I began to feel all of the trauma that my body had endured. ...and it took my breath away. During the final relaxation sequence where you relax your body into corpse pose (lying still, focusing on breath), I felt as if I was moving. Though lying completely still, I felt as if I was lying on a hammock blowing in the wind. [It was so weird]

As we left, I just couldn't shake that "woosy" feeling. I felt so disoriented - like I need to sit on the ground. When we returned home, I grabbed my journal and immediately went outside to sit on the ground, against a tree trunk...and.... I prayed. I cried a bit. PJ came outside and I asked her for a hug - and I feel like I just collapsed. I sobbed. Dan's death had just happened so fast, from out of nowhere...it just happened. So fast. From out of nowhere.

Blindsided.

That day I took a nap and woke up feeling like I had literally been driven over by a truck. The next day - same thing. In fact, for the past month, my entire body has hurt with pain. For a while, I woke up with headaches every morning. My shoulders ached. My quads could find no relief. I visited my chiropractor weekly, had two massages, went to gentle yoga when I could. I took Aleve; I slathered on BioFreeze; I used the heating pad.

The breaking point was last Wednesday. I just couldn't take the hurt any more. I felt exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally. The best way to describe it is like a rag that has been completely wrung out. Picture the rag still in your hands in that twisted motion: that is what grief feels like.



Now: praise be to God, the next morning I woke up and I didn't hurt! I have woken up the past few mornings and not hurt. So, so thankful!

Monday, August 29, 2016

What grief is like

A couple of weeks ago, during my morning quiet/prayer time, God gave me a great picture of what grief is like.

That week in particular, I had just felt that nagging sadness hanging around. Sometimes, the sadness creeps up in the morning - a lot of times, it's just after lunch. Right after I've had a round of conversation and laughs with my friends...and this giant *sigh* rolls into my life. I didn't understand how I could go from one moment of enjoying life to one that is just...heavy. 

It's not a particular thought that triggers this heaviness; it's like I am suddenly aware of its presence.
"Hi. I've been around all day. You should feel sad. You should feel empty. You should feel tired."

Sometimes, I fight it, but I try to just feel it. I might close my door and cry; or go for a walk and cry - or do something and cry. Crying helps.

I like to understand my feelings. (that's one of the reasons this blog is basically about feelings. I'm sorry I'm not a better documentarian. I do fun stuff, too. Really.) So, on a Thursday morning while I was praying the Rosary (which has been an amazing comfort), on what had been a clear morning - I opened up my eyes and saw this:


A fog, out of the blue, just started to roll in. By the time I was finished (which is about 25-30 minutes) - there was this:

By the time I left for work, there was a dense fog covering everything.

And I just thought, "Yep. That is what grief is like." I have moments of such clarity. Profound clarity - purpose and peace. Moments of joy. ...and then, just moments of grey. Where the joy of a moment ago has been clouded over with heaviness.

I did a search for "fog" in the Bible - and there are no references. There are, however, quite a few for clouds. I thought these verse from Psalm 18:9-19 are most appropriate. If anything...grieving is one the most profound opportunities for us to turn to God and truly discover how near He is to us - how closely He desires to be to us - nearer than a brother. Seek Him while He may yet be found. He wants to fight for you.

He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.

10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.

12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
    with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.[d]
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
    with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, Lord,
    at the blast of breath from your nostrils.
16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.

17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

8/11

One month.

I can't even really begin to bring my mind to focus on the fact that I lost Dan a month ago. Today, the heartstrings are raw. The emotions are fresh. Today, sadness comes at me stronger than most days.

I was looking through Facebook to find a picture Dan and I took a year ago, and I just saw all of these images of our life from the past year - and the tears flowed fresh. God has protected my heart so much in the last month, sheltering me in his wings, holding me in his hands - allowing me to only feel an allotted amount of sadness each day, and a whole lot of joy and love.

I can't even begin to wrap my mind around the loss of Dan. There are moments where I don't even feel I've lost him, at all; the physical connection is lost, but the spiritual one more enhanced. My friend: I miss my friend so much. There are questions that come up in random conversations that I know Dan could answer, but I can't ask him. My Shining Steed: always reliable, ever loyal, so good to me.

Seeing pictures from the past year calls to mind how much life we made in the last year. A year ago today, I interviewed for my job. Today, I mourn for what we won't get to do together as the department power couple. (our joke) He was so excited to contribute to the Michigan State livestock judging program and establish it, once again, as a strong program; to give students something to aim for, to build their college experience around. I was excited to help him make it a reality. I was (and still am) excited to be able to contribute to the future of a program (department) that had played such a fundamental role in Dan's development as a person and professional - and in the lives of his closest friends.

Working with him was, honestly, a dream come true for me. He would joke a lot about having to work with your wife, but - I know he enjoyed it. He was proud of the work that I am doing here, and I love that I got to share that with him.

I look at this past year, and I think: we lived. We fully lived this year, and we made a life here - even in just a year.

My biggest fear a month ago was, "how will I live without Dan?" I don't mean the daily tasks of life - I know how to pay bills, cook meals, etc. I mean, LIVE - be present; enjoy the moment; love the day. THAT is what Dan taught me to do - to not worry about tomorrow, but to seek first this day: to live. When I expressed my fear to Deacon Wayne that day, he said, "Oh Jessica, you are a better student than you give yourself credit for. I think you've learned that lesson."

That, along with so much grace from God - and frequent surprises from Dan, have allowed me to LIVE this past month. There are moments that are sad, that are hard, that are good. There are moments where I cry and moments where I laugh; moments that I feel all the things, and moments when I just "am." Every day, I ask God to help me feel what I need to feel in order to heal. He does.

I've mentioned on Facebook that Dan gives me songs. Here's Month 1 Playlist:

1. You are so good to me - Third Day
2. Friends in Low Places - Garth Brooks
3. Barbed Wire Halo - Aaron Watson
4. Don't Fence Me In - Gene Autry
5. I'll Be Here For You - Randy Rogers Band
6. Crazy Love - Van Morrison
7. Rocket Man - Elton John
8. The Road Goes on Forever - Robert Earl Keen
9. Learning to Fly - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
10. I Turn to You - Selah


[Okay, I feel better. Thanks for listening, world.]