Sunday, July 9, 2017

Life in the Midst of Grief: Savor the Pie

It's been a hard day. The days leading up to the 'monuments' (the days when a big thing happened) are - but, even moreso. I want to hold back tears, in order to hold on to the contentment and peace that I have felt the last few days/weeks. ...but, that doesn't lead to healing. So, for a good two hours, the tears came. They came quietly and built up into the sobbing gasp...and then, my heart breathes.

Once the tears subside, the exhaustion comes. At this point, I was hungry, so I sat down to eat my leftover cherry pie - handmade by our dear friend Jon. I planned to eat while reading...because sometimes, that's what you do when you're grieving. You try to do all the things to distract yourself.

So, while I sat to do this, I felt this urge: Savor the pie.

I was transported back to the conversation with Dan: I love that you live life because I can't.

Savor the pie.

Dan loved pie. He told me that raspberry pie was his favorite, but cherry pie was his go-to. He loved homemade cherry pies, of course - but he loved cherry pie so much that he would even eat the Hostess cherry pies. [I mean, I like pie - but I would never succumb to that. I guess I'm a pie snob. Dan was not.]

Savor the pie...because I can't.

Dan savored life, but especially food and drink. When I read through our year and a half worth of Marriage Encounter dialogues, there is a recurrent appreciation for my ...meal that I just cooked. [and, of course, I delighted in preparing those meals because it's joy to do things that are so appreciated]

Savor the pie.

So, I did. I savored the pie, enjoying the delicious interplay between tart and sweet. Each bite was appreciated and delighted in, not overlooked - not consumed as a distraction...delighted in.

Whatever your pie moment today, savor it - because you're here, right now, and this is your chance to live.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: Entering my own Holy Week

Tuesday, which was the Fourth of July - a celebration for most of you, was the start of my holy week.

For Christendom, Catholics especially, Holy Week is the span from Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) through his death to Easter. ...and a year ago, July 4 marked our holy week. In one week, I'd gone from triumphant celebration of the Fourth (and a medal placing in a 5k) to becoming a widow. Upon reflecting, I realize this is my holy week. Dan's holy week. Our holy week.

July 4, 2016 - I woke up early to run the Corunna Firecracker 5K with Charles (my brother-in-law), Nate (nephew), and Karen (friend). Charles placed first in his age group, and I placed second. It was my best time of the year thus far. Dan chose not to come because he was in so much pain. Later in the day, he opted not to come to the Mason "tractor parade" either because of the pain.

July 5, 2016 - when I got home from work, Dan told me that he'd cried twice because of all the pain he was in

July 6, 2016 - after my run, when I got home, Dan grabbed my hand and told me that he loved me. When I sat down and asked him why, he said, "because you run. because you have dance parties in your office. because you live life, and you love life. because you can, and I can't."

July 7, 2016 - Dan invited his mom and dad over for supper. We had turkey loaf and some other things that Dan loved. We watched "Mom's Night Out" with his parents. Dan slept in our bed that night. Dan started to cough that night.

July 8, 2016 - We went to the U of M for our normal Friday doctor's visit and chemo. His oxygen levels were lower, and our doctor immediately moved to admit us. Dan found Deacon Wayne when he was getting some blood work done. For some reason, I couldn't stop crying that day. Deacon Wayne came to see us in the afternoon. He said, "Detachment, huh?" ...and I realized that I was so afraid that this was it. I told Dan that I was afraid this was the end. He said, "It's not the end," and we took a nap together.... and then, he got admitted.

...and all the days started to move in a weird slow motion, with every day getting worse. Of those 3 blurred days, my most vivid memories from Saturday and Sunday are praying with my sister-in-law and then with my best friend Pam...and through tears saying, "If this is your will to take him, I know it will be good. But, I don't want you to do it. But, I know you will make it good. But if there is any way, please not now."

I've realized that these were my Gethsemane moments. My moments in the Garden (literally - each time was outside in the sunshine) where I begged God to "let this cup pass from me," and finally resolving, "not as I will, but Yours be done." My last Gethsemane prayer was in the hour before Dan was administered Last Rites, and I prayed with Deacon Wayne. I had no idea how to let Dan go, and I will never "let him go" because he is mine and I am his. We're just holding onto God's hands now, in a much different fashion.

I know what that week was like for me. But, I have no idea what it was like for Dan. Before falling asleep on the 3rd, I talked to Dan about this time last year and told him that I have no idea what it was like for him.

I woke up to "Million Reasons" by Lady Gaga. ...and when I sat down to read the lyrics and hear the song, it fits (for the most part).

Last year at this time, Dan was in so much pain. So much pain that he couldn't leave the house; so much pain that I felt helpless - I didn't know how to make any of this better, and it was so hard to stay in his presence because there was nothing I could do and just watching was excruciating. I did, though - I did stay, I was here - but I think my mind has blocked part of it.

I'm entering the last week. The last, unbearable, unfathomable week.

July 8 was the day I couldn't stop crying. The day Dan wanted his parents to come to the hospital, which he usually didn't because he didn't want to fuss...our last good day together. ...and every day after that just slowly spun out of a helicopter going down in slow motion.

What was it like for Dan? I know that on July 5, he cried twice. He told me it was because the pain was so bad, and I believe that, but I also wonder if God didn't visit him and let him know what was about to happen...because then he told me about how much he loved that I lived life, and slept in our bed for the first time in weeks and held me, and we had dinner with his mom and dad for our last night at home.

"I bow down to pray
to try to make the worse feel better,
Lord show me the way to cut through all this worn out leather...
I have a hundred million reasons to walk way -
but, Baby, I just need one good to stay."

I know Dan held on so long, fought so hard - for me. He told me so. I know he didn't want to leave, to let go - but his body physically could not do it. It fell apart around him. It had given him a million reasons to let go - and he held on for a good one, good one, good one, good one, good one....until it was no longer possible.

You guys...death is real. It exists. It hurts more than anything I have experienced in my life, and the impact will be with me throughout my life. But Dan was right. It wasn't the end. Death does not have the final say: love does. Jesus conquered death - and though we must each endure it, it does not have to be the end. Jesus' resurrection redeemed death - meaning that those who believe in him, through our own death can enter into holiness through that gateway.

“We are not meant to die merely in order to be dead. God could not want that for the creatures to whom he has given the breath of life. We die in order to live.”
Elisabeth Elliot

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Redeeming Death, the prequel

I posted a weekish ago, how Dan's death has shaped...reshaped my understanding about death. Realizing that this past week, 7 years ago, my grandpa passed away caused me to recognize that his death was the precursor. 

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, states that grief causes you to really look at what you believe. His analogy is that anyone can state that a rope is sturdy, functioning, and trustworthy. But until that rope is the only thing keeping you from plunging to your death, you don't actually have faith in the rope. 

Until now, I didn't realize how Grandpa's death affected me. 

My Grandpa Joe is one of my heroes. I loved him. I idolized him. I viewed him as...untouchable, sainted, perfect. I tend toward the idealization - and that is definitely how I viewed him. My grandpa lived with failed kidneys for three years. 3 YEARS. I couldn't understand it. I couldn't understand how - why - God allowed him to suffer for three years, for his body to just slowly fail...for his (my grandpa's) desire to not be burden to anyone become dependent on everyone. 

It wasn't fair. 

And because it wasn't fair, it certainly didn't seem merciful...or in the very least, loving. 

...and I think that is where I started to question just how loving God really was. I just didn't get it. I couldn't reconcile it. 

...and because I didn't really trust the love of God, I just couldn't imagine how heaven could be better than earth. Maybe it was the start of me trusting what I could see more than faith, or maybe I was just now becoming aware of the rope, the invitation to swing out off the canyon, and how much more I preferred my feet on the ground, but with the rope tied around me, just in case.

Yes, that's it. I didn't doubt the existence of God. I just doubted his goodness. 

[and let me just say that when you doubt his goodness, it makes it really, really hard to love him. he becomes hard to approach because all you want to is his love, but you are so scared that his love is not good - that instead of mercy, you'll get chastisement and condemnation)

Who would think that through the trial of my husband's cancer diagnosis and his subsequent death that I would more firmly, more tangibly, more deeply experience, believe, and trust God's goodness? Yet, that is what has happened. 

This is why I share my story. Death effects each of us in unique ways. I had no idea that Grandpa's death resonated with me in that way until I thought about it this week. That was 7 years ago. If you read what I wrote/spoke at his funeral, what I continued to write after, I still said all the right things about faith and dying, our hope being Jesus. But, my heart had a barrier to trusting the rope-bridge Jesus. When the time came, I'd be ready - but I was not looking forward to that time, and I was secretly hoping that time would never come. I would rather trust in myself. 

Just as many people loved Grandpa Joe, many people loved Dan. When we love our people, and we like God, it can be very hard to comprehend death. Like so many themes in life, "He gives us more grace," and we are invited to continue standing on the cliff with a rope tied around our waist, but trusting the firm foundation beneath our feet - or we can grab hold of the rope, jump, swing out from cliff and swim in the deep waters of goodness and love. 

He gives us more grace.

He is faithful, always near - always providing the lesson, the teacher - always gently knocking.

He gives us more grace.