Tag Archives: grief

Levis and Hijabs

30698037_10155553271969077_4312443565172064256_nImagine walking into the 9/11 memorial next to a vibrant, first-generation New Yorker who is dressed head to toe in traditional Muslim attire. Her hair is completely hidden beneath her hijab, and layers of loose-fitting clothes cover her wrists and ankles. She is twenty-one, bright and articulate. Her conversation, despite a slight accent, sounds much like that of any American college student as she complains about how hard Calculus Four is. We know Sushmita will make a fine secondary math teacher.

I want to know how she feels, as a Muslim woman, as she steps into this place, but I don’t want to pry. Finally I ask, “Were you old enough to remember 9/11?”

Sushmita explains that she was too young to understand what happened, but that she experienced the aftermath when she came to school in her traditional attire. The other children ostracized and bullied her. They called her “Osama’s daughter.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay.” My new friend smiled. “They carried much pain. They needed to release it.”

20180411_141302As this vivacious young woman walked through the memorial, it was obvious she carried much pain as well, not for how she was treated, but for tragic deaths of so many of her fellow New Yorkers. She stood for nearly thirty minutes listening to name after name, story after story, of New Yorkers who died that day. Long after I couldn’t take it anymore, she and my daughter lingered there, grieving. Honoring the ordinary people who suffered that day. Standing in solidarity with their friends and families.

I walked also with another new friend, Mina. Mina is a beautiful Afghan woman who has lived in the states for five years and recently applied for citizenship. Her grief was palpable, as was her concern for ours. I soon realized she didn’t experience the memorial as one who’d seen the devastation on TV like I had. She saw it through the lens of her life in Afghanistan, where such tragedy occurs on a regular basis.*

Often we asked each other, “Are you okay?”

“Yes. Are you?”

The time came when the grief flowed out in my new friend’s tears. For the people of 9/11, for the people in her homeland who daily face the fear of attack. She told me that every morning the first thing she does is check Facebook to see if her family in Afghanistan is alive. She is glad to be here with her husband and children. Safe from the daily fear of bombs. But her brother, her sisters, her loved ones in Afghanistan live daily with the very real possibility of tragedy.

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Mina pointed at two young women standing nearby, Sushmita and my daughter, Sarah.  In broken English she explained that at any moment a bomb could explode between them, taking half of each of their bodies. She pointed to her hand and talked of a friend who no longer had a finger. Another who no longer had an arm.

We were women together that day. An American team with their new friends from another culture. Grief and love bound us together, weaving through the varied experiences that brought us to this place and the shared experience of the moment. Before and after this time we would laugh together. But in this space we wept as one.

Please pray for Mina and Shusmita. That love will bind their wounds. Pray for their struggle as they press forward in their desire to live as free Americans who come to this land to love and be loved.  Please pray for the safety of their families in their countries of origin, the loved ones who face great uncertainty every day.

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Blessings,

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*Today’s heart-breaking story from Kabul, Afghanistan.  As I work on this blog, I text with my friend Mina. She sends me pictures of this tragedy, and once again we cry together, her from her home in NYC, me from mine in Denver. Two women. Hearts forever joined.

Why Does Empty Nest Last So Long?

Blueberry wholewheat pancakes for Dad, Stephen, and me. Chocolate chips melting in Sam and20140630_084216 Seth’s. Even after Dad left for work we lingered at the table. They teased me for offering hot drinks from the Keurig. Said I always pushed it on them these days. I’ll never understand why the men of this family can’t fully appreciate the joy of a steaming cuppa.

Seth needed to get on the road, but still we lingered. Stephen commented on how it would be Thanksgiving before he had time at home again. Sam said he needed just a little bro time before everyone scattered, so the three of them donned tennis shoes and played football in the cul-de-sac like they used to when they were little.

I didn’t watch, but my ear was tuned to their return, the creak of the screen door, the deep voices bantering about their “perfect” plays.

All three of them teased me about the food we loaded into Seth’s ancient red car, but it will save him grocery money, and I have plenty to share. Seth tells me it’s enough. No more. But he’s been on his own long enough to see the value in dollar signs.

Healthy food. At least that I can give.

I don’t know where I got the idea that empty nest was a one time event. That once the last left everything hurt for a while and got better.

It’s not an event. It’s a season of marathons. The first leaves, and it hurts. Then the next and next, and they all hurt. And then before someone else leaves one comes back, but not to stay. And when you just get used to the latest transition, there is another. Sometimes one moves out the week (or day!) another moves in.

Then suddenly the house is empty.

I was excited beyond reason to pick Stephen up from college a few weeks ago. A mom anticipates with such fervor! But soon he leaves for his summer job, which ends the day before his fall job at the college starts.

Thanksgiving break is an eternity away.

Fleeting. Every moment flies abroad. You can’t hold on so you try to live inside the moments. To fully embrace the treasured gifts of time.

But as the moments flee you are caught inside, reeling, turning, turning, turning inside time’s bubble. And you have to find a way out.

To set your feet in the new now.

Lounging in the family room, daughter and husband reluctant to leave despite their exhaustion. But it’s hard to leave when we’re all there.

It’s so rare we are all there.

family shotIt is difficult to be productive. A few times last week before Sam’s graduation I got that feeling I had right after Bernice died, when the energy inside is suddenly gone and you can do nothing but sit for a while and stare at the walls.

Everyone acts like I should be fine because the youngest will live at home another year to take advantage of free local college.

But he is a revolving door, to work, school, friends, activities. This homeschooling momma isn’t needed for academics or much else, her input more interference than help as he steps into manhood.

And when they are all gone, whether for a day or a semester, the house is quiet.

So quiet.

Jesus whispers that He doesn’t want me to think of it like I’m alone. That I’m never really alone.

But I miss the Jesus arms that hugged me through the arms of my sons, the Jesus eyes that met mine through those big green ones of my daughter.

Sometimes I wonder if hubby will ever get home from work. His Jesus arms heal, too.

I want them to go. To grow up healthy without their mommy hanging onto them. I want them to20131228_112151 fly free and conquer their worlds. To find meaningful relationship and grow into adults and new families of their own.

I want to conquer my world, too, this new world where they don’t need much from me. Where I have expanded space to pursue my dreams.

But that, too, is slower, harder than I thought it would be.

At least so far.

Sometimes it’s actually fun when hubby is home. We find we can do whatever we want. Two. Without responsibility to anyone else. The kids call us teenagers when we curl up in our own bed, hooked on a Netflix series they wouldn’t watch.

But while hubby works that pesky quiet invades. It’s not just in the walls it’s roaring in my head and in my heart.

I’ve given myself permission to grieve. Maybe it’s time I give myself permission to stop grieving.

But I’m not sure I know how.

Releasing the Mom Dream Discovering the Me Dream

That thing in my throat.

I think I’m winning the battle with it, but it sneaks up too often.

Tears stuck in there.

Or maybe sobs.

Because there is water in my eyes.

I’m not really that sad, am I?

But it’s this perpetual lodging of emotion

A wall of it across my throat

Right at my Adams apple.

At least it is no longer all day, every day.

It’s mostly when I kiss the last goodbye.

For twenty-three years I’ve been home.

Rarely alone.

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Alone time a great gift.

But now.

Now.

Each moment with is the gift.

(And wasn’t it then, too?)

The long hours are empty of them.

Some far away. A phone call or pictures on Facebook the connection.

Others still here.

But not home.

Work. College classes. Friends.

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As it should be, this.

I celebrate with and for them.

I celebrate for me, too.

Finding my rhythm.

Following my dreams now.

But I can’t avoid the grief journey.

Even when I try.

So I walk it honestly.

Letting go of that first, most treasured dream.

Staying home with them.

Teaching them to read.

Singing songs.

Hiking and field trips

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Building forts in the backyard and tents in the living room.

Snow days with shoveling and sledding and spaghetti for lunch.

snow day 4

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Cuddling together like puppies with our favorite read-a-loud.

Praying too long at devotions.

They started timing me.

I guess I didn’t have enough alone time to satisfy all I needed to say to Him in those days.

Then driver’s licences and first jobs and sports and speech competitions

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sarah spring tournament 2008

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And friends

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Baby steps from home.

Medium ones, too Sarah smiles

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Preparing us all for the giant leave.

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Another car loaded for college

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One-by-one. Sometimes two or three at a time.

Moving on.

Strong. Ready. Joyful.

But not here.

Not here with me.

The emotion ledge in my throat doesn’t last as long today.

The house is quiet.

Excited to meet my goals.

As soon as the lump lodged in my throat allows.

The Quandary

I can’t write.

This is a lie.

This I know.

I have written, and I will write.

But I find myself afraid to start.

Wasting time.

It’s almost as if now that the house has emptied so that I can fully pursue my dreams I have become paralyzed.

I didn’t expect this. Have longed for freedom to pursue the dreams beyond motherhood.

The time is now.

Instead of seizing the day I seize the vacuum cleaner, the telephone, the dirty dishes.

I run errands.

Sometimes I curl up on the couch and cry.

Sometimes I play.

The Christmas break was chaotic and full. Noise rang from these now quiet rooms.

I cooked and cooked and baked and talked and scheduled who got the cars and who didn’t.

Then they went back to college, to apartments and dorm rooms and classrooms.

One at a time they entered their world, leaving me to mine.

I’ve given myself permission to be quiet. To grieve. To regroup.

I think I read 7 books in four days when Stephen left.

The other day I cleaned yard clutter neglected for 25 years.

But I was created to write.

I’ve dreamed of space to write.

To produce more than the four novels completed in the midst of child-rearing.

I’ve worked hard. Served others. Learned my craft.

It’s time.

To write deeper, stronger, more beautiful.

Even here. To be more consistent.

But even here I am afraid. Afraid to start again lest I neglect the pouring forth.

I want to write.

I need to write.

Please pray I can write.

Letting Go (Again)

IMAG0129The house is empty except for me.

After all the bustle, all the people, all of the cooking and feeding and talking, I am exhausted.

But more than that, the Mommy heart once again has to say goodbye.

I awoke to my youngest son rushing out the door for his first “real” job. My husband left before that. The other boys (men, really) drove away yesterday to face the grind of a semester end and finals week. My daughter is with her husband.

The only sound I hear is the gentle hum of my laptop.

It would be easier to say goodbye if my boys had looked eager to leave. My oldest worked on a major paper until the minute he drove away, his stress levels palpable. My middle son is farther from home, too far for a quick weekend visit. He is where God has called him, (I know this!) but he is lonely. He said one of the things he missed most was an environment where spiritual conversations happen. That it is very dry where he is.

That it was hard to go back.

I suppose the tears slipping from my eyes have dual prompts. I miss him terribly, but I also cry for him, for the path he now walks, mostly alone.

Never alone. Because I have given him to the One who never leaves or forsakes.

But beyond the reach of Momma’s arms.

But never beyond the reach of Momma’s prayers.

Whew.

And so I’ll keep praying.

A friend told me, “Transitioning from under the wings of God at one’s parents’ house can be hard as children emerge into adulthood. It’s taking what was safe and “belonged” to mom and/or dad and making it your own, then trying to integrate it into the bold-faced truth of life. It’s almost like they have to learn how to walk again. A lot of the times they slip and fall or, if they’re tired of the bumps and bruises, decide to try another path. But God IS faithful and promises us this: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

This is right. It is so right–the moving out and beyond. I want them to be established. Independent. Strong.

My son can’t see his growth yet, but I do. He is emerging, growing into the skin of manhood he long ago donned. The foundation–for good or not, I pray for good–is laid. And now he builds.

Not me and dad.

Each child now adult chooses which bricks will make the man or woman.

I can no longer control. I can no longer choose for them.

Even my advice must be offered sparingly and with prayerful timing. Some personalities receive it more quickly than others.

It is my job to be wise about when and what I share with them. If I give them the freedom to be adults, they allow me the advice-giving. If I push too hard, their ears close.

Which is as it should be.

Really, it is not my life to build. I no longer pour the concrete, frame the structure.

It is their turn.

I survive this because they are not alone. The One who watches and sees, the One who promises to complete that which He started, is overseeing the process. And while my children still choose, there is a hand upon theirs helping them lift the right bricks. There is a whisper in their hearts directing their choices.

Thankfully, those kids have a lot of wisdom.

Still, there will be days they turn from the whisper, pick up a brick unsuited, nail the wrong board. But He will be there then, too. He is overseer. He will see the structure is solid.

And I will pray.

I will call out to the only One who can be with them forever. The only one who cares more than their dad and I do. The only One who makes any of us stand strong.

I hope the bricks I would not choose for them will be far and few between, but I will not despair when they come. Because all is never lost. I entrusted each of these precious children into the hands of the Faithful One when I could still cradle them in my arms. I entrust them to Him now.

He never falters.

He never wrings his hands wondering what to do.

He never gives up.

He always loves and builds.

He promised to finish the good work He started.

In me.

In them.

And so I’ll cry a little. Pray a lot.

And learn to let go.

 

 

 

Ebb and Flow

1969169_10204236623770825_8216786949685125869_nGrief comes in waves.

It’s life as usual, then the tears start. Or the energy is completely sapped away.

My precious sister-in-law shared a teacup with me that she’d given her mom. I’ve taken to having a few quiet moments each day drinking tea (or sometimes coffee. Yes, I know that is sacrilege!) from the pretty cup.

Ray and Fencine’s wedding picture now hangs on our wall. Other little treasures grace our home, next to reminders of Bernice. I didn’t know it, but this method of home decor is actually recommended by hospice as a healing way to process grief. Nobody told me this until later; it just happened naturally.

Grief makes me clean. Reorganize. Decorate.

When my two oldest sons both left for college on the same day a few weeks ago I spent the weekend cleaning. Bringing their spaces to order. Dusting off the shelves that held their treasures–a baseball or hockey puck. A picture. A hunting knife.

I’m not sure what the next few weeks will hold for this blog. August began with a trip to Missouri where we saw Jerry’s mom for the last time. While we were there God whispered to our hearts that we would not see her again this side of eternity. Then we came home to letting go again, another step into empty nest. Lots of work went into launching those boys. Grief, too.

I just couldn’t write where it would be read. Not yet.

But in the midst of all of that I had some amazing adventures with a best friend from college. Some deep musing about launching children. Hours of journaling and seeking God for insight. Brief moments that seem so powerful they have to be shared.IMAG0563

I know me. This will all need to come out in my public writing. I don’t know when it will happen, but I’ve no doubt you’ll see bits of it as it does.

Until then I’ll keep drinking tea. I’ll work hard when I have the energy, and when I don’t I’ll stop again.

I’ll try to avoid grief by chocolate. At least in quantity.

Instead I’ll drink more tea. Call a friend. Read. Journal. Walk.

Let the little things once belonging to my loved ones speak comfort.

For Fencine: Faithful Mom-in-Law

Sorry I’ve been so quiet. I told a friend it feels like all I’ve done since March is say goodbye: launch kids, weather long hospital stays that eventually end in burials, and clean out homes. Have done a lot of deep processing, but too raw yet for here. Instead, I want to share part of the eulogy I was asked to write and share last week for my sweet mom-in-law’s goodbye. I’ve taken out some specific names and facts–this is the Internet after all–but endeavored to leave the heart of what I shared. My hope is to honor the woman who gave me my husband and who loved her own so faithfully.

For Fencine:

IMAG0552Fencine  was born on March 3rd, 1925, in North Dakota. A twin, Fencine was the youngest of eight children, two brothers and 5 sisters. Raised on the family farm, originally homesteaded in North Dakota by Fencine’s dad and his brother who emigrated from Holland, Fencine often talked about the joy of growing up in a busy household where an older sister was assigned to each of the twins to help them as the family went about its chores.

As Fencine grew into womanhood she captured the attention of Ray, who heard about the sisters, who lived in a Dutch community north of him and were renowned for their singing abilities and godly character. Fencine, Fennie, and Catherine formed the Sacred Melodies Trio, and sang in churches throughout the area, as well as on several radio stations. Ray and his buddy Elmer began making trips to visit the twins. The German settlement didn’t appreciate two of their eligible bachelors traveling to those Dutch girls when there plenty of fine German girls available, but Ray and Elmer were not to be deterred.

Fencine said the foursome would take walks, and Fennie and Elmer would hold hands, but she wasn’t about to let Ray take hers! To keep him from trying she swung her hands back and forth as they strolled. But Ray didn’t give up on winning Fencine’s heart, and when he proposed, she said yes. Fencine’s father asked her to wait to marry until she was twenty-one. Always desirous of doing the right thing, she endeavored to honor her dad’s wishes—and scheduled the wedding for her twenty-first birthday.

Though she would have enjoyed an engagement ring, Fencine wanted to do everything she could to support Ray’s calling as a preacher. The community where Ray was raised didn’t believe in jewelry, so Fencine told him she didn’t need a ring if it would inhibit his ministry. Years later the family got her a mother’s ring, which she treasured. Fencine’s resolve to support Ray in his ministry was tested early on when her wedding day was postponed multiple times due to a successful evangelist tour that went longer than expected. Fencine never wavered, and these early sacrifices established a pattern in which she consistently put her husband and his ministry first.

Ray wasn’t sure if he should have children. He wanted nothing to hinder his calling as a pastor. But Catherine’s husband convinced Ray that raising children unto the Lord was also the calling of a Christian man. Soon the happy couple enjoyed the birth of four children. Together they poured love and faith over them, bringing them up with high standards, a determined work ethic, and a focus on God and church.

As a young mother Fencine’s faith held her through many days of caring for the children while Ray was traveling as an evangelist. She clung to God when Ray’s return home would be delayed by a longer-than-expected revival or a Canadian snow storm. Left with hungry children and little resources, there were times she pretended not to be hungry so the children had enough food, times when Fencine prayed one of the farmers in their church would think of them and share their eggs and milk, times when she turned on the vacuum cleaner hoping its noise would drown out her need to cry.

Along with these struggles and the typical pressures of a young mother and wife, Fencine weathered the extra pressure she felt as a pastor’s wife. Anyone who knows Fencine and her excellent, above-the-norm house-keeping skills will be surprised to know she weathered criticism as a young mother of four from some in the congregation who felt she didn’t keep things tidy enough. But Fencine persevered, always doing her best to raise her children well and support her husband’s ministry. She was never a complainer.

The family’s faith went beyond the church doors and into the daily fabric of family life. When their son almost died of spinal meningitis it was natural for the couple to invite their community of faith into their home and intercede for his life. Though only five-years-old at the time, he remembers hearing the passionate prayers of his parents and their friends asking God to heal him.

An excellent speller and grammarian, Fencine always edited Ray’s writing and sermon notes. She eventually served as a proofreader for her church’s denominational publication.

Ray and Fencine were always hospitable, reaching out to the church families. Fencine became known for her famous chocolate cake, which she prepared faithfully every Friday—along with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans.

The couple moved often, from pastorate to pastorate, even after the children were grown and married. Ray and Fencine had a strong sense of family, and those who married into the clan were firmly welcomed. Their son-in-law, Larry, always appreciated the love and open welcome he and his children received. He was particularly blessed by Fencine’s Godly example. He said, “Fencine truly walks the talk as the saying goes. Until that point in my life I had not been close to or witnessed a person like her who studied the bible daily, had daily prayer, put worldly stuff aside and God first.  She definitely helped me gain a better understanding of what life is about, not through one-on-one teaching, but by her example.”

Fencine delighted in Ray’s “retirement” years when she was finally able to travel with him instead of holding down the home front. The couple based in a retirement community in California but flew throughout the United States and several neighboring countries on a special pass from Continental Airlines. Ray knew no barriers, racial or otherwise, and was well received into not only English speaking churches, but also into Spanish speaking congregations. Fencine would often provide support to the women in those churches, and she and Ray enjoyed doing marriage counseling as they traveled. During these years they also enjoyed touring Israel and later traveled with all the children and grandchildren for a vacation to Hawaii.

Fencine was rarely idle, always working hard. As a mother she wove relationship into the daily fabric of chores. If she visited in your home, she was right there, doing dishes or laundry or helping cook the meals. She was even known to clean when she babysat her grandchildren. Much to their chagrin she would clap her hands and say, “Let’s clean the house for Mommy!”

 

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Fencine is in the red jacket in the middle

Ray’s failing health eventually moved the couple closer to family. Ray and Fencine delighted in their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Highly competitive, Fencine was not the kind of grandma who let you win. She was ruthless at games. The grandchildren didn’t stand a chance at Uno or Frustration, and at eighty-years-old during a family Thanksgiving celebration, she soundly beat several grandsons in a game of horse. You should see her shoot a basketball!

After Ray’s death in 2001, Fencine worked for a time in an office. Not only was she admired for her strong work ethic and organizational skills, but the women she worked with were amazed at her agility. Though in her upper 70s she climbed stools or squatted on the ground as she did the filing. She is remembered in her small town as the woman who was daily seen getting her exercise, walking with perfect posture, erect and quick, swinging her arms at her side. When she couldn’t walk outside, she walked at the community center, finishing her exercise routine by using the stair-stepper. This continued into her 89th year. Even during her short stay at the nursing home during her last few months she wanted to walk. The staff mentioned that she would take grasp their arm for a walk down the hall, then take off at such a quick pace that they would be surprised and struggle to keep up. Many of Fencine’s children and grandchildren enjoy athletic ability and a competitive edge sure to be inherited from her.

Over the years Fencine offered many hand-written notes of affection to her family in the birthday cards she never failed to send. Fencine’s outlook on life was decided, and though a strong woman with strong opinions, she always supported her children and grandchildren as they made their own way in life. She was quick to offer advice on the best way to clean or cook or the right way to spell something, but also quick to learn from and offer support to her loved ones. Even when her own approach to life differed from that of her children or grandchildren, she found a way to appreciate the common ground. Her prayers for her children and grandchildren were consistent and treasured, and her unwavering faith and determination to do right was a solid example for all.

Fencine passage into an eternity with her God began on September 17, 2014.Fencine's service

Throughout her 89 years Fencine epitomized faithfulness to the God she loves and to her family. She weathered good times and bad with an unshakable belief that God was with her. In her years of health she was selfless, working hard to serve others. She stood beside her husband even when he spent long hours in ministry leaving her to shoulder much responsibility. She believed in him and the work he did and saw her sacrifices as her own offerings to her Savior. Fencine leaves behind a legacy of integrity, kindness, selflessness, loyalty, and faith.

She will be greatly missed.