I John 3:18

All original content copyright Jessica Nicole Schafer, 2007-2016.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My Momma's Name, and the Grief that Finds Us.

My week did not start well. 

Very weird day on Sunday. 
Rough day on Monday.
Started to feel sick Monday evening.
Today was okay. 
Then I spilled almost boiling water all over my chest. (I'm okay.)

In an effort to make a bright spot, I ordered pictures for our Christmas cards.  After receiving an email that they're done, I go to pick them up. Lady says they never got the order. Deep breath. No big deal, it's just pictures.  I'll reorder them, but now we're running an hour behind. Nothing that can't be fixed.
Oh well, it's fine...I tell myself in order to bring a bit of calm. 

I decide to look for a few things on my list while I'm in town, and can't find them anywhere. Looks like I'll order online.  Again, no big deal.

Coffee.  Surely that will help!

I order a coffee...come and help me, you glorious and loving coffee bean...and help me quickly!  Maybe it will ease the evening.  Just bring a bit of happiness in a cup before my day ends.

When I'm done, a sweet lady comes up and orders next. They ask her her name.  She very loudly, happily, excitedly announces, "JUDY!" 
I decide it's time to just go home, shopping will commence somehow in the zero spare time I have before Christmas.
'Ya just can't make this stuff up.
I've been thinking so much about my Momma's last words to me. How she said something like, "Baby, you can call me whenever you want, it doesn't bother me at all!"

***But I can't call her...though I wish so bitterly that I could.***
That is one of the ways of grief. We may try to ignore, get away from it for just a bit.  We may need a day to just forget the pain...but the grief will usually find us anyway. That's what happened to me today.
I've also been thinking about some of the last words she wrote in her journal.  She wrote some verses from Philippians.  She quoted some of those well-known words from chapter four.  I have not been able to get those verses out of my head all year long.
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
It's been beaten into my brain about the whole "not being anxious" part, the "being grateful" part, and then God will give us this peace.  The "peace" that I'm quite sure is a little like hope....so often elusive.
But, then there's that one part.... the part that mentions letting our requests be known to God.
I think we gloss over that.  At least, I know I have for a very long time.  We forget that sharing our very being, our desires, our hopes, dreams, prayers, etc....that's part of it all.  That's part of this faith and hope and love and life and death thing we do every moment.
I have been making my requests known to God.  I will keep doing just that. 
Maybe that's why I can't get that verse out of my head.  Sometimes, reading very carefully....well, that's all it takes.

But for now, I just need the universe to give me a big ol' hug.
I miss my Momma I needed her today. 
I want to call her.  And yes, as many of you know, sometimes only Momma will do.
If the holidays are rough for you because of the grief you already carry all year long, please know you are not alone.  In the midst of your grief, as much as it lingers, keep letting your requests call out to this God who loves you.

May you know your grief is sacred, wherever it finds you.
*Love has no end, nor the grief that holds its hand.*

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Another Year Passes

This hangs on the wall of the bedroom My Love and I share. 
It has always been in the same spot. For some reason, it fell off of the wall today. 
I'd say it brought to surface all the things on my mind......but they were already there. 
My Momma gave this to me years ago.  She gave my sister one just like it. 
I remember....oh yes, "the" dates approach.  December 4th....when it all began.  And all the way through December 14th.
This ol' calendar of mine doesn't need to remind me of the dates approaching.  My body already knows.  My heart aches just a little bit more during this time of year.  My spirit is a little bit heavier.  My tears can fall just a little bit quicker.
I miss her dearly. 
My goodness, the things I wish I could talk to her about....the things I need her help with...the things I wish she were here for....the list goes on and on.
Of course I am different now than I was when my sweet Momma took her last breath. I was 27 when that hell came upon me.  It seems like forever ago, but seems like a week ago.  The years keep passing, I keep aging. 
But as the years go by, the grief  just doesn't leave. 
Grief merely changes, as we do with all the passing years.
How could it not? 
I miss my Momma in this 35 year old skin I walk around in.  One day, I will miss her in my 45 year old self.  But still...I will miss her I will always want to reach out to my Momma who can never reach back, and that is the harsh reality I live with everyday.  Harsh as it is, unwanted as it is, it just *is*. 
Grief is like that, you know.
Clinging to our very skin, never letting go. 
As it should be.

Because it clings to us the same way that four letter word clings to us, the same way LOVE, real love, clings.  It won't ever leave, because love doesn't walk away.  Neither will the grief it leaves behind. 
I miss her every moment, I miss her when we celebrate, I miss her when we endure hard times.  And though I miss her like the grown woman, wife, and mother that I am.....sometimes I still miss her as the little girl I used to be.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Twinkling Lights and Teary Eyes.

Even though the days have all piled up....even though there have been so many moments we've gone on to have without my sweet Momma, still...

There have only been a handful of Christmases without her.  Only several Thanksgivings. A small number of birthdays.
So yes, of course, absolutely, you bet, and rightly so---the holidays are full of ups and downs and highs and lows and laughter and tears and memories and hopes. 

Because she would have made them better...if only we still had her here with us.
Maybe the number of holidays without your loved one is different, maybe it is the first.  Maybe it is the thirty-seventh.  Either way, I see you, dear one.
I know I'm not the only one. 

I know there are others who feel that similar twinge of heartache when seeing someone out and about with their Momma and their own little child, all three together.  Giggling, shopping, coffee-ing, just enjoying the company of one another.
I know there are others who hear a certain Christmas carol that calls on the tears to fall.  
I know there are others who see the empty chair, if only their loved one could still fill it.
I know there are others who long for that special Christmas meal that only their loved one could make *just right*.
I know there are others who see the perfect gift... if only they could wrap it to see their loved one smile upon receiving it. 
I know there are others who see the bright and twinkling Christmas lights, and have those bittersweet memories of seeing the twinkling all those years ago when she was still here.  And then the tears may flow.
I know there are others who have deep sorrow every single holiday season.
I fill our Christmas season with so many things to do together....so many readings, so many crafts, so many wonderful activities and treats... things to get us through the darkness of Advent.
***Because on December 4th, all the way through the 14th, my world forever changed.  Out of nowhere. And it will always be different because of the absence my Momma left behind.***
Sweet you, I know you are there.  You are there, and you feel and live with some of the very same things I feel and live with.  You are not alone.

Everyday, your grief is sacred.

Every Christmas...your grief is sacred.

*Love has no end, nor the grief that holds its hand.*
May the darkness of Advent remind us of the darkness of grief.  May we offer the light of comfort to those who need it.  May we truly join in the story of hope and Christmas by being present with those in pain.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Lean In.

We spoke with some dear friends recently who were sharing stories of their loved ones who recently passed away.  It is always such an honour to hear stories like these.  Their precious loved ones were given the gift of many years here.  Still, that doesn't make it easier.

Since then I can't shake the thought of my Momma as an old woman.  We will never get to see her grow old, I know that.  That thought stings so bitterly sometimes.  I tried to picture her as an old woman.....I tried so hard. I tried to imagine her with wrinkles, old and frail.  And I just couldn't.  Because as much as I wish to imagine her old...she will never be gifted those golden years.
What a loss to the universe.

She would still be here spoiling her grandkids.
She would have been spending this time getting ready for all of us to get together...cooking, cleaning, busy with the excitement of my sister's family, and my family, arriving ready to spend some time together.

She would be doing all of that.
She would be 63.
She would be here...only if.

The other day our sweet boy told me he heard another little kid in the store calling out to his Nana.  He said, "Momma, I looked over at her, and she looked exactly like Nana!!!"
Even he feels her absence, even he remembers her.  That warms me more than I can say.
Imagining her here is all we have now.  And that is okay. 

But she is not here. The reality we live with is that something tragic happened, and she was gone well before she should have been. 

She will always be 55 in our memories. 

The holiday season can be full of difficult moments for so many.  As it should be, our loved ones are gone.  There are spaces in our lives that are empty, there are birthday cards never sent, there are phone calls never made, there are celebrations never celebrated.

*There are empty seats at our tables...and empty spaces in our hearts.*

May we never ignore the emptiness.

My husband often talks about how he's okay with "leaning into the awkwardness, the silences", etc.  I can't get that language out of my head.  I have been thinking about the necessity of leaning into the grief we carry. It is no secret that our hearts hurt, it is no secret that we miss our loved ones, it is no secret that we think of them so often...yet sometimes feel as if we will be annoying others if we mention them "again." May it never be.

May we learn to lean into the deep grief we carry, may we never lean away.
By leaning in, we get to learn more about love...which goes beyond every grave.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to share my stories about my Momma. That is a beautiful thing. She is missed, so very much.

While I enter into those days, those days that are anniversaries of the last days we had with her...even though yes, it's been so many years...I will lean.

I will lean, I will lean into the grief that is only here because of love.
Perhaps when I lean, I will be met with arms to embrace me.  Perhaps I will be met with tears that understand.  Perhaps I will be met with someone leaning alongside me. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Language of Grief

One of the first mistakes made in this thing called grief, is that often we expect it to teach us something.  Or, we expect it to teach those in our lives something.  As they live with this dark cloud surrounding them, we think maybe they should be learning during this process.  What a hurtful thing to do...expecting ourselves, or others, to find some amazing epiphanies during the heartbreak they carry daily.

I have talked with so many dear people who carry an ache like this, and there is a common theme I have noticed.  There's this idea, particularly in Christian circles, where we want to gloss over the hurt..........we want to get to a smiling place, where the hurt is no more. 

*We don't want to be in the midst of grief, we want to skip right over it, and immediately get to the happy parts of life.*

"Well, you do have a wonderful husband a son, and you have your Daddy, and sister, etc.".  So very true!  How beautiful, I never for one second take these people for granted.  They are my heart.  I will do anything for them, and I always will.
But the thing about death is...I still don't have my Momma. 
And I want her here.
That's the kicker when someone we love is taken from us early---we still want and need them here. 

*We cannot skip over their absence!!!*
We will never get to that point where the hurt is no more, we can't skip over the reality, in hopes of being happy about our grief.  Regardless of how much you may wish for us to be "happy", it is a burden placed on far too many. And so many people I have heard from do not know how to handle this aspect, it is for them I continue talking about this elephant in the room.

Grief is not happy.

Grief was never meant to be our tutor.  It's simply part of our story now. 

It's not enough to say we cannot grieve with others, unless we've experienced the same thing.  Because none of us experience the same things!  We are all different, we all have different stories...the same with grief.  I do not take for granted the gift of My Love, my husband.  He has carried this with me.  The love we share has helped me grieve in a better way, and the fact that he has given me freedom to grieve---never trying to quiet the pain I carry----means the world to me.  Not only does he see me carry it, but picks up my grief alongside me.  There is a better way than dismissing ourselves from someone else's grief by casually saying, "Well, I don't know what you're going through, so I'll just see my way out"....find the way of love.  Love will let you tell your story.  Love will try to understand, love will find a better way.

In grief, happiness is not the goal.  Utopia cannot be attained.
Please, if you love someone living with grief, let them just *live with their grief*.  Don't place a burden of a false smile on them, just because you are uncomfortable with the pain they carry.

My husband recently spoke of someone he admires. He mentioned that this writer helped him find the language to express the ideas that were clanging around in his head and heart.
**That is my hope.**
In all of the writing I do, as hard as it may be, I hope to help others find the language of grief.  I hope to make a place in your life to feel safe with this grief that you will always carry.  Grief is heavy enough....may we help one another carry it...whether we understand it, or not. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Neverending Burden, The Neverending Gift

One of the people most precious to me in this world recently said something to me, and I can't get her words out of my head.  She said, "You have a whole lotta love to give." 
The same is true for her, as well.

It has made me think about LOVE even more lately, what love looks like, and what it definitely is not.  One of the beautiful things about this four letter word is that because of it, we carry one another's burdens.  As we should.  *Love wouldn't have it any other way!* 
Thankfully, so many of these burdens will eventually come to an end.  Thank God!  So much of the sorrow we are handed ends up being healed, righted, repaired, etc.  

But not grief.  Oh, grief stays.

It plants itself right in the middle of our souls, and though we ache so badly and miss them every moment...and maybe we don't even want to have to feel or talk about the hurt we carry.....still, grief stays.
It rocks our world.  Losing a loved one is a loss we will always feel.  It comes uninvited, inconvenient, and intrusively into our lives.  It refuses to be replaced with the latest fad Christian theological diet, it cannot be undone. Shame on us for ever making other people feel as if they are a mission, as if they are something that needs to be repaired! Shame on us for handing over a theology that wants to staple smiling faces onto grieving hearts, merely for our own benefit and satisfaction!  May we strive to find, to be, real love. 

I don't know everything about grief.  Grief is one of the few burdens we will always carry.  It is sacred, it is intimate, it is haunting, it is holy, it is heavy...and it won't end as long as we have breath. I think grief is so very much like love, in that it is genuine, we will know it when we see it...without a doubt.
I see grief the way I see a whole lot in this life, in that I hope to choose the way of love every single time. Of course, I fail....everyday.  But I try.  Our sweet son told me that he was watching a cartoon recently, and the character reminded him of me.  I thought, "Oh boy...this will be interesting"...but it warmed me to the core.  He said the characters were speaking about justice, and how if someone does something bad to you, you should do something bad back to them.  One of the characters replies, "But what if you offer love instead of hatred?"...that was what reminded him of me.  I'll be hanging onto that for a while! Because I fail a lot as a wife, mother, friend, etc., but if I have passed on love to him, I'm calling that a win.  If that's all he remembers of me, that's what I want it to be.  LOVE.

Maybe if we stopped trying to find all the reasons, lessons, or meanings out of one another's grief, we could instead choose to just love one another- in whatever we are going through.  I like the idea of raw feelings replacing empty reasoning.  I like the idea of tears replacing trite sayings. I like the idea of heavy hugs replacing hollow theologies.  I like the idea of love replacing lessons.  I remember all the moments in my own life when the ones who love me most came beside me, and let love win the day.  I have a guess that you remember those times, too. 

So yes, in this life we have to---no, we *get to*---carry grief with one another.  That is one way love will win out.  Not when our grief is quieted by some super-positive-go-lucky-statement.  NO, love wins out when someone chooses to pick up the blanket of grief around us, crawl underneath, and say, "I'm here.  You are not alone"...that is love. 

Maybe the ideas of positivity, uplifting, cheerfulness, etc., etc., can help with some things.  But the thing is, being uplifted and positive is not always the answer. Not with grief, because when we wake up tomorrow, we will still not have the loved one we miss so dearly. I don't think I'm the only one who often needs someone to sit with me, allow me to feel all the feels...whatever they may be...and maybe even feel some of the same.  That is one of the ways I show love to my loved ones, I want to go there, join them, and just be in the moment with them.  It's part of the reason (not all, but part) I continue to write.  I know so many others who don't have that, and they just need a safe space to grieve, yet they're shown by those around them that it's not safe to grieve. 

*If love is near, it will always be safe to grieve.*

May we strive to find, and be, real love.  May we allow others the freedom to grieve, without burdening them with some idea that they need to be "done", or find an escape route to the nearest happy go lucky place that will make them forget their pain.  Perhaps we should find our way into their lives, instead of trying to help them escape.  *I think maybe love will do that...it will join you when you hurt, not shut you up and walk away.  It will go the distance, always.  Without question.*
There is a whole lotta holiness, sacredness, and God, to be found when someone dares to share their sorrow, and someone else dares to help them carry it...merely by choosing the way of love.

Grief over losing our loved ones is neverending.  But the gift of love is also neverending...so long as we choose to use that four letter word. That, my dear friends, is good news.

***Love has no end, nor the grief that holds its hand.***

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Grief Doesn't Care

Years later, knowing that I've been extremely raw about my own life in walking with this grief, it's haunting that I can still find out more.

Here I am, thinking about my birthday.  Just celebrated our sweet boy's 11th birthday, and my mind keeps getting drawn back to the absence of my Momma. 

Honestly, it's so heavy that sometimes I just don't want to go there.  I do everything in my power to do what's right for my family and myself.  I have been going above and beyond and making myself eat healthier, even lost a huge amount of weight recently, I try to get decent rest at night...all those little things that can help with just getting through regular days.  But those little things can help tremendously in dealing with stress, as most of us know.  Yet, I can't stop thinking about the absence she has left us with.
It really has been bothering me lately.  Why?  Why this year?  Why on this Tuesday evening?  Why is this grief pressing so hard upon me lately, I do not want it right now...life has enough trouble as it is!

She has been gone since December of 2007.  Of course, grief never ceases to be....of course, there will still be hard days and even hard seasons.  I'm just frustrated because I have not planned on feeling this much again this year. 
But life has not agreed with my plan. 

When stressful times happen, grief will be intensified every single time.  That's for sure.

I came across a picture of myself when I was a tiny little thang.  I believe I was just a year old in it. 
My birthday is coming this weekend.  It's a "milestone" type year.  Yet, it just shouldn't be happening without her. 
And like a ton of bricks, it hits me.......
*That's why*.......that's why I can't get her out of my mind, I can't get her absence out of the way, and I can't not feel the grief that her death has left us with.  Because I'm celebrating the day I was birthed.......by her.  Of course, my attention will be drawn more to her in this time.

Sometimes, I wonder what Momma would think about my writings, about how they will end up in a book someday soon.  I write about missing her, I write about the heaviness her death has left.  What an odd thought.  But of course it makes sense, because I still crave that affirmation and support from her, that only my Momma could give me.

Grief doesn't care.  It doesn't care how much I have already felt, how much I try to live with it in the healthiest way possible, how much I do my best to be honest about it all, how much I share my story, how much you share your story.......it doesn't care what year it is, or what season it is. 
It will come up to you right in the face, in the middle of your day, when you have a million other things you have to be doing, and remind you of the heavy absence you will always carry.

Yet still... it reminds me of her.  My Momma. As dark as the thought is, it reminds me of her...when the whole world doesn't stop and ask about her.  We who grieve know that feeling, we want you to ask about it, or we don't, it depends on the day...the person.  If she were still here, I guarantee she'd be calling this coming Sunday morning, October 11th, to sing Happy Birthday to me.  Or, she'd just show up for it. 

We didn't ask for this grief.  It just came.
We go on, knowing grief doesn't care about our timetables.
It doesn't care about whether or not we are ready to handle the thoughts that will pour over our hearts and brains at the most inconvenient times.

But we go on, knowing that our grief is sacred, because the love it points right back to.

***Love has no end, nor the grief that holds its hand.***

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

May We Grieve.

May we never let grief become the elephant in the room.

I'll be turning 35 in a few days.  It will be yet another birthday passing in my life without my Momma here to celebrate it with me.  And believe me, she was good at celebrating her family.  She always made a big deal about us, and made us feel like the most important people in the room.  It's just another birthday I wish she were here for.  But she isn't. 

Sometimes, I just don't say a lot about what grief *feels* like.  (Even though I know there are no words that truly express all of it.)  I don't say everything, because let's be honest, some people just don't like to hear about it, and nobody can change that.  I have noticed over the years that many in the realm of religion have gotten really good at distracting from grief, and just how raw it really is.  I think many in the camp of Christianity have gotten good at being great distractors.  Maybe nobody wants to hear about the fact that the tears just flow for someone who would give anything to have their loved one back.  Maybe someone doesn't care to be sad at the moment, because it takes up too much energy.  Maybe someone doesn't want to hear all the "negativity" associated with grief.  (Believe me, how I wish we who grieve could merely flip a switch and turn off the "negativity" of our loved one being dead!!!)  Maybe it is easier to just not give someone the time of day who lives with grief.  "If only they'd *fill in the blank*.......it would help them get over their grief."  (The mere words "get over their grief" highlight the unsolvable problem of living with it.)

If that is you, if you just don't have it in you to hear about grief, then please carry on, because if that's the case, I love you...but I am not writing for you.

If you wish you could have the arms of your Momma around you right now, if you long to hear your Daddy's voice in your ears, if you crave the kiss of your spouse, if you'd give anything to hold your child again....YOU, dear one , are the one I write for.

When I think about the heavy, heavy, heavy burden of grief---one that we did not choose, but chose us---I write about it.  As best as I can.  For you.  I dive into these deep and lonely places and try to find some words to describe just an inkling of this pain, so you can simply know you are not alone.  You are not.  There are so many of us who know this absence.  I have no answers to offer, no deep knowledge about God, no neat platitude to tell you. 

I just offer myself and my story, so you can know you are not alone.  And you are so dearly loved. 

May we grieve.  May we let those we know grieve.  And may we love well, enough to allow room for the hurt that death leaves us with.  *Grief hurts.*

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Waiting Places and God in the Empty Spaces

I've been here before.
In this place of waiting.
But it's rather different this time.
I deeply despise that I am so familiar with grief, with longing, with absence.
I'm acquainted with these empty spaces, those places my heart desperately wishes were occupied...but that's another story for another time.

I have played the game of wondering if we're just doing something wrong.  (As I've been told so many times.)  In those late hours of the evening, when the sunset meets the horizon, when I think about the things going wrong, when my body is tired...the day is nearly history...I wonder if those voices are correct. I wonder if the ones who have been whispering in our faces that we simply have this whole life and god thing wrong are correct.  I wonder if they're right in assuming that if we changed our minds and headed in a different direction, then maybe God would finally answer our prayers.  I go there often.
But I can't stay there. Because that line of thought has too many holes.  Eventually, the bottom falls out. 

Sometimes, I just want to call my Momma.  I wonder what she'd tell me concerning this and that.  I crave the advice that only she would be able to offer me, as a Momma to her daughter.  I wonder what she'd say about so much...I wonder how many times she would have shown up in the past several years since she's been gone.  At least I know the answer to that last thought...it would have been a lot. Because she always did show up. 
The thing that is infuriating is that I cannot call her.  I cannot ask her...she is gone.  I can only guess at what her words and actions would have been, and I do that often.  As I've written before about grief, we can only make up the could have beens, because we only have memory and imagination to go on.  Another thing about grief is that when life is hard...oh my, how the grief is magnified.  And it is truly magnified for me as of late.

There are places amidst the lonely tears of grief, the soft and tender moments between two souls that love one another, the arms of a Momma wrapped around her child, the empty belly of a child born into poverty, the music that tries so hard to express an emotion-only to come up short of being able to do so, the heaviness of a broken heart, the tears that roll down a weary face, the laughter deep within...that God is.  I believe in those spaces that words cannot and will not ever be able to describe, and songs cannot sing, that we cannot name...God is.  Even though God is absent, and has not answered the cries and lamenting going on down here...God still is. 

Because we *are*.  When we join with one another in those low places that just reach down into the depths of us, God is. When it hurts to come alongside someone else who is hurting so deeply---and maybe they've been hurting for a very long time....God *is*. 

The absence of God only reminds me of the presence of God. The unanswered prayers remind me of answers to come.  The hopelessness points to hope.  I see it everyday...but one does not exist without the other.

I am reminded of this in the Bible, of these empty spaces...of waiting places. Hopelessness.  Sadness.  Grief.  Absences. The Psalms are full of stories about more weary people, calling out to God, wondering when will God show up.

It is different this time for me because I stopped making excuses for God a long time ago.  I don't think God needs that.  If God needs us to constantly make up excuses, then that's not God!!!  I am waiting for God to move. It's different this time because of just that...time.  All. This. Time.  All these years...and You know, OH You know the things we've been crying out to You for. 

At this moment in my life, if I gather up all the faith I can gather from within, it may just about be the size of one tiny mustard seed, but I don't even need a mountain moved as You mentioned....I just need You to move.  I won't make excuses for you anymore, but it's time, God. 

"O LORD, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You.......My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon You every day, O LORD; I have spread out my hands to You." ~Psalm 88:1 & 9~


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Not Many Reasons...In Fact, Just One.

The adorable girl in this photo grew up, married my Daddy, and birthed my sister and me.  Our son has her chin.  (I always wanted that dern cleft chin when I was a little girl, as well as her blue eyes.)  I have her laugh.  I have her hands.  I have the same exact texture of her hair.

She mattered.  She was here, and she should still be here.

I have struggled for weeks about this book thing.  I wonder if putting all I've written over these years on my own grief into a book is worth anything at all.  I wonder if it's worth my time and effort.  I wonder if anyone other than my friends (hopefully them, at least!) will even want a copy of it.  I wonder if really, truly, it even needs to be done. I wonder if the different way I view grief is just all wrong...because usually people tell me that it is.  I've been told many times that I'm seeing God and grief all wrong.  *Maybe I am...but it is just how I'm wired, and I can't change it...believe me, I've tried.*  I even thought of making a list of pros and cons.......but I kept coming up with millions of reasons not to, and only one reason to actually continue.

The reason I keep coming back to, the only one I am one hundred percent sure of, is her.

I know that as I pour out my heart in one of the only ways I know how, writing and writing and writing about this grief...she'd believe in me.  And I believe she still does.  There's no way in the world I can explain it, but I do know it...she still does believe in me...even now.  Even as I live through all my days, and her absence looms over everything.

So maybe for myself, as well?  I'm not sure.  Maybe.

This is not an easy task, it is quite draining. *But grief is like that....it can drain you, even on your best days.  Because grief does not discriminate.*

So for tonight...I will continue.

Because this little girl existed, and still exists.......and her absence in my life will continue to affect me, because this is my Momma. I am my Momma's daughter....even in her absence.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Grief in a Calendar

It's almost fall.
Everyone gets excited, takes a ton of pictures of their child, and an exciting new year begins.  Another year older, another milestone, more of life to be experienced together.  Our sweet Bean has a birthday soon, I have a birthday soon, my sister and her son have birthdays soon, then come the holidays.......All of these things lumped together magnify her absence.  This year, in particular, I'm turning a pretty memorable age.  35.  I will be the age my sweet sister was when we lost our Momma.  Anyone who has lost a loved one knows how it's so often unavoidable to play the "numbers" game...what if this, what if that, etc.

I keep going back in my brain, wondering if I'm just doing it all wrong.  Wondering about the looks I get, I know them well.....the, "Could you please just stop talking about your grief?" look.  I wonder if all these words words words that pour out of me are empty...I wonder if there's any point to keep on writing.  I honestly wonder if piecing these together in a book will be fruitless.  For now, I can't really decide.

I'm always intrigued by the accusatory looks that some often give when they ask, "How long has it been now since your Mother died?"...and yes, I've been asked that a lot.  One can always tell when that's either loaded with judgment, or a sincere question.  My experience has been that, "Shouldn't you be in a better spot now?" is what follows that question.  No, not all the time, but far too often.

So...how long has it been?  What a question!  It's irrelevant, really.  My Momma, the one who is half of the reason of my very existence, is dead.  She no longer breathes the same air we breathe. She isn't here in the fall, she isn't here for her family's birthdays, for her grandchildren's firsts that are experienced, she isn't here. What matters more than the, "how long has it been?" is that she lived, and what matters just as much is that she died....she died so early, she died so unexpectedly, she died so tragically.
Maybe, "How long have you been living with this ache, sweet you?" is a better question.

Too long.......the answer will always be too long.

*If death and absence shouldn't really "affect" us that deeply, shouldn't affect us for so long...then neither should life and presence.*

We can't have one part, experience all there is, and fully love, without then experiencing the stinging reality of the presence of death.  It will absolutely affect us!  If not you personally...then someone you love...which means it does affect you personally. Indeed, it does. We are our brother and sister's keeper.

We would never put a time frame around our life, the life of our spouse, the life of our child, our parents, our marriages, friendships, etc...why on earth did we ever start putting a time frame around grief?
Changing our language often helps us move to a better understanding of love and grief.

She breathed her last in December of 2007.
The calendar is a constant reminder.
But even then, it doesn't have to be a calendar that reminds me of her obvious absence.  I am often reminded when I look in the mirror, and sometimes I see a tiny glimpse of her.
Because I am my Momma's daughter.
My existence is a reminder of her absence.
And her absence is just as real as it was the first day we opened our eyes, and lived the first morning without her.

*Love has no end, nor the grief that holds its hand.*

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Music of Grief

I was brought to tears today during Church when My Love mentioned these verses:

"By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps."
Psalm 137:1-2

After losing my Momma in 2007, I remember all of the music going still.  I remember the silence.  I didn't ever want to sing again. I didn't want to ever play an instrument again.  I later realized that was okay.
Even now, all these years later...there is still silence.  Silence when I want her advice.  Silence when all of my family wishes she were here to encourage and support us.  Silence...because she is gone.  I started making music again a couple of years after that.  I began to sing again...but I sing differently now, I play differently now.  Oh friends, I've learned to sing and play and hum differently while navigating through this life that has handed more pain than I ever could have imagined .  Sometimes it is a loud and joyful song....sometimes it is heavy and sorrowful.

*I've swayed here in the sadness of my song. I've danced here in the dark dissonance of life. I've wailed in the midst of the ominous harmonies that lingered in the background.  All was worship, because all was genuine.*

I used to see music as healing.  I used to think it should immediately inspire.  And of course, some of it does.  But when I open up this old Bible of mine, it automatically falls open to these beautiful, haunting, sorrowful, very raw Psalms.  These pages full of people crying out to God, wondering when God will finally do something.  I never wanted to even try to understand the harder ones years ago...like Psalm 88.  But these pages, full of a very real people calling out to a very real and absent God...singing songs of their pain, of their longing, of their grief...they are now so dear to my heart. They have reminded me I'm not alone, and welcomed me into these spaces of despair...without trying to quiet my grief.

The Psalms make me feel safe to grieve.
May we always feel safe bringing our whole selves, sorrow, doubt, frustration, anger, and question upon question to this God who is so often absent.  God can handle all of us...

"Great is our Lord and abundant in strength;
His understanding is infinite."
Psalm 147:5

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Speaking on Sorrow

On all the times someone is invited to speak about things they believe God has done in their lives at Churches, gatherings, or any speaking event...when I go through my memory, I remember all the good things we speak of.  How God has healed us, or someone we know.  How God has provided for someone in some way.  How God has answered our prayers.  And rightly so, these are things to be thankful for, and speak on, of course!

I can think of zero times someone spoke on the grief they live with.  Granted, some people don't speak publicly, which is understood.  But not only that, it seems as though speaking about sorrows like that would just be unacceptable.  And I mean truly speak...I mean being able to say the hard things.  Things like, "I needed a lot of help this week, help only a Mother could give.  But she is gone, so I did without."....."I watched a Mother with her baby today, and wished so badly I could hold my own, but I cannot."....."The one closest to me in the world is gone, and I need them now, but all that is left is my memory." 

Why are we not doing this with grief? With loss?  With the sorrow so many of us live with for such big parts of our lives???

We need to be better with talking about grief.  When it comes to the Church, being the Church, we can't pretend great griefs are not here, and only talk about the good things. No, I am not saying one must absolutely speak about their grief, we are all different.  Some people simply will not share things like this, and that is their own decision.  I'm particularly thinking of those who so badly need to talk about it, but have no place to, and have no idea where to begin.  When it comes to a Body of people coming together, worshipping, etc., we seem to forget the sacredness of grief.  We forget that crying out to God, asking where this God is, lamenting....these things ARE worship.  I fully believe nothing but the presence of God would be felt if this happened in the buildings the Church gathers in more often.  We have gotten good with wanting to end a story on a positive note, put a positive spin on all sad situations, and wanting to make everything uplifting.  We crave motivation, and we like to motivate others.  *But what if we just let love motivate us to grieve with one another?*  Because there are things that happen in this life...tragedies, death...that will never be positive, and they will never be uplifting.  That is just the way it is, and what beauty to be lived when we choose to navigate through these places of sadness alongside one another!

Think about all the things we celebrate each year, and we celebrate very well together!  We have birthdays, we bring gifts, we eat all the cake!
I wonder why we don't have more occasions to remember the lives that we miss so dearly, and have actual moments set aside to honour the birthdays that would have been, if our loved ones were still here.
I have been thinking about that so much.  Maybe I'll start doing that every February 7th.
Even as I write that, I think of all the people who would think what an odd or weird thing that would be.

Therein lies the problem with how we view death and grief. We are not good at walking this walk together once someone dares to put their sorrow into words.  Of course we may feel uncomfortable, but how do we expect to feel when speaking on, or hearing about someone's loved one who is no longer here??  Maybe it's better we think on the discomfort of those who live with this daily.
It's part of the reason I write so much, because I'm still finding new ways to live with this grief. Just as we grow, years fly by, seasons change...and so does the grief we carry. We should expect it to change, because we change.  But just as we are still here, so is the absence of our loved one.  Many of us know all too well when we wake up, yes...they are still gone...they are not coming back.
I've never been one to sweep things under the rug. So no, I'll never be able to do that with the very real absence that now exists where my Momma once was.
I wish we would try to hand over something better to people seeking places to merely be themselves, and truly come as they are with their sorrow. Not to find answers. Not to find reasons. Not to find platitudes. But to be able to voice their hurt and sorrow and grief, and find that they are surrounded by people who will sit with them in these sorrowful places, just as (I believe) Jesus would have us do.

If there were such a place we could come to, crying about, speaking about, seeking hugs, or just seeking a place to *be* with our grief, calling on one another for support, and crying out to a God who has been silent...Church should be on the top of that list.

 *I will say if someone did choose to speak on their heavy grief at the place our family gathers every week.....these people would probably all cry together, hug one another, share in the sorrow, and then we'd all make some good ol' casseroles. For a place like this in our lives, my husband and I are so grateful. But I also know places like that are very rare.*

I think it's time we start changing the way we talk about grief.
If we start doing that, we can love one another better.
Even in grief, love will answer best.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if we truly did worship as they did in the Psalms. Out of the depths of hurt and pain and sorrow and doubt and abandonment and confusion and absence and silence.......

"But I, O LORD, have cried out to You for help, and in the morning, my prayer comes before you.  O LORD, why do You reject my soul?  Why do You hide Your face from me?"
Psalm 88:13-14

If you have been there, in a place full of nothing but hurt...if you know the deep ache many of us carry, please know you are not alone.  Your grief is sacred, it is sacred, it is sacred...

*Love has no end, nor the grief that holds its hand.*

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Wish for the Maternal.

My Love often does this thing.  He'll set his Bible down across the room, walk away from it and say, "Shhhhhh....let's all be quiet, and let the Bible speak.  It is going to tell us all something."  And we sit in silence......because we all know that will not happen.  It can often be an uncomfortable silence.

I think we could do the same thing with God....let's all be quiet, and let God talk to us.  Let God come fix all these wrongs.   Let God heal our grief.  Let God bring back our loved ones to us. Let God undo the painful memories of the tragic events our eyes have endured.  Let's all sit and wait, okay?  Ready, go.......
Let's do nothing, and keep saying, "God can fix your broken heart, mend your wounds, etc.  OR...let's step in, bring the bandages and the wine, sit down and weep with one another.  Maybe we could just sit with one another for a while in these earthy places...and then we can be closer to God. 

There's a look I get often. The "again, Jessica?" look.  The "are you still talking about your grief?" look.  The "are you ever going to learn to just stop talking about it, we are tired of hearing about it!" look.  I know it well.  And sadly, sometimes I let that look win.  And I am so sorry for the times I have.  Deeply.
The irony we, as people carrying grief know, is that there are some days the pain is so fresh again...there are some days the hurt is so heavy....that we DO wish we could stop feeling it all, so we could stop talking about it!!!  Just as one can choose to not listen to it anymore, some days we wish we could choose to not feel it anymore.
But we do feel it.  And tomorrow will come, and life will happen, and years will pass...and we will still miss our loved ones.  Because we will still feel it.

When I do get those looks, or even words like that from others, I am reminded of something our Little Bean said once, "Momma, dogs are never rude. They never judge you when you do something wrong. They're always right there!"  Absolutely, agreed.  May we learn to be more like our dogs!

Want to know why we talk so much about missing our loved ones?  It's the "could've beens".  It's the "should've beens".  It's because we only have memory to go on, so we cling to it, because my Momma should still be here!!!  She should still be here planning out every Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday party, etc., with my sister and me.  She should.  But she isn't.  And we go on without her, not because we want to, because she died too early.....and the timing was NOT perfect....and there isn't some "holy" reason or lesson in it.  Hell happened for us in that, here on earth.  And now, we are still going on, as best as we know how.  But we still wish she were here. 

Hope Edelman speaks on this a bit in her book "Motherless Daughters".  She writes, "Of course we idealize.  Of course.  And we romanticize, too."  She goes on later to say, "Giving mothers this kind of posthumous power allows us to remain their daughters.  It gives us, in some small way, the kind of mother-daughter relationship we long for."

I bet you can count on one hand the times someone has said something to you that echoed down into the depths of your heart, and touched a place so tender, that it brought you to tears or laughter. I bet you wish those moments happened more often. They can, and they should.  It starts with us.  We can do better, we can be better, and we can say things better than we have before.  True, we were given two ears and one mouth.  ***But our mouths are closer to our hearts.  What echoes out of our lips speaks more about us than we know.***
The thing about our words is that they can hurt.  They can hurt so deeply that they can break a soul down.  They can hurt so deeply that they can be responsible for a person's downfall.  But...they can help so deeply that they can build a soul up.  They can help so deeply that they can be responsible for a person's well-being.  If only we can remember that before we speak.
And of course, sometimes in life there are just no words to describe the love, the romance, the joy, the pain, the anger, or the grief.  And that is okay. 
But we don't often want to take the time to feel with other people...we are busy.  Or better yet, we look at all the ways we can "fix" their lives.  "If only they'd listen to me, I could fix their life if they'd just come around to my way of thinking." 
***Sometimes we get so wrapped up in cramming our ideas and theology down someone else's throat, we don't notice they are full. 

Better yet, we don't notice they may have something better to offer us, if we could just stop talking and listen.***

If we believe God is a God of love, and we will absolutely see our loved ones again, (which I do), then can we just all agree to let those around speak about their loved ones?  Because as you are able to experience your Mom helping you raise your child, I'm watching.  Sometimes, absolutely jealous that Momma isn't here.  Sometimes, wishing I had that same help and encouragement.  Sometimes, wondering if you have any idea how lucky you are to have the hand of the maternal reaching out to you, because some of us reach out, and we know there is not a Momma to reach back.  So we do the best we can.  And kind words, encouragement, and the beautiful thing called LOVE is so very much needed, instead of a wish that we'd stop talking and feeling and wishing and loving....and writing.

Heaven help us when those wishing to quiet our sorrow win.  Heaven help us when we stop speaking on this grief, which only exists because of love.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Thing About Death...

The thing about death is the slow swell inside.
The thing about death is the ache when we recall their voice.
The thing about death is the remembering.
The thing about death is the forgetting.
The thing about death is the tears that burst out when least expected.
The thing about death is the ache.
The thing about death is the inconvenience.
The thing about death is the space they left behind that can never be filled with anything, or anybody else.
The thing about death is the looks we get when others see the hurt in our eyes.
The thing about death is the long nights of wishing they were here, only to fall asleep knowing they are gone.
The thing about death is waking up and remembering yet again...they are still gone.
The thing about death is the look of pity.
The thing about death is the look of denial.
The thing about death is the look of annoyance.
The thing about death is the glare of contempt.
The thing about death is the patronizing so often given.
The thing about death is others being frustrated that we have the audacity to still miss our loved one who is no longer breathing.
The thing about death is the expectation from others.
The thing about death is the expectation from ourselves.
The thing about death is the empty platitudes.
The thing about death is the condescending clich├ęs.
The thing about death is we want our Momma.
The thing about death is we want our Daddy.
The thing about death is we want to hold our child.
The thing about death is we want to laugh with our sibling.
The thing about death is we want to kiss our wife.
The thing about death is we want to hold our husband.
The thing about death is the silence.
The thing about death is that we grieve.
The thing about death is our grief is genuine.
The thing about death is it affects us.
The thing about death is the permanence.
The thing about death is all the could have beens.
The thing about death is the regrets.
The thing about death is it covers everything in our lives.
The thing about death is memory.
The thing about death is the finality.
The thing about death is...

The thing about death is...death.

Surely, if God has given us the immeasurable, unmistakable, vast thing called love...then too, God has given us the immeasurable, unmistakable, vast thing called grief.  They go together.

***Love has no end, nor the grief that holds its hand.***

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mother's Day and Throat Punchin'

There is honesty in grief.

If we are living with the death of a loved one, we honestly know the ache.  We honestly know the pain.  We honestly know that some days will be rough.  We honestly know that some moments will be filled up with all the tears we can cry, because our loved one is gone.  We want them back.  We honestly do.  We honestly miss them.

We LOVE them.  We genuinely, wholeheartedly LOVE them, otherwise...the ache wouldn't run so deep...the sorrow wouldn't be so heavy.....if it weren't for the great LOVE, there would be no grief. 
Both love and grief are why I find myself seven years later wanting my Momma to be here.  For Mother's Day.  For everyday.  For any day.
Sometimes I want her here for my own sake.  Other times for my husband and our son.  For my Daddy, my sister, my nieces and nephew.  For her siblings, her friends....but ALL the time, for the sake of LOVE.

My Momma's Momma passed away when I was in high school.  I still remember Momma saying things like how she wished Grandma Haston could've been able to see me get married, how she wished she could've been here on so many occasions.  I didn't fully understand the ache then...but oh how I get it now. 

If we are honest, which I hope we try to be, we will never hide behind a faith that eclipses the sadness of death.  Death stares us boldly in the face, reminding us that life is sacred.  *ALL life is sacred, even in death.*  Through the mucky, deep, incredible tears that we cry, death and grief remind us of the love that still exists...regardless of the death that has ripped us apart. 

One day I was talking to some friends about grief, and the heartless things that are so often said.  More often than not, these things are said in the name of "god".  (Bless their hearts...my friends didn't know what they signed up for with everything that floats around in this head of mine!  They are truly good friends, who allow a safe space for me...which is so important for all of us.)  After talking about some of the things we've been told, or have heard being said towards others after losing their loved ones, my friend had a response that pretty much sums up what countless people I know have wanted to say, but just never could find the right words.  She said something like this, "I would punch anyone in the throat who said that to me.  Like God planned for the Holocaust?  Or the Newtown Shooting?  Or some poor little girl being kidnapped and murdered by some scuzzy man?  If there is a God, he didn't plan any of that."

We have got to be careful with our words about God, because when it gets down to it, we are all just guessing.  Perhaps in all of our vast and often misguided certainty, we can remember that when it comes to death...we don't have all knowledge and wisdom.  And maybe, just maybe, this life isn't about obtaining all the answers, but learning to love ourselves and others.  Maybe it's about joining in with those who hurt....I could be wrong.  But I know of way too many instances in this life when the very being of God met with so many only after the absence of certainty and presence of grief had to meet.

We all say things that hurt people, we all make mistakes.  We learn, and hopefully, do better the next time.  There is grace, always.  There is grace for when we hurt others, and when others hurt us.
But there needs to be some more honesty in our faith when we talk about being so certain on all the things of God.  If we are ever brave enough to talk about this deep hurt, and somebody does use their god, faith, or bible, as a means to silence the grief we all know never really stops...then perhaps my friend's words of wisdom above are needed.

May we never, ever, use God as a crutch.  May we never tell already hurting hearts bibly-ish things in order to explain their pain away.  I believe with my whole heart that God is better than that.  God meets us in our pain, and never tries to quiet our grief.  It's not that God is bigger than our grief....God is just in our grief.  Sometimes we can get so certain about having all the answers, making everything have some meaning, that we forget some things have no meaning.  Sometimes in life, there is just hurt and grief.  Maybe the only meaning in those times is to welcome the honesty of it all, that we don't have answers....but we acknowledge the heavy ache that death leaves us with.  Grief reminds me, as well as so many others living with it, that sometimes there is not an answer, there is just hurting.  Sometimes, there is only grief because we miss our brother or sister or mother or father or son or daughter or wife or husband.......and time won't take that away.  I've found that time only reminds me of the absence she has left behind. 

The deaths of our loved ones will always leave an absence that refuses to be replaced.  Our lives were never meant to be replaceable!!!  Each one of us bears the image of God, and each absence leaves an immense empty space in this world.
There will always be this great void in our hearts calling out to the loved ones we wish to have had more time with.  Grief like that never goes away, we simply learn to go along with it.  I do not think God expects us to find answers, replacements, lessons, reasons, or Bible verses to quiet the sorrow within.  I dare say God loves life enough to understand our aches...and to understand our doubts, anger, questions, and sorrow. 
*Life is sacred enough, and love is sacred enough, and God is sacred enough to let us grieve.*

I'm glad my Momma said so many things about missing her Momma.  I'm glad she teared up when thinking of her.  She unknowingly gave me permission to grieve out loud...and that has meant so much.  I have never thought about that until this very moment of writing it out. 

Whether it has been a day for you, or 47 years, I hope you know you are safe to grieve in a God that welcomes ALL of you.  Whether it's Mother's Day, Father's Day, another holiday, or just any day that heightens the ache you have...may you know the ache is from the LOVE.  God welcomes your doubts, anger, grief, frustration, tears, and questions, even the ones that will never be answered.  Why would we ever expect less from the One we dare to call God???  If the god we follow can't handle all of us, then we need to find out what it is we're following.

Sweet one, you are not alone.
May you feel free to grieve the loved one you miss as you walk along the dirt of this big ol' place.
May you remember the deep ache you have is because of the deep LOVE you have.  And Love will always win. Always.

***Love has no end, nor the grief that holds its hand.***