Starts and Grief

This was written yesterday but I only got in WIFI now ūüôā

Normally, starts are hard. Lately, they are impossible.

With the loss of my grandma it’s like the creative side of my brain walked out of my head, leaving only a suicide note behind. You might be thinking, “well, that’s not very convincing since you’re writing this perfectly normal blog right now.” Well, this was the only idea I had – sometimes when I can’t write or do anything else I write about the inability to write. I think I’m hoping that by “admitting my problem” I will come out on the other side a whole person again ūüėČ

Bottom line, I’ve learned that no two grieving experiences are alike. However, I have noticed that one thing is the same: I become someone completely different with each loss. This is never a permanent or complete transformation, it’s more like someone else takes over my emotional and mental capacities for a time.

In my first grieving experience I melted into a sort of numb, nothingness. It felt like sleepwalking but with a vague awareness and the ability to access my mental capacities. This form of grieving had everyone fooled – on the outside I appeared to not only be back to normal but to be conquering the world while on the inside I was hollow,

Another grieving experience had me suddenly overridden by worry. Because of this I had a sudden appreciation for worriers. How do they manage to successfully get through the day? I am dumbfounded because in that season worry crippled me.

This time I lost half my brain. I feel as if any words I write are disjointed and confusing and any pictures I take or edit are clinging to what I know for lack of inspiration to go bigger. Every day I wake up hopeful, “today is the day I get my brain back,” only to find less of it there than the day before.

Finally I called my mom – she is a wealth of encouragement and wisdom and did not fail me in this predicament. She simply recommended I cut myself some slack and take a day off. On this day off I’m supposed to do two things: take a mental break and go get inspired. My job is to keep my computer off for a whole day and spend my time leisurely reading, wandering around outdoors, or doing anything else unrelated to my work. To get inspired she suggested taking a trip to the museum. I love that advice and am acting on it today.

Last night I got a call from my father-in-law asking me if I wanted to hitch a ride to see the guys play in Indiana and Ohio. I puzzled over the pros and cons of the scenario and ultimately resolved that, not only would this trip allow me to see Josh play, but it would give me my much needed break. So, this blog is me signing off for the weekend. Wish me luck in my hunt for the rest of my brain ūüėČ

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How to Help a Grieving Friend

I am 24 and in the past 6 years I’ve had 7 loved ones pass away, been to ¬†5 funerals, and cried more tears than I have in my whole lifetime. ¬†This Tuesday I am going to my grandma’s funeral, my 6th funeral in 6 years.

Today I was talking to my mom about Grandma and realized the difference between offering to be there for a grieving friend and actually being there.

I see my mom’s friends not just offering to be a listening ear but they actually make a phone call. ¬†I see them delivering food rather than just offering to help. ¬†Instead of simply offering condolences via Facebook they are bringing her flowers.

I know is most people younger than 25-years-old haven’t experienced the death of a loved one so how could they possibly know how to comfort someone who is grieving? ¬†This post is for anyone who wants to know how to be an AMAZING friend to someone in mourning.

  1. Make a phone call.  Facebook condolences are fantastic but there is very little effort in doing that.  It means the world to be cared for enough to have a friend reach out personally.
  2. Send a handwritten letter.  I have always been a big advocate for handwritten letters.  I know there is something so special about them in this age of emails, texts, and junk mail.  I especially learned the value of this when I stared sending my late grandma postcards and writing her letters.  She looked forward to my letters and loved them so much that she would bring every one of them with her every time she was going to see my mom to show off the latest card she received.
  3. Ask to meet up.  A friend that reaches out with a note or a phone call is a wonderful friend.  But there is nothing like having someone come over to your house and hug you, cry with you, and let you talk about the memory of the one you lost.  With an empty house, all I wanted the day I found out about my grandma dying was for someone to come over to my house and hold me.
  4. Be a good listener. ¬†Sometimes your friend will want to talk about what they are feeling, what their loved one was like, and what they are experiencing. ¬†All you have to do is listen. ¬†If they start crying hold them and get them tissue. ¬†Don’t be afraid to allow for space and silence so they can keep dwelling on what their feeling unless they change the subject.
  5. Send some flowers to your friends house. ¬†My mom has received flowers from friends, in-laws, and even a business colleague she hasn’t met face-to-face yet.
  6. Send some flowers to the funeral. ¬†It was so meaningful seeing so many floral and plant gifts at my grandpa’s funeral.
  7. Send a gift. ¬†You could drop off some brownies, send a teddy bear, bring them a latte or a bottle of wine, have a locket made with their loved one’s picture in it… anything thoughtful really. ¬†Your gift doesn’t have to be big or expensive, in this case it really is the thought that counts. ¬†With my grandpa’s passing I got to be here to witness Pam bring our family communion, Karen gave my mom a handmade necklace with my grandpa’s picture superimposed, several bouquets of flowers arrived at their doorstep, Amy gave my mom a penny with a heart cut out of the middle, Steve and Jenny gave us an eternal lantern, Leanne and Bev gave wind chimes with a beautiful inscription (“Walter ‘Bud’ Hammond 1931-2011 His charming ways and smiling face are a pleasure to recall. ¬†He had a kindly word for each and died beloved by all.”)
  8. Give them a gift card to a restaurant or something fun. ¬†It’s a crazy time and sometimes it’s simply the best to get away from it all for a little while and enjoy a free meal out or to take in a movie.
  9. Bring them a meal.  Often times with grieving the structure of a human mind is a complete fog and all apetite goes away.  Without the desire to eat no food is made and with a mind so foggy the mind is mostly incompetent to cooking anything anyway.
  10. Attend the funeral. ¬†If someone close to you lost a loved one perhaps one of the biggest gifts you can give is honoring your friend and their loved one’s memory by attending the¬†funeral¬† ¬†Last year at my grandpa’s funeral most of my dad’s side of the family, all of my mom’s best college girlfriends, and my cousin’s best friend came to the funeral. ¬†I remember feeling so taken care of and surrounded by love because of this simple act of solidarity.
  11. Give money to the cause presented in the obituary.  Usually this cause has something to do with the way the loved one died.
  12. Offer to clean their house.  In this season there are a lot of visitors coming in and out of the house and/or lots of arrangements being made so household cleaning falls by the wayside.
  13. Deliver¬†groceries. ¬†Similarly to household cleaning, common tasks like taking the trash out and going grocery shopping don’t happen. ¬†Taking care of menial tasks allows the family some more time and space to either take care of funeral arrangements, grieve, and readjust to a new sort of life.
  14. Say “I’m so sorry.” ¬†So many people don’t know what to say. ¬†I know it’s uncomfortable but all you really need to say is “I’m so sorry” and give them a big, wrap-your-arms-around-and-squeeze hug. ¬†If they cry, hold them firmly until they stop. ¬†If you have more time with them or want to say more simply ask questions about the lost loved one. ¬†What were they like? ¬†What are some of your favorite memories with your grandma? ¬†Please don’t ask “Oh, were you close?” ¬†I’ve found that whenever I’m asked that I feel like
  15. “I’d like to help lighten your load, what can I do?” ¬†“What can I do to help?” is also worlds different than “let me know how I can help.” ¬†The former ilicits a response and the latter is more generic and unreachable. ¬†The latter is the kind of thing everyone says, sometimes hoping the person they say it to never actually asks for help. ¬†I’ve had so many kind offers from friends that sound something like, “let me know how I can help.” It’s a very sweet offer but I find I don’t feel I can actually take friends up on a statement like that. ¬†I still feel like I would be a burden or a nuisance or an annoyance to actually ask for help.
  16. Help bear the burden of the bad news. ¬†My mom has been the chief of all news and, thus, her phone doesn’t stop ringing. ¬†A great way to help your friend through their difficult time would be to personally help make phone calls to pass along the news and give the funeral/memorial service information. ¬†You can even start a calling tree and rally some more friends to help make the calls to lessen the¬†burden¬†of the bereaved.
  17. Give money.  Sometimes families are left with outrageous funeral expenses or medical bills and will go into debt without help.  By giving the gift of money directly to the family you are enabling them to stay afloat and are helping relieve another stressor.

On a final note, the best words spoken to me in my time of grieving my grandpa were right before his funeral. ¬†All the family was gathered in the foyer when my father-in-law, George Calhoun, told us all something like “let yourself feel whatever you are feeling.” ¬†The idea behind that statement is that everyone grieves differently and it’s too easy to feel like you¬†have¬†to be crying all day every day and, heaven forbid, you laugh at all.

A Musician’s Wife’s Reality

Wednesday Words

My friend Becky posted this blog yesterday morning and inspired me to share my similar, yet different story.

A traditional marriage has a stay-at-home mom, kids, and a 9 Р5 working husband.  In this model the husband works all day to provide for the family while the wife stays at home caring for the kids and then they all get to spend the evening and weekends together.

A couple of years ago, within a month, Josh and I both transitioned into full-time self-employment. ¬†A year later Citizen Way, Josh’s band, was signed and I had to wean off of most of my part-time/freelance gigs to put enough time into my business, a Sunshine Moment.

As a result, in my marriage, I am the bread-winner right now, which is a joke because I am an artist, and my husband sometimes spends weeks at a time away from the house. ¬†This makes me responsible for taking care of our home, making the money, doing our budget, paying the bills, taking care of the dogs, and taking care of myself. I’ve become all too aware that this wouldn’t be nearly as difficult if I was single and only paying bills for one person while splitting the rent with a roommate or two. ¬†Not to mention, I’d have people around.

So, as Josh is gone for days or weeks at a time I work overtime in my little corner to pay our bills. ¬†I don’t complain anymore. ¬†Yes, this means I used to. ¬†I used to take it hard when Josh left for a few days at a time. ¬†Now our normal is weeks at a time so I push any inconvenient feelings into a box in the back corner of my brain and lock them back there.

Most people think what we have is ideal. ¬†I mean we’re doing what we love and getting paid for it right? ¬†Yes we are doing what we love. ¬†But, currently, Josh isn’t really getting paid for it and I’m barely getting paid for it. ¬†It’s the fact of our life and a risk we have to take in hopes that money will come eventually.

So this is my norm. ¬†And after this past week, I would take that every day if I didn’t have to live what I’m living right now…

On Thursday Josh left for 4+ weeks of nonstop touring.

On Friday my mom called to tell me my Grandma decided to stop dialysis (this means she has about 2 weeks to live).

On Sunday that knowledge, despite my best efforts of to contain it, traveled from my head to my heart and spilled over as buckets of messy, snotty tears.

Yesterday I was pushed further. ¬†Sam first snatched a chocolate chip cookie right off the table while I was in the bathroom. ¬†When I found him all that was left were crumbs and chocolate smears all over my couch. ¬†A couple hours later I came home from running a vital errand for the band to find he’d managed to get into the bathroom and distribute the contents of the trash all over the house and snatch the box of donuts off of a different table and polish them off.

Something in me snapped.  After almost throwing Sam out of the house to be in time out I melted to a puddle of wailing in the middle of my kitchen floor.  I picked myself up only to crumple again onto the more favorable, carpeted floor of the living room.  When I finally reached a state of numbness, I let Sam in, and spent the next two hours completely still and silent on my couch.  I dozed in-between bouts of just staring at the wall.  I have never felt so alone and helpless.

The worst part is I told myself I would be strong because there’s nothing worse than having a needy wife at home making a mess of herself. ¬†But it appears I can only manage for so long before succumbing to my black hole of remorse.

My grandma does not know Jesus.  So even though she is still alive my fear and grief for her soul is consuming my whole body.  I have prayed for her consistently for a year and a half and now and with only two weeks left to reach her I simply feel hopeless.

Perhaps this is me reaching out for help. But all I really want is for my grandma to find Jesus so I ask that you simply pray your hearts out for her because the prayers of one broken-hearted girl is not enough anymore.

Musings of a Musician’s Wife: Remembering

THE BEGINNING On Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 7:29pm I had a four-minute phone call with my mom that left me sobbing for the remainder of my drive home. ¬†Her story was of the grim outlook on my grandma’s health situation. ¬†So grim, in fact, that my mom isn’t certain if she’ll make it to Christmas. ¬†The instant wave of grief shook me to the core and brought all my loss from the past five years flooding in from the hidden¬†crevices¬†of my brain. ¬†An iron first started clenching my heart like it was some sick game to see how much pain I could handle.

YEAR ONE:  Sam

It was my freshman year of college when I felt my first loss.  I was a mere two months into the semester when my friend Sam got into a car accident involving a semi that ultimately claimed his life only one short week later.  I remember so many crystal clear moments between the night after the accident and the end of that semester.

I remember the first phone call. ¬†I remember¬†the¬†phone call. ¬†I remember making a road trip to Colorado with Robb, Jimmy, and Josh with our last-minute trip change to end us in Minnesota for Sam’s funeral. ¬†I remember on specific moment of paralyzing¬†sadness.

Sam was a fun-loving young man with bouncing brown curly hair, a contagious, room-filling laugh, a huge heart to serve, and the biggest and brightest wide-mouthed smile.  Sam loved the Lord.

YEAR TWO:  Tony

I was halfway around the world and halfway through my spring semester as a sophomore when I got a call from Kelsey Telling me our friend, Tony, hung himself in a bedroom closet at a party.

I couldn’t make it back from Africa for the funeral.

Tony Had the air of California surfer dude, playing it chill all day every day, but with long brown hair and a guitar rather than a surf board. ¬†I sift through my plethora of memories hoping to pull one out that would bring me peace about Tony’s eternity but instead I am left regretting never having led him to the Lord myself.

YEAR THREE:  Ben

I don’t remember how I was told. ¬†But I know that my first news was that Ben was missing. ¬†The story is that he was camping with a group of friends when he randomly boarded a canoe and paddled out into the darkness of night. ¬†After a few long days of searching they found him at the bottom of the lake.

Josh and I traveled to Minnesota once again for another funeral.

Ben was shy around me at first due to a crush but I found him inclined to let me fill up the space with as many or as few words as I needed.  He was a brilliant writer with long, spirally orange locks and a persistent twinkle in his eye.

YEAR FOUR:  Rick

We moved into the lower apartment of Rick’s house the summer after Josh and I wed. ¬†That November we found out Rick was sick with¬†Esophageal¬†and Liver cancer. ¬†His footsteps upstairs grew sparse then went quiet. ¬†That’s when we found out Rick was¬†admitted¬†to the hospital.

I visited unannounced and on a whim one day.  My heart longed to know Rick found the Lord before his end.  I wrote him a letter and brought it up to his room with me.  His dad was there and the shadow of a man lying in the hospital bed was almost unrecognizable Рhe looked like a concentration camp victim.  That was the last time I saw Rick.

Less than a week later Josh and I trekked out to Romeoville for the funeral. ¬†It broke my heart because there were only about 20 people there and the couple of people who shared words didn’t actually have much to say.

Rick believed he was a lost cause and he was so full of regret he thought himself far from love and unforgivable.  He was a determined strong man both in will and in strength but he also had a loving soft spot that I got a little slice of every now and then.  His wrinkled face told of the life of battle and loss and regret but his blue eyes clung to kindness.

YEAR FIVE:  Grandpa Bud

Josh and I got a call from my mom that Grandpa was at his end.  We packed up immediately and hit the long 7 hour road.  In the end we missed Grandpa by 20 minutes.

About a week later Josh and I sang at the funeral.

Grandpa Bud was a gentle loving and giving old man. ¬†Many spoke of his legacy of generosity but what I loved most about him was his stark white hair, boyish grin, and the way he always called me “love.”

YEAR SIX:  Tundra

My childhood best friend left me this fall. ¬†Just a week or so before I got to see her and that experience alone broke my heart. ¬†She could barely breathe but she didn’t know it so in her excitement of seeing me she nearly coughed up a lung.

Even then I had known it was the last time I would snuggle my first baby.  I still remember visiting the litter of puppies with my heart full of promise.  Tundra won my over instantly.  She was too shy, scared, and quiet for anyone else but found something safe in me.  I grew up telling her all of my growing pain and cried, many a time, into her fluffy white mane.

Tundra was an emotional dog with a lot of love to give and a permanent smile.

THE END The hardest part of any loss is the aching hole left by the love longing to reach out to the one lost.  I guess on the brink of another loss I find the need to reflect on all of it.  Death is only a part of the pattern of life.  But my heart so longs for the certainty that all of my loved ones are founded in faith so I can await sharing in the heavenly celebration with them.