How I Survived Child Loss: Part 3 – Faith

God gives us his strength in our weakness, so “that everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and not our own”. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7

“You are so strong.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this statement over the past 6 years. While a part of me loves to hear it and part of me feels strong, I know I could not have done any of this on my own. The strength I have does not come from me; it comes from within me, from God living in me.

A few months ago I watched a video with my favorite radio show host. He was interviewing a Christian musician. I don’t remember most of the interview, but I the one thing I do remember really hit home. He said, in the wake of a personal trauma, his grief over the situation, kept crashing up against something solid inside him – his faith in God. When I heard that, I knew exactly what he meant. I’d felt the same thing in my own life.

Every time the intense pain of grief washed over me, I turned to God. I’d cry out “help me”. They were the only words I could utter. I’d ugly cry in God’s presence because I couldn’t do it alone. Through this process a strange thing happened, I realized when my grief was at its strongest I felt closer to God than at any other point in my life.

When I turned to God in the middle of my pain, he was there for me. Every. Single. Time. Sometimes I could hear him talk to me. Others I just knew he was there.

One afternoon, I was on the floor of my boy’s bedroom crying out to God my desperate “help me” plea. I was feeling very alone that particular day. Later that afternoon I received messages from 3 different people who didn’t know each other but knew me. Each message was a variation of “I’m thinking of you and praying for you”. I was overwhelmed and in that moment I knew God had heard my prayer of tears and was letting me know he was with me.

Through this journey I have learned when you reach into your deepest pain, you’ll find God there holding you.

Sunday mornings became a time of meeting God on a whole new level. I would go to church and hide in the balcony. I would sing the worship songs and cry through the whole thing. One of the most spiritual experiences in my life was praising God while in the greatest emotional pain I’d ever known. I wish I could accurately describe what it was like. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to God. I could almost see him. I felt like he was reaching down and gently pulling my pain to himself. Pain, relief, praise and comfort it was such an interesting mix of emotions. But it gave me the strength I needed to face the day.

There are so many ways God has given me strength to travel this journey. My first thoughts after the accident were of God (you can read about it here). He provided me an amazing support system that has prayed for me and carried me through (read here). He’s been there in my pain and held me when I cried. All my tears of grief have been spent in God’s presence.

I don’t know how people travel through this cruel world without God. And I don’t know how people get through child loss without Him to lean on. I would not be here today, if not for the hope and strength God has given me. I could not have made it this far without God. Left to my own devices I would have curled up in a ball and stayed there. The strength God has given me is the only thing that has kept me going. I could not have done this alone.

 

An Open Letter to Newly Bereaved Parents

Welcome,

If you are reading this because you have lost a child, I am so very sorry. I know the pain you feel, because I have felt it too. I know the depth of suffering that comes from losing a child. I wish no one had to experience this, but sadly there are too many of us.

My purpose in writing this letter is to outline a few of the things I have learned in my grief. Maybe in doing so, your journey will seem a little less scary. It’s so easy to feel alone and grief is so unscripted you may think you are going crazy. I want you to know you are not alone and what you are experiencing is normal, for the circumstances you find yourself in.

There is No Order

Shortly after losing my 2 boys in a car accident someone said something to me that I have always appreciated. I have no idea who it was, or exactly the words they used, but their comment helped me navigate that first year. This person told me there are no stages to grief. You may have heard about the “Stages of Grief” but, after 6 years, I am here to tell you there is no such thing. Stages imply order. Once you complete the first stage you move onto the next and so on. As you get through all the steps, viola, you are done grieving. Oh, how I wish it were that easy!

Grief is unpredictable and it can take you by surprise. It’s more like a rollercoaster where you can’t see the dips and turns. I’ve also described grief like ocean waves that sneak up on you when you’re not ready. You may take weeks to go through the different emotions, or you my go through them all in a 30 second whirlwind. Grief cycles and turns so much you may feel like you are going crazy.

You Are Not Going Crazy

I believe child loss is the most agonizing emotional pain there is. Our bodies simply don’t know how to handle the intensity. One minute you may be fine and even able to smile. The next you collapse into tears. Or maybe you are laughing at something and your laughter dissolves into sobs. The smallest or strangest things can set off the tears. I’ve been triggered by an aisle full of kitchen mixers at the store, an innocuous comment by a friend and even a Taylor Swift song (the reason behind this one seems so silly).

As exhausting as the mood swings are, they are normal. I’ve melted down in the grocery store, the bathroom at work, my car, in front of family, and even in the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and other equally embarrassing places. Sometimes your emotions will make sense and be easier to control. Other times the power of your grief will be so overwhelming you will break down despite your best intentions. Both are ok. Both are good. It’s normal you are not crazy.

The Intensity of the Pain will subside

I was astonished at the intensity of the emotional pain I was in. It was so painful I could feel it physically. My heart hurt, I couldn’t breathe, and any movement I made took an enormous amount of effort.

Writing this letter 6 years later, the pain is now a dull sadness. Every now and then the intensity returns, but it’s not an everyday occurrence anymore. Thankfully so, I’m not sure I could have survived 6 years of that kind of intensity. I’m not sure when it started to subside, but it did. It was a slow and gradual process over the course of time.

You’ve probably heard the expression “Time heals all wounds”. (I hope no one has said this to you in the face of your loss). I disagree with this statement. I think there are some wounds that the passage of time can heal, but not all. Time itself doesn’t heal anything just by continuing to march forward. All time really does is put distance between us, and the day of our loss. It’s what we do with that time that determines if we “heal” or remain stuck.

The only way to “heal” from grief is to go through it. I know it hurts and I know it’s hard, but you have to feel it. You have to let it in, because that is the only way through. It may seem easier to run from or hide from your grief. But remember this, GRIEF WILL NOT BE DENIED. It will always come out. The more you run from it, the more likely it will come out in a way you have no control over. Facing your grief head on is the hardest and easiest way through this journey.

There is Hope

I still remember the first Compassionate Friends meting I went to. (CF is a national support group for bereaved parents/siblings/and grandparents.) It was only a few weeks after the accident and I couldn’t imagine life without the intense pain that had become my constant companion. The leader of the group was 10 years into her child loss journey. I remember listening to her talk and realizing there was hope. She was able to function and live a life. I listened to her story and knew I wouldn’t always be in this place of powerful pain. Attending the local Compassionate Friends chapters has helped me in many ways. I realize I’m not alone on this journey. And in seeing others farther along in their journey, I knew what to expect as the weeks, months and years marched past. I knew there was hope.

Hope can also come from faith. I don’t know what your spiritual beliefs are and I know in the face of losing a child talk about God can feel trite. I hope you will continue reading what I have to say. I’m not going to tell you things like “God won’t give you more than you can handle” or “God needed another angel”. (Please excuse me while I throw up over those statements). No, what I want you to know is God is here for you, if you’ll let him in. He can offer you comfort and peace. I know there are a lot of hard questions about God and painful circumstances like ours. But that is a conversation for another day.

I found when the pain hurt the most and the tears wouldn’t stop, God was there for me when I cried out for help. He gave me peace and surrounded me with support. He makes this burden we carry lighter. I know he will do the same for you; all you have to do is ask.

There is so much more I want to say, but I’ve already written more than I planned. If you have any questions or would like prayer, feel free to comment, send me an email or message me on Facebook.

I am so sorry you’ve joined this awful club, but know you are not alone.

The Game Changer

Friday evening I had an amazing opportunity that became a game changer for me. I was attending a trauma workshop conducted by Dr. David Burns, a psychologist who has written many books on depression and anxiety. In the workshop, Dr. Burns was teaching us how to use his methods to treat trauma. He stated there would be a live demonstration of these techniques at the end of the first day, if anyone would be willing to volunteer. I thought about volunteering, but that’s as far as it went. A couple of my co-workers attending the conference with me suggested I volunteer. Well in reality, they were a bit pushy. 😉 On our first break, with the support of a friend, I went and talked with Dr. Burns. I gave him a brief description of my trauma, of losing the boys, along with the depression and anxiety I’ve dealt with since. (You can read about some of it here). He thought I’d be a great subject and asked me to fill out a mood log.

I did not hear much of the next segment of the workshop because my nerves went crazy. My stomach was fluttering and my hands were shaking. I managed to fill out the mood log (I hate filling out those things). On our lunch break I showed Dr. Burns my log and he asked me to sign a release because they were going to videotape the session.

10 minutes before we were to begin the live demonstration, I started getting nervous again. I said a quick prayer, for courage.

The demonstration got off to a rocky start. Since I’ve shared my story publicly a few times, I had a bit of trouble shifting out of presentation mode. I had to remind myself this is supposed to be a counseling session, not a presentation. Dr. Burns and I had trouble connecting in a way that would make any therapy possible. He brought up the disconnection and we managed to work through it enough that I was able to let my guard down. Once that happened, all the pain I keep at bay to survive, bubbled to the surface.

What followed was one of the most intense experiences I’ve had since the accident. It was so that intense at one point I doubled over because I was crying so hard.

Together we walked through my mood log. I had listed several of my negative thoughts I have when my depression and anxiety are at their worst.

“I’ll be alone forever”

“My life will always be like this”

“I’ll never be successful or financially stable”

“I’m a fraud at work”

“Life sucks, life is hard”

We added to the list too. When the subject of my faith came up, I was a bit reluctant to talk about it because I didn’t know what everyone in the room believed. As we processed my reluctance to be bold about my faith, I realized I sometimes edit my story because of my fear of being ridiculed or disregarded. The thoughts we added to my list were “David may be judging me” and “They’ll think I believe in fairytales”.

We moved on to identifying the distortions of these thoughts. Black and white thinking, Overgeneralizing, Discounting the positives, Emotional reasoning . . . the list goes on. As a trained counselor, I know the next step is to look for the evidence that these are true or false, and find the positive thoughts to combat the negative thoughts.

It was then that Dr. Burns did something completely unexpected. He basically said, “What do these negative thoughts and feelings reveal about you that is beautiful”

Ummmm . . . . . what??

We then made a new list. This list looked at all my negative thoughts and emotions and discovered the positive attributes of myself. It was hard to do at first, but once we got the ball rolling, I couldn’t write them down fast enough.

“These feelings show how much I love my boys”

“Shows I’ve been through something significant and awful”

“Shows my high standards, my concern for my clients, and wanting to help”

“Honesty, Humility”

“Spirituality”

“Protecting my beautiful faith”

“Protect myself from being hurt and un-respected”

“I want to have people in my life to love”

“I want meaningful relationships”

“Protecting myself from future heartbreak”

“Being realistic and not denying reality”

“My anger is justified”

“My worry protects me by keeping me vigilant and alert.”

For me, this list changed everything. Once we were done with the list I felt lighter, like a 50-pound bag of bricks had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt Happy.

There are good reasons I think these negative thoughts and I’m not just beating up on myself. Because these messages are given in a negative way, I sink deeper into depression or anxiety. And the cycle perpetuates itself.

Now when I have a negative thought, I try to identify the good part of me that brings that thought into existence. For example: the next morning I woke up feeling really foolish. As I was getting ready for Day 2 of the workshop and having to confront all those people who had witnessed me breaking down and hearing how I talk to myself in my dark times, I felt really foolish. But, instead of letting that thought linger and grow, I searched for the meaning behind it. I realized I felt foolish because I had opened up. I had been vulnerable in front of a large roomful of strangers. They had seen some of my deepest pain. The vulnerability which connected me to every person in that room the night before, was now making me feel very silly. So I said to myself “No you were not foolish last night, you were vulnerable. And vulnerability is something you want in your life, even though it feels uncomfortable”.

Carefully guard your

After identifying the beautiful parts of me that led to the negative thoughts, Dr. Burns asked if I was ready to attack the negative thoughts. After I agreed, he began role-playing my inner voice and would speak one of my negative thoughts to me. I would then have to refute the thought. If I didn’t win, we’d change places and he’d be the one defeating the thought. We kept going back and fourth until I had defeated all my negative thoughts in a huge way. Through the role-playing, I learned to not only defeat the negative thoughts, but to obliterate them! Below are some of the ways he helped me to stop thought thoughts in their tracks:

Negative thought: “I’ll be alone forever”

Response now: “I might be alone right now, but I don’t know the future. Anything can happen. Besides I am not alone right now. I have amazing friends and family. I could probably let my walls down with them a bit more so I don’t feel so alone. But I am not alone now”

Negative thought: “My life will always be like this”

Response now: “My life has changed so much in the last 5 years. What on earth makes me think it will stay the same now!!”

Negative thought: “I’ll never be successful or financially stable”

Response now: “I completed graduate school in the midst of the worst kind of grief. I didn’t curl up in the corner and bemoan the terribleness of my life. I set out to do something about it. That same determination will keep me moving forward”

Negative thought: “I’m a fraud at work”

Response now: “I’m inexperienced. Good grief! I got out of graduate school less than a year ago. Of course I don’t understand everything about how to help my clients. But I have client’s that are improving and making progress. And some of them even like me.”

Negative thought: “Life sucks, life is hard”

Response now: “Yes, my life sucks. But there are good things about my life too. I have friends who love me and pray for me. I have family who would do anything for me. I can get out and take pictures and share the beauty I see around me with others. Yes, life is hard. No one ever said it would be easy. But I have help. I have lots of help. I don’t have to do it alone.”

Negative thought: “David (Dr. Burns) may be judging me”

Response now: “Yes he may. But that’s his problem. My faith is what has brought me through this hell, and it’s what keeps me going. My faith has helped me survive. My faith is what’s given me hope. If he cannot appreciate that about me, then he doesn’t need to be part of my life.”

Negative thought: “They’ll think I believe in fairytales”

Response now: “They might think that. But that’s because they’ve never experience the peace of God. They’ve never understood the power that peace can have over their lives. They’ve never known what it’s like to be held in God’s hands. And that thought makes me sad for them.”

This process gave me a profound sense of relief. The negative thoughts have always communicated, in some way, a message of self-hate. After walking through these exercises, the connection between the negative thought and the message it conveys has been severed. That made all the difference and for a moment I felt carefree.

Though this experience was intense, I learned something. I learned the depression and anxiety I’ve experienced the last few years are not things I need to fight against. They honor my loss and the pain I’ve gone through, though that doesn’t mean I have to live with the messages the depression and anxiety speak into my life. I now have the tools to obliterate my negative thoughts and replace them with the truth.

Depression and Anxiety

 

My Lesson in Anxiety

Anxiety: Overestimating the negative future possibilities and under estimating your ability to deal with it. ~ Teresa’s Counselor

I woke up in the middle of the night. Something wasn’t right. Panic. I could feel it spreading through my body. I knew if I gave myself over to it, I would have a panic attack. I tried the deep breathing techniques I’d been practicing. But I couldn’t breathe in deep enough. So I waited. Eventually the feeling subsided.

When I thought back on that night I got mad at myself. A panic attack, really? I’ve never had a panic attack and here I almost had one over ORALS!

I first began hearing about orals my first year of graduate school. The professors started dropping hints about how difficult orals were in the first few classes. No one ever actually explained what orals were so it took me awhile to figure out what everyone was so worked up about. The oral exam is a pass/fail exam all the Masters in Counseling students have to take in order to graduate. You write a paper about a client, submit a video of you working with the client. Then defend your paper and video to a panel of teachers. It sounded hard but not undoable. So I didn’t worry about it.

But then we had our oral exam orientation in October. Yup! There was an orientation to explain what was required to pass our orals. It is that big of a deal. It was around this time my confidence evaporated and anxiety set in.

Somehow I’d talked myself into believing I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t write a giant paper. I didn’t understand theory well enough. I didn’t know how to use theory with my clients. I didn’t know where to put my client in Erickson’s Stages of Development. I didn’t have a good video. I could go on. My negative self-talk was so bad, the anxiety increased with every passing day. I allowed the anxiety to take control and for the first time in my life I got stuck. They gave us 4 months to work on our orals paper. I watched month after month slip past and I still had not written 1 word.

Anxiety

Shortly after my middle of the night almost panic attack, I started thinking about all the anxiety I was experiencing. I couldn’t remember ever going through something like this before. I started looking at the anxiety and wondering where it came from. Was I always this way? I didn’t think so.

I finally asked my mom if I was an anxious person before the accident. She confirmed that I wasn’t. She even pointed out that I was more of a deal with it and move on kind of person. So I assumed the accident had created anxiousness in me. But then my mom said something that surprised me. She said that even after the accident I wasn’t an anxious person. According to my mom the anxiety centered on school. She figured I had so much anxiety about school because I had so much riding on school.

Anyone who goes to college, especially graduate school, has a lot riding on school. So why was I so different? Because, I have EVERYTHING riding on school. Financial stability, employability, a new life purpose, a new identity as a professional and the idea that some day, through helping others, I will be happy. The entire process of rebuilding my life was riding on being able to graduate.

And my oral exam was in the way of that new life.

I was explaining this all to my counselor when she made a statement that stopped me in my tracks.

“It sounds like you have some resentment that you have to be doing this.”

Talk about hitting the nail on the head!

Yes I have some resentment!! I am a stay-at-home-mom with no kids to take care of. All I have ever wanted to be was a mom. And I loved being a mom. But that dream was ripped from me and I watched my entire life crumble around me. Hell yes, I’m resentful. Everything. I lost everything. I am rebuilding my life from the ground up. And I don’t want to have to do this. This is not the life I chose.

I also realized I have some resentment toward God for allowing all this to happen. That is a hard one to admit and will take some time to work through.

Sadly all this realization didn’t make the anxiety go away. The day for my oral board finally came. A bundle of nerves, I sat down in front of a panel of 3 professors. I explained my client and answered their questions. Turns out I enjoyed the mental challenge of the process. And in the end it was like having a conversation about my client.

By the time I got home that day I was mentally and physically drained. (I was even having trouble putting together coherent sentences).

It took me a week and half to emotionally recover from orals. Once I did I realized something. I had let the anxiety completely take over my life. As a result I had wandered away from my relationship with God. Even the daily running conversation I had with God was gone.

In my fear I had tried so hard to control everything around me, I had lost sight of who really is in control. I had lost sight of where my strength comes from. I had lost sight of who I am.

Today for the first time in 5 months I feel like myself again. And now begins the hard work of rebuilding my relationship with God and removing the anxiety from my life.

Now when I feel the anxiety beginning, I stop it before it can build. I say to myself “No! You are not going to do that again.” I remind myself how awful and exhausting it is to live like that. As time goes on I’ll be able to confidently turn to God instead.

I want to leave you with one final thought. Earlier this month a friend posted this on Facebook

“Fear Paralyzes. Faith Mobilizes”

It was fear of failing that had me so stuck I almost didn’t pass orals. It was faith that led me to graduate school and the idea that I can help others. It is faith that keeps me moving forward and dreaming of a better life.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

Me the day I finished my orals paper
Me the day I finished my orals paper

It’s Been 4 Years . . . .

Miss boys 2“You might be but one drop in a bigger ocean, but even that drop causes ripples which affect every other drop. ~ Sue Krebs

Today marks the 4-year anniversary of the accident that took the lives of my children and changed my life forever. Anniversary . . . . . . it really does not seem like the right word to use. To me an anniversary indicates a happy event, an event worth celebrating. Today is not about celebrating, it is about remembering.

It has been 4 years since I have seen my children. There are so many things I have missed in those 4 years.

I have missed having mountains of laundry to do.

I have missed breaking up fights.

I have missed navigating the messy bedroom just to tuck them in and say goodnight.

I have missed stepping on Legos. Yes . . . I do miss this!

I have missed the incessant questions.

I have missed repeating myself because they were not listening the first 40 times.

I have missed the bickering.

I have missed the back talk.

I have missed the “can’t keep it clean” house.

I have missed the creativity.

I have missed watching kid movies and tv shows.

I have missed reading stories at bedtime.

I have missed the laughter.

I have missed the joking and goofiness.

I have missed the craziness that having boys brings into your life.

I have missed their hugs.

I have missed touching them and having them touch me.

I have missed my boys.

The other day a friend asked, “If you could ask God one question what would it be?”

My answer to that question is simple. I would ask God to allow me to see the far reaching effect my life has had on other people. I want to know that what I am going through has meaning. I want to know that someone is living a better life because of what I have been asked to deal with.

I have friends tell me how their friends have been affected by my story. These are people I don’t know. I love hearing these stories, but I want to know more. I want to see the whole story of my life, the part that only God can see. I would love to see the part of my life that God can see, that kept him from stopping the accident from happening. I want to know and understand why I have to live the rest of my life without my boys. I want to see what God can see . . . . the ripple effect.

I know I will probably never be privy to this information this side of Heaven. But I sure hope that God allows me to see the ripple effect of my life when I get Home.

Ripple

Did Mary Grieve?

I had planned on posting a New Year type post this week. But alas life has gotten in the way.

As many of you know I am currently in graduate school working toward a Masters in Counseling. My hope is upon completing school I will be able to help others like me, who’ve watched their life fall apart. As part of my school’s program I have to pass an oral exam to graduate. I have to present a client case study to a panel of professors, and then defend my case study. This is a very involved process, and my deadline is rapidly approaching. As a result, throughout the month of January and most of February, I will be consumed with preparing my case study and doing the appropriate research. I would appreciate your prayers during this time.

To help relieve some of my stress and anxiety, I won’t be posting on the blog as much as I had intended during this time. As soon as my oral exam is over, I have many plans for this blog. So stick around because exciting things are coming.

So instead of writing the New Years post I’d planned on, I thought I would share something I posted on my photography blog in January of 2013. If you are interested in my photography you can check it out here.

Without further ado, I’d like to share a side of Mary, the mother of Jesus, that I’ve wondered about.

Originally posted January 2, 2013 on Teresa Hunt Photography

A few weeks ago I was listening to one of my favorite Christmas CD’s. A song titled “Still Her Little Child” came on. As I listened to the song I realized something . . . Mary, like myself and so many mothers I know, was a grieving mother. She watched her oldest son be tortured and put to death in the most horrific fashion. She had to bury her baby boy. For 3 horrible days she knew the unimaginable grief of loosing a child.

But Mary received a gift all grieving mothers can only dream of . . . . she got to see her son again. A mere 3 days after being buried, Jesus came back from the dead. What overwhelming joy and relief Mary must have felt.

However, several days later Mary lost her son again when he ascended into Heaven. And here is where I’d like to pose a question for your contemplation. Did Mary still grieve the loss of her son after he ascended to heaven? I think she might have. For even though she was able to see her son again, he was still gone. Even though she was able to see Jesus in his full glory, he was still gone. Never again in her earthly life would she be able to talk to, touch, hug or hear her son’s voice. In the end that’s all we grieving mothers want to do. We want to hold our children, to talk to them, to hear their voice, to smell their presence, to touch them and to have them touch us. We don’t cry and grieve for our children. We cry and grieve for the LOSS of our children . . . for what we no longer have. And that is why I think Mary grieved for her son until she joined him.

My thoughts on Mary, the mother of Jesus, being a grieving mother.

Finding the Good, No Matter How Bad Things Are

2014 is almost over. There are only a few days left, and I have to say, I am so happy this year is over. It’s been a very hard year for me. It’s been a year full of grief and stress, and I’ve never been so happy to see a year come to an end.

You can read about why this year has been so difficult here.

But as this difficult year draws to a close, I am reminded of the attitude I had at the end of the hardest year of my life.

At the end of 2011, I sent out my annual Christmas cards and letter. I wanted to say thank you to all the friends and family who had been so supportive throughout the year. But I also wanted to end the year with hope.

The following is an excerpt from that letter:

“Without a doubt this has been the hardest year of my life. I’ve lost everything that gave me purpose and made me who I was. Everything I knew and understood about my life is gone. I’m left with only these 3 things: my photography, family/friends and my faith in God. I have faith that God has been with me through everything and faith that he has brighter plans for me in the future.

A few years ago I asked the boys a question each night as I tucked them into bed. I asked them “What was your favorite part of today?” My goal was to get them thinking of the positive things even if they’d had a bad day. Of course this practice only lasted a week or so. But I’ve been thinking of that question a lot these past few weeks. Only the question has changed to “What was your favorite part of this year?” Believe it or not I can answer that question. With everything I’ve lost and gone through this year I can still find positive things. I think the boys would be proud of that.”

I reread my Christmas letter and was amazed at the faith and positive attitude I had that year. Though my faith in God has never wavered, my trust in God has. I know that seems like a contradiction. Having faith in God with my grief is easy, it’s the only way I can survive this. But it’s the trust in the little things of life that is harder. God has been teaching me to trust him in the little things this year. It’s a hard lesson I am still learning.

It is so strange that in the year 2011 I could easily find things that were good. I had experienced the worst thing a parent can imagine, I was still reeling from the tragedy. Yet I was still able to find something good from that year.

But this year it’s harder for me to find something good. When I look back on the year all I can see is anxiety, stress and grief. Yet because it’s been such a hard year, I’m feeling the need to ask myself this question again, to find something good out of this year.

Three things come to mind when I try and find something good from this year: my photography club, my first speaking engagement and school.

Though school has been where all of my stress has originated this year, it is also the only thing keeping me moving forward. Going to school has given me a sense of purpose and when I am done, hopefully I will be qualified to help others like me who’ve lost everything.

Beyond a sense of purpose, school has also given me new friends. The program I’m in is a cohort style program. This means that I go so class every Thursday night with the same people. My cohort has been together for 2 years now. We’ve been through a lot together as a class and have had a lot of fun. I hope once school is over and that weekly connection is gone, we will find a way to stay connected and remain friends.

The last day of November I had the opportunity to tell my story in church. This is something I have been wanting to do for a couple of years. But I was never sure I really had anything worthwhile to say. To be given the opportunity to share my story was not only an amazing opportunity, it was a healing experience as well.

If you missed the video you can see it here.

My photography club has been such a huge part of my support system in many ways. So it’s no surprise to me that they made my list of good things from this year again. This summer my photography club came to Oregon and I was able to show off some of my favorite places. We had so much fun photographing Oregon’s countryside and laughing with each other. I can’t wait for our trip next year.

Besides having a ton of fun with good friends, I learned a lot about myself from that trip. I learned that I am capable of so much more than I thought. I learned that I have some leadership skills and with practice, I could handle doing similar things on a grander scale. As a result, after the group left, I began thinking of another life goal that I hope to implement someday.

All this to say, that even during the worst day, month or year, if you look hard enough you can find something good that happened.

So “What was your favorite part of this year?”

Find something good

How You Can Help Someone Who Is Grieving

Last week I had an opportunity to share my story in church. It was an amazing experience. I was able to talk about topics I have become very passionate about in front of a large number of people. After telling my story I was able to share how God has comforted and supported me through the people around me. I had the opportunity to describe a little of what grief feels like. And I was also able to talk about how to respond to others who are grieving.

Checkout the complete video

At the end of the video I suggest asking 2 questions before saying something to a newly bereaved person. These questions “Am I saying this so I don’t feel uncomfortable?” and “Am I saying this to make them feel better, or remove their pain?” are to help someone examine why they want to say something. Often times the words we say, though meant to help, can actually cause more pain.

I’ve been thinking about these questions I mentioned in the video, and I realized I left off with an attitude of what not to say. So I’d like to pose another question for you to ask yourself. “How can I show this person I care, or that I love them?”

This is what it comes down to. As grieving parents we need to know that you care. Support doesn’t come in the form of magic words that make it all better. Support comes in the form of people expressing their concern and love. Some of my favorite expressions of support, love and caring were the little things people did.

I loved it when people would come over and clean my house. I was totally incapable of doing small things. Getting out of bed was a major accomplishment. Having people take care of the normal life tasks that were to hard for me made me feel cared for.

My sister used her knowledge of the car insurance industry and took care of all the insurance stuff that needed to be handled. By offering to help in this way, she took a huge burden off my shoulders.

For 3 months cards and gifts poured in. But it wasn’t the gifts that mattered, it was the recognition that we were hurting and needed support.

For a year my cousin sent me handmade cards. She recognized that support was needed long after most of the crowd had gone back to their normal lives. I looked forward to the cards every month and they decorated my table for a long time.

My photography club showed their support in many unique ways. One of my favorites was on the first year anniversary of the accident. They posted pictures on the club page for me and talked about what I meant to them. That expression of caring made me feel so special.

So many members of my extended family flew out right after the accident. It was amazing. They carried me through that first week more than they know. But it didn’t stop there. Other family members came to visit throughout the year. It was so nice to have people coming at various intervals during that first year. It gave me something to look forward to.

My best friend flew me out to visit her in South Dakota. I spent a week with her family being spoiled. She took such good care of me; I didn’t want to go home.

I have an uncle whose story is somewhat similar to mine. He has shared a bit of his story with me and allowed me to ask questions. He has been a wonderful source of wisdom.

One of the most amazing expressions of support came from a wonderful young woman. She organized a gift-giving brigade for my second holiday season without the boys. I didn’t realize what was going on at first. I happened to catch her leaving a gift on my doorstep. She’s such a sweet person; I didn’t think anything of it. The next day I came home from work to find another gift on my doorstep. But it wasn’t until the 3rd day I realized what was going on. From December 1st thru January 22nd, a group of women left gifts on my doorstep. It was so amazing! During the hardest time of my year I had something to look forward to when I went home. I didn’t have to go home to an empty house, which once was alive with my kid’s energy. I was able to go home and feel cared for by the random gifts left on my doorstep. I still distinctly remember the night my favorite gift arrived. I was chatting with my sister on my Bluetooth as I pulled into my driveway. That’s when I saw several paper snowflakes hanging in front of my door. I’m pretty sure I squealed. It was so beautiful and thoughtful. I haven’t decorated my home for Christmas since the accident. But that year I had snowflakes decorating the outside of my house. I left them up for as long as I possibly could, and when I took them down, I saved as many of them as I could.

A few of the gifts that showed up on my doorstep during my second holiday season without my children
A few of the gifts that showed up on my doorstep during my second holiday season without my children

Each person who has offered me support has done so in unique ways. Many people offered support through prayer. Others supported me by their presence or act of service. Some used their talents or abilities to help me with life tasks or to brighten my day in some way.

Everyone is different. Everyone who grieves does so in their own way. Everyone who offers support does so in their own way. No offer of love or support goes unnoticed or unappreciated. Even if those of us who are grieving don’t express our gratitude, I can promise you we are extremely grateful to those people who show us love, support and caring.

So let me ask you, what can you do to SHOW someone who is hurting that you care?

How you can help someone grieve

The Creation Of Hope

Last week I received a message from my pastor asking if he could use my story as part of his sermon. I asked if he just wanted to mention my story or if he’d like me to come share it personally. He became very excited at the opportunity to have me speak in-person, so I agreed.

I spent all of last week cycling between being excited and nervous. I even had a moment of sheer panic on Saturday night. .

Yesterday I shared my story and my journey of clinging to hope in church.

I have wanted to share my story for a long time. I am very passionate about grief, how to grieve and how to treat those who are grieving. It was a wonderful opportunity to share my story and my passion in a public forum.

After much prayer, I feel led to help others beyond just one-on-one counseling. I believe my story and my journey can benefit others. With a leap of faith and the support of my friends and family, I have decided to open myself up to speak to groups, churches, and support organizations.

The posted video is my first step down this path. Your prayers and your support is appreciated.

Surviving the Holidays

“The absence of a loved one is noted and highlighted by what is supposed to be a time of celebration.” ~ psychologist Dr. Velleda Ceccoli

After my blog post last week I received a couple of emails asking me how I’ve dealt with the holidays.

The short answer is I make sure to have a plan. I learned early on the only way to get through the difficult days like Christmas, the boys birthdays, or the accident day is to have a plan. It doesn’t matter what the plan is. It doesn’t matter if the plan is actually followed. But having a plan is an absolute necessity. I learned this the hard way.

The first Thanksgiving without the boys was terrible. I didn’t bother to have a plan because I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Thanksgiving was never that exciting of a holiday for me, so I didn’t think it would be hard without the boys. However, as a friend reminded me, Thanksgiving is a tradition. It turned out to be an incredibly difficult day. Last year, the plan I had to get through Thanksgiving, wasn’t a very good plan. The holiday was so bad last year that I’m really dreading Thanksgiving this year.

The purpose behind having a plan is to deal with the dread leading up to the actual day. When you know a difficult day is coming all you can think about is how you are going to survive that day. Questions like, “How am I going to get through that day? What should I do?” occupy your mind. These days, the holidays, birthdays and memorial days are hard because they shout that the boys are no longer here. Birthdays are no longer about celebrating becoming a year older, they are about remembering. The accident day is a reminder that my life shattered in one brief second. And the holidays . . . . well the holidays are not nearly as much fun without the boys to share them with.

Christmas has been the holiday I’ve obsessed over the most. The first Christmas without the boys had me so panicked I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t bear the thought of waking up alone in my home. No kids to pull me out of bed before I was awake, no excitement over presents, no Christmas mess to clean up and no playing with new toys. I just couldn’t handle the emptiness of it. So I did the only thing I could think of, I ran away.

I went to Hawaii. I can still remember the smell that hung in the air when I walked out of the airport. The whole island smelled like perfume. Palm trees, blue skies, and perfect temperatures made it hard to believe it was Christmas time. There were not many decorations around and everything was open on Christmas day. If you want to avoid Christmas, Hawaii is the place to go.

A few photos from my trip to Hawaii
A few photos from my trip to Hawaii

The second Christmas after the accident caused me almost as much angst as that first year. I wanted to avoid Christmas again. But I could not afford the trip to Hawaii, nor did I want to spend the holiday alone again. So I talked my parents and my sister’s family into renting a cabin in the woods. My parents found a house for us to rent up near Mt. Hood. I was excited about this idea because, being closer to the mountain we had a better chance of having snow for Christmas. Living in Oregon’s Willamette Valley snow is pretty rare, especially for Christmas.

It turned out to be a wonderful Christmas. We woke up Christmas morning to snow gently falling from the sky. It did not stop snowing until 4pm. I had not had a white Christmas like that since I was a child living in Minnesota. I felt like it was a gift from God. It was like God was telling this hurting family hiding in the woods how much he loved them.

The snow that made me feel so at peace that Christmas, with the lights of the Christmas tree in the background.
The snow that made me feel so at peace that Christmas, with the lights of the Christmas tree in the background.

Last year was the first year I didn’t feel the need to run away. Maybe enough time had passed, maybe it was because I had moved and was no longer in the home where I’d raised my boys. Whatever the reason last year was the first year I stayed home for Christmas. It was a nice Christmas, with my family, that turned into a spontaneous slumber party at my parent’s house.

I still have not decorated for Christmas. My sister asked me if I was going to decorate this year. I said “No”.

“Not even a little bit?” she asked

“No, not yet” I replied

The thought of opening all my Christmas boxes and seeing the boy’s special ornaments, their homemade ornaments or the Christmas stockings I spend a year cross-stitching for them is too painful. Someday I will be able to open the boxes of Christmas decorations and fill my house with holiday decorations and memories. But right now I just can’t do it.

For me the holidays are still about surviving them. I’ve learned that each holiday is different and what I need to do to get through them is different.

So I make a plan. The plan can be as simple as going to a movie, or as big as going on a vacation. Playing games with family, going shopping, hanging out with friends are all good ways to get through a holiday. The key is to have a way to get through the day so the grief doesn’t overwhelm you. It’s not avoiding the grief but finding a way to cope on one of the hardest days of the year.

Sometimes having an exit strategy is necessary. If the original plan is failing, having something to fall back on is key to salvaging the day. This is the first year I have made an exit strategy. I’m dreading the holidays so much; I feel the need for a backup plan. I may take myself to the movies, or go home and watch a new movie I purchased just for this reason. Though I am hoping to not need my backup plan, I’m glad I know that I have a way to survive the day if my original plan fails again.

I’ve learned that during the holidays I can only worry about what is going to help me survive the best. Someday I will have joy in the holidays again. But for now I hold my breath until it’s over.

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