It’s okay to cry

In a recent counseling session my counselor was asking me why I hold back emotion. Glenn and I both do, he noticed. I thought about why I do this. I have never liked for people to see me cry. I don’t think I grew up having it modeled for me. People in my parents generation tended to keep emotions under wraps I think. I started thinking about what it must have been like for my mom growing up in the 40s and 50s and being a single woman who was getting a college education, the first in her family, and then went on to get a Masters degree. It wasn’t the norm for woman in that time period. She was going against the norm of getting married and having a family. It was a man’s world in the workplace and academia, so she had to act like a man to survive. In that time period that meant not showing emotions. That was “being strong” and “taking it on the chin”. I do remember showing some emotion with her in private though. One particular time stands out in my mind. My dad and mom got divorced in 1986, when I was 6 years old. It was a particularly nasty divorce with so much pain and heartache for us both. She wisely got herself and I both into counseling, something that changed my life because it taught me to seek help for my mental health at a young age. I don’t remember talking about the divorce much but I have a memory of she and I hugging and just crying one day. We didn’t need to say anything, tears are all that was needed.

The challenge for me now as a woman is the question of how to be “strong” and yet show emotion. We are finding that our kids are struggling because they have emotions about all the trauma we have been through as a family for really the past 8 years or so but they think they cannot show that emotion because we don’t. Glenn and I were talking about it and I think we have for all those years tried really hard to keep things emotionally stable and in doing so that meant not showing any emotions. Our daughter came to us with deep hurts and trauma and she also had limited ability to understand the world or express herself with words. So, being developmentally about a year old, she threw tantrums. Not little ones either, big ones from a large person. If you’ve never lived through this you cannot imagine. It’s traumatizing to live with on a daily basis. You never know if you would get happy emotions or sad or angry ones. We learned that it was a bit like a rollercoaster and the higher the highs, the lower the lows. We found the more excited she was then the larger tantrum she would have later, so we learned to keep her stable. Nothing too exciting, so that we wouldn’t get too much anger later. We still have to maintain some of that with our son Josh. That leads to a rather flat emotional existence for a parent. You are afraid to get too excited or happy so as to avoid the negative emotions. You learn to put a governor on yourself, but you become emotionless.

We are practicing emotions for ourselves now. Allowing ourselves to cry or get angry so that we can also experience joy and excitement. I think Christianity also sometimes says you should not acknowledge your “negative” emotions. It’s not spiritual to get angry, the Bible says you shouldn’t, right? (it actually doesn’t, it says get angry and don’t sin, not that we shouldn’t feel anger at times) People are uncomfortable with negative emotions. Just go through a loss in your life and you will run up against people who say all kinds of dismissive stuff and encourage you to “get over it”, if you grieve too much for too long. One of my absolute favorite verses in the bible is “weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice”. The bible is saying we need to feel both emotions, not dismiss either one. And we need to sit with other people in their grief and just cry with them and when they are joyful we need to be joyful too. Frankly I’m not sure which is easier. For myself and my family, we are working on showing emotions more, both happy and sad, angry and joyful, but hopefully less indifferent, which is the real opposite of anger. I don’t want to be someone who feels nothing anymore, it’s not helping myself or anyone else.

It’s been a while…

So much has happened since I wrote consistently on this blog. The whole world shut down with Covid and in our personal life we experienced the tragic death of our daughter April 24, 2020. I feel like the fog is slowly lifting on both Covid and our grief. Grief is not something you ever fully “get over”, you just learn to carry it with you and over time it becomes lighter. One year later, we find ourselves coming out of the initial shock and pain and now find ourselves asking the question, “where do we go from here?” I find that between these two life altering events I’m not really sure who I am anymore. I think this pandemic has changed us all in various ways. Stuff I found normal a year ago no longer is. Riding in an elevator with strangers, eating at a buffet and even just going to the doctor’s office are all anxiety producing events now and they didn’t used to be. Added to that losing our only daughter in such a shocking and tragic way, I can’t go back to how it was before. There is life before 2020 and now there is life after.

Grief is one of those things that you think you have a handle on and then something sneaks up on you. Recently it was going to Carowinds (our local amusement park). Two summers ago we went to Carowinds frequently with our kids. On each visit, we would go to the water park and our daughter would want to swim which required me changing her in the bathroom nearby. She wasn’t potty trained and she was 17, so you can imagine what it all entailed to prepare for swimming. The other day we went back to Carowinds and I casually went into that same bathroom not even thinking about it until it hit me. I walked in and looked around and I was instantly hit with memories. I don’t think I will ever get to the place where those moments don’t happen, but now I’ve learned to pause and let the emotion wash over me and move forward.

I have found this past month to be harder than I would have expected. The final court date for the criminal trial involving our daughter’s death and also mothers day and my birthday all happened within a month. Added to that was my mom’s anniversary of her passing. It’s been emotionally trying. I was so ready for the court case to be over but at the same time now that it’s over, it feels like we are moving forward and that is hard. You feel guilty, when you have lost someone, to move forward with your life. I know it doesn’t help us to stay stagnant, it doesn’t honor Kaki’s memory and it’s not what the boys need, but it feels bad to move on. You look around and try to start making meaning of what has happened. What can we learn from this? Honestly, I still don’t see any meaning in any of it. Maybe in time. I know God can bring good from tragedy, but I can’t see it yet. I spent the Saturday before Mother’s Day visiting gravesides; my mom, my daughter, my uncle and my “other” mom. They are all together in one cemetery. It’s not supposed to be like that. I don’t like that I now have to “make rounds” at the cemetery because so many loved ones are there. I can’t wait to get to heaven and see all those people again. The more people we lose, the sweeter heaven gets.

I find that I don’t really know who I am anymore. I started counseling again because I need to work through this. When the dust settles on loss, it’s disorienting. My boys have struggled in different ways with the loss of their sister and it’s hard to watch. I wonder why God is allowing it. I know we will all grow and change for the better, but growing hurts. I look back and some of my Facebook posts last year and I realize how angry I was. The whole world was going crazy so there was lots to be frustrated about but this was deeper. Anger is always apart of grief and it has been a big part of mine. I feel like I’ve worked through most of that now. Anger isolates you. It seeks to push others away so you can avoid being hurt. I tend towards running away and isolation when I’m hurting and during a pandemic that is certainly easy to do. Now I have to fight anxiety to get back into the real world. Going back out in public was very challenging for me. I know it’s what I need to do but I rather like my little bubble. Having anxiety before the pandemic makes it all the worse now, I think. So many people are dealing with anxiety and depression now from being isolated and seeing all the news articles about the world coming to an end. And so many people lost loves ones due to this virus, it’s no wonder we are all anxious and depressed. But we don’t have to stay here. We can move forward. We can seek help and get back to life. It’s never going to be the world it was before 2020 but it can be a new and better life. I am doing the hard work of counseling and forcing myself to step outside of what is comfortable, challenging my old thought processes and boldly envisioning what the future could be.

They’re growing up

The past two weeks with our daughter having moved out and our oldest son, Sam, in Brazil for a month has made me realize something, they’re growing up. We are quickly entering another phase of life when our children leave the house. Not that Sam will be moving out soon, but when he comes home he will be different. He will have grown up some on this trip and will soon after be getting is license and started classes at CPCC in the fall. He’s not going to be the same kid we have had for the last 16 years. And college and moving out are not far away. And his younger brothers are right behind.

It all hit me the other day when I was changing the sheets on his bed and missing him like crazy. It’s all changing very quickly and I’m just not ready for it. When you have babies and toddlers still in the house you think your kids will live with you forever, but it’s just not the case. It all happens so quickly, one day they are in diapers and you think it will never end and then the next they are leaving for a foreign country for a month and registering to take the ACT.

As I inch closer to 40 this year I realize how quickly time goes and it really makes me contemplate how I spend my time. I’ve been thinking about how to slow down more and spend time on the stuff that really matters. These 18 or so years I have with each kid, did I do what I set out to do with them? Did I make lifelong memories that were good and did I teach them everything I wanted to for them to be successful adults? I’m learning that looks different for each child but it all takes time. Time is the only thing I cannot add to or take away. We all have 24 hours each day. How do we spend that time? If we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to something else and vice versa. When you are bogged down in raising kids it’s hard to see that. Everyday feels the same and like it will never end sometimes. Endless laundry and diapers and soccer practices. But within a blink it’s all over and your kid is headed out the door to adulthood. This really started to hit me when Sam hit high school but now that he is halfway through it is even more real. We went to Disney this summer and to Miami. It was the best trip we have ever had. We all really enjoyed it but we almost didn’t go. Our daughter was just starting to really struggle right before we left and we had an 8 month old. It seemed like a bad time, but we pushed through and I’m so glad we did. It’s not just about going on big trips and things, but also the day to day. Having a family with lots of needs makes me want to just stay in the house all the time, it’s just easier. But if we want to make memories with our older kids we can’t do that, we just have to push through.

I want to make each minute count, but that means making margin in my life for those special moments. I can’t be running around crazy all the time and expect to have time to stop and just take a special moment with my kids. I have to allow down time for unexpected moments. I don’t want to fill up every minute even if it’s with “good” things. There are many good things, but I have to pick and choose. Sometimes I have to say no to a good thing in favor of a movie night at home with the kids. Or a walk around the block or a meaningful talk. Those are the best things!

Happy Birthday Mom

Four years ago we celebrated my mom’s 80th birthday. These are just some pictures from that day. It was such a great day. She loved every minute of it and especially everyone who came to celebrate with her. I can’t believe she’s now spent two birthdays in heaven. This year has been easier than last year was, but I still miss her like crazy. It’s the little things I miss. I miss most of all talking to her. This year has been a hard one for me. So many big things have happened and I really wanted to talk to her so many times this year. She was always so good at listening and giving good advice. I tried to think what she would have told me if she was here. I know she would be telling me that we have made the right decisions and that things will work out and God has a plan, but I just wish I could have heard her say the words.

Mom, today on your birthday I wish I could tell you I love you and give you a hug. Someday I will again and I look forward to that. It’s that hope that gets me through the days I miss you. Today we will celebrate your life. We will have your favorite meal and a dessert you would have loved and talk about how much we love you and miss you. I know there will always be an empty spot for you in my life, but it’s not as hard this year and I’m thankful for that. I didn’t believe it would get easier with time but it’s true. I love you so much! Happy Birthday!

Happy 13th Jordan!

Dear Jordan,

Today you turn 13! I can’t believe how fast it has gone. Just yesterday you were showing me your pet caterpillar “Callie” and learning to ride your tricycle. And now you are almost 6 feet tall and in middle school. I want to tell you today how proud I am of you and how much we love you!

You have always been my laughter. You were making us laugh the minute you were born, peeing into a box of sterile gloves immediately after birth, and haven’t stopped making us laugh since. You make friends easily and are liked by so many people. God has given you so many talents but making people feel loved and special is one of those. You have a heart for other people and a gift for really seeing people and knowing how they are feeling. I love the way you care for those around you, especially Mimi Duncan. I’m so glad you have gotten to care for her and know her. I can see caring for others in your future.

Having the ability to see how others are truly feeling is a gift, but it also comes at a cost of having anxiety. Don’t let that get in the way of your dreams. I know you feel unsure and don’t know what career path you want to take yet, and that’s okay, you are still young. God has it all planned out, just trust and take one step at a time as He opens the doors. Anxiety can be debilitating and stop you from doing those things in life you really want to do. Keep God in the forefront of your mind and stay in prayer to try to keep anxiety in check. And if need be, always seek help as you grow older. Anxiety is the cost if being very sensitive to other people, which is a gift so many people in this day and age don’t have. You are not a failure if you need to be on medication or seek counseling for your anxiety when you get older. So many people, myself included struggle with anxiety, you are not alone.

You are braver than you realize. Remember that in life. Don’t be afraid to keep your adventurous spirit and try new things. I love how you are willing to step outside your comfort zone, keep doing that.

I know being the younger brother is hard sometimes. Sam is an overachiever and hard to live up to. Don’t ever feel less than him. He is Sam and you are Jordan. You are different and that’s okay. God has a very different path for you then the one he has for Sam. You don’t have to hold yourself up to Sam and compare. You both have so many strengths and abilities that God has given you and are unique and we love you for you. Don’t feel pressure to be like him. You make your own path in life.

Don’t be afraid to make your own decisions. I know you lean on Sam a lot for guidance, but I want you so feel like you can disagree with him and step out on your own out from under his shadow. I’m glad you value his opinion and he is a great role model, I’m thankful for that, but you are your own person and you will see the world differently than he does. “You do you” as Sam says. You are a smart, talented, witty, fun guy and you be you.

As you enter the teenage years I know you are a little apprehensive of the changes that come during those years. It’s going to be fine, don’t let it overwhelm you. We are here cheering you on in your successes and failures, because there will be both and that’s okay. We love you more than you could ever realize and we are proud of who you are now and are excited to see who you will become in the future. Happy Birthday Buddy!

One year ago….

I was sitting at my mother’s bedside. She had been admitted to Hospice two days before and they said it wouldn’t be long. It was Monday morning and I sat there watching HGTV because what exactly are you supposed to do at a bedside of someone who is lingering between heaven and earth? I felt like I should pray or something but after hours and hours of praying and talking to her, I just needed to take a mental break. I was sitting there alone at about 9am and wondering where everyone was. I wondered where my friends and family were and I wondered how long it would be before mom passed over. There is nothing quite like sitting at a deathbed. There are no rules and time seems to drag on forever and the world outside keeps going while your world has stopped. Around 10 my pastor came in. He talked with me and prayed with me and for mom. He said he felt like it wouldn’t be long, and I figured he knew more about these things than me having been at many deathbeds before. The nurse came in to give her a bath and then the doctor came. They kept asking me if there was anything else she would have wanted because no one could figure out why she was lingering. I turned off the HGTV and turned on Classical music, she loved music. She was in the choir at church and loved classical church music. She made it widely known her feelings of disdain for the new, loud, church songs of the last 20 years or so. Give her Handles Messiah or hymns and she was happy. She seem to settle some after I turned on the music. It amazes me what music can do, even for those you think might not hear it. It’s truly one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. Around 11 my cousin came in and my friend Kim. We sat around and talked and ate some lunch and shortly after that Mom’s breathing changed and we knew it was close to the end. We gathered at her bedside. We prayed and read scripture and she passed into glory. It was an experience I will never forget. It was both beautiful and traumatic. I cried and also felt relief that it was over. I hadn’t really expected to be there when she passed, to be honest. I figured she would pass during the night when I was gone. I didn’t have any idea what it would be like to watch her pass. It was hard. There was something in me that just knew it was not how it was meant to be. We are supposed to live forever, we were never supposed to die and our souls know. I thought if I was there I would probably be alone. That morning I felt sorry for myself because I was alone and wondered where everyone was. Little did I know God had the perfect time. He sent the perfect people I would need to be with me as she passed. They loved and consoled and helped me through it. They were people my mom loved dearly and we were all three like her children. They were there with me at most of the happiest and saddest times of my life and how fitting they would be there for this as well. I cannot say thank you enough to them for being there.

There is so much about that day I wanted to remember and so much I’d rather forget. I still can’t wrap my mind around the idea that she is gone. I think I will see her or she will call. But she won’t. I didn’t realize how much not having parents on this earth would effect me. It’s a really odd feeling. It feels like you have lost your past. Shortly after she passed I found a photo of myself and my parents on vacation and I wondered where we were. I realized that I have no one to ask anymore. It’s unsettling, but at the same time I am so thankful for the memories of her. That I had a wonderful mother and because of that I have a huge hole in my life that she left there. I have read that you don’t even fully process that a loss has occurred until a year later, and I think that’s true. I’m just now coming to terms with it I think. I used to dream of her. In every dream I had she would be there, but she’s not anymore.

It’s an odd club to be in, the no parents club. Most people in this club are much older than me. I feel cheated in some ways, having to deal with this so young, but in others I think it’s a gift. I’m still raising my kids and I think losing a parent when you are still raising young kids makes you a better parent. You see the long game and don’t get so wrapped up in the little messes. This year has been challenging on the parenting front. My special kids have been in crisis and my infant had a traumatic delivery and then now is dealing with food allergies. While all this is difficult, I know that in the end it means nothing. All these challenges will pass and my kids will grow up and leave the house, at least I hope so lol. They will become adults and I hope they will remember we loved them and always tried our best to give them what they needed. I hope they know we are proud of them no matter what, no matter their ability or not. I hope they will remember they had a grandmother who loved them and instilled in them a love for God and a love for hard work and determination. She has left a legacy of faith and love.

We’ve made it a year without her. I wasn’t sure I would. There were some dark days, but we kept moving forward, as time does. Today, mom, we remember. We will eat pizza and pecan pie in your honor and remember how much we loved you and how much you loved us.

Ready, Aim, Fire!

Recently my oldest son turned 15. We started talking to him seriously about his goals in life and what he wants to be when he grows up. We have talked about this before, but now we are taking steps toward his goals and that is a sobering thought to me. It’s not the 8 year old saying he wants to be a astronaut and you say ‘Nice honey’ and move on. These goals are forming the trajectory of his life. I have been doing a lot of praying about how to help him with this. I very intimidated about helping someone plan what they will do in their life. It’s a big deal! As I was praying this vision came to me.

Psalm 127:4 “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.”

Our children are our arrows and we have the job of launching them in the right direction. There are stages to that process: ready, aim, fire!

Ready:

Most of your child’s life is spent in the “ready” phase. This is from birth till about high school. It’s when you are training them and molding them into the person they will be. This is when you are teaching them to tie their shoes and how to be a good friend. You teach them values and morals. This is like crafting the perfect arrow. If one little thing is off in an arrow it will not fly and hit it’s target. Now before you freak out, it’s not all about you! As a young parent you think that the success and failures of your children fall solely at your feet. If your baby doesn’t sit up on time or eat his vegetables, it’s all your fault. If your child doesn’t make good grades or isn’t popular in school, it’s your fault. As you grow as a parent you realize it’s not solely up to you. You are a good part of who they turn out to be but it’s also a matter of God given traits and their own choices that decide who they are. You are not responsible for those things. That should take some pressure off. Each child is his own person and make his own choices.

Aim:

This stage starts at around high school. The hard work of parenting is over, (Hahaha) Everyone in this stage will attest that the hard work has just begun. Granted you aren’t changing diapers and doing midnight feedings anymore, but the worry and stress of the teenage years is real. You can’t really understand it till you have one. This is when you are aiming your child in the direction that is right for them.

Proverbs 22:6 “Start children off on the way they should go,
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

If you read this flat you would think that it’s saying that if you are a good parent and do it all perfectly that your child will turn out good and if you mess it up, well then it’s all your fault if your child is a disaster. That’s not it. If you look at the original words on this verse you will see that it’s an individual thing. It’s saying you have to find the right path for each child and that looks different for each child. You have to help them find their path, not your path, or the path you think they need, but their path. This is where I find myself with my 15 year old. Helping him discover what his path is is an awesome responsibility that I don’t take lightly. I am trying to be so careful not to project my ideas of who I think  he is onto him. All parents have dreams for their child but this is where they get in the way. If your dream for your child is to be a doctor but that child wants to be a mechanic someone is going to be disappointed and frustrated. I want Sam to find what he wants in life no matter what that is. I am trying to listen to his interests and help him explore those without judgement or influence. I’m trying to give good advice without influencing his direction, but also not pointing him into some unrealistic. The options are limitless and helping him choose his path is a huge responsibility.

Fire!:

This is where we will be soon enough when our arrow leaves our hands and is heading toward his goal. I used to think this was one moment in time, but I don’t think it is now. I used to think it happened the moment he moved out from under our roof but I think it’s a gradual letting go. Last week we went to the DMV for him to get his learner’s permit. He was about to do the eye exam and the lady told him to get a alcohol swab and clean the machine before he used it. He had a hard time opening it and it took all my will power not to help. I realized that he was at the DMV to take a test to become a driver. The DMV was going to let him drive because they felt he was ready and he didn’t need his mommy to help him open the alcohol swab. He needed to do that himself. It’s a tiny example but it’s a bigger thing. Trying to not step in and allow your child to make their own decisions and stretch their wings is important. You don’t want them to get out on their own and fail because you have done it all for them and they can’t take care of things for themselves. Baby chickens will die after they hatch if you help them get out of the egg shell because they need to struggle and do that for themselves to develop the strength for the next part of life…living outside the shell. Our kids are the same.

Parenting is such an awesome task. God has given us these precious souls to guide into the path He has for them. I pray we are all up to the task and with God’s help we will be successful.

The Room

Three years ago we moved into our current house. Before we moved in, it belonged to my husband’s grandmother and we bought it after she passed away. She had built the house in the 80’s and lived in it until three years ago. This week I moved my youngest son into the back bedroom. I sat in there nursing him during the night because apparently he is allergic to sleep. As I sat there, I began to have memories of that room over the years.

When Glenn’s grandmother owned the house it was her guest room. Almost twenty years ago now, I was in college and Glenn and I were engaged. In May of the year we got married, I finished the semester and I was living in the dorm, but of course, had to move out. We were getting married in July and I needed a place to stay for a couple of months, so his grandmother allowed me to live with her and I stayed in that room. It was pink with flowered wallpaper then, but I have so many memories of living in that room and planning our wedding.

Then after we bought the house, four of our boys moved into that room. I have memories of the first night we slept here and we had wall to wall mattresses for the boys in that room.

Then three of the boys moved into another room and my youngest child at the time, Luke, slept in that room. I remember being up with him one time when he was sick and rocking him all night, it felt like. Then shortly after that just before he turned 2, I was 21 weeks pregnant and had just found out that our baby was stillborn. I was putting Luke to bed and preparing to go to the hospital to be induced and deliver this baby in what I knew would be one of the hardest moments of my life. I sat in the dark singing to Luke and I couldn’t get through the song because I was crying so hard.

We moved Luke out into the room with his brothers in summer of 2017. We didn’t have a need for the room to be empty but I just felt it was time for Luke to move. A month later my mom got sick and needed to move in with us on short notice. I saw then that God had worked it all out ahead of time so we would have an empty room for her. She moved in and lived with us for nine months. As I open the closet in that room I see her stuff that I can’t bear to get rid of. I see the blanket that was lovingly made by some church ladies and donated to Hospice House and was laid on her after she passed and given to me to remember her. It reminds me of hard days and happy days that we had while she lived in that room. Days of helping her get the room all set up and pretty, and days of having to call the fire department because she had fallen.

The week my went into Hospice my cousin Travis and his wife and son came to stay with us and help out as mom passed and with funeral arrangements. They stayed in that room. They were such a comfort to me during those hard days.

After my mom passed last summer we quickly cleaned out the room and painted it for my oldest son to move in. I needed a change. I couldn’t bear to walk past that room as it was after mom left it. Sam lived in that room until just a week ago. I have memories of my husband painting it with him just the right shade of blue that Sam painstakingly picked out. He was so excited to have his own room, if even for a short time.

And now I sit in that room at night and nurse Will. I know there will be many more memories made in that room with Will as he grows, but what a legacy of memories there is in that room.

Dear mom,

I have written this letter so many times in my mind. There are so many things I wanted to say but never go the chance before you passed away. In the movies, there is always a long drawn out moment before people pass that everyone gets to say how they feel, but I have found this rarely happens in real life. Even though I think we both knew for some time that your time was drawing close, we never wanted to say it out loud. Even in hospice care, I just couldn’t bring it up and you were not totally coherent at that point. I told you I loved you and that you were a good mom, and I think you heard me. I am sorry you didn’t get to talk to the kids. I know you wanted to, and I brought them, but we couldn’t wake you up by that time. Each one touched you and said they loved you and I thought you squeezed my hand. I think you knew. Honestly, as a mom, I was a bit relieved that they didn’t have to say goodbye because I couldn’t bring myself to do it and I can’t imagine them having the ability to. You and I weren’t always good at the tough conversations.

I just went a few weeks ago to visit your graveside. I hadn’t been back since the service in June. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m not a grave visitor. But Glenn says it’s ok because there are no rules for grieving and we as the survivors just do what we feel is good for us and not what some expectations are. Your headstone turned out really nicely. It’s made from rock from the NC mountains that I know you loved so much. It has an inscription about being with the Lord and dogwood flowers on it, which I know were your favorite. Glenn chose a great spot for you, close to Miss Janet. God’s hand was in that because those plots were not supposed to be sold as singles, but someone had just accidentally sold one in a set of four and so we were able to get one for you. Now there are three older ladies buried on either side of you. I think you would smile to see that. It makes me happy to know you aren’t alone there. Not that you are there, because I know you aren’t, but it makes me happy just the same.

Baby William arrived October 15, 2018 and his delivery was difficult as I imagined it would be. The whole time I was reminded of you and missing you. Glenn said he came and showed you his picture at your graveside just after he was born. You would love him, of course. It comforts me to see that Glenn is missing you so much more than I expected he might, and that I am not alone in my grief. It saddens me to think that only Sam and Jordan will really have memories of you. Josh and Elijah will likely have some vague ones but Luke will not remember at all I don’t think. I wish that were different. I wish they could know you as I did. I am thankful though that you had 82 years. So many people don’t get that chance and to think you could have died when I was a teenager and you had your first heart attack. God was gracious to allow us more time.

Christmas was hard. I knew it would be. It’s was more the time leading up to it than the actual day. The Sunday before, I stayed home and cried most of the day. I knew everyone would be all “Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays” and I just couldn’t do it. But grief is like that. It comes up at the most unexpected times and you just have to allow yourself space to feel it all and roll with it. Your birthday wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. We had a dinner you would like and made you a cake and ice cream.

In some ways it feels like it’s been forever since you passed and then again no time at all. I don’t think I have fully accepted you are really gone. I feel like sometimes I will see you somewhere or you will call me, but then I realize the truth. I struggle with not feeling alone. I told my counselor that it feels like I have no anchor anymore and I’m just drifting alone. This is when I really wish I had siblings, although I do have Travis, which I am so thankful for. I think being adopted and having your parents divorce at a young age just leaves scars of fear of being alone that you never get over. I find myself having to fight an irrational fear that something will happen to Glenn and then I will really be alone. Again, I know that isn’t true, but it’s how I feel. I can’t imagine being a single parent and raising kids like you did. You did a great job of moving past some impossible situations and making the best of them. I inherited my strength and stubbornness from you.

I know the last year we had was difficult. I know you were in such a difficult situation of having to live with us and being sick most of the time. I know you never wanted that and I didn’t want it for you. I feel like we got through it pretty well most of the time. I’m sorry for not always being kind and patient. I know you felt bad for being difficult at times. Overall, as I said to you once, I was so glad I could have that opportunity to leave it all on the table and care for you so that you would have no doubt that I loved you. I am so glad we had that season in our lives. The memories of having you here are priceless and I’m glad the kids got the chance to spent those months with you so closely too.

I know I am just writing this letter for myself mostly, although I do believe that the vial between here and heaven is much thinner than we think and that you might be able to see this and what goes on here. If so, know that I loved you and you are missed so greatly. But as I told you right before you passed, I will be ok. I am finding my way to being ok. Not that I will ever get passed this or over it, but through it to find my new normal.

How to move forward

I realized recently that one of the things my mom taught me was something she didn’t even realize. She taught me how to move forward after losing her. This past summer she went to be with Jesus and now I am facing my first Christmas and her birthday all in the same week without her. But I realized that she left me with all the tools I need to get through this and move forward, because I watched her do it when she lost her mom many years ago. I was 10 years old when my grandma died. It wasn’t unexpected, she had been sick with cancer for a year or so, but you can never really prepare for the day you get the call that someone has passed away. I remember the phone ringing and I just knew she had passed. My grandma and I were very close. I was the only granddaughter and much younger than my cousins. She and I were also close because we were both adopted. I loved her dearly and looked up to her because she was a strong woman of faith. She was widowed with three young kids and put herself through nursing school by taking in other people’s laundry and ironing. She also rented out the bedrooms in her house while she and her three kids slept in one small room together. They were very poor but she got her nursing training and worked to make a good life for herself and her kids. She told me stories of how God provided in those years for her and it increased my faith.

The day my mom got the call, she came to tell me what I already knew, that grandma had passed. We hugged each other and cried. She taught me it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to not be okay when someone you love passes away. A few weeks earlier I saw her out in the backyard crying and screaming at God. Begging Him to take my grandma so she wouldn’t suffer any longer. I had the same experience with my mother’s passing and I knew it was okay because I saw her do it with my grandma. It’s okay to be angry and sad at the same time. It’s okay to have a fierce conversation with God about your circumstances. God can handle it.

We traveled to Miami where my mom was from for my grandma’s funeral. Mom walked through the drama of picking out all the things necessary for a funeral all the while I watched her be strong, and I knew she was going to be okay. She was sad and would be sad for a while, but with time she would be okay.

Years later she told me that she still had the urge to call her mom each time she came home from a trip, which she did while my grandmother was alive. She told me she missed her mom every day, even though she had been gone for years. She taught me it was okay to miss her and that grief is not something you get passed, but something you learn to live with for the rest of your life. She taught me I would always miss her, and that was okay.

So, today as I work through my first Christmas and I don’t feel all that Merry, I know that it’s okay to be sad and happy at the same time. It’s okay to miss her, and I will always miss her. It’s okay to not be okay today, but eventually it will get better. I know I will get through this as she did because I come from a long line of strong women, whose faith in God sustains them. I am forever grateful that she taught me these things and I know that today, and in the days to come, I am teaching my kids how to move forward when I am called to glory someday.