Archive for the ‘How to Handle Adversity’ Category

Reflecting on the Opposite Sides of a Coin Philosophy

When I pulled up that Friday evening, I had the same overwhelming feeling that came over me the year before.  There was peace and sadness at the same time.  I looked around and felt gratitude for all the people and noticed how many women were there alone, also dropping off their children for grief camp.  And thus sorrow came along with the gratitude.  It was sunny upon retrieving my child that last day and then the mist and the drizzle came. The memorial service the kids put on for parents no longer with them that last afternoon was sweet and full of laughter at times, and at other moments, tear-provoking. 

And so was the weekend of opposites.  Two emotions and two feelings, opposite of each other and yet occurring at the same time.

And this happens, often really, if I think about it on a deep level.  I can feel loneliness and at the same time, contentment and peace.  I can feel happiness and sorrow together.  I can feel deep pain and hurt along with laughter and joy.  Often these two sides, just like those on a coin, can be turned and looked at from different perspectives.  I can hold one side and one emotion for as little or as long as I would like before I flip the coin and see the other side.  Sometimes I may choose to sit with the uncomfortable side for a while.  It reminds me of sadness or hard times but this is powerful and helpful to me.  I can recall those feelings of genuine anguish and appreciate them for the lessons they taught me.  I can feel that pain and connect with others who are hurting.  I can touch that feeling and appreciate how it carved me into the person I now am. 

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And when the time is right, I can flip that coin and consider the other perspective.  I can appreciate the joy that I have at a deeper level.  I can use the peace I feel to help my children.  I can love more fully and deeply as a result of all these opposites that have come to live and settle in me.

And I hope that these threads, due to tragedy, that are now weaving in and out of my core, find their way to binding me with others.  These threads leave my essence and move through my two children in different ways.  Sometimes I have no idea that my actions or words are touching them in any tangible way, but then months later something is said by one of them and it touches me greatly.  We are firmly connected not only by the parent-child bond, but also by that bond that comes from tragedy.  Sometimes unspeakable, especially with young children who may not be able to fully articulate their feelings, but the bond is there and it grows stronger all the time. 

And bonds can form and grow too with others as well.  As long as we embrace the duality of the coin and sit with the negative feelings as well as welcome the positive feelings.  Both of these sets of feelings have something to teach us and both help make us into better humans as a result.  So instead of trying to flip your coin too quickly to the side that pleases you, consider looking at the uncomfortable side.  Consider the message, the lessons, and appreciate how these unpleasant feelings can connect you to others and help you grow along your journey.

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Words and Remembering Can Be Wonderful Gifts

An old friend, a new friend, a friend across the miles I have never personally met, my mom, and a neighbor.  All these different parts came together this morning – all remembering.  All making me aware that there are people who surround us who support, who love, who honor.  Today is the day Jim died three years ago.  In some ways, it feels like a few months ago and in other ways, of course, so much has changed.  All I have to do to remember that one is look at how much our two children have grown and changed over the past several years.  But to think that people, some of whom I know only distantly, would remember this day and would think to honor Jim by remembering him – well that frankly is such a surprising blessing. 

Last night I was watching a television show that related to my winding and wondering thoughts on this anniversary day.  The show had a scene in it where a teenager died while texting and driving.  The grieving parents were sitting with the main character of the show and a pastor.  They were both recalling the need to try to make something beautiful out of things that don’t make sense, that are horrible and sad.  As so today, I realize the beautiful that comes from Jim in the children we had together – Jim’s son is a sweet, pensive, and athletic boy (just like his daddy); Jim’s daughter is a spitfire who likes to charm a room and knows what she wants (just like her daddy).  I also realize the beautiful that comes from Jim’s far to early departure from this world – that love is still here and friends and family will always be touched by Jim and I by their love back. 

The “why” Jim left so soon and “how” he could have been taken from his kids too early in life cannot be explained now, but for now I remember Jim and his kindness, his smile and laughter, his generosity, his perseverance, his perfectionism, and his love for his family and friends.  And I can find peace knowing he is hanging out with the coolest person who has ever lived on this planet (as the kids and I say) – Jesus. 

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Your Secret Super Power a Few Years Down the Road

I wrote a piece several years ago for a wonderful website called “Inspire Me Today”.  I wrote it while my now deceased husband was still alive and we were fighting for his life.  It is being reposted today and I hope you will revisit it by clicking here

As I reread the piece it made me reflect on how much as happened since I wrote it and how my view of the world has sharpened over time.  Even though Jim did not survive, our collective belief in ourselves, our family, our strength, and our knowledge that Jim would be healed in some way has not changed.  Our resilience got both Jim and I through some incredibly hard times.  Jim had chronic neurological Lyme disease that expressed itself with overlapping ALS-symptoms.  It got to the point that Jim could no longer walk, move, talk or breathe on his own.  Yet through these years Jim managed to touch people, to smile when friends showed up, to be present for our children.  His will was incredible and he survived longer than many physicians thought he would because of his belief in himself.  I juggled a job and raising children, managed to keep our family functioning as a family, and spearheaded Jim’s care because of my belief in self, lifted up with God’s help, and supported by many loving family and friends.

During the end of Jim’s life a friend said something profound to me that helped me realize that regardless of whether Jim would be healed while on Earth, it was guaranteed he would be healed after death.  In heaven, Jim is healthy again.  Our belief in self and our belief and faith in God supports that inner resilience and can make reality happen here or after in heaven.  My super power is still found within – it has taken a beating, but the joy I can feel for life and my children has been highlighted more brightly because of the pain of what we went through.  Not in spite of, but because of….. the secret super power is still present in full force – helping me carve a new path of my own choosing.

 

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Holiday Reflection Time

This time of year always brings out the glad and the sad at full face value. Not that the sadness is not present throughout the year, it’s never fully gone as a widow, but it is more subtle than during the holiday season. I choose to see the good in life and can push back the sadness that comes when I think about my late husband. During the holidays when there is a conscious direct acknowledgement of family, gratitude, precious time and life, gifts of grace, and joy, reflection is more direct than over the previous many months. Such deliberate consideration of life comes when my young daughter asks me to write down what I am thankful for, complete with justification. It comes when visiting the house of friends for Thanksgiving dinner and watching the interactions of couples and children. It comes with the time off from work and school and the ability to sleep in and have lazy mornings and time for pensive thought.

It is during such times that I am reminded of how grateful I really am for all that I have. It is also during these times that the underlying sadness of what is present consistently decides to rear its head directly and gives me pause. I have now been a widow through two holiday seasons, with young children that would be thriving with my late husband’s attention and love. We have lost much, especially when I think of potential future – what would my children’s personalities be like with Jim in the picture? What lessons are they missing out on that Jim would have given that I cannot? Will they be at a disadvantage compared to their peers because they didn’t have his attention, direction, and love? Will they grieve as they age and feel a gap in their lives?

The ultimate question becomes one of provision – that is, will I be able to give my children all they need to be successful, thriving people? With this mindset, the goal of helping my children do just that takes center stage and sadness once again gets its rightful place as a backdrop. The reminder that there is so much good in the world still overrides the sad card. The holiday months bring out a more direct attention to what is good and what is possible still – not what is lost, as much as what is to be celebrated. My late husband Jim is to be celebrated, the amazing new opportunities that have appeared in our lives are to be celebrated, and the excitement of what is to come is to be celebrated. During this time of year I am reminded of gifts to celebrate – gifts of people in my life, gifts in the form of reminders at the precise moment I need them, gifts in the form of grace, gifts in the form of Jesus coming to earth. And because of this final gift, we are guaranteed that we will see Jim again and that for now he is active and joyful in heaven.  I now understand that Jim wants me and our children to be happy on earth.  I did not know this last holiday season.  I do realize that this holiday season.  And that is a big cause for celebration for us all.

My 7-year old daughter's reminder that life is to be celebrated

My 7-year old daughter’s reminder that life is to be celebrated

What Had Death Done To Me?

What has death done to me?  This was a question posed by another widow who wrote an article about change and moving forward several months ago.  This question was buried in the middle of that article, but it popped from the screen and seemed to etch itself in my brain from that moment on.  I thought about how I would answer that question.  Became overwhelmed and unsure.  So I did what made sense – I pushed it to the back of my mind only for it to resurface again a few days later.  This pattern continued for weeks until I finally decided to try to articulate what death has done to me.

It is so complex and hits on so many levels that trying to succinctly state something seems disingenuous.  It is almost like if I summarize in a paragraph what Jim’s death has done to me that I would somehow be dishonoring my husband.  But still when I am honest and I consider the pattern that I see in much of my attitude since his death, I recognize that much of what has happened to me is ironic.  As a result of Jim’s death I find myself being more open, more out there in terms of connecting with friends, expressing my thoughts, not wanting to dwell on the trite but to be open and honest.  Many people have the opposite occurrence.  They become more reserved and sometimes even closed.  For me, things (events, happenings, people) are more raw now.  They hit at a different level which is hard to communicate.  There is a boldness in how I approach things that is different from what it was before.  And the openness to it all is apparent.

This open quality is not something my oldest friends or family would say has been with my for the long haul.  In fact, I believe I was very much the opposite.  A private person by nature and happy to be open with loved ones, but it took time to reach this point when first connecting with someone.  When Jim started getting very ill years ago, we wanted to help educate other people about Lyme disease.  As Jim’s voice left him physically, I took on the charge.  It was not within my comfort zone, but I did it because it felt like the right thing to do.  Upon Jim’s death, another floodgate opened – this one even further.  Now I find that I tend to answer a person’s question fully and honestly.  I don’t stop short.  I am wide open most of the time.

As I have come to appreciate this new view of life that I seem to have acquired, it brings a smile to my face.  You see when Jim and I got married 16 years ago one of our favorite songs, one that we played all the time and sang at the top of our lungs and danced to in the late hours of the night, was “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks.  The song deals with wanting freedom and wanting a new life and wanting to become the person you were meant to be.  So in a strange way, there is a circle that seems to have been completed.   The rawness and the boldness of the future unknown.  To be open to it regardless of where I have been in the past and to be fully immersed in the now.

 

(below:  Valentine of Milan Mourning Her Husband, the Duke of Orleans,
by Fleury-Francois)

The Question of Timing

Over the past several weeks I have found my thoughts returning to the issue of timing.  Various events have happened that have given me pause.  Our sweet 14-year old dog died, a friend got into a potentially very serious car accident that turned out to be just fine, several encounters with people who said something amazing, made me reflect on life, or gave me reason to wonder about “why.”  Throughout all these weeks the one recurring theme to my thoughts is “Why now?  Why this specific time and not weeks or years from now?

So there may be good timing, bad timing, or just timing that doesn’t quite fit in your plans but the event turns out to be alright when all is said and done.  But I have to believe that the timing of the event itself means something.  Or at least it should.  If you reflect on it appropriately.

And I guess that’s part of the trick – how do you know when an event is “worthy” of thoughtful reflection and how much time should you dedicate to the act of thoughtful engagement?  It seems like the answer is simple enough: if the event is powerful enough that you pause, even momentarily, it is worthy of a consideration.  And, if it is worthy of your time, then you should ponder and reflect until you feel settled.  This might mean a few hours or it could mean several weeks.  The point is that we too often let ourselves off the hook and get pulled in another direction or allow ourselves to get caught up in something else before we have adequately processed the timing of an event.

I would argue that we do a fine job considering an event, especially if it is something traumatic.  How can we avoid considering the event when it shakes up our world?  But, we aren’t so good at considering the timing of the event.  I may not be able to answer the specific question of why an event happens when it does, but I can take something away from the lesson of the timing.

For example, our family dog was getting older but still seemed to be in fine shape.  At times she would even act puppy-like running around the house and still active on walks.  Then one day she was struggling to walk and then 2 days later, we lost her.  It was so sudden, so unexpected in many ways, and I was left with the question of “Why specifically now?”  My children had already had much sadness, losing their father almost a year ago now, and now on top of that, another great loss.  For me, our dog was “our” dog – a connection to Jim – something else taken from me.  We found the dog together on a hike shortly after we married and the dog acted as a bond and connector between Jim and I.  Even though Jim wasn’t here, our dog was.  There was comfort in that.  So, again, the question of timing: Why did this happen now? 

I cannot answer that, but I can take something from it.  I am reminded that we cannot control events, but that we can control how we view the events.  We chose to celebrate our dog with friends coming to the house and sharing a meal with us, complete with an interpretive dance about dogs from my 6-year old.  We chose to consider the joy the dog brought us and how fortunate we were to have the privilege to own and care for a dog when not everyone can do this.  Questions from my 8-year old came during this time: questions about heaven and pets and his daddy.  We consulted the bible, we read some great material from Randy Alcorn’s book “Heaven” and I felt good considering that our dog was with Jim now and there was comfort in that.  Perhaps, ultimately, the timing was not for me, but for Jim.  The bible says there are animals in heaven and it is likely pets can be found there.  The idea of our dog now providing that connection to me and the kids for Jim is a gift.

If this is true, it makes me wonder if the timing of all events in some way offers a gift.  The gift may not be what we wanted or what we thought we needed; however, if we devote enough time and discipline ourselves to pondering the timing of an event as we should, will we be able to see a silver lining in that?

A New Year and the Change that it Highlights

New Year 2015

It is a strange feeling. Even though Jim was so sick for so many years, I always had the belief that “next year will be a better year” or “this upcoming year is Jim’s year to be healthy again.” Such thoughts kept me going, kept things bearable and we both worked hard towards this goal of health regained. But at the start of 2014 we celebrated the new year in the hospital and for awhile, I wasn’t sure we would be able to get Jim home. This became the new goal and we accomplished it. The remainder of 2014 was filled with ups and downs, but obviously Jim’s illness steadily overtook him and after half of a year, we lost him. So this year, 2015, my usual thoughts of “this is the year for Jim – for us – for our family” are gone. There is no Jim here anymore, there is no chance for health recovery here anymore, only a sadness and emptiness that the dreams we both had cannot be accomplished here anymore.

But a new year does bring the time for reflection in a formal way. A time to consider the review of the previous year and the aspirations for the upcoming one. Even though my new year is looking very different than I envisioned it last year at this time, it is an opportunity to embrace the gifts and blessings that surround me and my children. There are so many. Friends who invite you out and treat you as they always have, friends who pay special attention to the kids and take them on outings to remind them how good the world still is, family who send you lots of Christmas gifts to remind you that you are loved, friends and neighbors who contribute towards us going on a vacation and colleagues who pitch in to allow for the opportunity. Strangers and acquaintances who pray for us, helping to propel us forward. Sunny, cloudless days on a crisp winter day highlighting the trees and birds flying through the skies, reminding us all that there is beauty in the world. Always.

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