Archive for the ‘lessons learned’ 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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The Ring and the New Year

I guess the new year always brings in the good and the sad.  The reflection of what is not great compared to the wonderful.  This was reflected in my day both physically and mentally.  As my kids are back in school after the break and I am getting ready to head back to work, I am trying to finish some tasks and tend to matters that I have decided are important now. 

The day started off misty and rainy damp.  The sky was gray, but then gave way to the sun and the temperature rose.  For January, it was a perfectly lovely day.  I had to put on my sunglasses and take off my coat.  As I was driving to the jewelers, I noticed road signs that stated de-icing efforts were underway and, sure enough, minutes later I saw a truck putting salt on the roads.  This struck me as so odd.  The temperature was in the 60s and yet we were preparing for snow several days later. 

In North Carolina, even if it does snow, it will be sunny and warm within hours to days and the snow or ice will melt and the temperatures will again rise into the 50s.  A downward blip to make you rest and reflect followed by an upward surge of sunshine and activity.  And so is life…..

Once I made it to the jewelry store, I rang the doorbell and was buzzed inside.  It was as if I was stepping into the past.  I hadn’t been to this store in years and the memories flooded.  I pictured my late husband returning to this store week after week before he proposed to find a flawless, perfect diamond.  I recalled the stories of the people there trying to convince him the ring he was considering was perhaps not the best choice since it wasn’t a typical engagement ring (it was the perfect choice for me – Jim was right).  I looked around at the style of the store, the fanciness of the décor, the dress of the people who worked there and it was so my late husband.  It made me smile, and, of course, it made me sad at the same time.

After Jim died, I continued to wear my engagement ring on my left hand for a long time.  Then I decided to not wear it for an even longer time.  Recently I have decided I want to wear it again, but this time on my right hand instead (and thus the need to get it resized at the fancy jewelry store).  I am excited to get my ring back and to wear it again.  Jim did an excellent job selecting a ring he knew I would love and it will always remind me of him.  Wearing it again will be lovely.  The gloom of the past many years is trying to give way to a sunshine upsurge. 

As my life continues to change and morph into the new normal it is, I know I will continue to have periods of misty, damp times.  The new year reminds us of this.  The new year always brings this chasm – excitement for what is ahead, the possibilities and also the tension that comes from expectations not being met or conditions not being what you want them to be at the moment.  Patience is definitely needed as I wait for the sunshine to penetrate through the mist.  This past year has been sad and frustrating at times but also very wonderful in so many ways.  The promise of the future and the new year is great however and I know my sunshine is on the horizon.  

New Book Giveaway

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick note to let you know that today is the last day of my book giveaway on goodreads.  I’m excited for you to read the new book as it has some neat contributions – my 9 year old son wrote some insights, my 7 year old daughter illustrated the book, and a friend’s eulogy to Jim is included in the book.  It is entitled When Miracles Aren’t Enough: The Lessons Tragedy Taught Me.  It has been well received and I’m excited to be giving away 20 books.  Please share the link as well with your friends.  Thanks so much!  Erica

Here is the link to enter the giveaway (again make sure you do it by the end of today – Friday March 4th): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27314454-when-miracles-aren-t-enough

 

How Death Changes Us

I hadn’t seen her in awhile, many months, and much has happened since that time. A warm smile and a sweet embrace followed.  Then the words, “How are you?”  These were sincere words.  A question from another widow.  Then the firing of questions back and forth between us, trying to get in as much as we could as we knew the time was short – the meeting was about to be called back to session.

This widow is older than I. Her children are now adults and grandchildren stumble at her feet.  My children are in elementary school.  She is now retired but still quite active working in so many other unpaid ways.  I am in a paying career at the moment.  Her late husband was told of his illness shortly before mine died, and her husband died just a few weeks later.  My husband’s illness lasted years.

The opposites that this widow and I shared were direct, but, at the same time, we had so much in common. I knew her.  She knew me.  The knowingness that comes with the transition to this new phase of our lives.

As I was contemplating these two sides of the coin that we shared, I heard her ask “Are you the same Erica?” Of course too much had happened over those seven plus years of struggling to regain my late husband’s life only for it to end in heartache.  She knew the answer, but was looking for a bit more.  I gave her the glance of knowing exactly what she meant and where she was headed.  Then without skipping a beat, she continued “I am not.  How can we be?  But you know what surprises me the most?”  I waited.  I really wasn’t sure what she was going to say.  I was intrigued and wanted to know – I have so much respect for her, and she has so much more experience than I do in her wisdom and walk in faith.  Would our answer be the same or on opposite sides of the coin?

With the twinkle I have come to see often in her eyes, she said, “What surprises me the most is that I have changed and I am happy about that.  I have changed for the better.”

With all the sadness, with the loneliness, with the heartache that can come in waves, so too comes the good. The knowledge that we will see our late husbands again in heaven and that they are great where they are now, free of pain and doing all sorts of things I can only dream about.  The hope that goodness can grow out of sadness.  The renewed people we have become.  The new perspectives we have.  The appreciation for gifts and life and new people that enter our lives.  The joy that can become with honoring and remembering our late husbands always but also carving out a new path for the rest of our journey here.

How my friend is “better” she couldn’t clarify for me. The meeting was being called back to order.  But I can guess.  The better when we realize we cannot control the events that may happen in our lives, but the freedom we gain when we control how we view those events and how we will approach the rest of our years here.   As for me and my family, we will continue to be “better” and grow “stronger” every month and we will continue to love and welcome new people into our lives.  This is important as relationships make life better.  Relationships make me better – they help to heal, they help to grow, they help me become a better mom, they help me become the person God intends for me to be.

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?

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