Tag Archives: coping

The Hurting Time

I read a book not too long ago, The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and heart-affirming and spoke to me on every page. But one passage stayed with me because of the deep truth it contained, a truth that every grieving person knows, a truth that lies within the shattered remains of a broken heart. It is a truth that is so very hard to give words to, hard to explain to anyone who’s never experienced the hurting time.

“Do you know there’s a halfway world between each ending and each new beginning? It’s called the hurting time, Jean Perdu. It’s a bog; it’s where your dreams and worries and forgotten plans gather. Your steps are heavier during that time. Don’t underestimate the transition, Jeanno, between farewell and new departure. Give yourself the time you need. Some thresholds are too wide to be taken in one stride.”

I struggle this time of year, struggle with waking up, struggle with going to sleep, struggle with finding joy in each day. Part of it is the change of the season, the turning back of the clock — I can never turn it far enough back to get me to Kevin. Part of it is the approaching holidays and the jarring juxtaposition of celebrating with my girl, but without her Daddy.

It’s the hurting time. It’s the threshold I’m still crossing.

I have words for it now.

Maybe that will help me struggle less.

Always Safe

“Mama!” She squealed in delight when I joined her at the edge of the beach, the cool water splashing over my toes. She danced in the surf, jumped over the waves, and shrieked when the sand rushed from under her feet, pulling her into the ocean. Water has always been her magic, and to have the vast gulf spread out before her was almost too much.

“Mama! Come in the water with me, please?” She turned her shining blue eyes, her Daddy’s eyes, on me.

How could I resist those beguiling eyes?

I tossed my phone into the beach bag, then took her hand and followed her into the pounding, yellow-flagged surf: medium hazard, moderate surf and currents. If she wanted to play farther out, she’d definitely need me with her.

“Mama?” she confided in a voice low over the waves’ roar, “I like it when we go in the water together, because we can go out farther, but you can hold me up when the big waves come so I’m always safe.”

And, boom – there it was. God always finds a way to remind me of His promises.

Kevin died two years ago – and I’m still here. Somehow. Honestly, in the weeks that followed his funeral, I’m not sure I thought I would make it through that much pain, that much grief, that much heartache. It hurt too much to breathe, to sleep, to eat, to talk…

It just hurt too much to live.

And, honestly, sometimes it still does.

But God is still here. He’s been here through it all. And when I forget that, as I have lately in the loneliness of grief and the busyness of life, He speaks through my beautiful Bear.

Stay with me, He reminds me. We’ll do this together and when this pounding, yellow-flagged life comes at you too big and too much, I’ll hold you up. You are always safe.

I smiled wryly to myself and waded out a little farther with my girl. She watched the waves rolling toward us and I swung her up, over and over, laughing at her screeches as she kicked the white caps that rushed by. And even when a massive wave caught us unaware and knocked us into the surf, I held on to her and kept her safe. We came up together…drenched…and laughing.

She is always safe. And so am I.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Psalm 5:11

All together, for always

“Ma-ma!”

I heard her clear little toddler voice ring out behind me as I stood at the kitchen counter, doing dishes. I turned around to find her decked out with seemingly every bit of finery her dress-up box contained.

“It’s time for the wed-ding!” she sang out, like our kitchen was a Broadway stage and I was in the back row.

She turned on her plastic high heels and clomped off to the front room. I followed and found Kev, sprawled sideways in his recliner, with a questioning look on his face that I’m sure matched mine.

“Okay, Mama, you have to say the words so I can marry Daddy,” our little Bear announced. Kevin smothered a snicker with a cough and a pillow over his face, leaving me to face the little bride alone.

“Umm…you’re marrying Daddy?” was all I could think of to say.

“Yes. I like him and he likes me. And I already know him, so we can get married.” Certain logic there, no doubt, and I hated to break the news to her.

“But, Baby Bear, Daddy’s already married,” I said and added, “To me.” Just in case that part wasn’t clear to our usually-precocious four-year-old.

“That’s okay. I can still marry him. And you’ll still be married to him for always. But now we’ll all be married together.”

That decided, she took her place beside Kevin’s recliner and motioned for me to begin.

So I did.

I married us all together for always.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”

________________________________________________________

“Mama, why did you say that?” She looked at me with questioning eyes when I hung up the phone.

“Say what, Bear?”

“Why did you say you were a ‘single mom’?”

I took a deep breath and sighed. “Well, a single mom is a mother who isn’t married and is raising her child all by herself…”

She interrupted. “But you’re married to Daddy so you’re not a single mom.”

I sighed again. “But Daddy died, honey, so technically, I AM a single mother. Most people don’t consider me married anymore; I’m a widow.”

We’ve had this conversation before, she and I. One time, as we watched a movie, I commented about a character not wearing a wedding ring anymore. And my girl piped up, “But you should always wear your wedding ring. It means you’re still connected to Daddy. If you take it off, it will mean he’s farther away from us.” Another time, as I attempted to explain how someone had a father and a stepfather, she said, “But you’re still married to Daddy, so you can’t marry anyone else.”

She’s not being stubborn or obtuse; I know she understands our situation. She simply doesn’t apply the rules and reality of death to it. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism; maybe it’s a way to deal with grief. I don’t know. And, honestly, in my heart, I agree with her. These new words feel so foreign: widow, single mom. I’m still wearing my rings. Kevin is still very much a part of our everyday lives. We talk about him, remember things about him, giggle about his silliness, kvetch over his picky eating habits – anyone listening to our conversations would assume he’s still alive and well and with us.

I married us all together for always.

But in my head? That’s a different story. Logically, I know that I’m a widow. I test the word out in my mind, roll it around. It doesn’t fit yet, doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t feel like an accurate definition of my life. Not when my life is so full of my baby Kev – she is so much like her Daddy, and not just in looks. With her around, he’s simply not gone yet, despite the fact that a very official death certificate is tucked away in the safe, ready to pull out when I need to legally verify his absence.

No, I don’t really feel like a widow, but I do feel like a single mom. Some nights, panic grips me as I carry the Bear to my bed and lay down beside her. And in those moments, I imagine impossibly terrible things: What if I die in my sleep? What will happen when she wakes up? How long will it be before someone finds her alone? Will she call someone? Will she sit beside me, crying, telling me to please wake up? I pace through the dark house, afraid to sleep, crying, feeling like this weight of grief and panic will crush me.

I can’t die, I cry out to God in those lonely hours, I can’t leave her alone.

And in that cry, in that release of my fear, I finally feel a peace, I feel a presence. I feel His promise.

You’re not going to leave her alone, He says. Just like you haven’t been left alone. I know you miss Kevin; I know you feel lonely and afraid. Yes, you are a single mom, but I am the Singular God. You are a widow, but I am the Wonderful Almighty. I will never leave you, never let you go. You don’t have to do this by yourself. I am always here, always holding your hand. And I’ve got her, too. I promise. You will always be together in Me. Trust me.

I take a deep breath. I stop pacing. I lay down in my bed, beside my beautiful Bear and listen to her slow, even breathing. I reach out and tug a blanket over her shoulder. Then I close my eyes and let His promises cover me.

Being a single mom is hard. It’s not what I imagined the day Kevin and I became parents to our incredible little girl. I never thought I’d be raising her by myself. I never imagined a life where he wasn’t on this parenting adventure with me, laughing and crying and trying to help our Bear make sense of this world. I never imagined we wouldn’t all be together for always.

Every day I have to stop and take a deep breath. And another. And another. I feel God’s hand close around me.

“People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, steady on their Feet, because they keep at it and don’t quit.” (Isaiah 26:3, The Message)

And I whisper, We’re all together for always.

The Unremarkable Room

The room was unremarkable, really. Square-ish, small, with scuffed wooden floors and an outdated fireplace. But he could see the possibilities of that room and imagine it and in his mind it was the home library he’d always wanted.

“Hey, Baby Doll, we can line that wall with bookshelves and put a couple of leather chairs facing the fireplace. It’ll be great!” Kevin’s voice echoed in the mostly empty room.

His eyes shone as the space transformed in his mind. The scuffed floor disappeared as I entered his imagination. “And a cozy rug under our feet. Maybe a couple of lamps by the chairs for reading light. Oooh, and a low table in between our chairs for a cup of tea.”

“Quite right, old girl,” he clipped out in an appallingly bad British accent, then reached out to squeeze a hug around my waist. At my feet, our six-month-old baby Bear woke up in her pumpkin seat. Her Kevin-blue eyes blinked slowly as she twisted her head up toward our voices, then a giggle bubbled out.

“I think Beary likes this house, too,” laughed Kevin. “This is it. This is the one. Let’s do it.”

A few weeks later, with papers signed and new keys in hand, we moved into the house with the unremarkable room. The cozy rug went down in front of the fireplace and beautiful oak bookcases lined the long wall. We filled them with books, books, and more books – all the history we loved and read voraciously, arranged in a loose chronological fashion. No overstuffed leather reading chairs yet, but a floor lamp and an old lounge chair from Kevin’s bachelor days offered a place to sit, at least. A few toys scattered across the floor and a baby girl rolling in the sun lighting the room from double windows on the south wall completed the picture. No echoes in the room now, just happy baby babbling.

We surveyed the scene from the kitchen entry. “The books look nice, Baby Doll!” His voice rumbled by my ear. “Yeah,” I replied, “The shelves turned out so nice. And we’ll get the chairs eventually; it doesn’t have to be finished all at once.”

The years went by and the room never was finished – at least, not the way we’d first imagined. More toys found their way into the cozy space. A Christmas tree went up by the fireplace and Santa brought a play kitchen which fit perfectly, tucked into a corner of the room. An art easel and sturdy plastic Step 1 play table claimed the space on the rug in front of the fireplace. A bin of stuffed animals lounged in the warm window and a wooden train track nestled in the valley between the bin and the beautiful bookshelves. We laughed about how a tiny girl had taken over our hearts…and turned our dream library into a playroom.

A couple more years passed and we thought of the day when our girl would head to school and the playroom could finally turn to the library we still imagined from time to time. But plans changed again and the playroom turned into a classroom as Little Bear and I explored preschool fun together, then moved to full-time homeschool. When his declining health forced Kevin to leave work, he took on a new job as history teacher to our girl. Their matching blue eyes shone with pride as Beary recounted the morning’s lesson to me, with Kevin nodding when she glanced at him for confirmation about a fact.

I cleared the room out over the weekend. A hailstorm damaged our roof last spring, and it had started to leak by the fireplace in the classroom. New shingles and flashing fixed the problem outside, but some of the classroom ceiling had to be removed and replaced. A two-day project, I was told, but everything had to be taken out of the room before work could begin. Art carts and storage cabinets and bookshelves lined the hallway, while the classroom table found center stage in the kitchen. I took down all the maps and posters and the mostly empty room once more echoed with my footsteps. It felt like déjà vu.

The cats sniffed around, curious at the emptiness, and my girl danced around, delighting in the echo-ey reverberations that bounced off the walls. I stood in the middle of the room, on the still-scuffed wooden floors.

“Can you see it, Baby Doll?”

I heard his voice echoing from my heart.

I felt a tear slip down my cheek. Yeah, Kev. I can see it.

And I could, because I knew he didn’t mean the once-dreamed about library. We had a single dream for that room, but God gave us so much more, because our dream was so small and His plan is huge and perfect and He knew that a room filled with books couldn’t fill my life with the memories I’d need after Kevin died. I could see a laughing baby crawling across the cozy rug. I saw tea parties with Kevin’s crown perched precariously atop his head as he balanced himself on a toddler-sized chair. I saw our girl, completely splattered with paint, laughing gloriously as she swiped her hands across the easel and created “art” for Daddy’s office. I saw a manger and a reindeer and a Christmas tree with a little girl laying underneath, mesmerized by the twinkling white lights. I saw books and pencils and three-ring binders and our Bear at her study table, her little brain soaking up all the knowledge we poured over her. I saw all the love that filled this room every day and spilled over into the house, as the library gave way to a playroom and classroom.

That unremarkable room filled our life with extraordinary happiness and the memories of it all still echo in my heart. There is still so much aching and loneliness in my heart, but sitting there on the floor in that room echoing with Kevin’s voice and my daughter’s laughter, I felt a little less empty, a little more able to keep on going without him. We never got the library, but we got the life God allowed us to live – and, as Kevin predicted when we first saw the room…

It was great.

Life and Yellow Lights

An involuntary cry caught in my throat as I watched the car I was following speed down the road while I braked to a sudden stop. The yellow light flickered to red and the car disappeared around a curve.

“Mama?”

I heard my girl’s voice from the back seat. A little quaver, not panic. She’s gotten so good – too good – at picking up every tiny shift in my emotional barometer.

“Where did they go? Are we going to be lost now?”

I replied mechanically, the same words I’ve used over and over and over these last eighteen months in every situation that I’m unsure of: “We’re okay. We’ll be fine.”

A tear slid down my cheek. I hoped my oversized sunglasses hid it from my daughter’s eyes, peering at me from her backseat perch. It’s such stupid stuff that makes me cry these days. Random stuff. A missed phone call, a canceled get-together, a song playing in a store, a car leaving me behind at a stoplight. The wicked, crushing sobs of that first fresh grief no longer overwhelm me, but these smaller moments when tears sting my eyes unexpectedly are no less painful or powerful. I still can’t control the anguish when grief prickles and probes at the gaping black loneliness I feel without Kevin.

We’re okay. We’ll be fine. I think, I added.

I need Kevin, I thought a little hysterically, and another tear dripped off my chin and rolled down the seatbelt. I need Kevin and his maps. It was a little joke that every major car trip included him handing me a stack of pages printed from Mapquest. He drove and I navigated, pulling one map after another out of his carefully-prepared trip binder. Not that we didn’t still get turned around and off the beaten track a few times, computer and human error being unavoidable, but at least we had a map.

I didn’t have a map. Not for this road, and certainly not for this life.

I need Kevin.

The light finally turned green and I lurched forward, hitting the gas pedal too hard as I tried to catch up to the other car, tried to close the gap between us. Impossible. I felt trapped in a nightmare of those stupid word problems that confounded me in math class: If Car A is traveling x miles per hour and has a five minute head start, at what point will Car B, traveling y miles per hour catch up?

Answer: Never. The answer is never, never, never.

I will never catch up. Not on this physical road. Not on the metaphorical road. As much as I try to keep up with the other cars and people, and blend in with the traffic and activities, and just keep life going on, going forward, grief is like a yellow light flashing to red. It slows me down, forces me to stop, and life…well, it goes speeding by.

But as I’m stopped, waiting for my chance to get back on the road, to get going again, I realize what I told my daughter is true.

I don’t have to catch up. I can travel at the speed that works for me and we’re okay. We’ll be fine.

I know.

Because I do have maps. God wouldn’t leave me wandering.

When I’m sad and desperately missing my best friend, I think about Kevin and his maps. And then I hear God say, Find Joy — there’s some in every day if you look — and start there and then keep going. It will take you straight to Peace. The road twists a little, there are some sharp curves, and it might take a long time, but just keep going; you can’t miss it. I promise.

When I’m scared and lonely and need someone to talk to, I imagine God holding another map up to me. If you take Prayer, He says, that street right here, see? Well, just stay on it for a while, no stopping, and Comfort will be coming up soon.

Living with cancer is not an easy road. There are lots of dead-ends and Road Closed Ahead signs. Detours and No U-Turns Allowed are all over the place – even when all you want is to find the road that gets you back to the life you had before – the one without cancer. After a while, you accept the fact that the road you most want isn’t on any map you hold anymore. You have a new map, and new roads to travel, and you just have to figure out the best route to get through one of the toughest journeys in life. And we did it. We got turned around and lost sometimes, and Kevin being Kevin, maybe even tried a couple of illegal u-turns, but that never stopped us. We kept going and we managed to find the roads to Joy and Love and Happiness. God helped us, with an ear tender to our cries for help and the best guidebook ever written. And He’s helping me still.

Life is moving forward. That much I know is true. It’s still moving much too fast for me right now. Sometimes there will be people to follow, helping me find my way along this bumpy road, and sometimes I’ll get slowed down by grief and sadness and I’ll be on my own, navigating the hills and valleys by myself. When that happens, I’ll reach out for the travel binder, full of maps and love and memories, and I’ll just keep going. That’s the only way to get to the joy that’s waiting over the next hill. And there is joy over the next hill. That I know for sure is true. God promised it, Kevin’s living it, and I just have to keep believing I’ll find it.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking…then the Lord will be my God…’” (Genesis 28:20-21)