Tag Archives: hope

Dreams

“Shhh…don’t tell me until after you eat breakfast, or it won’t come true.”

This was Kevin’s response every time I woke him up saying, “I had the CRAZIEST dream last night!”

I have no clue where he came up with this little snippet of superstition. He didn’t really know, either, which led me to suspect he made it up so he could grab a few more precious minutes of sleep.

A dream is a wish your heart makes
When you’re fast asleep.
In dreams, you will lose your heartache,
Whatever you wish for, you keep…

He was here last night. In my dreams. Sometimes when he comes, it all makes sense but sometimes it’s so jumbled and the scenes move so quickly and I can’t quite catch what’s going on, but it doesn’t matter because Kevin is here, with me, and we’re together again and in my dream, I forget that he can’t stay.

I asked him, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” And I was a little weepy, a bit hysterical; Beary was so heavy as I carried her and traipsed through some waiting room that seemed familiar but not really; everything was turned around.

And he leaned close and his breath brushed my cheek. “I’m sorry, Baby Doll – I had to move when they started shifting things around.”

Then he took Beary from my arms and settled onto the bus with her and she snuggled up to him and said, “I’m glad we found you, Daddy!”

I squeezed in close on the seat to those two pieces that make up my heart. I closed my eyes and tried to doze – it seemed like we were taking such a long trip – but the bus engine rumbled so loudly, I couldn’t sleep…

I opened my eyes.

It wasn’t the bus. It was Katje, loudly purring into my face, trying to wake me up.

She reached out a paw, her claws grazing my cheek as she chased the tears that started to slide down my cheek to the pillow.

My girl rolled over, stretched her lazy Daddy-stretch, and smiled a sleepy smile. She snuggled in close to me, then closed her eyes for those last few precious minutes of sleep. “I had a dream about…” she started to mumble.

“Shhh…” I interrupted her. “Don’t tell me until after breakfast or it won’t come true.”

No matter how your heart is grieving,
If you keep on believing…
the dream that you wish will come true

“A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”, written and composed by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston for the Walt Disney film Cinderella (1950).

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The Christmas Card

Taking a deep breath, I relaxed my hunched-up shoulders, made little circles with my head to loosen up my neck, and plunged in. Time to get this Christmas card started, though it didn’t feel like it would be any easier than last year’s card – the emptiness still echoed in my heart. “Let’s see which photos look good, how ‘bout, Bear?” I dragged a couple of photos into the card template. So far, so good. Our kitties, Katje and Rafael, looked cute curled up under the Christmas tree. My girl fairly beamed perched on Santa’s knee, the two looking for all the world like long-lost, but finally reunited, BFFs.

Looks good, I thought to myself. Then I dragged the photo of the two of us into the template and I wanted to bury my face in my hands. I sighed.

“What, Mama? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know, Beary. I just look so…” I paused, searching for the right word, “…sad.”

“No, you don’t,” she insisted, already bored with this excruciatingly slow card-designing process and not anxious to pose for any more photos. “See? You’re smiling.”

And so I was. At least my mouth was. But my eyes? My eyes looked empty, lost, shadowed. Sad.

I looked up at the corkboard hanging over the desk. Christmas card photos from years past were tacked up there, and the three of us – Kevin, the Bear, and me – we looked so happy. You could almost hear the laughter ringing out from the candy-cane frame in one, and Beary looked as if she’d jump out of the photo for a big hug in another. Listen closely and the strains of a Christmas song echoed: “It’s the hap-happiest season of all…”

In all of those photos, my eyes lit up, sparkled, shone with love. Mostly because I was giggling at the silly antics my two photo-phobic goofballs got up to between shots. Both of them whined and fussed and dragged their feet as I set up the tripod and background, but as soon as I’d set the timer on the camera, the goofy faces began. Eyes crossed or fingers stuck in noses or tongues sticking out – they’d laugh and cut up and I’d helplessly, laughingly, beg, “C’mon, guys! Just a nice smile in this one, and we’ll be done. Okay?” It was like herding cats. And you can see it in the photos. You can see the barely-contained hilarity, the big guffaw of laughter that burst out after the camera flashed. You can see how very much love can be captured in just a fraction of a second, and when you multiply just that fraction of a second of love by all the seconds and minutes and hours we were together – well, that’s just a mind-boggling amount of love.

But now? Now I see the barely-contained grief, the under-eye ravages left from crying myself to sleep, the smile that tips the corners of my mouth but can’t quite convince the rest of my face to look happy. I see loneliness and sorrow and resignation. I see a me that I don’t recognize, because she looks nothing like the laughing wife and mother of Christmases past.

Ugh.

I thought — hoped — this year would be different. Last year was so hard; my grief was fresh and nothing felt right no matter how hard I tried for my girl. I was so relieved when Christmas was over and I could stop forcing the merriment. But the year flew by and now it’s Christmas again and I cry out, “God, help me!” because it doesn’t feel any different, any better, no matter how hard I try. I’ve gotten better at setting my grief aside sometimes, better at living this new life. But I still miss Kevin, more than probably anyone ever guesses when they see me out and about. I make candy, and sing carols, and buy presents, and carry on all our Christmas traditions, but never without thinking about the man who helped me create those very same traditions. The man who loved it all – from the magic of Santa to the miracle in the manger.

“Mama?” Her voice nudged me from my reverie. “Is the card almost done?”

I sighed. “Yeah, I think it’s as good as it’s gonna be.”

I looked at it again, the photo of the two of us. I saw my beautiful daughter, face glowing with her Daddy’s smile and her Daddy’s sparkling eyes, graceful and poised. But there in the black and white photo, winter trees bare behind us and no colors to distract, I saw something I’d missed before. The sad eyes were there, yes, always, but now I saw more. I saw a connection, two aching souls figuring out how to live with the bruises of grief. I saw the closeness the two of us have forged over the last twenty months, hard-earned through tears and misunderstandings and forgiveness and acceptance. I saw quiet beauty and immeasurable love. There wasn’t the merriment and mayhem of past Christmas card photos, but that’s okay – we’re just not there yet.

We’re in a place that God promised us, where He stays with us, loving and comforting and mourning and rejoicing. “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame,” claims the prophet Isaiah (58:11 NIV). Or, in another, more poetic and beautiful translation from The Message, the passage tells us that God promises us “a full life in the emptiest of places.”

A full life in the emptiest of places.

A life with my girl doing the things her Daddy would love, if he were here with us. A life where we grow closer to each other and closer to God as we carry on in this world where something is missing.

Yes, a full life in the emptiest of places. I hope that’s what shows in our Christmas card this year.

I Will Remember

She doesn’t sit and cuddle up with me as much as she used to, so when she snuggled her head into my shoulder and I felt her warm breath soft against my neck, the song rose unbidden and filled the air around us. I didn’t even think about it – just closed my eyes as her fingers tangled in the ends of my hair – and sang the words low into the night.

Toora-loora-loora
Toora-loora-li
Toora-loora-loora
Hush now, don’t you cry
Toora-loora-loora
Toora-loora-li
Toora-loora-loora
It’s an Irish lullaby

I remembered all the words, though it’s been years since I sang my Bear to sleep. I sensed, rather than saw, her beautiful mouth curve into a smile as she curled more closely into me. She remembered, too.

My voice broke as I struggled to finish the song through the tears that filled my throat and threatened to spill from my eyes. It’s so lonely, sometimes, being the only one who remembers. Her daddy fought so hard to stay with us long enough that she would remember him, to have her own stories to tell of him, but I’m the only one who remembers so many of the details of her life – our life as a family of three – before he died. If she’s to know the stories, the anecdotes, the inside family jokes – it’s up to me to hand them down, like some modern-day minstrel, wandering the lanes of my life with Kevin, weaving our story and giving her a sense of the family we were and the one we’ve become.

I could buckle under the pressure of being the family bard, and in that first wicked wave of grief, I did. I was frantic to remember everything and I showed myself no mercy. I couldn’t sleep anyway, so I wandered around in the night, blearily, wearily, trying to hold on to every memory that flooded my mind. Distraught, discouraged, drained – I knew I was going to fail at this one simple task: telling my girl about her Daddy.

I had to remember.

Then Grief’s heartless cousin Guilt moved in, making itself at home in the wreckage of my life. And I felt bad that I couldn’t remember the name of Kevin’s summer-league baseball team, or the names of the guys he roomed with in college, or the only phrase he remembered from high school Spanish. He’d told me all these things, but our daughter hadn’t heard them yet, and now…well, now, it was up to me and the answers weren’t right at my fingertips. So I got mad. Not at Kevin, but at cancer. Stupid, hateful, life-destroying cancer. If cancer hadn’t taken him away from us, our Bear would know these things, and more, about her Daddy. We only had ten years together – we were still learning things about each other, and now I’ll never know what I didn’t know about him.

The guilt and the anger and the grief pulled at me. I searched for joy and snatched moments of happiness, but those three dogged me and I worried about the things my girl would remember about me, about this time after Daddy died. I didn’t want her to think back to a frightened, irritated, worn-out mama who talked about keeping on and trusting God, but didn’t really seem to live it, who cried and yelled and desperately needed sleep. I needed to trust in the Lord with all my heart and seek His will and pray without ceasing and let Him comfort me in my mourning.

I needed to remember that my God will supply all my needs.

All my needs.

Even my memories.

He didn’t bring Kevin into my life, didn’t walk with us through the days of infertility and sustain us in the years of cancer, only to abandon me when Kevin died. He didn’t shower us with blessings, with comfort and joy and happy days, with heartachingly wonderful moments, and a beautiful Bear, only to leave me with no love and hope and no memories to hold on to in the dark days.

We will remember we will remember
We will remember the works of Your hands
We will stop and give You praise
For great is Thy faithfulness

You’re our creator, our life sustainer
Deliverer, our comfort, our joy
Throughout the ages, You’ve been our shelter
Our peace in the midst of the storm
….
When we walk through life’s darkest valleys
We will look back at all You have done
And we will shout “Our God is good
And He is the faithful One”

So I stop and I float and I pray and hold tight to His promises, and I live and love my girl and believe that all will be well; God’s working it out. He is good and He is faithful.

And I will remember. When I need to, I will remember, and she will, too. Words to a long-ago lullaby, stories of Kevin’s childhood, crazy travel mishaps, funny things that he and Beary did together.

But more than that, I will remember the love. Oh, the love. The glorious, life-altering, fill-me-up-to-overflowing love that spilled over and streamed through this home and bound the three of us together and created a family story we will tell again and again and again. That’s what I want my girl to remember most of all. The love. Whatever else I remember to tell her or forget to tell her, I want her to remember the love. God’s love. Her Daddy’s love. All the love we had for each other.

I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of thing you never forget.

“We Will Remember” by Tommy Walker

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.

Broken Hearts and the Glue of Joy

She felt a little nervous about this; “for it might end, you know,” said Alice to herself, “in my going out altogether like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?” And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle is like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.(from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

The sun dropped down into the trees behind her shoulder and not even the last, defiantly fiery blaze of scarlet rays could ward off the chill I felt inside at her words.

Fell down…
skull fracture…
ventilator…
We just don’t know…

I stumbled through clumsy words I hoped were enough, even as I knew they weren’t. No words are sufficient or right in that situation. This I know. Then I stumbled home, tears filling my eyes as I crossed the short stretch of yard that separated our houses. It hurts too much; I can’t take anymore. The broken pieces of my heart crumbled a little more at knowing my neighbor lay hurting in a hospital.

More bits crumbled inside when, later, I tucked my daughter into bed and listened to her sweetly childish prayer, “Bless Mr. C, God, and make his head better.” I fervently echoed her words then leaned in for the warm hug she squeezed around my neck. She doesn’t know it, but I depend on that hug every night to pull all the broken bits of me back together, to spread the glue of her love and compassion and joie de vivre across the fissures inside, to press my shattered heart gently back together, at least enough to manage another day.

Like Alice, I’m a little nervous right now. I worry that I’m disappearing, that the me I was is no longer and I don’t know about the me I’m becoming. Lots of days, the spirit is battered and the flame is weak and I cling to God’s promise that He will not break the bruised reed or put out the flickering wick (Isaiah 42:3). When Kevin died, grief split me wide open and all the wonderful bits of life were shattered by cancer’s heavy-handed blow. I struggled then – I struggle now – to gather all the pieces we’ve left and put a life back together, a life with my daughter that honors the spirit of her Daddy, that keeps his love swirling around us and inside us, linking us forever as a family. It’s not easy – this keeping on.

And this life alone…some days I wonder if I’m strong enough for it. I feel lonely and lost. I miss him so much. I want to hear his voice booming through the house. I want to feel his lips brush mine in a good-night kiss. I want to see him cuddle our girl and read her a story. And I wonder, if my heart keeps breaking over and over again every day in grief for him and sadness for the world, what will happen?

Will enough be left to keep hope alive and love beating steadily?

Yes.

The confident voice rises from somewhere deep inside the heart that my daughter’s hug has gently pressed back together.

Yes.

God knows broken hearts. He knows overwhelming grief. He knows the sadness in this life and He knows the darkness death brings. He knows we will feel overwhelmed and exhausted and our hearts will be frayed from being broken open for others.

But He also knows hope and love and peace. And He knows even just one small bit of joy found each day will be enough glue to hold me together for a little longer. When tiny fragments of joy collide with jagged shards of despair, they don’t shatter into crumbs of dust and blow away. No, all those specks and smidgeons gloriously scatter and, like magnificent God-filled-up prisms, reflect even more of His light into my life, multiplying the joy. And the joy is glue, more glue, enough glue to patch the pieces of this broken up heart, strengthening it for another day. The joy grows and my heart heals and it’s slow, but it’s enough.

Hope is alive and love beats steadily.

Updated to add: My neighbor passed away, and my heart cries again for the loss his family feels. Thank you, Mr. C for sending over a guy to blade the snow from my driveway. Thank you for mowing an extra strip (or two) of the grass between our yards. Thank you for generously sharing your tools as this stay-at-home mom tried some DIY projects. Thank you for waving each time you saw me in the yard – sometimes it was my only human contact on a hard day. You will be missed.