Monday, February 28, 2011

"Is Suffering Scary?"

I receive dozens of emails a day. I love them all.

(Perhaps you've sent one to me; know that I read it and appreciated your kindness, time, and words. I probably didn't respond, since email correspondence isn't yet within my daily capacity. But I hope to someday. And for now, I bask in the words other people have, especially when I can't find my own.)

There is an invisible community that has become part of mine, people who heard my story through a friend of a friend of a friend. People who read my words, and by God's grace, want to read more.

I have learned that people are learning from the transparency of my journey.

Some have said, "By showing us what you think, you're letting us as close to grief as we dare come. We don't have to experience the loss ourselves, and yet you let us know what it's like. You're living our greatest fear. You're showing us what a girl thinks after her young, healthy husband has died. You're showing us what it looks like: the good, the bad, the ugly - the real, the true, the pain. We don't have to feel it ourselves; you let us carefully in."

A friend emailed me recently; she is neither anonymous nor invisible, although she is far away and dearly written into my life's earlier chapters. She wrote, "Tricia, this sounds silly. I wish I could ask it in person. But... is suffering scary?"

Is suffering scary?

You'd sure think it would be. I sure thought it would be. It actually isn't.

I had long heard sermons and phrases like, "God gives you the grace when you need it, and not a moment before." In essence, wise people told me, "You can't imagine living your greatest fear, you can't imagine surviving, because you don't have to right now. But if you needed strength for that crisis, if you needed wisdom in that moment, God would give it to you. His grace isn't just about where you go after you die; it's about living this moment the way he wants you to. He gives you the grace when you need it. Not a moment before."

Turns out: it's true.

I find myself thinking, "Wow, God. You said you would do this. You said you wouldn't forsake me. You said you'd carry me. You said you'd protect me, provide, and show me the way. And you are. Here you are. You really are. You said you would, and now you are."

Now, let me also say this: there is fear. I feel it. There's a lot of scary.

As soon as I think outside this moment, I feel terrified.

I think about the day I will agree to receive his ashes from the mortuary.

I think about vacations we wanted to take; will I take them? 'Cause he was my tour guide. Can I do it alone?

I think about the house we planned to buy or build in the next three years, our 'one more move' into the house we hoped to stay in. The one with a 3-car garage for him, a writing office for me (lined with bookshelves, naturally), a backyard for the boys, and a finished basement for our someday-teenagers to freely host their friends. I wonder if I can sell a house, choose a house, buy a house - without him. I wonder if I want to. I wonder if I should. Ever.

I think about my professional life without him beside me, about the decisions I would rather have made with his thoughts combined with mine.

I wonder what I'll do when the boys need to learn to shave.

I wonder if a single mom should go to grad school. Even if she always, always wanted to.

I wonder about the days that will be harder than today, the nights that will be more sleepless than the last. I wonder how hard this will get.

And as soon as I step out of this moment, fear creeps right in to fill the space.

Suffering is not scary; worrying is.

I haven't yet found a moment I couldn't make it through, but I'm nearly always very, very afraid of the next one.

I was in one of those spin-cycles recently, orbiting around my concerns over each boy, about how to parent them in a dual role, about how to handle this, that, and everything. The next morning, I received a timely, poignant email - one from the anonymous, invisible community.

She had been awake during the night, thinking of our family, and she couldn't fall asleep. She said she felt a pressing urgency in her mind, almost a voice, saying:

Remind her.
Remind her that I know.
Remind her that I know they are fatherless.
Remind her that I know she is a widow.
Remind her that I know.
Remind her that I AM.

She couldn't go to sleep without giving an audible voice to these words, so she found my email and wrote to me at four in the morning. She added an apology: "I'm sorry if this isn't helpful. I really just wanted to go back to sleep, but I couldn't until I wrote this. I am supposed to remind you."

It's actually just what I needed. To remember. He knows. He is. He is I Am.

And when I'm there, in that place - or perhaps I should say, when I am here, when I am in this place - suffering isn't scary.

It's simply the moment that I am in.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Parables and the Like

"Tyler, what story did you hear at church today?"

"It was about a boat."

"Yes? What about it?"

"Just a boat."

"Was Jesus in it?"

"No."

"Fishermen?"

"No."

"Was there a raging storm?"

"No."

"Animals?"

"No."

"Did anybody get out of the boat and walk on water?"

"No."

(Thinking, thinking of all the Bible stories that include a boat. Hmmm.)

"What can you tell me about the boat?"

"It was a snack boat."

"A snack boat?"

"Yes. My teacher said, 'Listen to this story about the boat, and then you can have your snack.' A snack boat."

Pretty well sums it up, then. The Parable of the Snack Boat. A classic.

(Hey, Tyler, you make me smile.)

Similarities

"Mommy? I have lots of angel kisses."

(Our family's term for freckles.)

"You sure do, Tuck. You know who else had lots of freckles? Daddy. He had them everywhere. He had them on his hands, his arms, his legs - he was covered in angel kisses."

I watched Tuck study his hands, arms, and legs. "Look, Mommy! I have them too! Even some on my knees!"

"You do, buddy. You're like daddy in lots of ways."

"How else am I like Daddy?"

"Well, Daddy was very kind, and so are you. And Daddy was very smart, and so are you. And Daddy loved babies, and so do you. And Daddy was very handsome, and so are you, kiddo."

His face held a gentle smile of pride, as if I had just handed him a mantle of identity.

"I'm like my daddy."

"You sure are, buddy. And so is Tyler. In lots of ways."

And by God's grace, may you be men of integrity, leaders in your community, committed dads, rooted in faith, and may each of you become an honorable husband who cherishes his wife.

Please. Be a lot like your daddy.

The Gift of Presence

The sister of my heart came from Arkansas. She stayed with me for the intense ten days immediately following Robb's death, living closely the horrors of physical grief. She remembers those days in ways I cannot, and she intercedes for me every day from 800 miles away. Speed dial has no need for an area code.

A kindred spirit flew in from Chicago. A sudden heart connection a year ago, a seed of friendsip that instantly took root. A girl who knows, just simply knows.

A lifetime friend came from Minneapolis. Friends since we were twelve, she has known me as a teenager, college girl, engaged bride, newlywed, pregnant mom, new mom, preschool mom, and widow.

This weekend, these far away three joined the six women who live close, those who buy my groceries, clean my house, check on me daily, and never think twice.

She is a rare gift who will fly across the country to simply watch the Food Network, if that's all I have in me.

They loved me. They loved my children. They loved us.

"Tricia, you can rest. We'll be here when you wake up."

"Hey, Tuck? I think you're one cool kid. I'm so glad to see you."

"Tyler, you are one resilient kiddo." "No. I'm not resilient. I am three."

"We know you can't do it yet, Tricia. We didn't come to see Denver. We came to see you."

The gift of presence.

The gift of authentic community.

They came. They are.

I am blessed, loved, humbled, and carried.

***

"It's give and take. Laugh and cry. Carry and be carried. Committed and free. Catch and release. Striving and resting. Loud and silent. Risky and safe. Run and rest. Feed and feast. Screaming out loud and sacred." ~ j. edwards

Friday, February 25, 2011

Enlarged

"The soul is elastic, like a balloon.
It can grow larger through suffering.
Loss can enlarge its capacity
for anger,
depression,
despair,
and anguish,
all natural and legitimate emotions
whenever we experience loss.
Once enlarged,
the soul is also capable of experiencing greater
joy, strength,
peace and love."
~ j. sittser

Thursday, February 24, 2011

End Pieces

I've been known to enjoy a good puzzle.

I remember a few times of my childhood when we set a card table in the corner of the family room, scattered with hundreds of pieces. Sometimes we spent hours at a time, poring over the clues and pieces to see what fit where, which colors matched, what picture would unfold. Just the glimpse of a birdhouse or butterfly wings were encouragement to find the next piece.

Everyone knows the first two guidelines for completing a puzzle: find your corners and edges, and keep the lid close by. That big picture: a faithful guide map for puzzlers.

I feel like I'm living a puzzle, one I must put together as I go.

The pieces are scattered around me. A million pieces, it seems.

And I just wish I could find the edges, or even the corners, so I could know how big this might get. So I could gain some perspective.

There's no lid in sight.

I can neither see the big picture, nor can I put it all away.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

So Much to Hate, and Yet.

I have been without him for 60 days. Two months today.

There is so much to hate about this. So very much to hate.

I am a widow. I am 31, and I am a widow.

His smile, his conversation, his laughter... they are gone.

I have lost much confidence, strength, and security. I have lost our routines. I have lost the familiar.

There is no natural highlight to my day; he doesn't come home from work anymore.

My children are so young, only three and five. They are fatherless.

I hate this for them. I hate this.

My three-year-old has bad dreams and cries for his daddy in his sleep. He was once a joyful, free spirit, and now he is often frightened or angry.

My five-year-old is trying to grow up too fast, preparing himself for the worst, taking on worries and responsibilities that are not his, and always readying himself for the moment when I might die too.

My sons ask about him often, when he'll come back, if he still belongs to us. They wish for him and remember. They are so small that I fear they will remember very little. I must carry the memories for them.

I weep for them, for what has been taken, for what they don't know yet that they don't have.

I hate the unwelcome anxiety, the unannounced panic.

I hate the long days and the short nights. I hate falling asleep, the hours I miss him most. I hate waking up, when I must remember all over again that this new day won't hold him for me.

I hate the trembling, the fear, the shaking, the worry.

I hate the loneliness, the deep sadness, the swallowing grief.

I am single. I am a single mom.

There are three of us now.

I am a widow. Unexpectedly, so very tragically, I am a widow.

There is so much to hate about this.


But, somehow, I am not overcome. Somehow, each day begins again. Somehow I feed the boys, get them dressed to face the day, and teach them words like 'strong' and 'courageous.' Somehow, I put one foot in front of the other. Somehow, my broken heart continues to beat on its own.

In God's goodness, by his grace, he is holding me above bitterness.

I have felt every shade of sadness, but I have not felt angry.

I have wished, with all my heart, to have my husband back for another day, for the rest of our lives together, to raise our children together, to finish our plans. I have wished to have him here, but I have never questioned God's sovereignty.

I feel a quiet purpose in this.

I do not feel like it is a horrifying mistake.

I feel thankful for more than a decade of marriage, instead of robbed of the four or five more decades I had hoped for, even planned on.

Daily I grieve the injustice of loss, the unfairness of death.

ButI have not believed God to be unjust or unfair.

The Lord has gifted me in ways I am still learning, and I am becoming more familiar with my gifts of faith and discernment.

In the face of this tragedy, although my heart aches with a raw deepness I have never known, I believe God is on his throne, and I believe there is purpose in his plan.

By his grace, I am not overcome.

I know where my hope and my husband rest, and they are both with the Lord Jesus Christ. I know my eternity is secure, and I know I will see Robb there.

Sometimes it feels unfathomable to get through this week, this month, this year, or the next.

But by his grace, I do. This is his gift to me.

By his grace, I am not overcome.

***

I trust in your unfailing love;
My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
For he has been good to me.
Ps. 13: 5-6

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Giggling Widow

I went to the doctor today for a follow-up visit to gauge how well my meds are working out for me.

(God is good, and antidepressants aren't bad. Is my motto.)

As the nurse gave me the once-over before my doctor saw me, she asked a few typical questions.

"So, how are you coping?"

I have absolutely no idea how to answer this question. No idea. It's so vague. It changes by the moment. Even to say "okay" feels like a farse. There are no words, but I tried to piece together an answer to explain my widowed life in a nutshell.

That's just a bad question to start with. Not her fault, just not okay for me. But moving on.

"And when did your husband die?"

"December 23."

"Oh, that's right on Christmas Eve," she said casually, and made note on my medical chart.

Um, no it isn't.

My mom and I cast a split-second side glance at each other, just enough to furrow our eyebrows and silently say, "What the...? Did she just...? What just happened?"

And suddenly I got the giggles.

There I was, to be evaluated for my anxiety, grief, depression, and sleeplessness, and I'm nearly snorting to contain my laughter. She was taking my blood pressure, and I was clasping my hand over my mouth.

My mom busied herself with the wall mural. Ever the queen of the straight face.

It was one of those tense situations where something goes slightly awry at just the right moment, and laughter is inevitable. Might as well add delirium to the list, Nurse. This widow can't stop giggling.

So, for the record, December 23 is not Christmas Eve. It just isn't. Never will be.

(Hey. Guess what. I laughed today.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Scratches and Dents

"When you get a new car, and suddenly it has scratches and dents, it's easy to get fixated on those scratches and dents - distracted because it doesn't look the way you wanted it to.

Or you can remember that you have a great car that you still really love.

That's you, Tricia. A few scratches and dents. Some wear and tear. But girl, there's still a lot of drive in you."

~ my counselor

Just in Time

A couple of years ago, I guess closer to three, I came to terms with an ugliness in me: a root of ungratefulness.

Ungratefulness creeps in pretty silently. It masks itself as a helpful critic, one who sees quickly how things might be changed or improved, rather than finding joy and thankfulness for the way things are.

I needed a new discipline. I needed to change my thinking.

I bought a new journal, and I began to write down something each day. Something to be thankful for. I chose one particular genre: Robb.

For two years, I wrote something each day. I claimed something to be thankful for, a reason to smile over him. This discipline proved especially effective and particularly challenging during our rough days of disconnectedness, our harder seasons of living parallel instead of unified.

I began writing, one page at a time, until it was complete. I'll share a few excerpts with you...

***

  • July 15, 2008: I am thankful for Robb's playfulness, for the joy he brings to our home.
  • August 19, 2008: I taught the preschool class at church this morning. Robb helped get Tuck and Ty settled in their nurseries, and then he came to my classroom when a little boy needed to use the restroom and I couldn't leave. So thoughful.
  • August 26, 2008: We are trying to potty train Tucker. To help Tuck feel confident in the process, Daddy declared a No Pants Night. All the boys: pants off. He makes me laugh.
  • September 16, 2008: Tuck is in the hospital. Robb came home early from his business trip to take care of us.
  • November 12, 2008: Robb is out of town. I am thankful for his encouraging phone calls and texts. He helps me to remember that he remembers.
  • November 24, 2008: I am thankful for Robb's delight in Christmas. He starts decorating shortly after Halloween.
  • January 8, 2009: Robb brought flowers to me this week. And before that bouquet died, he brought me another one. Twice. In one week.
  • March 16, 2009: I am sick in bed. Robb brought me a drink and told me he 'misses his favorite friend.'
  • July 12, 2009: Surprise! Robb planned a huge party for my 30th birthday. Total surprise. I feel loved and celebrated. Abundantly.
  • August 8, 2009: Robb is helping Tuck learn to swim.
  • September 12, 2009: I am thankful Robb does Bath Night.
  • October 1, 2009: We have each had a horrendous day. Robb is buying ice cream at DQ. Quiet date for us: TV and ice cream. No little boys allowed.
  • October 31, 2009: We have a Superman and a Dragon for Halloween. I am thankful for Robb's fun spirit for great traditions.
  • November 15, 2009: I am driving to Arkansas today. Robb shoveled the driveway before he left for his business trip. All before 6 AM.
  • December 16, 2009: Robb folded all the laundry tonight. Loads and loads.
  • February 13, 2010: On our flight to Chicago, Robb let me sit across the aisle. By myself. I read, while he managed the flight with two little boys. What a husband.
  • February 23, 2010: Tonight as we climbed in to bed, Robb teased, "I do everything around here. You never notice." I can't wait to give him this proof: I notice.
  • March 6, 2010: I am thankful that Robb is supportive of my writing. In every way.
  • March 12, 2010: He is laughing with our sons as they throw a stuffed chicken around the living room. I am thankful for a partner in raising these two precious little guys.
  • April 6, 2010: I love when Robb lets me read to him. Even though he hates books.
  • May 3, 2010: I love that I married a leader.
  • May 10, 2010: Mother's Day was a pure gift. I am thankful to be appreciated, to be married to a man who celebrates me.
  • May 29, 2010: My brother is in town. I am thankful for the friendship between these two cherished men in my life. Together, they love me well.
  • June 22, 2010: He is sitting on the deck, teaching the boys to each push-up popsicles. I love this man.
  • June 24, 2010: Tonight after dinner, Tyler wanted a red popsicle, then a blue one, then a green one, then, no, a red one finally. Tucker wanted a cookie. No, a popsicle. Robb complied with all of their indecisiveness. Quietly returning to the garage freezer, again and again.
  • July 3, 2010: He makes me feel beautiful. Even on a camping trip.
  • July 9, 2010: We leave for Mexico in the morning. I am thankful to run away with this man. Happy Ten Years To Us.
***
I wrapped the journal with glittery paper and wire-edged ribbon. I gave it to him in Mexico, on our second honeymoon. He sat down in a cushy chair in our hotel suite and read it all in one sitting. (Even though he hates books.)
If I had waited six months longer, he never would have known. He never would have seen my words, known that I noticed. I gave it to him just in time.
This weekend, as I sorted through his many things, I found it.
And now it's mine again, to keep forever.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sorting

I cleaned out his closet today.

I found a dozen work shirts, all imprinted with the company logo. It was easier to give up the work shirts, pants, and shoes, the ones he wore only when he was away from me.

But there were others that carried paragraphs in their stitching.

I found the blue one I bought him for Father's Day.

The chocolate brown one he wore for a family photo session last summer.

The maroon one he often wore on dates with me.

The white one he wore on our second honeymoon last summer. During our oceanside dinner.

Sweatshirts I'm saving for me.

T-shirts I'm saving for a quilt, I hope.

Baseball hats of many varieties - mostly scarlet and gray, variations of Ohio State emblems, each either spotted with sweat or flawless from display.

I held close the shirts he loved, those which are faded, frayed around the edges, and so very worn.

I remembered the ones he hated. Barely worn at all.

I found some that I hated, worn far too much. :)

I cleaned, sorted, chose things to keep, chose things to share, and set aside the ones that were too painful to think about yet.

I sorted through a million memories. I kept many of my favorites. Many.

I cried, but I also laughed. We had so much fun together, that man and me.

But his life is not in those clothes, and neither are the memories. I will remember him in my writing, our conversations, the blog, and our letters. That's where I'll keep him.

Robb doesn't need those clothes. And I'm pretty sure somebody else does.


***
God bless the man who will wear the clothes Robb no longer needs.
May he be blessed in abundance, just as we have been.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Predatory

This note arrived in the mail. Hand written.

Dear Robb,

Remember how we talked in early December about you
wanting to sell your home?

I'm ready to talk details. Give me a call.
Put this rubberband on your wrist to remind you.

Can't wait to hear from you.

Nick


The note included first names, last names, our address, and misleading information to indicate that Robb had plans to sell our home - plans I know he did not make, plans someone believes I should blindly step into.

Predatory mail. I heard this would happen.

I have little fight left.

***

God, I ask for your hand of justice to deal with a man who preys upon a widow and her children. Please.

Again and Again

"Grandma, my birthday is coming in a few weeks."

"That's true, Tyler. Your birthday is the next one in this family, and you will be four. Do you know what you might like to have for your birthday?"

"Well, I'll be big, so I'm ready for big kid stuff. I'm thinking a skateboard."

(His mother is not leaning toward a skateboard. A bike is open for discussion, perhaps. With training wheels.)

"Daddy doesn't get to do birthdays anymore, Grandma."

"Oh, I bet he does, actually. Maybe they celebrate a whole different kind of birthday in heaven."

"But Daddy didn't get to do Christmas."

Tyler has a way of slouching himself into a deep slump to reflect his emotions. His entire body reflects his every thought, and he leaned into the sadness of remembering.

"Oh, yes he did!" Grandma explained. "See, God invented Christmas, so it's even better in heaven. Daddy had a wonderful Christmas. I'm sure of it."

"I miss him. I wish he would come back."

"I'm sure you do, Tyler. I miss him too. And when you're an old man, when you're a grandpa, you'll get to go to heaven to see Daddy. And he'll smile as soon as he sees you, and he'll know you. He'll say, 'Oh, there's my Tyler!'"

In a flash, Tyler's face burst with a smile. He said, "And will he throw me up in the air and spin me around, again and again?"

"I bet he sure will, Tyler. I bet he sure will."

I'm not sure how it works in heaven, how old Tyler will be in heaven after he has lived his life here. But I'm confident Robb will know his sons. And I'm pretty sure, if I know Robb at all, he'll scoop them up and toss them in the air.

Again and again.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pictures

I've been looking at pictures of our family.

I chose to share one recently, and I thought, "Oh, Tyler is still such a baby in that one. I should find one where he's older. A picture that's more up to date."

And in that moment, it occurred to me: from now on, the pictures of the four of us will be outdated. They will portray who we were.

My choices will be few: 1) pictures of the four of us where our children are babies, toddlers, or preschoolers; or 2) a current picture without Robb in it.

The family portrait on the wall - it's a memory.

Next year's Christmas card will have just three of us. And I suppose there is a strength in that, as opposed to some weird PhotoShop fanciwork with his head hovering oddly above us. Anything that says he's here isn't true.

There are three of us.

The pictures I have of him are all the pictures I will have of him.

I must hold tightly.

* * *











Monday, February 14, 2011

Head in the Game

I remember a time when the boys were small. Strange to say, since they're only three and five now... but they were smaller than they are now. Perhaps three and one.

Robb and I were fixing dinner, and they were having a mutual meltdown. Tyler was in his high chair, throwing a fit. Tucker was spinning in circles around the kitchen, throwing a fit. They were hungry, and we couldn't get food going fast enough.

And in the chaos of their noise and melting, I began to throw a fit of my own. One of those, they've-pushed-me-to-my-limit-and-I-may-lose-my-mind moments. If you've been the parent of toddlers, perhaps you know that moment of 'slightly elevated' blood pressure.

Robb stopped the meal prep, looked squarely at me and said, "No, not you too. I swear, I will walk out that door right now and leave you three to dinner on your own if you start to lose it too. I need you to do this, baby girl. Think with me. I need you on my team."

I've thought often of that scene, of when he begged me to get my head in the game. And in that moment, I did. He asked me to. He asked me to step up, do my part, and help him as the other half of this parenting team.

Sometimes, first thing in the morning, I remember that scene. As a new day awaits, another day without him in it. When it's all more than I can handle: the getting dressed, the planning the day, the decisions, plans, motions, and the world happening around me.

And I think of him saying, "Please. I need you to do this, baby girl. Think with me. I need you on my team."

And I get out of bed. Because I'm the other half of this parenting team.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On The Mat

I've always loved the story of the paralyzed man whose friends carried him to Jesus.

They knew Jesus was in town, and they knew Jesus was the only chance for their friend to walk again. So they carried him to the house where Jesus was preaching, only to find that there were so many throngs of people inside and surrounding the house that they couldn't get anywhere near their Healer.

So they climbed on the roof, dug a hole through the ceiling, and lowered their paralyzed friend into the room. When Jesus saw the faith of the friends, he forgave the man for his sins and told him to take up his mat and walk.

There's so much in this story, so many themes. Faith. Persistence. Forgiveness. Healing. Friendship.

But in the last six weeks, I've recognized another theme: Heaviness.

I bet the paralyzed man was heavy. "Dead weight" perhaps. He couldn't do anything for himself; we don't know the extent of his paralysis, but some translations refer to him as a paraplegic. His abilities were certainly and severely limited. He could do nothing without the help of his friends.

But they knew what he needed, they scooped up his mat, and they carried him to Jesus. And when the path wasn't easy, direct, or short, they didn't give up. They climbed on the roof, dug a hole (we're not talking about removing a few shingles), and lowered him into the room.

They loved him that much; they believed that deeply in his healing.

I've been thinking about how he felt to lay on that mat, to watch his friends work so hard, believe so much.

I bet his friends were sweaty. Maybe they were breathing hard with exhaustion. Maybe the friends traded places to redistribute the weight. Perhaps they had blisters on their hands.

I wonder about the thoughts of the paralyzed man.

"Oh, my, look at you. Look at all of you. I'm sorry you're so tired. I'm so sorry your hands hurt. I'm so sorry you have blisters. I'm sorry this is so hard. I'm sorry I'm so heavy. I wish I could do something. I wish I could help you... I wish I could help you carry me."

But he couldn't. He couldn't change his situation, he couldn't figure out how to weigh less. He couldn't help his friends. He simply had to let them love him.

But I imagine he prayed for their encouragement, for their rest, for the Lord's abundant blessing on them for their faith on his behalf.

I imagine he said many things to them. Or perhaps he simply thought the words, over and over.

"I'm sorry I'm so heavy. I'm sorry this is so hard. Thank you for carrying me. Thank you for loving me this much."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Presence and Input

The boys have begun seeing a child therapist who specializes in grief and trauma. She works through play therapy, an inviting modality for children to think in a safe place.

As she played Family with them, she let them assign the roles. They made her the baby, handed her a bottle, and said she couldn't talk.

She said their tactic was predictable and valid, and actually pretty smart. In essence, they said, we want your presence, but we don't want your input. Please play, but don't tell us how to do this. We're figuring it out on our own. We don't need an adult to tell us how to sort this new life of ours. We'll do it on our own, thank you.

Oh, sweet boys. Sweet, precious boys.

I thought about their approach, their stubborn will to ask for presence but not input. Their counselor has answers, but they put her in the corner.

I found this excerpt from my journal, January 13, 2011.

~ ~ ~

God, where are you?
Where are you in this mess?
Where are you in my grief?
Where are you?

I do not feel your absence, but neither do I feel your presence.

You have promised you will never leave me or forsake me...
but where are you?

I feel like we are in a dark room together, and you have stopped talking.

Where are you?

I believe you did not lead me into this valley to then abandon me, a widow.

Jesus, be near. Be my betrothed. Be my husband.

Yet, even as I ask you,
you are reminding me of the Scripture you put on my heart today.

This is what the Lord says,
he who created you, he who formed you -
'Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
You are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, Your Savior.'

Isaiah 43
Strength and honour will be her clothing, and she will rejoice in time.
Proverbs 31:25
Show me the way that I should go, for you to I lift up my soul.
Psalm 143:8
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.
Psalm 116:7
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and the mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
Psalm 40:1-3
I guess you have been speaking.
Please be patient with me.
You are like water to my soul.
~ ~ ~
My Counselor has answers.
May I not put Him in a corner.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Above and Beyond

The Starbucks manager greeted me this morning: "I have something for you."

She slipped around the corner into the Starbucks inner sanctum, and she came back with a clear plastic box. It was latched closed, had a handle on top, and filled with games, toys, crafts, and crayons.

"I saw you here with your boys on their snow day, and I loved the pictures on your blog, so I got this box of fun for you. Any time you want to bring them here, this box is just for you guys. I know it's hard enough to get two little guys out and on the go, so don't worry about packing toys and games. We'll keep these here for you."

Before I could say thank you, she continued, "And don't worry - this won't be out and available for anyone else. It's just for your kids. You let any of the baristas know when you need it; we all know you. We want to help you, and we really want to make sure your kids like it here."

Impressive. Above and beyond.

People amaze me.

Curveball

My mom and I have frequent lunch dates. We've been doing that for about 15 years or so, give or take. Today, we chose Qdoba. As I paid for my meal, I handed the gentleman my 'frequent diner' card.

"And where is Robb today?"

Um. What? I looked at him blankly. I've never seen this man before; is he really asking about my husband?

"Robb. Your card is registered under his name. Where is he today? Working?" He had a teasing smile, like I was the lucky girl to have lunch out on my husband's dime.

Wow. Um... "Yes." Working on something, maybe. I'm not really sure what exactly he's doing right now.... Wow. But I just said, "Yes."

With a smile, he continued, "Well, he has accumulated 800 points on this card, probably thanks to you. So you'll probably be the one to enjoy the free meal in two more visits."

Yes. I probably will.

He handed me my meal and a cup for my beverage. I smiled gently. He had no idea.

My goodness. Sometimes there's just no way to prepare.

(This is why it takes my every ounce of courage to leave my home.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Questions.

Tuck and I went on a date. McDonald's. He ordered (with coaching) and paid (with a gift card), and he carefully carried our tray to the table. A hamburger, fries, and the coveted item: a chocolate milkshake. It's really what makes it a date.

Never too early to teach a little man how to treat a lady.

"Tuck, let's chat. Let's play Questions."

"Okay, Mommy. I'm ready."

I love his little, proud smile. It's a subtle one, but moms know subtleties.

"Who do you like most in your preschool class?"

"I really like Chase and Max."

"Yeah? What do you like about them?"

"I like to play Monsters on the playground."

"Well, that sounds like fun. What's your favorite part of preschool?"

"Playing Monsters. With Chase and Max."

(I see a theme.)

"Is there anyone you don't like as much?"

"Amanda. She's too fluffy."

Fluffy.

"Well, she might not be able to change that. It's okay if you like some people less than others, but try to be patient with the things people can't change about themselves. Fluffy is hard to change."

He offered the universal nod to maternal advice on friendship. We each ate a couple of french fries.

"So, Tuck, tell me something that makes you happy."

Smile. "Transformers."

"Oh, me too, kiddo. Excellent choice. Tell me something that makes you mad."

"When Tyler takes my Transformer and says it's his."

"Fair enough. Brothers do that sometimes. That would bother me, too."

French fry. Milkshake.

"How do you feel when it snows?"

"Happy. I love snow."

"How about when it rains? How do you feel?"

"I don't like rain, but I do like a storm."

"Me, too. Thunder, lightning, all of that good stuff... Hey, Tuck, how do you feel when Mommy cries?"

"I feel sad. Because I know you miss Daddy."

"I sure do miss him. I cry sometimes because my heart is so very sad, and I wish he was here."

"But he's in heaven, Mommy."

"I know, kiddo. I love that for him. What do you think he's doing right now?"

Tuck eyed his milkshake. With a far away smile, "Maybe he's drinking a milkshake."

"He sure could be. They have the best milkshakes in heaven. I just know it."

He took a long sip of his, just for good measure.

"Tuck, does anything make you afraid?"

He thought. "When you cry."

"I thought so, kiddo. Sometimes you cry when you're sad, and I'm the same way. I just feel sad because I miss Daddy, but I'm still Mommy, and you're still safe."

"Okay."

"Do you have any questions you want to ask me?"

"Hey, Mommy?"

"Yes, buddy?"

"I think I just really want to eat my french fries."

"Fair enough, kiddo. Let's eat."

If You Want Me To

The pathway is broken, the signs are unclear,
and I don't know the reasons why you brought me here.
But just because you love me,
the way that you do,
I'll walk through this valley if you want me to.

No, I'm not who I was when I took my first step,
but I'm clinging to the promise:
You're not through with me yet.
So if all of these trials bring me closer to you,
then I'll walk through this fire if you want me to.

It may not be the way I would have chosen
when you lead me through a world that's not my home.
But you never said it would be easy;
You only said I'd never go alone.

So when the world turns against me
and I'm all by myself,
And I can't hear you answer my cries for help,
I'll remember the suffering that your love put you through.
And I'll walk through the darkness if you want me to.

'Cause when I cross over Jordan,
I'm gonna sing.
I'm gonna shout.
I'm gonna look into your eyes and say,
"You never let me down."
So take me on the pathway that leads me home to you.
And I will walk through this valley if you want me to.

Yes, I will walk through this valley if you want me to.

~ Ginny Owens
"If You Want Me To"
~ ~ ~
Arise, Lord!
Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief.
You consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits herself to you;
You are the helper of the fatherless.
You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;
You encourage them and listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
~ Psalm 10

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Dreamed Of Him.

I had my first dream about Robb. Oh, man. It was so great.

We were on a date at a Mexican restaurant, one we had never been to in our life together. He kept getting up to 'work the room', leaving me to eat chips and salsa by myself.

That's very unlike Robb, by the way. He preferred for me to not make eye contact with other people when we had a night alone together, so he would never, ever have left the table to chat with other guests.

But you know. Dreams.

The thing is, I didn't even mind. I loved watching him, milling about in this Mexican restaurant, chatting and mingling with confidence and a great laugh. There was no sound in my dream, but I watched him laugh. And you can glean a lot from watching laughter, I promise you.

He was wearing shorts, naturally. (He wore shorts 300 days of the year.) He was wearing a great shirt. He looked so great; he had such charisma, such confidence. The kind that's so naturally attractive.

I just watched him, with my chin in my hand.

He kept coming back to sit across from me, and still I just watched him. I remember thinking, "I didn't think I'd get to do this again. I just didn't think I'd get to do this again."

I woke up smiling.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Why I Deleted

I posted a story this morning: a story about Tyler.

It was funny, light, and potent. It was about a personal scene that he made very public, a question a boy should ask his dad, and a whole new and poignant reason for us to miss his daddy.

I wrote, revised, saved, and posted.

And then I started thinking more about Tyler. About this story about him, this personal story.

Someday, he might not appreciate I told it. Today, he's three, and he might not mind. But someday he'll be older, and I might have just overstepped a boundary that doesn't yet exist. I can't ever let my boys believe I am not safe, that anything is bloggable, that our home is less than theirs.

My children are a plethora of stories, but they are first of all people. They are people worth my greatest respect.

So I deleted it. If you read it, it's okay. Feel free to know the story.

I just couldn't leave it on the internet. I just couldn't.

That's why I deleted it. For Tyler.

Who I Was Before

My counselor is a gracious, compassionate woman who is smart and confident. She can follow any rabbit trail, remember where I left off, listen carefully, and show heaping amounts of empathy and righteous indignation.

Plus, she's 5'10" and wears sassy heels without apology. This, I love.

"Tricia, tell me who you were before December 23. What was true of you?"

I thought for a bit. Tears came faster than words.

"I was productive.
I made a list, and I crossed things off.
I was on the go.
I didn't call myself a stay-at-home mom;
I was a stay-in-the-van mom.
I loved an adventure.
I was ready.
I was an encourager.
I was confident.
I was brave."
She listened. She noted my list.

"You will be all those things again, Tricia. You will. That girl is in there. She's just hiding for a while. You'll be that girl again."

I'll be that girl again.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wonderings

I wonder why I still sleep on my side of the bed, when I could spread out and sleep sideways if I wish.

I wonder why I have no problem sorting through the things he no longer needed, used, or wanted. But I can't seem to take his clothes from my closet. His dresser is still stocked. The things he used.

I wonder what I will do with the pictures of me on his dresser, of the 19-year-old, curly, college girl he fell in love with. There they sit.

I wonder why quiet snowfall make my eyes well with tears.

I wonder what my children will remember. About this, us, me, him.

I wonder how long they will want to snuggle with me on Saturday mornings. How long Tucker will continue to say, "Mommy, not yet. Please don't get up yet."

I wonder if Tyler will grow into the next size of clothes with a whole closet of items he refused to wear even once.

I wonder how to live in this moment. I wonder how one truly does that.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Thing about Grief

Grief is a puzzling guest.


Its strokes are broad, from numb to panic, with a million shades of deep sadness in between.


Sometimes it is honest, teeming with memories and moments that were sacred and must remain forever etched in the core of our family.


Sometimes it is a liar, shouting things like, "You can't do this without him. How is one day different from another? Why even try, when everything leads to panic and exhaustion?"


Sometimes it is even more confusing and confounding, when it whispers those words instead. Lies are further misleading when they are merely whispers.


Sometimes grief is warm, welcoming, and patient, washing me with cleansing tears.


Sometimes grief is angry and mean, burning a hole in me, with no tears left in my dry well.


It tempts me to claim it as my strength. It invites me to claim this purple heart, this badge of courage: Look What Was Taken From Me. Look how I am allowed to feel, for as long as I want, without any reprimand. I am learning that there is a quiet power in holding on to hurt, and a blanket of comfort can swiftly become a security or an identity, without my even noticing.


But sometimes, grief brings joy. They are not mutually exclusive. I can laugh with my friends, tickle my boys, enjoy a good meal, and play my music loud... and still grieve that he is not here to do that with me. To hear about it all.


Joy is a knowing.

I've known joy that takes over my whole being, keeps me from standing still, spills and splashes, and makes my heart sing. For this season, grief is here, settled in, making its home, and showing me its every shade. We are becoming deeply acquainted.


But joy is a knowing. And the joy of the Lord is my strength.


I'll feel that way again.

Today, We Did Okay.

It's crazy cold in Denver this week. Like, minus in the double digits. Like, close the library because it's cold outside. (Who closes the library when it's cold?) Like, close the preschool because it's cold outside.

And right there you've got my attention. We'll need a Plan B. Pronto.

"Hey, guys, I have a great plan for today. How about if we go to Starbucks, you can drink hot chocolate, I'll get a mocha, and we'll play games until lunchtime?"

Tucker was all over it.

Tyler was disappointed. "But I wanted to go to Disney World."

Yeah, me too, kiddo. Starbucks is a close second, though.

Two hours later, and I wish I were exaggerating, we were out the door.




We played Uno, during which Tucker kept calling it Luna, Tyler kept shouting Bingo, and he kept declaring matches, as if this game were so similar to Memory.
We also played Old Maid, which Tyler lost, but he was sure he won since he was the only one with one more card left.
And we played a card matching game, which involved what the boys have aptly named The Pufferfish Hug. It accompanies any victory.


As we played, we talked about Daddy.
Tucker remembered when Daddy taught him to ride his bike.
Tyler remembered climbing on Daddy's head. (Wrestling has taken a backseat these days; I'm not so much up for the climbing on the head business.)
I remembered bedtimes and Daddy's silly stories.
We laughed, played, and remembered. With whipped cream on top.
Today, we did okay.