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Archive for widow’s tale

letters to my daughter . 091916

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This is one of those hard weeks for me. It marks four years since my husband, Mike, died. I keep looking for the time when these types of anniversaries don’t require me to retreat or take time off or climb out of that deep reservoir of grief and memories I seem to slip into. Each year is a little different, and I think a little easier. This one is easier than last year, and I’m trusting next year will be easier still.

My little ones were so young when he died. I sometimes wonder exactly what they remember. Baby Girl was only four at the time. This year, she’s lived as long without her father as she lived with him. It will take longer for the boys to reach that milestone, but they’ll get there. When those memories they do have rise to the surface, I find myself trying to shore them up. They look to me for confirmation that they really do remember what they think they remember. That their dad really was like what they think they remember. That he really did the things they think they remember.

It breaks my heart. In the way the detailed level of my own memories sometimes does. But, I’ve realized that one of my greatest services to them as this loss — this absence — meets each new stage of their upbringing is to help them remember. When they can’t remember, I’ll help them to be as sure of their dad as they can be.

letters to my children . 081116

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The funny thing about growing is that it’s really hard to see from the inside out. I guess we’re so used to our own skin and the sound of our own thoughts that sometimes we don’t notice when they shift a little.

This morning, my oldest and I were talking on the way to school about the schedules for the next few days, and I was trying to encourage him not to feel too stretched with some weekend activities coming up. His young heart puts on a brave face most of the time, but sometimes I see glimpses of the uncertainty coming out. “Mommy, every day I already feel stretched.” It was a small admission of his feelings about how he’s handling a new school year at a new school, being a 6th grader with seven classes instead of four, and several new weekly activities. There’s a lot of new there, and we all have uncertain feelings about change. The thing is, not three minutes before his comments, I was thinking how proud I was of how he was handling the newness and how well I thought he was doing with these changes. He just couldn’t see it for all the fear and concern in his own heart. I was able to remind him of what I see… that he’s growing. That he’s changing. That last year this time and for several more weeks, his struggles were showing a lot more. They were taking over. But this year, he’s learned to press forward and to take little steps to tackle the change. This year, I see more of his strength shining through. I see him growing.

Stronger, braver, taller, funnier, brighter, more curious and compassionate and confident, joyful, creative, and faithful. I see it so clearly every day. Every day I see him growing — and the other two as well. Sometimes we need that reminder of the growth that’s showing through on the outside.

It’s the same for me. It’s been almost four years since Mike died, and life has been moving. Sometimes I see myself as that same scared, newly single mom, overwhelmed by the responsibility and the emotion of all that’s happened. Sometimes I still am that woman. But, if I look carefully and I step outside my own head, sometimes I can also see glimpses of the woman who’s grown stronger and braver, more curious and compassionate. Joyful. I hope these three souls in my care can see me growing too.

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I wonder if they need to hear this. I’m certain they do. And I often grieve that I’m the one they hear it from. In these words… “would be.” I stay awake at nights sometimes wondering if they have this sense of void. The unfilled space in their hearts where a Daddy would fill. I wonder how much they remember. And if in their memories, they hear the words. I wonder if my saying them is a poor substitute. Or if it can somehow reach in and touch the gap.

My oldest earned his Arrow of Light in Cub Scouts last night. It’s a two-year process that he’s enjoyed, and worked for. And one that has taken me out of my comfort zone. When he said he wanted to join Cub Scouts, I felt this huge wave of anxiety. I didn’t know how to do that. But, with the help of great leaders, we did it together. I think about those experiences, and know his father would have enjoyed them. And, I wanted him to hear it… “I’m proud of you, son.” I wanted him to hear it in his heart and carry it with him for always. Stored up for those times when he needs to know. When he needs to know the joy he brought to his dad, and the joy he brings to me. Just by breathing.

Revisiting Long Beach

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When I was planning our summer, one of the things I wanted to do was take my kids to a few Mississippi places they hadn’t seen to give them more of a taste of our home state. When we scheduled our family vacation to Gulf Shores, Alabama last month, I decided to tack on a few extra days at the front end for us to wander through the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

My late husband, Mike, grew up on the Gulf Coast — in Long Beach, Mississippi — and I have bittersweet memories of only a few visits we made there, and of him sharing with me some of the things he enjoyed most about it. Although the Coast is only about five hours from our home in Starkville, before this summer, I had not been back to the area since we were there together. And, that was also a few years before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

For the Mississippi leg of our vacation, we stayed in Gulf Port, but did a lot of driving and exploring from Bay St. Louis to the west, all the way across to Ocean Springs to the east before heading over to Alabama. The trip brought up a lot of emotions for me. As with many things related to their Dad, I was a little apprehensive about showing the children some of the places that hold deep memories for me. At the same time, I was also excited to show them more about the things he loved and the place he lived as a child. They were so young when he died, and sometimes I think I need to fill in more of the picture they never got to experience with Mike. Of course, with anyone visiting the Coast for the first time since Katrina, I was very curious and apprehensive again about seeing the destruction and the changes it caused — even 10 years later.

It was actually a neat and cathartic experience to return to some of the places Mike showed me in on the coast, even with some of the huge changes caused by the hurricane’s destruction. The children were most interested in the simple details rather than any of the emotions about the places, and that was about my speed too.

We visited Shelter Rock Drive. Mike grew up in a small house on that block which is adjacent to Hwy 90. Although his childhood was filled with challenges, the neighborhood was a good spot, considering his love of wildlife, fishing and so many outdoor experiences. The lot on the corner of his street and Hwy 90 stood vacant since Hurricane Camille in 1969, when the house that was originally there was destroyed. Mike told stories of climbing the live oaks that remained on the lot during his childhood. During this first time back, my biggest glimpse of the reality of Katrina’s devastation was that Shelter Rock Drive is virtually just grass plots and concrete slabs almost grown over now. Not an easy sight to see, although I knew in my head it’s what I should expect.

Aside from driving around a little, the other place we visited in Mike’s hometown was the Long Beach fishing pier. Mike and I actually fished there a few times, which you can read as mostly Mike fishing and me dropping a few casts every now and then. Mike spent a lot of his youth fishing the pier and in some of the streams like Wolf River.
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The water in the Mississippi Gulf looks dirty. Mike taught me that it’s because it IS dirty. Not from lack of care, but because of the Mississippi River. The barrier islands trap water spilled into Mississippi Sound from the river and push it to shore. It makes for a “brackish” environment with its own wildlife and habitat. At least that’s my recollection of his explanation.

Mike taught me a lot of small details. And they’re all sometimes a little sketchy now…

Oleander is very pretty, but don’t ever use the stalks for a marshmallow roast because they are poisonous. The beaches on the Gulf Coast are actually man-made, and the native beaches were a lot more rocky. Deer Island almost touches the mainland in Gulf Port and he enjoyed camping there on occasion with friends. In the days before gambling was legal in Mississippi, the casino restaurant boats would sail out far enough to touch international waters in order to comply with the law. And folks on the boats tipped well. Crab cages have a trap crabs can crawl in, but not out. Crabbers drop their traps with a weight and line and come back hours later to haul in their catch. The water moccasins look just like hanging vines on Wolf Creek. “Floundering” uses this jabby thing on the end of a pole. Flounder have both their eyes on the same side of their body and if you slide your feet along the beach floor, you might stir one up. Fish from the pier really prefer live bait, but cold shrimp will do. Live bait shrimp aren’t pink. When somebody gets a hit on the pier, everybody watches him reel it in. There’s a tiny little jelly fish that washes ashore sometimes during low tide that makes the beach light up as you touch them. Pelicans fly long distances, see their prey from high up and take an amazing dive to grab it.

In our short visit to the pier, the children saw the same pelicans I did when Mike took me there. They looked across to Long Beach Harbor. They watched the daily fishermen cast out their nets with the weights on the end. I told them the same stories he told me and shared the details like I was a pro. Only, I’m not. I’m just trying to remember. The same as they are. All part of weaving together a life that only forms in our memories now.

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I’m so glad we took the time to revisit Long Beach this time — the first time for the children. Like priming a pump, the first time visiting what could be a difficult place draws out the opportunity for future experiences. I’m actually excited about taking them there again, and hoping they can find some of their own special places and memories in the place their Dad called home.

Stay tuned for a few more posts to come as I share more about our visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the Gulf Shores, Alabama area. We explored as many downtown areas across the coast as we could and found lots of fun places — small businesses, restored areas, museums, collections and more. Good memories!

Day Nine: Conversations with Baby Girl

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Yesterday as we were enjoying some time inside the farm house between cold walks, Baby Girl and I were hanging out on my bed. At the farm she has always shared a room with me, and it’s become a special thing. I’ve noticed that sometimes those down times are ripe for conversations — the ones that help me see her heart.

Baby Girl turned five in August. She was barely four when her father died, and of course sometimes our conversations about that situation are heart-breaking. She has always been the most expressive about Mike’s death which means that I am more likely to field those difficult questions and comments with her. Little girls have special relationships with their fathers. I do. And, so often I find myself looking for ways to help her deal with that loss while trying to shore up her memories.

I wrote last week about how much of a blessing time has been for me in giving me enough distance and processing of the situation with Mike to now begin to talk about him more freely and with more joy. I’ve seen how much that has helped Baby Girl in particular.

Because she is so young, sometimes I see her searching. Like she is trying to make her memories of her father more solid and real. That’s a process we are all going through. Everyone else just has more time — more memories — to pull from. So, she asks me questions. In surprising moments of contentment and safety, she asks. Times like yesterday afternoon.

We were hanging out on my bed in the farm house. She laid down on the side of the bed beside the wall next to where I sleep and asked of that was where Daddy slept. She began to explain to me how Daddy had used this bed to change her diapers and how he had picked her up from her bed when she woke up during the early morning hours and taken her to the farm house living room.

She’s told me this before. She repeats it for me occasionally. And asks, “is that right?” And I tell her “yes.” Every time she smiles to know that Daddy took care of her and changed her diaper and helped her when she needed to go back to sleep. Yesterday I told her that this was one of Daddy’s favorite things to do. I explained what I had all but forgotten myself. That Mike had often gotten up at the farm to play with her in the mornings — when toddlers always seem to wake. He did it to let me sleep. And to be with Baby Girl.

To write about it is still painful. I’m not quite at the stage where it is pure joy to remember the kindnesses Mike showed me, the kindness of his character, and the love he had for his children. I’m not sure I’ll ever count those memories as pure joy. They may always be twinged with the reality of his death and his choice to die. But, it is important for me to remember them again. And it’s important for Baby Girl to remember them. For me to be able to tell her “yes, that’s right.” To freely elaborate and give her more of the account of her father. To nurture those memories she treasures. What we all treasure. I’ve realized how important it is for me to help her hold them dear.

I’m learning how precious those moments of sharing are for our family. And for my own process of moving forward. I’m learning that it’s ok to show my children my tears and to give them permission to show their own. I’m learning that it is healthy and good for us to ask questions together and answer them together. I’m learning that joy does indeed come in the morning of our grief as we are slowly waking to those moments of truth and remembrance.

On Five Years and What Gets the Last Word

If you follow my EyeJunkie writing you may have noticed it’s been absent for a while. After the holidays, I decided to take a sabbatical from writing for a few months to regroup and maybe reframe my thinking.

Last Fall, I heard words like “moving” and “inspiring” and “heart-breaking” and even “brave” from readers as I shared some of the story of losing my husband in September to suicide after his struggles with depression. I don’t know about the accuracy of all those words, but I certainly hope the writings have brought comfort or understanding or even hope for some of you out there. For me, I somehow found a new and deeper level of honesty and transparency in writing about our sorrows and survival that has helped me to clarify some of the overwhelming complexity of this situation.

But, I needed a break.

The holidays were difficult, as I knew they would be. And they were more difficult than that. They were a push and pull of steps forward and steps back, of thinking I was further along and accepting that I wasn’t. In many ways, the pace and “spirit” of the Christmas season were overwhelming, and I found myself emotionally right back where I was in the first weeks after Mike’s death. I needed a break.

I needed a break from the severe honesty of revealing all the layers of a husband lost to suicide. I needed a break to find how my voice in this journaling space would be reshaped. I needed to find how my life in this new season would reshape. I needed a break from the ever-presence of death so that I could find new ways to create and love and live.

Of course, taking a break from writing didn’t really give me a break from dealing with Mike’s death. Only from trying to articulate it succinctly. But, it did become a symbol and a catalyst to give myself some emotional space to just be — in whatever ways I needed to be through the first months of 2013. To experience the ebb and flow of continuing on without the need to describe it. To let it come. And go. As normal life tends to do. And perhaps in some kind of normalcy, I could gain an edge on death and begin to let other things rise to the surface.

I have a dear friend who, several years ago, after looking through EyeJunkie for the first time, wrote to me that it “crackles with life.” It was high praise from someone I admire, and it served as confirmation that my “message” was getting through. This writing space has always been about life. About ways to really see and experience the scenes of life. To glean their meaning in joy and sorrow. Now. While the moments are here. Before they “go” in that perpetual come-and-go. It’s always been about life. And this Spring I realized I wasn’t willing to surrender it to death.

As much as I loved Mike and admired his perseverance through the struggles of depression. As much as we miss him in this world and the idea of what he might have become on the other side of depression. As much as I’ve wanted to preserve a legacy for him with my children and as much as I need to fully deal with the remnants of his life on this earth, I don’t want my life to be about his death. I don’t want my life to be about sorrow and the mere reflections of this tragedy. And I don’t want my writings here to be a chronicle of death. As healing as it has been for me to share openly about my heart through this process and as vital as it has seemed to become a voice for some kind of truth for others like me, I don’t want to surrender this space to death. For that is not the whole story. Of writing. Of living. Of life. It’s not the story. And it’s not the story I want to write.

And so, I took a sabbatical. Until I could write again about other things. And perhaps about death while LIVING beyond it.

Today marks the 5th anniversary of EyeJunkie. It seems a fitting day to begin again. Five years ago today I launched this foray into blogging with a poem called “the work of angel wings.” As I’ve reflected on writing during this four-month hiatus, I’ve realized that this space has a newer purpose. It began as simply a creative outlet. Now, with a design business, a second design + life blog, an adventure in block printing and the crazy schedules of three itty bitty creative types, I have almost too many creative outlets. Now, my pursuits are more about finding the best places to invest that creativity. Still, I find the process of writing and well-crafted expression to be just as vital in making those choices, especially as I move through a new life as a single mother.

As I continue sharing in this space, I hope it continues to chronicle my “adventures in paying attention.” The newer purposes center in old ones — remolded and re-imagined through hard times that make the call to pay close attention to this precious life all the more real. I’m committed to the same level of honesty begun last Fall about sorrow, and suicide, and depression. The process of healing and living continues, and I believe honesty is necessary. It’s crucial in the prevalence of mental disorders in our world today. And it’s crucial in acting out real life and faith as a human being, But, I’m equally committed to keeping death and sorrow in their place among the broader pageant of living. One newer purpose gleaned in this sabbatical has been the fierce pursuit of joy. And how vital it is to commit myself to finding joy in each day. To make the choices and decisions that bring joy. Lasting and real joy. To see it rise. To weather the ebb and flow of life’s experiences in such a way that allows joy to rise to the surface as evidence of what life truly is. And in this space of thinking and writing, to rightly give joy — and not death — the last and most profound word.

The Courage to Speak and the Courage to Listen

About ten years ago, my husband, Mike, was diagnosed with depression. The diagnosis was a relief. It gave us all at least a partial answer to the frustrating question of why his thinking was always so labored. Why it was such a struggle to think clearly and concisely and without circular rationale. It gave him a context for the obsessive patterns of thinking he could remember even from his young childhood. The diagnosis provided a doable plan of treatment that allowed him to find relief from what he described as a rampant and never-ending train of thought (about whatever concern was taking over at a given moment) that took every ounce of his energy to control. And the treatment worked. With varying stages of success for those ten years. Until through a series of converging circumstances, it didn’t.

Mike’s depression often manifested itself in obsessive and compulsive thinking, especially at times when control of his thoughts was more of a struggle. In more recent years, I came to believe that he developed his own views of reality to cope with what his mind would not allow him to accept about his life. His thoughts were consumed with greater and greater levels of anxiety and often moments of panic as he began his last downward spiral.

Mike was a gentle man by nature. He was so much more than a man plagued with depression, although the illness impacted him daily in ways even I can only imagine. I had never felt any cause for concern with Mike, never any ounce of fear except for the hard presence of his occasional suicidal thoughts. But, in those last months, I noticed myself feeling afraid, then pushing it aside. Afraid of the desperation I saw in his eyes. The fear he, himself, had — not knowing how it might manifest itself. The sheer and unreasonable lack of control brought on by this illness called depression became overwhelming. I found myself afraid to leave our children with him simply because I knew his own drowning thoughts would prove far too great a distraction. In the last few months, I saw growing evidence of how manipulative the disease can be — how it warps reason in the mind of the one battling it. And how quickly and extensively I saw Mike become manipulative in an effort to maintain the fragile order of his mind and the reality within which he could cope with living. It frightened me. It frustrated me. It blew my own mind. It stretched me more than anything I’ve ever faced.

Why do I write these descriptions?

Because it’s time. Isn’t it time? In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy those in Connecticut (and indeed our nation) face, isn’t it time to speak? When we see and try to make sense of the horrific, unfathomable actions of a man mentally ill, isn’t it time? For, don’t we assume this gunman was mentally ill — to target those who are so glaringly innocent of crime, to overcome every instinct of humanity from protecting our young to self-preservation? When we’re faced with picking up these pieces, isn’t it time to finally speak?

My husband had a mental illness. He struggled with it for many years, and for most of those years, I considered this fact to be his story. I rarely spoke of it, mainly out of protectiveness for him. So he could stand in equal footing with those he met, with a clean slate, and none of the preconceptions that are so prevalent. I always felt it was his story to tell — in whatever way and to whomever he chose. Yes, there were those in our family or close circles who knew of his depression, but I felt the dialog of the illness should be authored by him. And rightly so. He was the one dealing with it. Some would say suffering from it.

It wasn’t until the level of frustration in my own head became more than I could handle that I began to crack the shell of what was really happening in our family. To acknowledge for myself and to those closest to me the poor decisions stemming from Mike’s thinking that were jeopardizing all of us. The disappointment. The fear. The anger. The hurt. The irrational nature of an illness not in proper treatment. The inability to discern what was Mike’s choice and what was prompted by depression and thinking patterns. The moments of crisis invading our lives.

When Mike died, I had to let go of the need to protect him. It was the only way to cope. His story of depression became my story. Living with mental illness. Surviving mental illness. And I finally realized that it had always been my story too. A story just as relevant as his, though the illness wasn’t mine.

In the wake of tragedy in my own life, I’m forced to ask, “Isn’t it time for courage?” The courage to speak and the courage to listen. As the whole nation mourns the loss of these little ones, isn’t it time for courage — to boldly speak and to just as boldy listen to the stories of mental illness impacting our lives, our families and our children? Would the outcome for Mike have been any different if I had chosen to open those stories sooner — when the specter of suicide wasn’t so blatantly and relentlessly present? Would that intervention have saved his life? I don’t know. Would the story of Sandy Hook Elementary have been just another pre-Christmas Friday if this man’s stories had been exposed sooner and more comprehensively? No one can know. But I have to believe if there was ever a time for the relentless courage to speak and to listen, this is it.

It’s time to find the courage to speak. To acknowledge our pain, our confusion. To reveal the realities and reject the stigma of mental illness. To recognize that secrecy and shame are our greatest enemies in this battle. And to speak. When we know in our hearts something just isn’t quite right — to speak. When we notice the shift in predictable actions — to speak. When we wonder, “is this normal?” — to speak. When we know we need help — to speak. When it’s getting harder than we think we can handle — to speak.

It’s time to find the courage to listen. To close our mouths to gossip and disdain and whispering. And to open our ears and eyes to understanding. And compassion for these silent struggles. To dare to open our lives and thus our hearts to others, finding it so much harder to reject what we’re determined to love. To put aside the notion of tiptoeing through the backyards of the lives around us, sneaking criticism and comparison. And to step up. To step to the front door, in plain view, and knock. To knock insistently with love and compassion in hand.

I’ve been blessed by those people knocking. Even when my instinct was to run away, to shush, to deny. The insistent blessing found me. And now it’s my turn. Isn’t it time?

The Hardest Day

12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY TEN

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Mike.

I’m thankful for Mike.

I never imagined how painful it would be to write that. How much it seems to tear my mind apart. He hurt me so deeply on the day he died. In taking his own life. Abandoning life.
The lives of the children God gave us. He hurt me so deeply for years before that when I began losing him little by little each day. In many ways I felt like I lost myself in trying to be what was needed to help us all survive this situation. In the end, Mike didn’t survive.

It’s hard to push my thinking past that fact. You would think being thankful for my husband would be an easy one. I am and I have been. I AM thankful for Mike. His life. His character. His presence. But, I’m robbed of the joy of appreciating that blessing. At least for now. I’m robbed in the way depression and emotional struggles seemed to rob us of so many things. It blinds me sometimes with disappointment. Still, Mike was a blessing. To me. To our children. To so many people.

I’ve wanted to show the world some picture of the man I knew. The man I loved for so many years. Beyond his choice on this day two months ago. The day in September that makes THIS day the hardest in my 12-day journey toward Thanksgiving. I’ve wanted to see the man I knew as more of what he was. Beyond that defining moment. Before all this. Before the deep emotional issues plaguing him robbed me. Before I lost so much of him. A picture of the man I think he wanted to be. It’s a view of him that has been so obscured at times through our darkest days of dealing with mental illness and it’s warping of personalities.

Today, this is so hard to write, but necessary. One of my greatest prayers is that, in time, I will be able to think of Mike and speak of him with greater joy. That the flood of sorrow and disappointment brought by his death will be eclipsed by the joy that he lived.

Mike WAS a survivor.
The path of his childhood was a difficult one. He faced more struggles than I can imagine. Through the early evidences of depression — even as a young child, I believe — he developed his own personal ways of coping that amazed me. The resolve of his character allowed him to persevere and to emerge a gentle man.

Mike was kind.
It’s the attribute I think most describes him. He rarely raised his voice. He often had the ability to put himself in another’s shoes, showing empathy and sharing a compassionate word. I recognized through the years the great struggle it was for him to reign in his own thoughts and lay them aside to consider someone else. And yet, he set his mind to do it.

Mike was a seeker.
He challenged the popular phrases of religion. Simply because he had never heard them. But, he wanted to know. He wasn’t ashamed to say “what does this mean?” He committed himself over the years to be willing to ask questions.

Mike was disciplined.
I don’t know that there was ever anything for Mike that really came free and easy. Rather, he was so deliberate. About everything. This brought about a tremendous consistency. When he set his mind to form habits, he did.

Mike loved to play.
It’s one reason I think children loved him. He just enjoyed playing, and his playground was usually outdoors. He was a fisherman. And he rarely required tall tales to adequately describe his fishing trips. But, for Mike, he really didn’t need activity to enjoy Creation. He could sit and see and derive the peace he needed from it.

Mike could make you laugh.
He wasn’t gregarious by any means, and most people considered him to be quite shy. That’s probably what made him funny. His humor would sneak up on you. Dead-pan sincerity. Most people were shocked to learn he had great Elvis and John Wayne impersonations. They were funnier because they came from someone so quiet.

Mike was a helper.
He had a desire to serve. To lend a helping hand. We developed great memories in the early years of our marriage as he helped renovate our farm house. His help was always humble and filled with a willingness to do whatever was necessary.

Mike believed in Jesus.
His desire was to be the man God wanted him to be. It eclipsed every other pursuit in his life. And although he didn’t always succeed (none of us do), Mike worked hard to apply whatever admonishment came across his thinking. Mike’s faith was a simple one. A sincere one. He devoted himself to trusting God. I’ve said that he put all the faith he could muster into all he could understand about God. His was a true childlike faith, as God’s word describes.

Mike was a Daddy.
This in itself is remarkable because Mike never really had a father. His heart belonged to our three children, and he showed it through games and hugs and instruction and prayers and giving his time and attention. For as long as he could.

There are some things that must be said about Mike’s choice on September 20, 2012. Important, but hard truths that I won’t allow to become glossy in this tragedy of a life ended so young leaving a wife with three small children. But, those things are better left for another post. For this one, it is enough to say that Mike lived. And this is some of who he was. In these things, I have been blessed to share some of that life. And to have loved him at his best.

In Everything

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12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY ONE

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” — 1 Thesalonians 5:18

On the second Sunday before Thanksgiving for the past four years, I’ve begun an essay series I’ve called the 12 Days of Thanksgiving. It started as an effort in my own spirit to give Thanksgiving its due in this season of goblins and harvests speeding toward Christmas cheer. So much of my writing and thinking through the years has been an endeavor to embrace more deeply elements of the Truth I try to hold to — elements held with whiter knuckles at some times than others. If there ever was a white knuckle time in my life, this is certainly it.

Its been hard for me to decide whether to write the 12 Days of Thanksgiving series this year. More difficult, still, than in other years when it also seemed hard. I conceived the first series in 2008 as posting each day for the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving Day. Even in the most normal of circumstances, that consistency is tough for me. And, of course, I wouldn’t characterize this year as “normal.” The last thing I need is more pressure. More deadlines. More demands. More thoughts. Please, no more thoughts. So, I had almost talked myself out of it.

Still we are here on Day One.

To be honest, the idea of contemplating thanksgiving intimidated me. It made me tired. It still does. It is so much of a challenge to think of being thankful in the midst of so many other daunting emotions and tasks. And yet, every time I considered the impending holiday season — Thanksgiving — the little thought of “in everything” penetrated my thinking. Maybe I saw it on cards or paper napkins. Maybe it showed up in some holiday promotion or some such passing mention. Or, maybe I just heard it in my own spirit from words hidden in my heart years ago. The challenge was becoming insistent.

In everything.

My first reaction started with a “huh?” and moved quickly to a sigh. Another hard truth. Another confusing task. Another seemingly impossible hill to climb in the process of just breathing and moving and living these days. “In everything give thanks.” As in most truths I’ve found, the most challenging parts are what God doesn’t say — the succinctness of His word, his instruction, like so many of His actions. In these spare words, I try with all I have to trust it’s never too little. God’s word and His actions are never too little. But I wrestle with the notion that it’s also never too much.

In everything.

It doesn’t say in the obvious times. When we’re happy. When we understand. When the plate before us looks overflowing. When the path is well-worn and level. No, it says “in everything.” When a mind is ravaged by depression. When the specter of death looms larger than life. When a man chooses to take his life and you lose your husband. When you grieve that you really lost your partner long ago. When you’re alone and questioning. When you’re angry. And tired. When you look into the eyes of three young children and beg for wisdom. When you know you’ll never know more. When you have to go on. It says “in everything.”

As I began to really consider this tradition of writing about thanksgiving, I knew this little phrase, “in everything,” would be the theme. If I could possibly form any clear thoughts about it, find any real wisdom and understanding of it. In deciding, I looked back at the verse in my Bible — to the part beyond what gets printed on greeting cards and notepads. “For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

When I read that again, I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs, “Thank you!” At least one definitive answer in this great and complicated ball of thinking. “For THIS is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” After weeks and months and even years of what has felt like such intense searching at every moment for what God wanted me to do, just WHAT He was doing — what was best or doable or possible or good or wise or safe or free or kind or sane in an impossible and mind-blowing situation — to hear one small, but definitive answer was a relief. Such a relief. I may not understand much of anything right now. I may not know the what or how or when or certainly why of anything. But, in this one moment at least I know one thing… in everything give thanks, for THIS is the will of God for me in Christ Jesus.

And so I’m writing twelve essays for the purpose of understanding the role of giving thanks in this most challenging season of my life. I might be late. (Like I am tonight.) Or inconsistent. I might include thoughts I’ve already been working on, just tempered through the lens of thanksgiving. I might even brush against the silliness and light-hearted thoughts that have been sprinkled into past years — the thoughts that seem so elusive at times now. The best I can articulate on some days may be mere words or single sentences. But, I’m determined to do at least this one thing I know matches up with the truths I’ve held so dear.

In everything give thanks.

Moments

Today writing is a chore. Like washing dishes or dusting. I like the results. I need the results. It’s the doing that often becomes so hard — the discipline of doing something I know is good even though it’s so hard to muster the motivation.

Writing is the least of so many things like that for me right now. The slow efforts of remembering. And forgetting. Of moving. Of routine. I’m starting to pick up my habits again, the daily routines that make for normal. My normal, at least. I’m trying to draw and write and cook and read and work, though these things sometimes feel like chores. We’re returning to bedtime routines and extracurricular schedules, movie nights and afternoons of yard work. We’re doing Fall things — celebrations the children are each clamoring for in this season. They are experiences that would never feel like chores except in these lingering moments when I’m so intimidated by them. And so awed by the living of them.

It’s been two and a half weeks since my husband Mike died. It seems like so much longer. And so much shorter all at the same time. In my mind, each day seems to have stretched and stretched. Each hour, even. And yet, at any given moment, I can tap into that continuous play in my head of the last morning I saw him. The color of the shirt was he wearing. What was it? What he said. The pained look on his face. I know it was there. How I heard myself respond. The mundane facts I shared. The children’s comments I added. The hard choices I was making. The important things I’m so thankful I spoke. The ones I withheld. Reconciling his last words to me. What was different that morning. What was the same. Him closing the door. And what in the world he did after that? All the things that will live only in my ridiculous imagination, too raw to really be spoken.

Even as I’m sitting with the sun warming my back, I can’t shake the chill of his choices that Thursday. His steps, whatever they were, creep along through my mind. Even as I take my own best wisdom — gleaned from God and so many friends and my own experiences — to focus on what I know. To recognize what can’t be known. To resist the simple indictment: This caused that. Or, that would have helped him do this. I see the wisdom. I can even embrace it, but I know. The continual replay is there. Ready to invade my thinking at the least provocation.

To say he is free from his struggle now is such an angry and inadequate but glittering truth.

This Bible verse keeps running through my head. I think I’ve written about it before…

“So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” 

A heart of wisdom — an understanding that seems so elusive when I am tracing and stretching and rushing to these moments in my mind. All the decisions made and yet to face. When to stay. When to leave. When to speak. When to silence. When to seek. When to hide. When to press. When to release. When to cry. When to laugh. When it’s OK to laugh. When to dream and hope. And remember. And remind. And live. Again.

Sometimes the struggle comes in trying to pull even one clear note from the sheer cacophony of emotions and thoughts zooming through my head in this numbering of hours — this marking of moments and words and movements and feelings. Still I want to mark them. To write them and remember them and forget them. To experience them in whatever depth they emerge without hiding. All these moments spinning through my mind. I step over them. And around them. And sometimes I plow through them to unearth the truer picture. And I know I will march across them — whatever minefield laid out — until I find that path of broader wisdom. Of putting these moments in their context. Of starting again.

Habit by habit and moment by moment, I’m starting again. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. A little each day. I’m starting.

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