A hand to hold when you need it

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Enjoying the shade of a Sycamore tree

It had been ages since I went hiking.  I was on my first visit to Arizona, and was excited to see the local flora and fauna up close.  My brother and sister-in-law suggested an easy trail in a state park nearby.

Trying to avoid the heat, we embarked on a mostly-shaded path that wound near a stream.  I marveled at my first sight of a Sycamore tree and its pale jigsaw-puzzle bark.  My sister-in-law and I couldn’t resist breaking into an old Sunday School song:

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man; a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a Sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see!”

I could visualize Zacchaeus scurrying up one of the sturdy appendages of a Sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus.

A bit further, I posed by a massive Yucca plant, taking care to avoid its pointy leaves.  Later, I heard the grass rustle and caught a glimpse of a quick-moving lizard (I was glad it wasn’t a rattlesnake)!  As we rounded a bend, we came to a bridge and spotted several deer foraging along the creek bed.  IMG_20170522_104234 (2)

After quietly snapping a few photos, we finished the crossing.  Though it was a fairly long bridge, the sturdy guard rails made me feel secure.

The next bridge, however, was a different story. 

Continue reading “A hand to hold when you need it”

One-year reflections of a grieving daughter

Last Thanksgiving, instead of gathering with loved ones to enjoy a feast, I huddled alone in front of my laptop, tears streaming down my face.  My father had died just two days earlier, and I spent the holiday planning his funeral.

While I felt the intense void of dad’s absence this Thanksgiving, I also experienced gratitude for the progress I’ve made in my grief-journey.

Here are eleven things I learned about grieving during this past year:

1. Grieving can begin while a loved one is still alive. I began feeling the deep ache of losing my father long before he died.  This is called “anticipatory grief.”   Some end-of-life journeys are very long good-byes.  As our loved one declines, we not only grieve incremental losses of  physical and mental abilities, we begin to pre-grieve losing him or her completely.

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2.  Everyone expresses grief differently. I didn’t cry at my dad’s funeral, even when I gave a tribute.  What people never saw were the countless times I privately wept from the depths of my soul.  It’s important to remember that outward appearances may not tell the whole story.  A person who looks like they “have it all together” may be falling apart on the inside.  On the flip side, individuals who freely let their emotions show may not be as fragile as they appear.

3.  Grief doesn’t follow a timeline. The “five stages of grief,” (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) [1] are interpreted by some to mean that once we check off the final box, we are done mourning.  In reality, grieving does not follow a predictable path, nor is it something we “finish.” Major loss changes us forever—and it should.  To put pressure on ourselves or others to “just get over it and move on” is both unkind and unrealistic.

4.  Grief hinders life functioning. I became frustrated during my first few weeks back at work because I made many more errors than usual.  Later I was reminded that a grieving person’s body, brain, and emotions are in a compromised state, making it harder to focus and think critically.  In fact, several grief recovery resources state that it’s wise to avoid making any major life decisions for at least six months following a significant loss. [2]

5.  It gets easier. Really, it does.  Recently I’ve been following the grief-journey of a man who lost his wife to cancer.  His sorrow is so profound that he cannot fathom ever feeling better.  I used to feel the same way.  But one day, at about the 3-month mark, I noticed I could sometimes make it through the day without crying.  My grief “symptoms” gradually lessened from that point on. While everyone progresses at a different rate, it does get easier. Continue reading “One-year reflections of a grieving daughter”

Cherish Your Parents (while you can)

Cherish.  This one-word comment was left on my Facebook page by a long-time friend.  I had just posted the news that my brothers and I were holding bedside vigils during our dad’s final days.  Looking back, I realize that my friend’s brief post hit the mark.

Dad gazing at Jane

While helping oversee the physical aspects of dad’s end-of-life care was of paramount importance, it was even more critical to treasure our final relational connections:

. . . to see a light of recognition in his eyes;

. . . to tell him how much he meant to me;

. . . to feel his parched lips kiss my hand.

These are moments I will always cherish.

If you still have your parents, I hope you’ll have the bittersweet privilege of being with them in their final hours.

But more importantly, I urge you not to wait until their lives are slipping away to treasure them.

Begin cherishing them NOW.

Continue reading “Cherish Your Parents (while you can)”

Saying Farewell to Mom and Dad’s House

My co-worker and I were discussing plans for spring break from the college where we work.  “I’m going home,” she declared.  I knew this meant she would be traveling to visit her mom and dad several thousand miles away.   Though married and middle-aged, home was still where her parents lived.

Mom and Dad at door
Dad and Mom

I could relate.  The places where my mom and dad resided always represented “home” to me, no matter what my age.  Their house possessed an irresistible magnetic force, especially during the holidays.  It was where I could drop in anytime, be warmly welcomed, and stay as long as I wanted.  Mom and Dad’s home represented familiarity, comfort, love, and security.  It was my soft place to land.

Even after mom passed away eight years ago, dad remained living in their house, so it continued to serve as a central gathering place for our family.  For years I dreaded the day when dad would no longer be able to live there and my brothers and I would be faced with dissolving his estate.  Though I knew it was inevitable, the thought overwhelmed me—not only because of the magnitude of the task, but because it would mean losing my home base.

This past fall that time sadly arrived for our family.  After our dad’s health turned, we were faced with disassembling his home filled with a lifetime of memories. Continue reading “Saying Farewell to Mom and Dad’s House”

Faced with a Life or Death Decision

A flood of fresh tears flowed as I thumbed through the twenty-eight page  document.  The Medicare “Summary Notice” coldly spelled out the amounts paid to the mile-long list of medical providers.   I couldn’t help but re-live the experience of dad’s final days as I moved chronologically through the papers.  The final ER visit.  Multiple blood draws.  An electrocardiogram.  Numerous ex-rays and a CT scan.  The chest tap and chest tube. The ambulance ride back to the nursing home.  The physician’s final visits.

Perhaps what stood out most was the ER doctor’s description: “Emergency department visit, problem with significant threat to life or function.”

ER signDad was, indeed, gravely ill when he landed in the emergency room in mid-November.  His white blood-cell count was sky-high, indicating something was seriously wrong.  When I arrived at his bedside, I couldn’t help but look at his frail body and think that we might not be there had it not been for a snap decision made by a physician a month earlier. Continue reading “Faced with a Life or Death Decision”