Recovering from sudden disaster

Not every storm has a name, like Harvey, Irma, or Maria.

Mine arrived without radar predictions or an evacuation warning.

An urgent voice on the other end of the phone said, “your house is on fire—you’d better get over here, NOW!”

Ash Gateway fire June 2006 police 290

A few minutes later I found myself standing across the street from my home, watching helplessly as voracious flames consumed the roof.

The firefighters valiantly fought the blaze, preventing it from completely destroying the structure. But what remained was damaged severely by heat, smoke and water.

Ash Gateway fire June 2006 police 338

For the first time in my life, I was confronted with sudden disaster, devastation, and displacement.

There’s been a lot of that going around lately. Perhaps like me, you’ve felt heart-sick over the string of calamities the past few weeks . . . hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes.

How do we recover when a major storm sweeps through our lives?

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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

God is Good . . . some of the time?

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I stood wearily outside the mortuary, listening to the elderly woman share about her husband’s recent passing.

“We were on our way to visit family. He just got into the car, closed his eyes and he was gone!” She went on to describe how it was such a blessing that he went so fast and painlessly, exclaiming, “God is so good!”

My father had passed away just two days before her husband, and his death was long and drawn-out. All I could say in return was, “it didn’t work out that way for my dad.”

Since that encounter, I’ve been more aware of when people use the phrase, “God is good.” And I’ve noticed that they typically say it when something positive has happened.

God answered a prayer the way they wanted it.

God healed someone.

God provided something they needed.

God made something easier.

Which begs the question: Is God only good when life is good? In other words, is God only good – some of the time? Continue reading

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

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