This morning I picked up the ashes of my dad who passed away on Christmas Eve. It was an odd sensation since my mom had just passed away six months earlier on June 25, 2021. To say things are strange in my world would be an understatement, but today I just need to take a little time and share some things weighing on my heart so I can make a little room for a breath in the midst of this storm. I hope you don’t mind.
To know where I’m coming from, you need to know where I’ve been. Shortly after the time of mom’s passing, I really wanted to write a tribute post to her, but the words just wouldn’t come. My mom and I were inexpressibly close. After her memorial service, I tried again to write my post, but again the words wouldn’t come. So, as we were approaching Christmas day (the six-month anniversary of her passing), I decided it was time to finally put my thoughts together. I almost had my post finalized, but on the evening of the 23rd, I got a call I did not expect. The memory center, where my dad had been residing for the past 2.5 years, called to say he had taken a sudden turn for the worse.
We took off for Dad’s home and sat with him for 26 hours without so much as even a nap until he passed at 6:50 pm on Christmas Eve. So now the things I had started to write in tribute to my mom got very complicated and layered with the passing of my dad. Now I write this post as an orphan, and it just feels odd. Every post I’ve ever done for my blog, I’ve read aloud to my mom. It was something we shared, something she enjoyed, and now, once again, words aren’t coming easily. There are too many of them and yet not enough. It’s complicated, but then so was the journey the last four to five years.
Not only was I close to my mom and dad, but they were also our “couple friends” for me and Michael. They’re the ones with who we went to dinner multiple times a week or on excursions together. They’re the ones with who we spent weekends hanging out or watching sporting events. For several years, the four of us golfed together six days a week! Whatever we did really didn’t matter as long as we enjoyed the time together.
When Dad first started showing signs of dementia, my entire world felt like it shifted. I immediately wanted to know everything there was or everything I could get my hands on about his condition. I wanted to know what to expect and how to navigate it as best we could. I was obsessed with learning so I could help care for my dad in a way that preserved his dignity and allowed us to keep him in his own home as long as possible.
By the summer of 2017, my world started to become very small. I would go to work, often talking with Dad several times a day to help him through issues or confusion with which he was dealing. I’d come home after work and spend about 30 minutes with my husband, try to eat something and then head to my parents’ house, where I routinely did not return home until 11:00-12:00 at night. Then I would do it all again the next day. It became my purpose. It became an internal identity even more than an external one.
My dad moved into memory care in June of 2019 due to the deterioration of his condition, and us having exhausted every technique, effort, and ability to care for him at home. It was a gut-wrenching time for all of us, but mostly for my mom being separated from the love of her life. They met when Dad was twelve years old, and he told her that day he was going to marry her. They never dated anyone else and were married in 1963. It was a blessing to have Mom move in with us after Dad moved into that wonderful memory care facility with a staff that is beyond incredible.
Life had changed drastically for our family that had already seen so much. At the time of all these changes, Mom was 23 years post-heart transplant and had definitely beat the odds, since they told us her surgery would be a GREAT success if she made it to five years. What a gift we were given to have her for so many more, but because of the large number of transplant medications she had to take every day, she developed interstitial lung disease. Eventually she needed supplemental oxygen and continued to slowly go downhill, but everything that made her who she is never faltered. Her humor and joy, her kindness and generosity, her faith, hope, and love were all just as strong as they’d ever been. She was the most amazing example of what it means to never give up and to trust fully in the Lord.
In late spring 2021, Mom started having trouble with a loss of strength in her legs, but nowhere else. She eventually agreed to go to the ER to see if it might be some kind of infection, since the doctors hadn’t been able to pinpoint a reason for two months. We went to the hospital on a Friday night, and by Tuesday, all the doctors determined it was just a very sudden progression of her lung disease. Mom came back home late that night with hospice and passed away a few days later on Friday afternoon at 4:05 pm, just ten days after she and Dad celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary when the three of us had lunch together.
In the vacuum of the loss of my mom, I struggled greatly, but I also still needed to be there for my dad. I spent great amounts of time with him, sometimes just visiting and singing with him, but other times being there to calm him down from being stressed, and even eventually assisting with his most basic daily needs/tasks. There was still a lot to do. Mom wasn’t there, but Dad still needed things; he still needed me. I still had a purpose.
Losing Dad one day before the six-month anniversary of losing Mom was a blow. It was a stunning blow. Although I tried to just pick up and keep going like I always have, something wasn’t right. On Sunday, January 2nd, I went down to my office to take down all the decorations that had been put up for Christmas. In the six hours I was by myself, I realized something is broken in me. I don’t know if it’s my heart, mind or spirit, but something is definitely broken.
Grief is a fluid pain. It is like a river that overflows its banks and suddenly has no predictable borders. There is no way to map the path and no time frame as to when it will recede again. My parents both had such a deep, abiding faith and trust in God, and so do I. I’ve written so often about a higher perspective in looking at things in life or in ways to keep holding on when storms come along. I KNOW how to walk through difficult times and losses, but this one has dropped me into a place where almost nothing feels familiar anymore. On top of the normal grief that comes with losses like these, I have lost a huge purpose and part of my internal identity. Honestly, I feel lost. The world is different now; I am different.
Faith does not prevent us from having struggles, nor does it always quell our fears. It doesn’t suddenly take away our pain or cause us to just skip on down the road, but we can still have faith while the tears are flooding our pillows. We can still have faith and trust, even when pains are so great that we don’t know where we will get our next breath. Faith, hope, love…these three things remain and abide, but not without the noise of the troubles in this life. They remain and abide despite the storms swirling around them.
We make choices every day about how we will live our lives. Emotions come along with our circumstances, but we can still choose to believe while in the midst of those emotions. There is a song I used to sing that said, “I choose to believe that You are faithful, and my life is in Your hands, and this mystery I face today is part of bigger plan. I choose not to be discouraged when the sun will not break through. I have a choice in trusting You, so Lord this is what I choose.” I don’t know that I could sing that song at this exact moment, but I believe I will get there. I believe it because I know God understands where I am and what I need. I’m thankful for that because even I don’t know what I need at this point.
The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, and it’s found in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It says simply, “Jesus wept,” but the verse right before it tells us why. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and was troubled…” Just let that sink in for a moment. Jesus loved Lazarus and knew he was dead. He also knew He was about to raise him back to life, but when He saw the sisters and friends of Lazarus in such deep grief and distress, it bothered Him and moved Him to tears! He knew the joy that was about to come, but it didn’t keep Him from literally crying with sadness to see those He loved experiencing such heartache and pain. That thought brings me comfort. God knows that it was time for Mom and Dad to go home to be with Him (and each other). God knew it was going to be a grand reunion and the joy and celebration it would bring in Heaven, but He also knew it was going to devastate me and bring a heartache like I’ve never known. God knew that Heaven’s gain would leave me feeling lost and without a purpose. He knows, but more than that, He cares! When I am grieving and the tears won’t stop, His heart feels that pain and sees those tears, and it moves Him to tears right along with me.
When we are walking through the valleys of life, no matter how deep, we are not alone. God is still there right in the middle of the darkness. We may not always be able to see Him clearly because of the blackness, but He sees us as if we were in the middle of the light, because we ARE in the middle of the light. If God is with us, there is light even if we can’t see it. My favorite passage includes a verse that says, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Regardless of how you or I feel, there is still light. There is still hope and there is still love.
If, like me, you are trudging through one of life’s valleys and trying to find your way, you are not alone. The One who sees the beginning from the end is still working things out for our ultimate good. He can see all the joy and every great experience that is to come in our lives even though we can’t see past today. He knows it is going to be ok because He has promised to never leave us and to walk us through everything we face. He sees the you and me that are laughing and engaging with life again. He sees the you and me that are stronger because of what we are walking through right now. He sees it all, but most importantly He sees YOU. I’m not saying the road is easy, but I pray we can remember there is a path forward and God, Himself is walking with us and clearing the way with each step.
Take care of you and of those around you. Love each other; pray for each other because you never know through what valley the person next to you is walking.