The Eye

Many years ago, I was on vacation on the east coast of the USA with some girlfriends. While we were there, a hurricane was moving up from the Caribbean. Thankfully it never made landfall, but we felt the effects of it none the less. It was dark and stormy, the ocean was incredibly strong, and the winds were like nothing I’d experienced before. We were only seeing the edge of the storm, but even so, it was rough.

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I was watching hurricane Irma on the news last weekend, and heard something very interesting. The radar imaging showed dots that were actually flocks of birds caught up in the eye of the storm. Apparently this often happens. They cannot escape the storm as the raging winds around the eye are too violent for them to fly through, so they are stuck within the eye, travelling with the hurricane until the storm dissipates.

Hearing about these trapped birds reminded me of grief. My experience of grief was the mother of all storms, violent, raw and raging. Like the birds, I was trapped at the centre of my storm, at the mercy of the elements, surrounded completely by unrelenting wind, rain, darkness and death. No way out, and powerless to help myself. Yes, powerless. Now for those of you that are more spiritual than I, you may be thinking that is such a negative statement, after all, we can do all things through Christ right? Well, I respectfully beg to differ. Grief, depression, despair, loss, trauma can leave you absolutely paralysed, unable to help yourself in any way. The birds couldn’t escape the storm, and neither could I.

It’s been 2 years now since my mum died, and I have had periods where I have been lower than the lowest place possible. I’ve been repeatedly plagued by passively suicidal thoughts (I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable) I have been alone in the dark, afraid, terribly afraid, and have felt cut off even from God.

You know, not all of those trapped birds will survive the hurricane. They have to keep flying within the eye as the storm follows its course. They cannot rest until the storm ends, and they become exhausted. Grief is exhausting, utterly, utterly, I’ll say it again, utterly exhausting. If you are in a dark place, this may be hard to hear, but you have to wait, you just have to wait. I was talking to my therapist this week, and she said ‘it takes faith to wait in that dark place’.

imageI’d never thought that before, and honestly, at no point did I feel that I had any faith at all. I still don’t think I’ve got much faith if I’m totally honest. But whether you feel it or not, you are being faithful in waiting, and showing immense bravery.

It’s sad, but very few people will understand your grief, and even fewer will want to be there for you. It’s hard to see someone struggling for a long time, we naturally want to ‘fix’ people. Sometimes that’s because we genuinely want people to feel better, but sometimes it’s because we just don’t want to look at their pain anymore.

My therapist asked me recently what would have helped me when I was in the very depths of depression. My answer? I just wanted someone to say ‘I see you, and I hear you, and I’m with you’.

It reminded me of a situation that happened not long after my mum died. I was extremely low for a number of reasons on top of my grief. I really was in a desperate place. I sent a text to a dear friend who lives far from me, saying something like ‘I wish you were here’. She replied that she was heading out, but would call me the following day. At the time, I was sitting on my couch with a bottle of wine in one hand, and about 150 antidepressants in the other. When I say I was desperate, I really mean desperate. Well only a few moments after my friend had texted, she called me. She was just heading out the door but felt that calling me back couldn’t wait. I couldn’t speak through my tears for about 10 minutes, but she stayed with me on the phone. She……..Stayed…….With……Me. In that moment, she was my connection with humanity, my connection with life. In that moment she shared my grief, it was a raw, and profound, and holy moment, and I will forever be grateful for that moment in time.

If you’re struggling right now, let me tell you, I know where you are. I’ve seen that place, and I think you’re incredibly brave. Know this, at some point the storm will abate. Please just hold on. I’m not permanently in that terrible place anymore, but I do still find myself there sometimes. It’s just the nature of grief, it’s life altering.

Those birds that survive the storm end up displaced. Maybe they started out in Cuba, and ended up in Georgia, the storm has carried them far from home. They are alive, but their lives are completely changed, and so is mine. Grief is for life. I don’t mean that I will forever be grieving with the intensity of those early days, or that I will be depressed and despairing forever. I simply mean that grief has changed the very core of my being. I see things differently, I have learned valuable and painful lessons. I have experienced the best and the worst in people. My world is different, there is a part of me that will always, always be sad, and I’m ok with that. Grief is for life, it’s just an indication of how much I love my mum, and how deeply I miss her.

Despite all this, I now know, that in the darkness of my storm, I was seen. Seen by my closest friends. Seen by God.

In the eye, I am seen, and you my friend are seen too.

Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

How many breaths did you take today? How many times did your heart beat? You mean you haven’t been counting? Me neither. At any point have you reminded yourself to breathe, have you had to give your heart a gentle nudge to keep beating? No? So just how hard did you try to stay alive today?
It probably didn’t even cross your mind.

I saw my therapist yesterday, we did a sort of review of the last year. Sometimes looking back is good. Even though I think I’m a mess most of the time, I’m not in as much of a mess as I was this time last year. Things have changed, I have changed.
As we talked, I said that I felt I was a shadow of who I used to be. I’m very different from who I was before my mum got sick. I’m different from my younger self. Life, loss and heartbreak have taken their toll. My therapist asked me to think about steps I could take to find my old self. I immediately felt teary eyed, it was the recognition of another loss in my life, loss of myself, someone who used to have hope, who laughed, who dreamed about the future. Yes, those traits are lost, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be found again.

I was listening to the song linked below, ‘Tell your heart to beat again’, and the story behind it. I was reminded me of a similar experience in my life.

It was many years ago, I was working as a nurse in the emergency room. We had a gentleman come in, I don’t recall his name, let’s call him Mr X. We were in rescus, and he was in cardiac arrest. I was giving him cardiac massage. We were reaching the end of everything we could do to get his heart going again. The on call doctor told all of us to stop, and I remember so clearly, he said ‘Mr X, you need to fight for your life, tell your heart to beat again’. Mr X survived that day.

Perhaps you are living in the shadow of someone you used to be. Maybe life has broken you, and shattered your heart. Perhaps deep loss has crushed your hopes and dreams. Are you alive, but not really living? My friend, tell your heart to beat again. There is hope for your future, there is life for you outside the shadows. It may not look the same as your old life, but there is life. Whatever your circumstances, however hopeless things seem, God is your refuge, and whether you feel them or not, you are held in his everlasting arms. Deut 33:27

Tell your heart to beat again.

 

Tis the season?

I put my Christmas tree up yesterday. Yes, even for me this is uncharacteristically early, but I needed to take some Christmas photos for my Etsy shop, so up it went.

I’ve always loved Christmas. I love Christmas trees (the bigger the better) decorations, the twinkling lights, snow, carols, I even love Brussels sprouts 😊 I love searching for the perfect gifts, wrapping them up whilst watching a festive movie. I love the prettiness and warmth that comes with the Christmas season.

As a kid I loved Christmas Eve. Setting the table ready for Christmas lunch, leaving carrots and mince pies for Santa, going to the midnight service. As a teen, that midnight service was always my favourite. Lit only by candlelight, and the lights from the Christmas tree, it was such a peaceful place, a time to think about that very first Christmas.

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My oldest nephews have always called me Princess Christmas, a name we would laugh and joke about. I was always full of Christmas spirit, these days that lightness of heart does not come so easily.

So, knowing I needed to put my tree up, I thought I would try and enjoy the experience. I played Christmas music, and carefully unwrapped my tree decorations, remembering the stories behind each one, the places and people they had come from. Not all my ornaments came out of their boxes this year. For some the memories were just too painful. Next year perhaps.

As I started to trim the tree, my mind wandered. I found myself with a lump in my throat, and a heaviness in my heart. Somehow, knowing that Christmas is ‘the season to be jolly’, seems to make it all the sadder. With each decoration, the lump in my throat and the depth of sadness seemed to grow. I managed to hang up the final ornament before sinking into a chair and allowing the tears to come.

This season that should be full of joy and laughter, has now turned into a time that I would rather avoid. Sadly, I now have feelings of dread at the thought of Christmas. I never imagined that an occasion I once loved so dearly, would take such an about turn.

This will be the second Christmas since mum died. I expected last Christmas to be really tough, it wasn’t. The anticipation was worse than the actual event. Grief is a complicated and confusing beast. Don’t misunderstand me, that first year without mum was awful beyond anything I can describe, going through all those firsts, birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas etc. However, I am finding this second year, in many ways, harder still.

Last year was definitely a fight for survival. When you are newly bereaved, much of your time is spent in crisis management. Your body, mind, soul and spirit are in such a state of shock and numbness, all you think about is getting through today, and then the next day, and so on. In many ways you are in a bubble, and weirdly, your grief actually protects you from yourself. If we were able to absorb the fullness of our grief immediately following a loved ones death, we would die too. Instead, the depth of grief is gradually revealed and absorbed over time.

For me, last year was spent trying to stay alive. I don’t say that flippantly, I’ll perhaps touch on that in another blog post. I was also focused on getting through all those firsts. I thought I would feel different after that first year, I guess I do feel different, I just don’t feel better.
I’m not in that crisis mode anymore, but instead, I am filled with a deep, deep sorrow. Of course I was desperately sad last year, but this sorrow is not the same. I can’t really describe where it comes from, it is in the depths of my being, a physical pain that takes away my breath.

It isn’t only mums death that has changed my feelings about Christmas. I noticed a book on my bookshelf the other day. It’s a beautiful red bound book with gold writing, called the ‘Christmas Memories Book’.

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I bought it about 16 years ago when I was on holiday in the USA. I thought it would be so lovely to create a keepsake of Christmas memories and traditions as my family grew. I was saving it until I had a family of my own.

The pages are still empty.

I should probably give it away, but at the moment I can’t let it go. Over the years I’ve had many ideas and traditions filed away in my memory. Some of them from my own childhood, things my mum did that I wanted to continue, others that were new traditions that I wanted to start. I never expected I would be single and childless at 46 years old.
I can remember that feeling of wonder and excitement I had as a child. Of course those feelings change as we grow up. But then we have children of our own and those same feelings return as we see them through our little ones eyes. The wonder of Christmas comes to life once again.

Being single over the holidays can be very sad, I always have to invite myself to join in someone else’s Christmas. It is a season that simply highlights the life that I always wanted, but will perhaps never have. Pretty much all my friends have partners, are married, or married with children. Many of them will be celebrating a first Christmas with their little ones this year. I am happy for them, particularly those that have had struggles with fertility and miscarriages. This Christmas will be extra precious for them.

It is hard not to question God about these things. I try not to, whats the point? I guess over the years I’ve always had the hope of things to come, but the light in that hope has grown dim. I don’t say that out of self pity, or to be negative or pessimistic. I say it because, for the moment, it is my reality. Bar some kind of beyond miraculous miracle, children will not be in my future. I’m single, in the latter end of my 46th year, and just to add another nail in the coffin, I had to have half my reproductive organs removed earlier this year. In short, things do not look good!

What is there to hang onto when hope is gone? How do you move forward? Where do you find the reason to go on when the future appears empty?

I talked through these thoughts with my therapist today. She asked me ‘what is hope?’ I looked up the definition when I got home.

Hope – a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

Hope is positive. We are far more likely to have feelings of peace and contentment if we are hopeful. When we’ve lost hope, we have effectively given up. Without it, we will almost certainly feel a range of other emotions like disappointment, anxiety, fear, and even anger.

I came across this blog recently, www.hopequotient.com
This statement jumped out at me;

‘When people lose hope, they lose their ability to dream for the future. Despair replaces joy. Fear replaces faith. Anxiety replaces prayer. Insecurity replaces confidence. Tomorrow’s dreams are replaced by nightmares. It’s a lousy way to live.
Hope propels us forward, even when the circumstances seem impossible.’ – Ray Johnston

In Psalm 42 it talks about hope several times. ‘Why is my soul so downcast and in despair? Why are you restless and disturbed within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him’.

I know it sounds weird, but we can tell ourselves to hope! We can tell our hearts to be brave and to stand firm. Even the tiniest smidgen of hope can change the way we live. Hope enables us to live, not just to be alive, but to actually live. We may be waiting for the fulfilment of dreams, but we are not waiting alone.

I found a song on YouTube recently, I’ve linked it below. The words are so beautiful, ‘take courage my heart, stay steadfast my soul. He’s in the waiting’.

Perhaps like me you feel like hope has been lost. Perhaps you are also grieving for loved ones, or grieving a life that could have been. Perhaps you are in the middle of sad and desperate circumstances. Perhaps the coming Christmas season feels too much to bear.

Maybe you feel like you just can’t go on. I have had that feeling myself.
My friend, you are not alone. God is with you in the waiting.

I’ll repeat what I said earlier, just in case you missed it. Hope enables us to live, not just to be alive, but to actually live. We may be waiting for the fulfilment of dreams, but we are not waiting alone. You, my friend, are not waiting alone.

As I sit here in the glimmer of lights from my October Christmas tree, I think maybe, deep deep down,
I can find a tiny glimmer of hope. Perhaps I will hold onto my Christmas memory book a little longer.

The Jigsaw

My family loved jigsaw puzzles. When I was younger we’d often get a big family jigsaw for Christmas. More often than not, the table in our conservatory would be covered with a partially finished puzzle. Some of them were impossibly difficult, even the picture on the box didn’t help much. We’d all dip in and out from time to time, gradually working away until it was done. How satisfying it would be to see the picture gradually emerging, and what a sense of achievement after that final puzzle piece was slotted into place.

But how different the scenario was, when we’d get to the end of the puzzle, only to find one or more pieces missing. So very frustrating, We’d be on our hands and knees, desperately searching for the missing pieces, and hoping against hope that they hadn’t been chewed up by the dog!
When the first year anniversary since mum died came around, I remember writing a post on Facebook. I can’t recall much of what I wrote, and I have no desire to look back and relive that day. However, I do remember saying that I was desperately trying to put the pieces of my life back together, but somehow the puzzle pieces just didn’t fit anymore.

Life is now divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’ mum died. It is for the moment, how I measure time. The reason that I can’t piece together my old life, is because it has irrevocably changed. The picture has changed, and is still changing, that’s why the puzzle pieces no longer fit.

For me, there is a reluctance to move forward and figure out this new life without mum. I just long for life to return to how it was before she got sick. I am well aware how foolish this sounds, but it is because I am afraid. I am a motherless daughter, and I’m not sure where I belong anymore.
I feel like I’m a different person, correction, in many ways I am different.

Someone said to me a few months ago, that underneath, I’m still the same Jenny. I understand what they are saying, but to a certain extent I disagree. Grief has changed me. My perspective is very different. I think about death a lot, not in a morbid way, it’s just that death has touched me and become part of my life. I am now more aware. I have empathy and compassion in greater measure than before. There is a depth in my relationship with God, that has emerged, and in some areas of my life there has been a reordering. Some friendships have shifted, become closer, or more distant.

It is a tough lesson to learn, but not all your relationships will survive your grief. Not everyone will or should walk this dark road with you. You and your grief will likely be misunderstood by some. Pretty early on it became very clear who I could and couldn’t talk to about my mum and my grief. It made some people very uncomfortable. I would find myself guarding my words, and sometimes almost apologising for my grief. Then I would end up being annoyed with myself and feeling that I had dishonoured my mum.

I felt and still feel very precious about my mum, and my grief, and so when people didn’t treat it with the same respect I found that very hurtful. It felt like they were sweeping my mums death under the carpet because they couldn’t handle facing it, tossing it aside as if my mum and my grief were nothing more than rubbish. It made me very sad, but it was a valuable lesson. Most people will not behave in a way to deliberately hurt you, in fact they want to fix you. They want you to feel better, partly because they love you, but also because your grief makes them uneasy.

So, here’s the thing. We are not expecting you to cheer us up and jolly us along. We do not expect anyone to try and make us feel better. We already know that nothing, absolutely nothing you say, is in any way going to fix our shattered hearts. All I wanted was for my friends to show up, to be there. Make me a cuppa, bring their babies round for me to cuddle, be kind.

I was watching the 80’s movie Footloose yesterday, I remember mum and I going to Southend and watching that film when I was 14. Quite unexpectedly I had a complete meltdown, I suddenly had an ache, a yearning, a longing for a simpler time. A desire to turn the clock back, to a time when mum was young and well. To a time when I didn’t have to make any decisions, to a time when I was part of a family, where I felt safe, where I wasn’t alone. Of course I am still part of a bigger family, but my sisters have their own families now. Things are not the same, and that is how it should be. The picture of our lives are constantly changing, but I find that hard, very hard.

The last few weeks I’ve been up and down, very unsettled. Weepy, angry, fearful, I don’t know where I’m going. I’m sure God has a plan for my life, but it doesn’t seem so at the moment. I look around and am surrounded by people who have it all. Husbands, children, houses, money, jobs, security. Of course it’s easy and dangerous to compare ourselves with others, everyone has their struggles, but through my clouded vision, it does seem that some people have it tougher than others.

The other day in a moment of despair, I randomly opened my bible and stuck my finger in (as all very spiritual people do!’) It landed on Psalm 78 which was headed ‘Gods continued guidance in spite of unbelief!’ In verse 72 it says ‘He (God) shepherded them according to the integrity of His heart, and guided them by the skilfulness of His hands.

I cannot see the way forward in my life, but I have to hang on to the fact that there is bigger picture, that somewhere in the big jigsaw we call ‘life’, somewhere, there is a place for me.

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When my Grandpop died, I remember my mum reading the poem ‘footprints in the sand’. It talks about a man walking with God along the beach. It paints a beautiful picture of how God cares for us, especially in the tough times. I’ve linked a song below which is based on this poem.

My friend, I don’t know what you have been through, or what struggles you are facing, and I don’t know why. But (and I write this to myself as well) I do know that there is a place for us in the jigsaw. We are not surplus to requirements, we haven’t been left on the shelf, forgotten or deliberately overlooked. We all have a purpose, it’s just that some of us don’t know what it is yet!

We are needed, and very much wanted. The puzzle is just not complete without us.

Psalm 31:14 I trust in you Lord, my times are in your hand

Rabbits and Yogurt

I have a lavender stuffed rabbit sitting on the top of my mirror upstairs, I love this rabbit. He is old, faded, and has long since lost his sweet aroma, but still I love him. Normally I don’t notice him, but the other day he caught my eye, and I stopped for a moment, a memory flooding my thoughts.

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When I was younger, this rabbit used to sit on my bed. Everyday when I came home, I would find this rabbit positioned in comical poses by my mum, it would always bring a smile. Not the other day though, that day it brought a tear.

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Such a small thing to elicit such a reaction. Not unusual though, this happens to me all the time. Sometimes these moments of sadness are fleeting, I can be crying one moment, and 5 minutes later it has passed. Other occasions might descend into full on weeping and wailing! It is the nature of grief, it has a life all of its own, and so I generally just try to go with it. If I try to suck it up, stiff upper lip and all that, I am only putting off the inevitable. Grief has to be felt, it must be experienced, it has to be worked through, and it is hard hard work. But that’s a subject for another day.

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Back to the rabbit! So often it can be the most innocuous stuff that trips me up and triggers a reaction completely inappropriate for the time or place.

I remember being in Tesco Express, last year. Mum was in hospital after suffering a catastrophic brain bleed. (When doctors use the words catastrophic, the prognosis can be nothing but extremely poor)
So, there I was in Tesco, standing in front of the yogurts with my empty shopping basket. I remember feeling the colour drain from my face, I felt my shoulders drop, every ounce of strength seemed to leave my body and an audible heavy sigh escaped my lips. Powerless to hold myself together in a public place, the tears rolled.

Was I thinking about mum, the hospital, the doctors prognosis? No, it was the yogurt. The sight of row upon row of every brand and flavour simply overwhelmed. I felt the panic rising in my throat faced with this monumental decision. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, choosing a yogurt is hardly life changing, but it was a decision, a decision I was unable to make.

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I don’t recall many details of mums last month in hospital, or the subsequent months following her death. My friend remembers though. She recalls me being unable to make any kind of decision at all. I couldn’t even give a simple answer to the question ‘coffee or tea?’ and I don’t even really drink tea! It was simply an indication of where I was emotionally, the very smallest decision was enough to bring me to my knees.

My therapist, (yes I have one, not very British I know, but she has kept me sane, and alive!) My therapist gave me a really helpful illustration. Imagine your life is a glass of water. When life is ‘normal’, on an even keel, your glass is maybe half full of water. When situations in life arise, stress/worry, there is capacity in your glass for more water (more of life).
When you are in crisis, faced with extreme stress, your glass is already full to the brim. Your capacity is at its limit. Add the tiniest amount of liquid to the glass and it will overflow. Faced with the smallest amount of stress, and you are overwhelmed. You are permanently at the very limit of what you are able to cope with, which is why the little things can have such an effect. Hence, the rabbit and yogurt incidences.

Every now and again, I get a flashback to the feelings I had right after mum died. I’m able to recognise now, that I was in a permanent state of heightened anxiety. I used to feel like I was walking along a mountain ridge, maybe only a few inches wide. The very smallest thing could tip me off balance and send me tumbling down the mountain. Again, this goes back to the cup overflowing.

I had another Tesco incident (must start shopping somewhere else!!) I was standing in the queue with my shopping, feeling a bit low. I remember thinking, I’ll give mum a call when I get home. For just a moment she was still alive. Again, the weight of her death brought me to my knees. I abandoned my shopping and stumbled back to my car, broken again.

Our brains play tricks on us, I think this is because the magnitude of trying to process and accept a loved ones death, is just overwhelming. I felt like my brain was drip feeding me the information, very slowly letting a little more reality sink in. I’m not a psychologist, but I think it is a way of protecting ourselves. God created us to be able to grieve, if we had to deal with the weight of grief all in one go, we would simply die of shock, but it doesn’t happen like that. It happens slowly over time, gradually working through different areas. Slowly accepting our new reality. I’m not saying that it’s an easy process, it’s bloody hard, and desperately sad. But we can survive it, we were created to be able to grieve.

I’m gonna get practical now, because at some point we will all be bereaved, or trying to support someone else in their grief. I’m going to talk from the point of the bereaved because that’s been my experience, but it could be applied to another area of extreme stress.

After mum died, I remember a number of people saying ‘call me if you need anything’. It seems such a simple and kind offer of help, but here’s the thing, we are never going to call you. There’s a few reasons why, partly because picking up the phone takes more energy than we have, partly because talking on the phone is just too difficult at the moment, but the biggest reason that we won’t call if we need anything, is because we just don’t know what we need. Our minds are foggy and muddled, in fact, we are not in our right minds at all. We can’t think straight, so the question ‘What can I do to help?’ is impossible for us to answer.

It’s much more helpful to ask questions with yes/no answers. Even more helpful is for people to anticipate needs, and take initiative. Things like ‘I’m making lasagna for supper, can I bring a portion round?’ Or, ‘can I pick you up in an hour and take you for coffee?’ Definite plans are very helpful. We won’t always say yes to your offers of help, but answering yes or no is much easier for us to handle. If we don’t take you up on an offer, it isn’t personal. I can remember when getting out of bed, going downstairs and feeding my dog was my biggest achievement of the day. Things that we do automatically in everyday life have now turned into almost insurmountable tasks.

I know this makes us (the bereaved) seem very needy. Well, we are, in desperate need! Grief is selfish, because it consumes every single ounce of our being. This is not specific to me, all those who grieve will be consumed by their loss. If you haven’t experienced a significant bereavement, you won’t really understand, but take my word for it, because one day you also will enter a period of all consuming grief. You too will one day need those friends around you, who will love you and care for you, and put your needs, for a period of time, before their own.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the song ‘His eye is on the sparrow’. I love the picture this song portrays. Not one sparrow falls to the ground unnoticed. If God can see the sparrows, He surely can see you and I! He even says in Matthew 10:31 ‘Do not fear, you are more valuable than the sparrows’.
The previous verse says ‘God knows even the number of hairs on your head’. Considering I’ve lost a good chunk of my hair 3 times since my mum died, if God can keep up with the amount of hair on my head, or lack thereof, then that’s quite an achievement!!

My point is, God isn’t only interested in the big things in our lives. He sees all the little things too. He knows all the small things that trigger your ‘grief moments’. He understands why a lavender bunny can reduce me to tears. He knows my thoughts, all of them, Psalm 139:2. Thank God someone understands me! More importantly, His thoughts towards you and I are precious, and more in number that the sand. Psalm 139:17.

So dear friend, next time you have a ‘Tesco’ or ‘bunny’ moment, or whatever your grief trigger is, know that right in that moment, God is with you. He is seeing all your thoughts and memories, and catching all your tears.
And know too, that in that moment, as in every moment, His thoughts toward you are innumerable and precious, because you too are precious.

I’m off to Waitrose!! 😊

Lost

Have you ever been lost? Of course you have. Before sat navs we probably got lost all the time!!

I like to scuba dive. When you learn to dive, one of the skills you learn is how to navigate underwater, and how to read a compass. It’s pretty important, you don’t want to surface after a dive and discover you’ve been swimming the wrong way and the dive boat is nowhere to be seen!

I don’t know why, but when it comes to reading a compass I have a complete mental block. Fortunately I have only ever dived with people much more experienced than I am, I’ve trusted that they wouldn’t get lost, and they never have. Mastering the compass underwater is still on my to do list though!

Me learning to dive!
Me learning to dive!

Continue reading “Lost”

Scarred

Have you ever wondered why dogs lick their wounds? Some studies have shown that it blocks their nerve endings, and gives a little pain relief. Dog saliva also has some mild antibacterial effect. They instinctively know how to help themselves.

It got me thinking about how we deal with our own wounds.
Now I’m not suggesting that we start licking our wounds instead of going to the hospital! I’m thinking more of our emotional wounds, what do we do, or what can we do to help ourselves, to begin to heal.

I’m a very visual person, I see life in pictures. I often learn lessons and get insight from nature and the world around me, it’s just the way my brain is wired.

A few months after mum died I was out walking my dog when I came across this tree. It’s a big old tree, and I recall standing underneath it, just looking up. You can see in the photo that this tree is badly damaged, it has a huge gash in its trunk. The gash is so deep that the inside of the tree is visible.

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I don’t know how this tree was damaged, perhaps it was the result of a storm, or maybe a lightening strike. However the injury happened, it was obviously the result of something violent and strong.

I stood looking at this tree for ages, absorbing the image before me. I began to look beyond the damaged area to the rest of the tree. It was summertime, so the branches were full and leafy green. High up there were birds nesting, and the odd squirrel was scurrying along its branches. This tree was full of life.

It had been severely damaged at its very core, and yet it was still alive. Not just alive, but alive and thriving. The tree had continued to grow around, and in spite of its wound. The thing that struck me, was not that the tree was still growing, but that it had grown around its scar. The wound was clearly visible, there was nothing growing out of the scarred area, but around the scar the tree was healthy.

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My life is full of scars, my body is full of them too. Some from accidents, others from surgeries. Some of them are so small and old that they are barely visible and I don’t notice them anymore. Others are more obvious.

I had major surgery a few months ago. It left me with one large and several small scars. These scars are red and angry looking. My body has healed from the surgery, my wounds have healed, but the scars are red, raw and tender to the touch. Over the years, these too will start to fade, but the large scars on my body will never disappear completely.

I am marked.

Each of them tells a story. The larger the scar, the larger the initial wound was.

For me this is such a powerful illustration of grief.

My grief is not just one scar, it is hundreds, thousands, millions of scars. Each one a memory, a moment in time, a place, a song, a flower, collectively they become a gaping wound in my life, and in my heart. The months after mum died my grief was so………………………….(I left a blank here as I was writing because I couldn’t find the word I was looking for) I still can’t. There is nothing to describe the pain, fear, heartbreak, devastation. There are no words.

I’m speaking of my own grief, because everyone’s grief journey is different. My grief broke me, utterly broke me. I thought it would kill me. I hoped it would kill me.

When we are physically injured our wounds are obvious, not so with grief. I can remember feeling so angry with everything and everyone. I was struggling to get through each hour of each day, and I remember looking at people going about their everyday lives. I just wanted to scream at them, ‘how could they be going on as normal, don’t they know what’s happened to me, can’t they see I’m wounded and bleeding?’ My grief was so consuming that I expected other people to be able to see my pain.

Some people WILL see your brokenness, they will see beyond the natural, they will see your heart. And some special people will be brave enough to put themselves into your shoes for just a moment. They will try to imagine what your grief feels like, they will try to understand.

These are the people to surround yourself with, the people who will tenderly care for your wounded heart. The ones who will protect you, who will be a buffer between you and the world around you. The ones who will very gently walk beside you and help you navigate your way through the darkness.

A dear friend came to visit after mum died. She is a lovely lovely friend. I broke down when she was getting ready to leave, it was one of those moments when the tears flowed and there was no holding them back.
Later she told me that as she drove away, she started to think about her own mum. She imagined for a moment how she would feel without her. She immediately started to weep. Overwhelmed by her feelings she had to pull over and call her mum, just to hear her voice, and to tell her she loved her.

These are the kind of friends you need around you. They are rare, but you don’t need many. I had only a handful, but these friendships have become much much deeper. That’s what happens when you share the intensity of the deepest of pain.

The wounds and scars of grief change who we are. They change how we live our lives, they change how we see the world. Life can never be the same again, nor should it be, nor would I want it to be.

If you are marked by a deep scar of grief, it is an indication of a great love. The greater we love, the greater we grieve, it is the price we pay. It does not mean that we are without hope though.

Just like the tree, slowly new life will start to emerge around your scar. You won’t be the same, your life will forever be marked by your pain, and it is likely that your scar will always be tender, but you will start to live again.

Your grief will have changed you though, it would be impossible to live through such a trauma, and come out the same on the other side. You may be wiser, richer, more compassionate and empathetic, or simply a better friend.

Dont misunderstand me, I still have desperately sad days when I wonder if I will ever be able to live without my mum. But sometimes, I catch a little glimpse of myself, whole, with hope for the future, and with a depth of character, and relationship with God that would never have happened without walking through such grief. And one day, I don’t know when, but one day, I will be able to support someone in their own grief and brokenness.

‘The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who are crushed in spirit’.

Psalm 34:18

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds (literally: cures their pain and sorrow) Psalm 147:3

There is hope for those of us who feel broken, for those who feel weighed down with sorrow, whose spirits feel crushed, for those of us who feel lonely, alone and afraid.

He (God) sees your wounds, He sees your scars, He sees your fear, and very gently He holds you close to His heart.
He sees the way ahead, even if you can’t.

He sees you.

 
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
― Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

Held

Do you remember holding your parents hands when you were young? Do you remember how it made you feel? I was thinking about it the other day. For a number of reasons I was struggling. I was worried about money, scared about the future, and was desperately missing my mum. I was walking from my lounge to the kitchen, when the weight of the things on my mind suddenly hit me. It caused a physical weakness in my body, and I reached out a hand to steady myself.

It made me think back to being a little girl, and all those times when my mum or dad would take my hand. Why? Because part of their responsibility as parents was to keep me safe and to give comfort and security.

Children reach out their hands to their parents, they have an inbuilt desire to be held. If you were fortunate enough to have good parents, then perhaps you’ll remember how that felt. As children we have confidence that our parents will be there for us, that they will provide for us. If we fall, they will pick us up, if we’re unwell they’ll make us better, if we’re sad they will comfort us. We trust them, and we don’t have to try to trust them, it is a trust that automatically comes, because our parents have always been there for us.

As we grow older, those roles are sometimes reversed. We are the ones to hold our parents hands, we are the ones to keep them safe, we are the ones to bring comfort.

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I took this photo when mum was dying. I remember feeling so afraid that I would forget what her hands looked like, I remember not ever wanting to let go. Those last days with mum were so precious, holding her hand, lifting it up to my face and pressing it against my cheek. I would sleep with my head on her pillow, holding her close. I had become the one to comfort her, I so desperately wanted to make everything better.

My mum held me when I was born, and I held her as she died. They were precious times, but were also a terrible blessing. Those memories are treasured, and yet also heartbreakingly painful.

After mum died, I suffered with terrible anxiety and fear. I felt like I had lost my security, I couldn’t seem to find solid ground to stand on. I didn’t feel safe anymore. I found it hard to get out of the house and do normal everyday life. The outside world was overwhelming, but there was an element of safety within my own home. I guess I could pretty much control what happened there, I wasn’t going to be faced with a situation that I couldn’t cope with. Sometimes I would text my friend, and she would simply tell me ‘you’re safe’. I needed that reassurance.

Fear is a terrible feeling, it can control and paralyse you. With mum gone, my future had become terrifying, and I was desperately looking for a safe place to land. I’m 46 and single, marriage is a gift I have yet to receive. I am facing a future alone, with no one to share the ups and downs of life with. I have no financial security, I don’t own my own home, and I am exhausted from having to figure out everything on my own. I am afraid.

It’s easy to trust God when we don’t really need to trust Him. (I know, that doesn’t make much sense) What I mean is, that it’s easy to trust God when everything is going ok. It’s not so easy to trust God when things are tough. Trusting God for food is easy when your fridge is full. Not so easy when it’s empty!

Remember back to holding hands with your parents. We intrinsically trusted them to provide for our needs. We trusted that we’d be fed, and have a bed to sleep in. Trusting them was not hard, but it’s so much more difficult to trust God. It is for me anyway. I’m talking to myself as I write this, I certainly do not have the whole thing figured out. I swing between trusting God, and freaking out.

I often read these words:
I (God) hold you by the hand, and I say, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you’. Isaiah 41:13

I read them, and I believe them, but I don’t always trust them.

I was listening to a song the other day. I’ll post a link below. It’s called ‘Held’ by Natalie Grant. It speaks of grief, loss, and comfort. It really touched my heart.
You know, nobody gave us a guarantee that life would all work out. Yes, some people seem to have it easier than others, but we only know what we see, who knows what’s really going on behind their closed doors? Life can be unfair. I’ve stopped asking why, and I try not be angry or lay blame anywhere. That serves no purpose, and the answers never really come.

After mum died, one of the hardest things to face, was the fact that I had to continue to live without her. I don’t say this for dramatic effect, but I honestly wished I had died with her. I would lay in bed every night asking God to just let me die, living on was and sometimes is, just too painful. It’s a prayer He has yet to answer, obviously! Perhaps there is still life left for me to live! 🙂

That’s the rub, my mum had been torn from my life, and I was left here to survive. Torn brings a picture of a wound to mind. That’s how grief is, we are severely wounded, but we are still alive. It’s indescribably painful.

We may not have the lives we expected or wanted. We may be desperately unhappy, but Gods promise to us, is that when everything falls, when life collapses around us, we will be held. We may not feel held, we may still feel that we are lost at sea, struggling to stay above water, but……………..we are held. I firmly believe that if it were not for Gods hand on my life, and the support from my friends, that I would not be here to write this.

I love this verse….

He (God) takes care of his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in His arms. He holds them close to His heart. Isaiah 40:11.

They are such kind and gentle words. I love that we are so precious to God, that He wants to hold us close, and keep us safe.

So my friend, whatever your circumstances, know this…………….no matter how afraid you are, no matter how unsafe or alone you feel, you are held.
Your life has purpose (even if it is currently unclear) You are so very precious to Jesus, He loves you, and His arms are big enough to carry you.

We are safe, we are loved, we are held.

You are held.

Once Upon a Time

imageOur lives are full of stories, some long, short, happy, sad, and many that we simply don’t understand. I’ve loved books and stories since I was a little girl. I loved the wonder and the feeling of expectation and hope that came with reading a story. Of course, most of the books I read as a child would eventually have a good ending, and be wrapped up with some kind of a ‘happily ever after’. Some of our own life stories have that same happy ending, but others have endings that are messy, complicated, and can be impossibly hard to understand. Life does not always turn out as we expected or hoped. It can be a hard lesson to learn.

‘You never know what’s round the corner’, that’s what my mum would say. She was always one to look for the positive, to make the best of life no matter how bleak it appeared. Her life had not been easy, but she was ever hopeful for better things to come. I recall one Christmas when everyone was leaving to go home. I said goodbye to mum with tears in my eyes. She didn’t need to ask why, she knew, and she gently said ‘you never know what’s round the corner, things can change in a moment’. So true, but sometimes so hard to believe.

During the last year, those words, along with ‘things can only get better’, have been said to me numerous times. I must confess, that I have not always received those phrases very graciously. Why? Because they can come across as trite, and at times like a blatant lie. I don’t say this because I’m a pessimist or wallowing in self pity. I say it because the facts are, no matter how bad life gets, no matter how low you sink, things can always get worse!

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My latest story has been an especially difficult one. Over the last 20 months it feels like I’ve faced enough trauma to last me a lifetime! I had a serious accident and needed major orthopaedic surgery, which left me unable to work for the best part of a year. My mum had a massive haemorrhagic stroke and died 4 weeks later. My business collapsed, I had massive financial stress. My hair all fell out, 3 times. (Excuse me while I pause for breath) I’ve had severe anxiety and clinical depression, and suffered a nervous breakdown. A close friend betrayed me and I had a serious cancer scare. I had major gynaecological surgery, with complications, which, along with my age, put the kibosh on any hope of having children. I’m not looking for pity, I’m just saying that sometimes life can be really really shit, and just when it can’t get worse, it does!

Now at this point, you might be expecting me to say that even though I’ve been through a crap time, God is faithful, and He has created something beautiful out of the mess (or some other kind of annoying Christian/spiritual phrase) I’m not anti Christian, I’m anti ‘patronising spiritual Christian’isms’, I’m anti slapping a scripture on a weeping wound like a plaster. It is ineffective and insulting. I may sound annoyed, I guess I am a little. It’s just that I’m only interested in Christianity that is real, and brutally honest. Christianity that means something, Christianity that is a true example of Gods love in action.

There is no doubt, this year has been the toughest I’ve ever experienced. I’ve questioned God, been angry, hurt and utterly utterly broken. But amid the awfulness, there has been hope, and reasons to be thankful. I’ve been held up by a small group of precious friends, both near and far. Friends that have not only supported me emotionally, but in practical ways. I’ve had financial gifts, been taken out for many coffees, and probably a bit too much cake! I’ve had help walking my dog. A dear friend with a young family and a new baby included me in family life. She invited me to help with the children, and feeding the baby. Things that made me feel wanted and useful. Another friends husband sorted my car out when it needed an MOT. None of these things are particularly ‘holy’, but I think they are Gods love in action. Yes there is place for prayer, teaching and encouragement, but without action they can be empty words.

At my church they sometimes have what they call ‘God Stories’, in essence, stories of what God has done in people’s lives. It’s good, and can be a real encouragement to others. The thing is, it’s easy to thank God when we can see what he’s done, it’s easy to look back over situations and see Gods hand. I recall a couple who had been trying to get pregnant, they told their story of how tough it was, and how disappointed they were every time a pregnancy failed. They ended their story with the fantastic news that they were now 5 months into a healthy pregnancy. Their story ended in good news. So often we hear the end of people’s stories, when everything has worked out, when all is well. When babies have arrived, jobs have been found, money has been provided, and life has been wrapped up in a big pink bow. We don’t very often hear from people in the middle of their stories when everything still looks really crap.

I think we should have less focus on the final outcome of our stories, and more openness in the middle of them. That’s when we need the encouragement, when we might need a helping hand to keep going. When we need a friend to cry with. It’s ok to recognise and be sad about tough situations that we face. It doesn’t mean we don’t have faith, it doesn’t mean we don’t trust God, it is simply an indication of our humanity. For too long, some churches have been so focused on ‘having faith’, that they have swept ‘feelings’ under the rug. Should we be ashamed of how we feel? Should we be afraid to say we are disappointed. What’s the point in putting on a brave face, if underneath we are broken. Why keep up the facade, who are we fooling? Certainly not ourselves, and I’m pretty sure Gods not fooled either. If we cannot be completely open and honest with each other, then we simply perpetuate the lie. The lie that we have it all together.

This particular story of mine is not over yet, on the face of it, things still appear pretty rubbish. I don’t have the answers, and I don’t know how things are going to end. A happy ending seems far off, but, I am convinced that not one part of this story has been for nothing. Tough? Yes very, but difficult circumstances often become the greatest lessons, and produce deep rooted change, and profound growth.

If you’re in the middle of a tough or sad story, please don’t despair. Things may not be turning out as you expected or hoped, but you’re not at the end of your story yet. I pray that you have faithful, loving, and kind friends to support you. Most of all though, know this, the ultimate storyteller knows the beginning from the end. You are precious, loved, and never alone, and as my lovely mum would say, ‘you never know what’s round the corner’. Hold on.

The Crying Bench

The Crying Bench

I love that moment upon waking up, the moment when you are neither awake or asleep. That brief moment when, for a split second, all is well. I love it, and also dread it, because I know what follows.

It hits with a violent and crushing blow, assaulting my soul, and suddenly I can’t breathe.

It is a pattern that happened most mornings since May 25th 2015, the day mum died. In those early days, the words ‘my mum died’ used to play over and over in my mind, as if the subconscious chanting of those words would at some point become my reality, and I would accept that she had died.

It makes no sense, I knew she had died. I was stroking her hair when she breathed that last whisper of breath. But the magnitude of her death, and the complete devastation it left in its wake was almost unbearable. I say ‘almost’, because I am still here, somehow I have managed to bear the unbearable. How do you cope without someone who has been in your life for 46 years? How do you accept that they are gone forever? How do you live with the utter despair, sorrow, and gut wrenching pain? There are no words to describe how it feels, if you have lost a parent perhaps you understand.

I wish I could tell you that I have all the answers. I do not. All I have is my own story, my own messy journey through the complexities of grief.

The day after mums funeral, I recall someone asking me ‘have you cried yet?’ In fact, in the three weeks between mums death and her funeral, I had hardly cried at all. Naively, I thought I was coping quite well with the whole grief thing. In reality, I wasn’t coping at all. I was numb. Most of the time I felt as if I was watching a movie, like I was an outsider looking at myself from afar. As if it wasn’t really my life. I think it’s because the reality was just too horrific to grasp.

Although I’m sure it hadn’t been their intention, the question ‘have you cried yet?’ felt flippant, as if the monumental circumstances that I found myself in, could be fixed with ‘a bit of a cry’. Oh if only that were so.
Yes, tears are part of grieving, but they are only one outlet. One weepy outburst does not fix the unfixable.

There had been many tears in the 4 years prior to her death. The grief began long before she died. Such was the damage in her brain, that bit by bit, the mum that I knew started to leave. Each time a little more distant. It was 4 years of utter heartbreak, 4 years of silent tears, 4 years of grieving alone. I thought I had done much of my grieving before she died, I was wrong.

Somehow, after mum died, the preceding years melted away, and I found myself grieving for the mum I had before she ever got sick. The question ‘have you cried yet’, was jarring to my soul. It was simply a reminder of all those tears I had cried alone, when mum was sick, all the pain that had gone unnoticed by most, all the sheer agony of seeing mum so very poorly, but holding back my emotions because mum just wasn’t capable of understanding anymore. It was a desperately lonely time.

In the months following her death, I would often walk my dog with a dear friend of mine. A friend who had become like a sister. She was not afraid of my grief, neither did she try to fix me. She simply walked with me. We would often rest on a bench at the top of a hill. That bench became the crying bench. On numerous occasions the flood gates of my heart would open on that bench, and my lovely friend would listen as my grief poured out, over and over again. You see, grief doesn’t happen neatly, you don’t work through each part until you get to the end. It’s a bit like a washing
machine, you go round and round over the same thing, until finally, at some point, you reach acceptance. But only acceptance for that one area, then it happens again, and again, and again, on each area of grief. There is no easy route out of it, you have to just stay on the road, and endure. I wish everyone could have a friend like mine. A friend who would listen over and over to the same conversation, a friend to walk with me through the horror of my grief, a friend who like Jesus, wept with me.

Yes, even Jesus wept, such was His compassion for His friends. He knew how it felt to grieve.

Now, one year on, mums death can still deliver a crippling blow. It is the sudden realisation that I can’t call her for a chat, or after major surgery recently, I simply wanted to hear her voice. The child in me wanted my mum to make everything better. The one who could always wipe away my tears is not here, and my heart longs for her. Where do you turn when the person who wiped those tears, is the person for whom you grieve?

I love that verse in Psalms that says, ‘You (God) keep track of all my sadness. You have collected all my tears in a bottle, you have recorded every one of them’. Ps 56:8.

I love that our tears are precious to God, even in our darkest moments, not one tear falls unseen.

It’s reassuring knowing that even in the loneliest of times, none of our tears go unnoticed, not one of them is wasted.
There is healing in your tears, and there is no hurry, or time limit on the amount of tears you need to weep for your loss. Again, weeping is only one part of grieving.

I still visit the crying bench. Sometimes I walk there with my dog, sometimes I visit the bench within the confines of my mind and the safety of my home. The tears still come, sometimes as a flood, sometimes with a gentleness. The tears will always be there, because I will always grieve for my mum. I am not stuck in my grief, it’s just that I will love her forever, and miss her forever, and because of that I will grieve forever. Perhaps not with the same rawness, but it will always be there.

As Washington Irving said.
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.