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 canΒ 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.

 
β€œIt 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