Monday, July 28, 2014

I'm grinning from ear to ear tonight. Maybe that's what they mean by good grief. August anniversaries are tough, so I search for all of the joy I can find. Digging through photos...unearthing beautiful memories that span over four decades...laughing at the plaids, the stripes, the hair!  
Oh, what a love story.
Counting it all joy...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Illustrator unknown
I packed a lot of lives with me when we left MD Anderson, along with hope for their recovery and remission...When I check their blogs or CaringBridge sites, I am quick to check the comments from others. What kind of support are they receiving? Words tell a lot. 
I cringe when I read about Aunt Susie's horrible side effects or see a link to some alternative treatment.
I hurt for my friends; they need love, not comments that will increase their anxiety, diminish their doctors' treatment plan and drain energy needed for their own beast.
As a result of her own cancer experience, Susan Silk developed a simple way to relate to others in crisis. The Ring Theory has served me well while comforting friends. 
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring.
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.
When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn't, don't say it. Don't, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don't need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, "I'm sorry" or "This must really be hard for you" or "Can I bring you a pot roast?" Don't say, "You should hear what happened to me" or "Here's what I would do if I were you." And don't say, "This is really bringing me down." 
Susan Silk and Barry Goldman    For more info
Now for written comments...
Keep them short! Remember, you aren't the only one leaving a message and it takes great energy to read each one. 
If you are praying, share a few of the specifics.
If you want to help in a tangible way, ask about that one thing you know you can provide. "Let me know what I can do" forces your already exhausted friend to think!  
Never begin any communication with "I need." It becomes about you and heaps unnecessary guilt. "But I need to do something." "I need to hug your neck." Think them, just don't write them. Surely, there is a friend in a larger circle to whom you can share your needs.
Never begin a message with "You should." Again, don't give advice!
Keep your words positive, but don't promise something you can't guarantee, like "You'll beat this!" Statements like"You've got to fight this" sound encouraging, but ask yourself if you are the captain of this ship.   It's usually better to refrain offering comments about after-life. Period!
Yikes,after all that, should I write at all?  YES!  Our friends need to hear our love you's  and that they are present in our hearts and prayers. We just need to pour comfort in and dump far away from them.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

More thoughts on grief...
"The Five Stages of Grief," theorized by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, is not a checklist. One does not neatly complete a phase before entering the next.  Not everyone experiences denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I would characterize grief as a twisting, turning roller coaster ride with lots of climbs and sudden vertical drops. Throw in some rapid fire ambushes and long tracks of guilt and you have a pretty clear picture! There is no plodding through each phase; one moment I'm sure I've come to grips with the permanency of Rob's death and the next, I'm shaking my head in despair, reminding myself that he is really, really gone.  One day, I can laugh, the next, I must force myself to get out of bed.

Loneliness is greatest when I sense that everyone else has moved on.   I'm still in the "talk about him like he's in the next room" phase, but I forget that not everyone is so comfortable with (or interested in) keeping him in the present. But seriously, how do I bury the "we" when that's all I have ever known? I find myself retreating more and more; perhaps, it's just easier.    The greatest gift someone can give me or anyone else who has lost a loved one is the chance to remember out loud...hand's down.  

Yearning for a loved one is a healthy part of grief work, but it physically hurts... a lot!  And I'm not sure how long it can be considered normal. The same with the intense need to remember...
Sometimes I feel stuck; how many times can I look at the same photos, palm his worn wallet, smell the last pajamas he wore, before I worry I will never heal?  The nights are the worst! The long, endless nights...

Who am I? Finding a new identity is a complicated process. How do I convince others that the "old me" is forever changed?  How do I convince them that I have lost my spouse, not my brain? 

People are not mind readers.  They say and do out of love and concern and yes, awkwardness; I must express my needs and the things I'm not ready to enjoy. I'm learning that honesty is sometimes misunderstood, but I must re-enter at my own pace.

Grief keeps me running toward Jesus. I refuse to run away!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third [you guessed it] is to be kind. Henry James
Oh sure, there are more things we could add, but you have to admit, kindness is pretty powerful!  I don't know anything about Leo Buscaglia's theology, but I agree with his thinking here - Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. 
I returned home with many lessons of kindness packed amidst my dirty camp clothes. 
Each day, my darling friend, Charlotte, strolled in my cabin, smiled, looked around and left. I never caught on; she was delivering a note each day for my pillow. She must have slipped in later to practice her brand of kindness, but I didn't know until the very last night that she was the precious student who took the time to leave me written encouragement and love.  She wasn't the only kind female during the week, though.  I was surrounded by the sweetest group of girls who doted on me and made me feel a part of their lives. 
That included the very best cabin on the grounds!
I chose not to share Rob's illness and death with my girls; I wanted our cabin to be a happy, "normal" place. My co-sponsors, Katie and Debbie, always make life fun and I wanted that for our campers. However, Wednesday's total meltdown led Katie and Debbie, my Aaron and Hur for the week, to spill my story and when I arrived that night, I was greeted with so much tenderness and concern from pj-clad teenagers that I thought my heart might burst. A night I will hold close to my heart for a very long while.
I end this chapter with joy, rejoicing in kind friends!  Even though, in the early hours of camp, I was ambushed with words and actions that could have easily destroyed my spirit and usefulness for the week, the kindness of others turned my week around and perhaps, spoke louder than any song or sermon. 
Kindness doesn't come naturally. Like love, it's not just a "feel good" emotion, but a purposeful action. Kindness requires looking into another's soul and asking "Where in life is this person and what does she need at this very moment?" I think that is impossible to carry out without God's touch. I love Sylvia Rossetti's wise words.
Genuine kindness is no ordinary act, but a gift of rare beauty. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I'm still "dog-paddling" through this dark season after camp, trying to keep my head above the murky waters of depression. But I'm learning lessons that will carry through my life.
My takeaway from six days at summer camp is kindness. The kindness of others carried me through a week of inexplicable pain and loss.
Wednesday night's hike to the Exodus tabernacle might have been my hardest day since I said goodbye to Rob. Every seven years, our youth ministry erects this remarkable structure with careful detail. It's really like journeying through the time of Moses, but unlike the Israelites of his time, we have the opportunity to enter the Holy of Holies, a place that was reserved only for the High Priest.
The time came to move through the entrance to The Holy Place and after an evening of stuffing every emotion imaginable, my dam broke and uncontrollable tears spilled! Not only was I overwhelmed with the reminder that I have 24/7 access to our great God because of the Cross, but I was completely overcome with what I could only imagine Rob was experiencing. In His presence...face to face...Glory revealed... 
So undone that I could hardly stand! That's when Cal Mummert, a wonderful friend, rushed to my side, looped his strong arm with mine, and made the emotional walk with me through our tabernacle. With each step, I cried harder, but he held on tighter. Oh, kindness beyond words; I shall never forget that, Cal! 
I planned to hike back down to our lodging, but dear Paul Boedeker insisted I ride instead. Paul, you knew I needed help and had a plan! Did you know that the trip down might have done irreparable damage to my injured knee?
I reached the fire pit and there was Jimmie O'Quinn, waiting with arms wide open. Jimmie, Cal, and sweet Hudson, one of Rob's guys, held me, prayed over me, and for the first time all week, I felt pain lift and new strength fill me; I could now pay forward the kindness shown by these special men.  

To be continued...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rob claimed our walk-in closet early in our marriage.
You see he had a major t-shirt collection and therefore, needed a lot of room to organize his shirts by team, color, sport, school and so on...
You could often find him ducking into campus bookstores while traveling for work so he could purchase just one more college basketball shirt. Just one more...
Several months after his death, I began the bittersweet task of handling his clothes. I 
carefully packed his beloved collection to make future quilts for the family.  Camp Tallowood was looming and as I looked at the pile of tribe shirts from years past, I knew I needed to take a piece of Rob with me.  Well, it ended up more than a piece, didn't it?
My heart nearly broke the first evening when I began to put scissors to each shirt. "How can I be doing this? Rob should be wearing these; I shouldn't be ripping them apart like my heart!" But each cut got easier and I found a little healing with each seam.
Through tear-filled eyes, I managed to add heartfelt, personal messages that are forever hidden in the layers.
Rob arrived at our first year at Camp Eagle on crutches, one week postop after an Achilles tendon repair. Not the sanest thing he ever did, but he was not going to miss this new adventure! Needing the assistance of a four-wheeler, we waited on top of the mountain after the Thursday hike, gazing at the stars and hoping it would take a while for our vehicle to return. The clear sky was filled with stars that hung so low we thought we could reach up and touch them. We never forgot that miraculous night and always looked forward to God's handiwork each year.
As I arranged the colorful squares, I traveled through years of camp themes, memory verses, amazing students and co-sponsors, funny moments, holy moments. Oh, how I wished I could pack the Robisons, the Forehands, the Catings and so many more beautiful friends from years past along with this quilt that represented much more than yards of cotton. 
The piecing of Rob's shirts helped me say goodbye to the past; the final "tying off" step allowed me to focus solely on the present. Each night, as camp neared, I took the list of campers and sponsors and prayed for each participant as I secured the layers of the quilt with surgical knots. I think God was doing some stitching of His own on my broken heart. 
Camp week arrived and I carefully packed Rob's quilt along with the uncertainty of how I would make it through without him.  
At the end of each full day,  I crawled into my bottom bunk and covered my weary body and heart with  remnants of my precious husband's love affair with summer youth camp.  My dear friend, Debbie, wrote wise words in her beautiful post about the Comforter. She got it right; I was not only wrapped in Rob's t-shirts, but even more so in the love, protection, and provision of an amazing God.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My neighbor blurts out, "Don't you hate being a spare part?" She should know; she said goodbye to her cancer-filled husband two years ago. 
"Yes, my lovely British friend, oh yes."
Since I was seventeen, I've been part of a duo. I don't even remember solo, but I'm beginning to prefer it over threesome.
I work hard to avoid the latter, but sometimes life gets in the way. And I'm realizing like never before, we live in a couple-oriented world. Pairs trump; pairs sell!
I can't even get through a series of commercials without being bombarded with images of gray-haired couples lounging in outdoor bathtubs or ascending dance floors. (Maybe that says something about my T.V. viewing!)
Presently, I'm wading through the wedding season and learning it is the most difficult of all, again, a front row seat to watch all I have lost. 
I'm not complaining; I'm just observing one more complicated facet of this journey. But I am asking God to remind me of my true identity in Him, how to be courageous and trusting, and to help me thank Him for this unique gift, this opportunity to cling hard and know Christ in an inexplicable way.  
Will this spare part find her significance? I think so...
 Rob had an old Alfa Romeo and I remember how he would cheer when his mechanic secured an obscure part to get the old girl up and running again. Those parts were vital!
Up and running again...sounds awfully good!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

In sickness and in health

Everyone loves a good love story. Recently my friend had brain surgery and her wonderful husband has been her primary caretaker. Scot updates their blog so we can all pray more personally for her recovery. In one of the recent posts, Scot wrote that one of the readers felt as if he was reading a love story. 
Oh, how right he is, a beautiful, tender account of a husband's adoration, periods of helplessness, and sacrifice as he supports his lovely wife.
I know; I've walked in his shoes.  
24/7 care of a soul mate in his deepest pain... Times when there was not a thing I could do, but kneel before him, hold his frail hands and storm the heavens for relief.
Moments when I thought my love-swollen heart would break in two as I moved to his pace, his needs.
Never again would I want to see my Rob suffer like he did, but I must admit, I miss taking care of my husband. Crazy! 
Those five and a half months weren't pretty at all; they left me spent beyond words, but caring for him was my greatest expression of love for Rob. So many details have turned foggy, but the intimacy in those hard moments remains crystal clear. 
Years ago, I worked in a long-term care facility. I was overwhelmed at the number of young people who resided there because their spouse had given up and walked away from their marriages. I always thought they had missed their blessing.
Oh, I know it's hard, the hardest thing I've ever done, but I'm forever changed because of it. Rob's cancer taught me how to love like Christ. I walk this new journey with a love and knowledge of my husband that will carry me until we meet again. And I see pain with new eyes!
I wonder if the writer of our traditional wedding vows knew first hand the "sickness" part. Did he see the joy that comes from pouring out one's alabaster jar? Did he learn mercy and patience and tenderness?
Gratefully, Scot's wife will heal in time and they will resume their "happily ever after," but I know they are writing a love story very few will ever live. 


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Remember these? I don't even know if they make sliding puzzles anymore, but my budget feels a lot like one of them.
I'm still in the process of making sound investment decisions to cover my needs for decades to come.  Rob taught me well: live frugally, give generously and save for the future and we did this effortlessly with a nice salary.
But death of the primary bread winner extracts the easy from all of this and who ever said living by faith would be without effort? 
Life insurance proceeds must be balanced with burial costs and Cobra plans with investment strategies. It has to last!
Don't get me wrong; Rob left me blessed with enough to cover all of my bills and most likely, much more. 
But I'm learning how to move this financial puzzle into the right order  and I'm still not sure which tile to move next. (Yes, I have a wonderful adviser, but fear often trumps wisdom.)
Bottom line...My lifestyle has changed and I find myself fighting shrinking trust and ugly pride.
Oh, I've been comfortably paring down to a simpler lifestyle; actually it doesn't look much different than before Rob's illness. And what if the necessity to do so is totally unnecessary, but still good for the soul?
But giving has taken a big hit! 
I love feeding orphans, drilling wells, commemorating special events with a lot of love tied with pretty bows. 
I'm blessed to have a lot of friends and my love language, guessed it... gift-giving! 
I've had to skip a lot of opportunities to repay great kindness shown to Rob and me. That grieves me! Being raised with the notion that an invitation always warrants a carefully chosen present, I worry what my friends will think when they open up just a card or a token gift. Will people be insulted or worse, pity me? Will they think Rob didn't provide well enough? Will they still want to be my friend?
I'm flat embarrassed, proof that pride keeps rearing it's ugly head! 
I hate me for being more worried about my image than I am grateful for the blessing of friendship. I'm not even sure if I love giving for the right reasons!
I confess; I have struggled with skipping groceries and medications so I could purchase a nicer wedding gift or a fancier lunch. 
Total insanity, but I wonder if I'm the only one who plays this game?
However, human need is no game! A starving child needing a meal, a pregnant woman sickened by dirty water... no time for inaction, so I question my level of faith when I don't dive into my savings account to heal a little more of the planet and a little less of me. 
How do I balance first and third world issues on a fixed income?  
Seems like death uncovers a host of flaws and conflicts...only resolved by coming clean before a Holy God. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Hike

Last year I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and after many tests, no specific cause could be found. Doctors' advice: walk 30 minutes daily, but avoid uphill exertion.  I'm a nurse; I rarely listen to good sound medical advice, but last year I asked Rob to make the big camp hike without me.  That he did with two large blood clots in his lung. Of course, I didn't know Rob was filled with cancer and life-threatening complications; I just attributed his inability to race up the hill, like in past years, to his soon to be repaired abdominal hernia. But... 
Guilt plagued me for months. What was I thinking? Why was I so selfish? 
I would make that hike this year in honor of Rob! I was determined! 
Backpack pared down to essentials and Rob's last Asher t-shirt pinned to it, hiking stick in hand, I was set to go, but the load still cried heavy.  My heart was full of bittersweet memories of the last Exodus hike and I was dreading the part where our men would carry the Ark of the Covenant to the Tabernacle. My Rob would be missing. I would not have that familiar strong hand to grasp when unsteady rocks were a struggle. A ton of "solo" to carry!

"Our" hike was sweet, yet solemn. I whispered the Song of Ascents, psalms recited by faithful Jews as they climbed the steps of their Temple, and lovingly remembered snapshots of past camps, but moreover, God's faithfulness throughout those years.  I would reach back occasionally and feel Rob's backpack and shirt. The three of us were making the climb together and I felt the guilt that had haunted me for months begin to shed.
Nearing the top, I began to tire, each step proving a little harder, both physically and emotionally. It was then I felt a gentle push on my backpack. Daniel, our Camp Eagle sponsor, was marking each step with me and pushing me toward the goal.  
The God of Israel will be your rear guard. Isaiah 52:12 

My rear guard... Isn't that just like our loving, protective Father?
For weeks prior to camp, I had prayed for the young woman or man who God would choose to assist our tribe. God had blessed us with former Camp Eagle staff that have become beautiful friends and encouragers during this difficult year. I knew He would provide once again, but Daniel exceeded my expectations! Throughout the week, my new friend would pray with and over me...truly a gift from God.
I'm again reminded that we're not meant to journey alone through this rocky, uphill climb called Life. The Message shouts Galatians 6:2 in a perfect way: Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and complete Christ's law.
Whose  backpack, full of hardship, am I going to reach out and gently push forward today?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I packed a plan for camp.  I'm a leader and I would use my gift like I had for so many years. Rob always encouraged it and I thrived on that stage. 
I never unpacked my plan.
Instead, I found myself in a front row seat, watching a new cast, a new script, and another brutal loss.
Ambushed again!  How much pain must one person endure? Did I hear You wrong, God?
With no reserve left, I hit the breaking point.
"God, I've been so flexible, re-adjusting at every crook and turn.  Lord, I can't improvise this time! I told you it was too soon. Here I am, stuck; why can't  I just run away?" Those were the nice things that raced through my aching mind.
I'll use your sufferings. Trust Me!
And He did...
I will lead you to those in need. I will supply all your needs.
And He did...

Joshua: Miss Robin, I just can't recite my verses. It's just too hard. 
Me: I know; sometimes it's all too hard!  
Joshua points to a word: anxious. No clue what it means or how to pronounce it. I want to scream "It's me!"
Joshua became my hero, my courageous Ugandan scripture buddy.  Although I encouraged him to say his verses in Luganda or Swahili, Joshua insisted that he recite them in English, his new language.
And he did! It took a lot of sign language, associations and prayer, but he did it. While everyone else sat and ate lunch, brave and determined Joshua stood before our Camp Eagle sponsor and poured out life-sustaining words. 

Yes, LORD; a new plan for the week.
Joshua and I formed a bond and a powerful friendship over the week. As we worked on verses, we learned about each other's sufferings and sadly, he had brought much from his native Uganda. 
And God said, "You can thrive offstage in the wings and under my Wings."
To be continued...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13,) one of the first promises I ever memorized. It's one thing to recall a string of words and yet, quite another to tightly grasp on to them as you feel yourself sinking into the darkest pit.
In less than 12 hours, I found myself re-packed from an exhausting week at youth camp and boarding a Boeing 737 headed for San Diego. Last minute details for Jill's first birthday party awaited along with a house full of people I barely knew. Sam's first dance recital, SeaWorld, candyland games, sleepless nights filled the next week and here I sat slumped in an aisle seat, desperately trying to collect the shards of my broken heart.  
Did I believe the apostle Paul? Would I let Christ carry me through both the exhaustion and the pain? Could I cling to the same words Paul could believe as he sat in his prison?
 "I can do all things" has nothing to do with gaining super powers, but everything to do with trusting the Super Power. I would still limp, but firmly tethered to his hope, his joy, his "I AMness."
How can an emotional mess sing and dance with little ones while bobbing in the murky waters of depression and grief? How can a drowning soul peel back the covers and bring light into a busy family day after day? How can the broken keep hobbling through uncertainty?

Only through Christ, only through Christ...