I received this in my inbox nine days ago but hadn’t time to watch it until today. It is exactly what I needed to hear. I’ve been really struggling this week and through this father’s testimony God has touched my heart.
Levi’s dad says “Trials and suffering have a reality about them that they force our own neediness upon us, whether we like it or not. It’s not easy and it’s not romantic. However, they can be a point of life as our Saviour brings us deeper into Himself.”
On the eleventh of November 2013 Horace, Rachel, Leah and I went to IKEA in Belfast to buy some bits and pieces for our new house. Leah wasn’t allowed in public places because of her immunity, but IKEA that Monday morning was almost deserted, so we felt that it was safe for her to come with us. Leah loved shopping.
It was a challenge to fit both the people and all the purchases into our car afterwards, but my husband is amazing when it comes to packing the car. It comes from years of practice being married to a woman who doesn’t ‘travel light’!
Amongst the items we bought were six folding kitchen chairs. Why did we need six? Because, in 2013, we were a family of six – two parents and four children.
Now, unless we have visitors, one of those kitchen chairs remains folded, unused, in our Utility Room. Now that it’s December, we are once again in the season when for many families there is a heightened awareness of the empty chair.
Along with our awareness of an empty chair, we will have Leah’s eighteenth birthday on New Year’s Eve and the second anniversary of her final hospitalisation and her death in December/January.
“The holidays are a time for recognizing our profound fullness, of purposefully dwelling on the abundant overflow we find ourselves in and being grateful.
Our houses and our bellies bulge to capacity and we gleefully overindulge in food and friends and laughter. We fill ourselves to bursting with all the things and the people that make life glorious and make the pain bearable.
This is a season where we inventory our lives and readily acknowledge all that is good and sweet and right.
It is about celebrating presence.
But not for you. Not right now.”
Click HERE to go to his blog and read the rest of this post.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Both my family and my husband’s family have been significantly affected by breast cancer.
After Leah was diagnosed, she was told that if she survived the blood cancer for which she was being treated, she would have a significantly higher risk of developing breast cancer. The consultant warned her sternly to be very vigilant about breast self-examination.
I remember feeling physically ill as the doctor spoke these words to my fifteen year old daughter.
A girl I know lost a close friend very suddenly over the summer. Her and I bumped into each other over the weekend and I asked her how she was doing. On first impressions, you would think she was really well; she was tanned, smiling and warm in her conversation. She sent me a message through Facebook the next day, though. She explained that she had been feeling very low recently and that she felt she had been hiding away from the world.
“I guess I felt the pressure that I should be coming to terms with it by now,” she explained, even though her friend only died three months ago.
I understood the pressure she spoke of immediately, because I felt it when my wife died, too. From this experience, I now believe that many of clichés that follow a close bereavement only really serve to make a…
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This essay is a very powerful piece of writing.
It is also a chilling reminder that these Mums are just like us, trying to do what is best for their children, in the most dire of circumstances.
Dear Irresponsible Migrant Mother,
What exactly were you thinking when you woke your children in the dead of the night, picking up the baby still asleep? Don’t you know how important it is for children to get enough sleep? They’ll be cranky during the day if they don’t sleep enough. They won’t develop properly if you keep doing this. Children need routine. That baby you’re holding needs to be warm and comfortable, cocooned and safe, like a tiny bud, waiting to bloom in the morning. Those toddlers won’t be able to walk the miles you want them to in the black night in worn out shoes without a good night’s sleep.
What’s that? Speak up. You had to travel at night? It was safer? It was quieter? There was less chance of being discovered? Less chance of being caught if it was dark and the threat that hung over you…
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Leah used to enjoy writing short stories.
When Leah was younger we made several unsuccessful attempts at getting one of her short stories accepted for publication by various websites.
I do of course wish, that circumstances could have been different.
To read our story on Leah Adam’s web-site click on In Life, In Death ~ Vicky Whyte’s Faith Story
The words used in this blog post to describe grief are so beautiful and so true, I just had to reblog it……
A friend emailed me this morning after reading something he thought I might like to see.
‘Now in my defence,’ he began, ‘I never send you stuff like this, but I stumbled on it this morning and thought of you.’
I appreciated his caution; some days I’m just not in the mood to think or talk about grief. But then once in a while I read something that I feel compelled to share, mainly because I think it might just help someone else. I know from experience that a few words written in the right order and delivered at the right time can make all the difference. I for one have many people to thank for the words and time they have shared with me.
This following piece is guest post of sorts. Four years ago a young man, whom I know nothing about, took to the internet to try to find…
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Well, this was never a letter I expected to write… 4 years we’ve shared this curious relationship of ours. 4 years. Who’d have thought it?
Last time I wrote I was incredibly frightened. You had woken up just before Christmas and caused no end of issues. I’m not sure if I was more fearful of the impact of you on my creaking body or the impact further chemotherapy and the associated unrelenting infections were going to have on me.
I struggled so much with the poisoning this time, not just physically, but mentally too. It was almost as if every little essence of Kate was trickling away with each infusion. I don’t mind admitting to you how down I was, especially when I decided enough was enough on chemo front. I didn’t want to work. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I guess I just felt…
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I read lots of articles about grief but I repost very few of them. Generally, as I read through these articles, I agree with most of what I read, but there is almost always at least one sentence that I read and think “No, that’s not me.”
However, this morning I read a New York Times piece on trauma, entitled The Art Of Presence and immediately I could identify with all of the points that I was reading. I will reprint it in full at the end of this blog piece, but first I would like to comment on some of the parts that I identified with.
Yes, suffering is a teacher, I feel like I’m on a very steep learning curve. I wish that there could have been some other way, to learn the many lessons that I feel I have learned over this past two years, but perhaps there is no other way.
“The art of presence” – oh how very much I have appreciated the many people who have been there for me and my family during the past two years. As the article says, some are “firefighters” and some are “builders”. There is a place for both. The article correctly says that there is no way of predicting which friends, or even acquaintances, will step up to the plate and provide that loving support.
Nowadays, I especially appreciate those who show that they still remember. I appreciate those friends, relatives, neighbours and work colleagues, who unobtrusively minister to my heart with a squeeze of the hand, a timely hug, a ‘like’ on a Facebook post, or a quiet “how are you doing”, accompanied by a facial expression that shows they really care.
To be honest, there are some days when I am driving to work, a church service or a social event, with tears streaming down my face and I have to wrestle with the urge to turn my car and head for the cemetery instead.
“Do bring soup”. Oh wow, so many of you have done this for us in so many different ways.
You fundraised for us in countless ways, so that all of our financial needs were catered for. While Leah and I spent approximately twenty weeks in hospital, you came and helped Horace to build a beautiful house, that I thank God for every day.
You baked us buns, yummy, delicious buns.
You filled our freezer with delicious dinners, for months after Leah died. So much so, that not only was I able to feed my family, I was even able to invite close friends to eat with us too. This was very important to us, at a time when our house felt much too quiet and the ’empty chair’ was so conspicuous.
Some gifts were a “one off” and came at just the right moment. Like the generous gift of money pushed through our door the day before five of us flew to Bristol for our first Outpatients Appointment. As I stared at the bundle of Bank of England notes, I thought it very strange that they were all fresh, crisp, BANK OF ENGLAND notes – our cash dispensers here normally dish out Northern Irish sterling. Then I realised, that this friend had remembered, what we had completely forgotten – we needed Bank of England sterling for our two day trip to England the next day. I immediately thanked God for providing for our needs through the thoughtfulness and generosity of a friend.
“Don’t try to make sense of what has happened” – that is my prerogative, not yours. Some good things have come out of Leah’s illness and death, but that doesn’t make her illness and death “good”, or make it feel in any way justifiable.
As the Rev Craig said at Leah’s funeral, some things in life will always remain a mystery.
The Art of Presence
JAN. 20, 2014
Tragedy has twice visited the Woodiwiss family. In 2008, Anna Woodiwiss, then 27, was working for a service organization in Afghanistan. On April 1, she went horseback riding and was thrown, dying from her injuries. In 2013, her younger sister Catherine, then 26, was biking to work from her home in Washington. She was hit by a car and her face was severely smashed up. She has endured and will continue to endure a series of operations. For a time, she breathed and ate through a tube, unable to speak. The recovery is slow.
The victims of trauma, she writes in a remarkable blog post for Sojourners, experience days “when you feel like a quivering, cowardly shell of yourself, when despair yawns as a terrible chasm, when fear paralyzes any chance for pleasure. This is just a fight that has to be won, over and over and over again.”
Her mother, Mary, talks about the deep organic grief that a parent feels when they have lost one child and seen another badly injured, a pain felt in bones and fiber.
But suffering is a teacher. And, among other things, the Woodiwisses drew a few lessons, which at least apply to their own experience, about how those of us outside the zone of trauma might better communicate with those inside the zone. There are no uniformly right responses, but their collective wisdom, some of it contained in Catherine’s Sojourners piece, is quite useful:
Do be there. Some people think that those who experience trauma need space to sort things through. Assume the opposite. Most people need presence. The Woodiwisses say they were awed after each tragedy by the number of people, many of whom had been mere acquaintances, who showed up and offered love, from across the nation and the continents. They were also disoriented by a number of close friends who simply weren’t there, who were afraid or too busy.
Anna and Catherine’s father, Ashley, says he could detect no pattern to help predict who would step up and provide the ministry of presence and who would fumble. Neither age, experience nor personal belief correlated with sensitivity and love.
Don’t compare, ever. Don’t say, “I understand what it’s like to lose a child. My dog died, and that was hard, too.” Even if the comparison seems more germane, don’t make it. Each trauma should be respected in its uniqueness. Each story should be heard attentively as its own thing. “From the inside,” Catherine writes, comparisons “sting as clueless, careless, or just plain false.”
Do bring soup. The non-verbal expressions of love are as healing as eloquence. When Mary was living with Catherine during her recovery, some young friend noticed she didn’t have a bathmat. He went to Target and got a bathmat. Mary says she will never forget that.
Do not say “you’ll get over it.” “There is no such thing as ‘getting over it,’ ” Catherine writes, “A major disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no ‘back to the old me.’ ”
Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.
Don’t say it’s all for the best or try to make sense out of what has happened. Catherine and her parents speak with astonishing gentleness and quiet thoughtfulness, but it’s pretty obvious that these tragedies have stripped away their tolerance for pretense and unrooted optimism.
Ashley also warned against those who would overinterpret, and try to make sense of the inexplicable. Even devout Christians, as the Woodiwisses are, should worry about taking theology beyond its limits. Theology is a grounding in ultimate hope, not a formula book to explain away each individual event.
I’d say that what these experiences call for is a sort of passive activism. We have a tendency, especially in an achievement-oriented culture, to want to solve problems and repair brokenness — to propose, plan, fix, interpret, explain and solve. But what seems to be needed here is the art of presence — to perform tasks without trying to control or alter the elemental situation. Allow nature to take its course. Grant the sufferers the dignity of their own process. Let them define meaning. Sit simply through moments of pain and uncomfortable darkness. Be practical, mundane, simple and direct.
Ashley and Mary went to Afghanistan a few months after Anna’s death. They remember that as a time out of time. They wept together with Afghan villagers and felt touched by grace. “That period changed me and opened my imagination,” Ashley recalls. “This thing called presence and love is more available than I had thought. It is more ready to be let loose than I ever imagined.”
This morning I read a beautiful blog post about buying Father’s Day Cards called Fathers Are Not Idiots.
When Leah and I used to attend Oncology Day Beds in Bristol Children’s Hospital, we were normally in a single room, as Leah’s immunity was so low.
However, one day, I happened to glance in one of the three bedded rooms and what I saw there just melted my heart.
I saw a pale child, with chemotherapy hair loss, sound asleep on top of his bed. Also asleep on top of the bed, was the child’s daddy, with his large frame curled protectively around his little son.
I quietly called one of the nurses over and the two of us just stood there, drinking in this picture of parental tenderness and nurturing. I felt like I was standing on holy ground.
How I wished that I could photograph the scene, but this family were outpatients and I didn’t know them, so there would be no way to obtain their consent.
I had so many emotions in my heart as I stood there gazing at this sleeping daddy protecting his sick little boy. I wondered did that daddy ever have the urge to scoop up his beautiful little boy in his arms and run away, far away, from all the needles and the poison (chemotherapy) that promised to make his child better?
As parents, our desire to protect our children from harm is so strong, but as adults we understand that sometimes the cure hurts and that they may even feel worse before they feel better. We hope and pray that it will be a cure and that they will feel better, because for some children, like Leah, the cure kills.
Nevertheless, I thought it was so beautiful that here in this busy Oncology Outpatients Department, this Daddy did the one thing that he could do for his child; provide comfort by getting on the bed beside him and enveloping him in his arms as he slept.
Sadly, not everybody has such a positive experience of their earthly father.
We live in a broken world.
However, the Bible describes God as our Heavenly Father. The most famous prayer in the Bible begins with the words “Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name” Matthew 6:9 or, as I learned growing up “Ár nAthair atá ar neamh, go naofar d’ainm,”
This weekend Father’s Day is celebrated, but for those of us who don’t have an earthly father to celebrate, we have a loving Heavenly Father. One of the most beautiful descriptions of His love for us is in Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)
“The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”
I recently discovered this very interesting site called What’s Your Grief?
When I read this post called Sometimes Socks Are Sad I thought about my own ‘sock story’.
Shortly after Leah was diagnosed we received a very generous financial gift from a very dear family friend called Shirley.
Shirley also had blood cancer and had been through a stem cell transplant. She wasn’t financially well off, but she had a very loving heart. She outlived Leah by approximately six months. She is very much missed by all who knew and loved her, but like Leah, she looked forward to the day when she would meet her Lord and Saviour face to face, the one who loved her most of all.
I suggested to Leah that this money be used to purchase items that she would need during her hospital stay in Bristol. Anyone who knows Leah knows that she just loved shopping in Primark.
On one of our trips to Belfast for one of Leah’s many hospital appointments, she and I headed into the centre of Belfast to their massive Primark store. Leah filled our shopping basket with pyjamas, underwear and soft comfy socks.
Bristol has an amazing flagship Primark Store in the former House of Fraser building.
Early on in our time there I was dispatched to this store to buy Leah more of her favourite socks. She called them “popcorn” socks because their texture felt bubbly like popcorn.
During Leah’s time in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in Bristol, she went to theatre three times to have her Hickman Central Line removed and replaced. Leah was very ill and I always found these times very difficult emotionally.
On each of these occasions Leah had to remove all of her jewelry and wear a hospital gown and cap. The only personal item that she was allowed to wear was her socks. She always wore her ‘popcorn’ socks. The lovely paediatric anaesthetists always commented on her socks and told her how pretty they were.
Even though my heart was breaking, I really appreciated the effort they made to notice the ONE thing about my daughter that represented her individuality. It also represented their efforts to engage with us as fellow human beings.
It was a similar story with Leah’s earrings in the weeks that followed. Chemotherapy hair loss, facial hair growth caused by cyclosporine and hamster cheeks from her steroid therapy, had all changed Leah’s appearance. Yet the hospital staff were always careful to notice and comment positively on her earrings.
Leah had a variety of cute earrings from Claire’s Accessories. I so appreciated the efforts made by the staff to notice that one small way in which Leah could still express her personality – so important, especially for a young person.
Then recently I was in Primark here in town. Without thinking, I wandered down the sock aisle. There I saw them, Leah’s favourite “popcorn” socks, in so many pretty colours.
I held my breath, I fought back the tears. I remembered when Leah was so ill in Bristol, that she couldn’t even swallow her own saliva and I had to assist her with all of her personal care. Every day I put clean socks on her feet. Soft, comfy, colourful socks.
What a privilege it was to be able to care for my daughter and show her my love. I thank God for the health and strength that I experienced throughout Leah’s illness, that I was able to care for her 24/7. Even the chronic migraine that has dogged my existence since childhood, took a backseat during those months.
Someone told me today about a mother who could not cope emotionally when her adult daughter was dying of cancer. Throughout her daughter’s three month hospitalisation that preceeded her death, her mother never once visited her, because she couldn’t deal with the situation emotionally. This person said to me “Vicky, you are blessed, because you are so tuned in to your own emotions, that you were always available to Leah, emotionally and in every other way.”
I agreed with her, I am blessed in that way.
I’m not blessed that my daughter took ill and died.
I’m not blessed that my heart is broken.
I am blessed though, that God created within me, the resources that I needed to care for Leah and show her my love, while she was living.