Colors of Goodbye ~ A Book Review

Colors of Goodbye ~ A Book Review

Despite my determination NOT to buy any more new books until I had made some inroads into the pile of unread titles weighing down my bookshelves, as soon as I read about the new book written by September Vaudrey and published last month, I was hooked. Within minutes my fingers had navigated the familiar keys of my keyboard, the book was ordered and it was on its’ way.

Colors of Goodbye

As soon as it arrived, Colors of Goodbye: A Memoir of Holding On, Letting Go, and Reclaiming Joy in the Wake of Loss captivated me with its tasteful cover and the delicate artwork that marks the beginning of each new chapter. I couldn’t wait to start reading it. I read the entire 292 pages in less than a week. There is much about September’s journey as a grieving mother that is different to mine, but there are also many similarities. September’s 19 year old daughter has a car accident and she is in a coma. They are told that she is ‘brain dead’.

September is a natural writer, she shares openly and authentically with her readers how she processes everything that happens:

Praying and hoping that God will perform a miracle and heal Katie.

Wondering if she should tell her adult children everything about Katie’s medical condition before they fly home or if she should wait and speak to them face to face, but thereby run the risk of them being informed via social media or text whilst en route?

September describes being alone with her daughter in ICU and noticing how quiet it is, save the beeping of the monitors and the rhythmic whoosh of the ventilator. She holds her daughter’s hand and asks herself “Is this real or is it a parent’s worst nightmare?” I too was that parent, alone in an ICU room with my unconscious daughter and the sounds of beeping and swooshing, knowing I would never again hear my daughter’s voice or feel her loving embrace.

Interspersed with these details are references to September’s unshakeable faith in a God who cares and her unfaltering sense of humour – I felt so at home in this book.

September writes through her pain and talks us through some of the challenges of being a grieving parent who is parenting grieving children. She speaks of her and her husband being together, yet alone – he doesn’t know what it feels like for a mother to lose a daughter and she doesn’t know what it’s like for a father to lose his little girl. Their four other children are teenagers and young adults and between the six of them they demonstrate a range of grieving styles. September describes the delicate process of learning to respect each other’s ways of coping. Her stoic husband Scott describes their grief and loss as being like an amputation – ‘the wound will eventually heal but we’ll still be missing an arm.

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September gives us insight into her thought processes as she endeavours to both hold on and let go. To find enduring ways to remember Katie and honour her place in their family, whilst at the same time not wishing to turn their home into a ‘Katie shrine’. September talks about the gaping wound in her soul that her daughter’s death has created and how easy it would be to fill this hole with bitterness, anger and self-pity. On the three year anniversary of her daughter’s death September discovers that the sorrow that has been her constant companion since Katie died was now mingled with ‘an inexplicable sense of peace and unapologetic sparks of joy’. September writes of this discovery:

God, always the gentleman, had not rushed me or demanded I accept this life whose story line still horrified me, and perhaps always would. He had simply continued to invite and to fan little embers of joy beneath the ashes as constant reminders of His love for me. He had not forgotten me or my family or our pain.

September’s authentic voice, as she writes movingly about the life and death of her beautiful daughter Katie and life after loss, has helped me to reflect on my own grief journey. Whilst travelling through the story of this grieving mama, I have revisited some of my own difficult places and found little pieces of healing. I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to navigate the minefields of grief and loss while holding on to their faith in a loving God.

In this 6 minute video September and Scott talk about their loss. Scott says that he has good news and bad news: the good news is that you won’t always feel this way, that gradually the intolerable ache softens, the bad news is that you never get over this. He says that he’s learned to get on with life, but the loss of his daughter is always just below the surface. September says that in the almost eight years since Katie died, that God has continuously showed up in their story, usually in the thumbprints of other people – especially when people don’t forget your child and they don’t forget your sorrow – she describes ‘church’ as a community of people who do life together.

Guest Post – crashing waves

Guest Post – crashing waves

The words used in this blog post to describe grief are so beautiful and so true, I just had to reblog it……

Life as a Widower

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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The Gaping Hole of Grief

The Gaping Hole of Grief

While we were staying at Daisy Lodge my husband asked me to come for a walk with him in Tollymore Forest Park. He wanted to show me something that he had discovered, which he felt was a metaphor for the effects of grief and loss in the life of a family.

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I have written directly on the subject of grief on many occasions. Naturally, the theme of grief and loss runs through most of my blog posts, but some of those blog posts have been written almost exclusively about the effects of grief.

First, I wrote Grief – the Pain that Goes on Hurting, next came The Storm of Grief. After this, there was Grief Has No Rule Book, followed by Grief Has No Shortcuts. More recently I wrote Grief Really Is About The Small Stuff and Grief Creeps Up When You’re Least Expecting It and then Wave After Wave Crashes Over Me.

In my role as a volunteer with Youthlife and also in my paid employment as a Family Support Worker, I’ve learned that so many people are living with the effects of loss.

Abortion, miscarriage, infertility, neonatal death, child loss, sibling loss, loss of a spouse or parent, separation, divorce, repossession, loss of health, employment, a significant relationship or even one’s reputation.

Then there is the parent whose child has a disability, or whose child’s lifestyle is very different to the one that their parents would wish for them. Those parents often grieve deeply for the child that they once thought they had, as they learn to let go of the dreams and the plans that they started off with.

There are so many different types of loss and each one can be excruciatingly painful.

Sometimes people say to me “Oh my loss isn’t as bad as yours.

Personally, I don’t think that comparisons are particularly helpful. When you’re grieving a significant loss and in deep pain, I don’t think that it matters whether your loss is more, or less, than anybody else’s. When you’re going through it, it just feels like the end of the world, or your world anyway.

So what did Horace want to show me in Tollymore Forest?

A large tree that had been uprooted in a storm.

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As it fell, it had stripped the surrounding trees of their branches.

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All around this tree was devastation and a tangled mess.

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It left a gaping hole in the forest bed.

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Horace says that this is a metaphor for grief and loss.

The bigger the tree, the greater the impact.

The greater the loss, the greater the devastation.

Some of the smaller trees that were close to the fallen tree are bent under its weight.

However, as we continued to survey the scene, we noticed some other things as well: it was a very dark part of the forest, but where the fallen tree had shaved branches off the other trees, the sunlight was breaking through into the clearing.

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Also, as I looked closely at the bent saplings beside the fallen tree, I could see greenery – evidence of new growth. In spite of everything, there was new life here.

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It reminded me of a quote by Anne Lamott that I have posted on here previously:

You will lose some one that you can't live without

It also makes me think about a conversation that I had with a woman I met recently, who has experienced huge loss in her life.

In the 1990’s her brother was murdered in the troubles – a case of mistaken identity. Two and a half weeks later their mother died of a broken heart.

The doctor told them that there was nothing medically wrong with their mother’s heart, she had literally died of a broken heart – as a grieving parent I can understand that.

This woman has had five other family bereavements, as well as those of her brother and mother.

She told me that overall, what she has been through has made her stronger. Yes, she said, there have been many times when all she could do was cry her eyes out and when she struggled just to get out of bed. However, through it all, she has learned  “not to sweat the small stuff” and to grasp the opportunities that life presents with both hands. She also told me that in her fifties she changed career completely and retrained to do something that she really enjoys. She now uses these skills, in a voluntary capacity, to be a blessing to others who are in a difficult situation.

This reminds me of the Bible verse in
Isaiah 45:3 (NKJV)

“I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden riches of secret places,
That you may know that I, the Lord,
Who call you by your name,
Am the God of Israel.”

Sometimes the lessons that we learn in the sad and painful times in our lives become the “treasures of darkness“.

We slowly come to realise, that in those dark and painful times, we have acquired a wisdom that we maybe, just maybe, could not have learned in any other way.

The Storm of Grief

The Storm of Grief

“When deep in the storm of grief, your faith is just like breathing, its the only thing that keeps you going.”

This morning I received a private message from a dear friend containing these words – I gasped and burst into tears because of how true these words are and because of how much I needed to hear those beautiful words at that precise moment.
Living with Leah’s illness was like being on a roller coaster that ducked and dived unpredictably and at high speed.
Living with grief is like being at sea in a sailing ship. There are times when that ship docks in pleasant places and for a few hours I can smile and laugh and enjoy the company of others. Then the ship sets sail on the high seas once more.
I can never tell when a storm of grief will arise or from what direction, but suddenly and at times with little warning, my ship is engulfed. In those times it’s tempting to ask “Will I ever see the shore again?” or “How many storms can a ship withstand?” 
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Sometimes I get by with the help of a useful phrase from another dear friend “Right foot, left foot, breathe.” – I find it a useful one for when I am physically in a place that I find emotionally difficult, such as walking down long corridors on hospital visits or when I’m in Tesco’s and Leah’s favourite snack is being promoted on special offer. It enables me to get back to my car or to some other private place – like the disabled toilets – before I have to give full vent to my emotions.
I discovered the song “It Is Well” by Bethel Music from their “You Make Me Brave” album last week. It has remained on “repeat song” mode on my phone ever since as it’s words just speak to me so very deeply:

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well
So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name”

The Bear Hat

The Bear Hat

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People who have lost a loved one often talk about trying to preserve the “smell” of the person who has died. Because Leah was immuno compromised her clothing and bedding had to be laundered frequently.

On her way to the hospital on Friday 27th December ’13 Leah vomited profusely therefore everything she was wearing that day had to be washed. Almost the only item of Leah’s that has survived unwashed is her wee bear hat with ears.

Bristol has the most amazing flagship Primark store and Leah and I managed a few sneaky clandestine visits there – Leah LOVED Primark. We usually went in the evening just before closing when it was really quiet, to reduce the risk to Leah’s very weak immune system.

She carried alcohol gel to cleanse her hands every time she touched something. We went up and down the floors in the lift – always making sure we were in it alone – so that Leah wouldn’t have to touch the rails of the escalators! Such a tightrope that we had to walk between trying to meet her physical needs and her social/emotional needs! Prolonged enforced isolation is incredibly difficult for anyone, but I think it’s especially difficult for adolescents.

On one of these visits Leah bought this hat for herself and also bought a similar one for another teenage girl, who had chemo hair loss, that she had made friends with in Bristol.

When my children were babies I always loved them in hats and suits with ears. This is Leah when she was three weeks old.

 

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I keep Leah’s bear hat in my bedroom and every day I press it to my face and inhale deeply.
It brings me comfort to smell Leah’s familiar smell.

Our New Normal

Our New Normal

Miriam has been “croaky” all week & was up last night at 3am with a sore throat and a temperature of 40.6C. Today she just lay in bed – very unusual for her – and complained of soreness when breathing. Even after Nurofen her temperature was 39.1C.
Have any of my kids been as sick as this before? YES!
Did I ring the doctor? NO!
Today I rang the GP, got an appointment, took Miriam to be examined and got antibiotics. In the past I resisted having my kids being put on antibiotics in these circumstances and preferred to adopt a “wait and see” approach.
I used to rear my kids on the principle “They’ll be fine – give them a spoon of Calpol and send them on.” Sadly I can’t do that anymore – bad things do happen to people like me.
In my grief, not only am I having to learn to live with the loss of Leah but there’s also the realisation of how that loss impacts on our lives in so many different ways. There’s a new normal that is gradually unfolding in our lives as we explore what it means to live in the shadow of Leah’s illness and death. I continue to trust God and believe in His Sovereignty and loving kindness, but the lens through which I view life has altered – nothing can ever again be the same.

A friend sent me this beautiful song today.

“There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus, Cry out to Jesus”