Sometimes there is no other way

Sometimes there is no other way

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Sometimes I don’t blog because I’m generally busy getting on with life and I either don’t have much to say or I don’t have the time to say it! Other times I don’t blog because I’m feeling very sad and I’m tired of writing sad posts. Then I think; what the heck – this is my blog and I’ll cry if I want to – people can choose not to read it if they don’t like it.

This past summer was mostly good. The day of the A and AS level exam results in August was both happy and sad. Our son did fantastically well but I was also acutely aware that Leah wasn’t here to get any exam results. I went to the school with our son to get his AS results and I congratulated Leah’s friends on their excellent A level results. I was very grateful to the one parent at the school who acknowledged my grief and loss with a hug, in the midst of receiving her son’s amazing A level results.

While our son posed for a photo for the local papers with others who had received excellent results, I sat in the car in a quiet corner of the school car park sobbing. By the time he texted looking for me to come and collect him, I had regained my composure. Results day needed to be about his success, not about my sadness.

This past week Prize Day took place in both the school that Leah attended and the school that Simon now attends. We attended Simon’s prize giving event as proud parents. However I hadn’t really thought about the possibility that some of Leah’s peers would also be there receiving their prizes before departing for university. One of these was the very girl who started Nursery School alongside Leah many years ago – they walked through the door of the Nursery class together that first morning. So much has changed since then. This triggered more difficult emotions for me, which I sought to contain.

We didn’t have occasion to attend Prize Giving at the High School this year, but a kind friend gave me her copy of the programme. In the Prize Day programmes for both schools there is a section that lists which universities this year’s A level students have moved on to. I scrutinised this section in both programmes, but naturally Leah’s name isn’t mentioned. This time three years ago while in hospital in Bristol, Leah talked to me of her future career plans, but that clearly was not meant to be. Leah’s name is mentioned in another part of the programme though, where she continues to make us proud. I was so pleased to read the names of this years’ recipients of the award created in her memory:

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I try hard to live in the present, to count my blessings, to be grateful for what I have, to focus my thoughts on the good things in my life and the people that I love, but despite it all, grief and loss at times becomes overwhelming. Sometimes no matter how hard I pray and look to God for the strength to go on, no matter how much I read my Bible or how many Bible teaching podcasts I listen to, the sadness just doesn’t go away and those tears have to be shed – there is no other way.

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NOTHING can separate us from HIS Love

NOTHING can separate us from HIS Love

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One of the saddest and loneliest experiences of my life was returning home without Leah from the Children’s Hospice on Thursday the 16th January 2014. As we turned in to our drive I caught sight of our other car – a seven seater family car – and the realisation dawned “our family doesn’t need a car that size anymore”.

It had been twenty days since I had driven away from the house, with our two elder daughters. There had been an air of excitement in the car, as that night we were going to a large family get together – our first since Leah’s bone marrow transplant in August. This was going to be a very special occasion.

The rest, the say, is history.

I was by now totally exhausted, both mentally and physically. I managed a few hours sleep that night. When I got up on the Friday morning, I felt bewildered and disorientated. I had no script for what to do next. Like every other day I snatched a few moments of quietness to spend with my Saviour, reading and praying, in the hope of finding some help and strength. My concentration was very poor and I struggled to focus on the words on the page. My reading for that day in Streams in the Desert‘ was Daniel 6:20:

Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you?”

Daniel had spent the night in the lion’s den as his punishment for praying to the living God. The King had gone there first thing in the morning, hoping that Daniel was still alive, which he was.

The phrase which was highlighted in my reading that morning is that we serve a ‘living God‘, one who is unchanging and who is always there. In the reading George Mueller is quoted as saying:

In the greatest difficulties, in the heaviest trials, in the deepest poverty and necessities, He has never failed me; but because I was enabled by His grace to trust Him, He has always appeared for my help. I delight in speaking well of His name.”

This past two years have been rough, I continually grieve and mourn for Leah. I mourn too for others that I’ve known along the way who, like Leah, have had their lives cut short by illness, by accident or by suicide. I don’t understand why there’s so much suffering in the world, I don’t understand why some seem to experience miraculous healing while others, equally loved and prayed for, die.

Still, I believe that God is a good God and that many things in this life are a mystery and beyond our understanding. I believe that NOTHING can separate us from God’s love which is ours in Christ Jesus. One of the passages of Scripture that Leah and I read together most often during her illness was Romans 8:35 – 39.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Rend Collective, Leah’s favourite band, have a song based on Romans 8:37 “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” I heard it at New Horizon in Coleraine the Summer after Leah died and I thought the words and tune were really encouraging:

MORE THAN CONQUERORS

We are more than conquerors, through Christ
You have overcome this world, this life
We will not bow to sin or to shame
We are defiant in Your name
You are the fire that cannot be tamed
You are the power in our veins
Our Lord, our God, our Conqueror

I will sing into the night
Christ is risen and on high
Greater is He
Living in me
Than in the world

No surrender, no retreat
We are free and we’re redeemed
We will declare
Over despair
You are the hope 

 

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

For the past approximately eighteen years, I have been visiting a woman with a significant learning disability several times a year, when she comes into respite in Derry. When our children were small they used to come with me. Sometimes I take her out for a walk or bring her out to our house, other times I sit and chat with her in the respite facility where she is staying.

Tonight when I went to visit her, she had a beautiful flower arrangement ready to give me to put on Leah’s grave. She had got Patricia's flowersone of her carers to take her to a local shop earlier in the day to purchase it. She expressed concern that it wasn’t ‘good enough‘, but to me it was absolutely beautiful, especially as it was adorned with love.

This woman is quite comfortable talking to me about Leah and about grief and sadness, she always checks with me that I’m not ‘bottling things up‘. She doesn’t for one minute expect me to be ‘over it‘ in any shape, form or fashion. Despite her very significant learning disability, she totally gets it.

I reflected inwardly on how ‘emotional intelligence‘ bears no relation to IQ or academic achievement.

Grave with flowersAfter I had said goodbye to her, I went straight to Leah’s grave with these very special flowers. As I stood there in the darkness sobbing quietly, a form emerged from the shadows and a friendly voice said ‘hi‘.

It was a former school friend of Leah’s, a young girl who’s had to deal with some very significant challenges in life. She was en route to an after school activity and recognised my car parked outside the cemetery. She took the time and the trouble to walk through the cemetery in the pitch dark, knowing exactly where she would find me.

I very much appreciated her thoughtfulness.

Leah’s Parting Gifts

Leah’s Parting Gifts

During the week I was speaking to somebody who has recently been bereaved of somebody close to them whom they loved very much. We talked about their illness and their end of life care.

In the course of our conversation I discovered that their loved one had died on the birthday of the person who was speaking to me.

I was quite taken aback at hearing this. I was unsure of what to say. Somehow, in my mind, this seemed to make this person’s story even sadder.

Quickly in my mind I searched for what I thought would be an appropriate response to what I had just been told. I opened my mouth to sympathetically say “That must be very difficult for you.” but instead I asked softly “What did that feel like?

To my surprise, this person replied very positively that she saw it as a ‘gift’ – her loved one was terminally ill and in pain and she perceived it as her parting gift that her loved one’s body was released from pain and sickness on her birthday!

I have reflected much on this conversation since. The person I was speaking to was unaware of my circumstances and I think that was good, because it allowed her to speak freely without feeling uncomfortable or ‘worried’ about me.

Her positive attitude in the midst of her own obvious sadness and sense of loss has been helpful to me. I was reminded once again of how important ‘perspective’ is – how we frame a situation really does affect how we feel about it.

I was also reminded that grief and distress is such an individual thing and that we can never truly know the significance of any situation for another person unless we hold space for that other person to communicate to us what it means to them.

If I had replied with my intended response of “That must be very difficult for you.” I would have indirectly been implying that she should feel negatively about her loved one dying on her birthday – maybe then she would not have felt comfortable about telling me how she really felt. We would both have missed out.

Since this conversation took place, I have thought about the children’s story book Badger’s Parting Gifts, which I read many times to my children when they were small, to help them to understand and process death in a positive way.

This book describes how Badger’s friends were very sad after he died. Then they remembered all the special treasures that they had in their lives because of having had Badger as a friend and they drew comfort from this in their grief and loss.

Leah wasn’t old like Badger, she was only sixteen, but she has also left us so many gifts. I thought about listing some of those gifts here, but then I realised that – just like Badger and his friends – the ‘gifts’ that Leah left will be individual for each of you, depending on the capacity in which you knew her. 

Maybe you too would like to read “Badger’s Parting Gifts” – it’s narrated here in this Youtube video:

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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A Different Kind of Christmas

A Different Kind of Christmas

I did it.

I went back to work part-time on the 1st September ’14 and I have somehow managed to make it through to the 22nd December with no sick leave, no unplanned absences.

I feel good about that.

Every morning, I spend time reading and praying, seeking God for the strength to face each day – He never disappoints me.

Every morning, during the 20-30 minute drive to work, I have cried and sobbed. It’s my release, my way of coping with a broken heart.

Thankfully, as soon as I stop crying, dry my eyes, blow my nose and smile, no one ever seems to know that I’ve been crying.

I absolutely love my job. I love working with babies and very young children. I love the promise of hope and a future represented by each little child.

Work has been a wonderful distraction from grieving for a few hours a day, a few days each week. Some days, when it’s time to go home, my heart sinks, knowing that at the exit door I will once again pick up the mantle of grief and loss that I have skilfully blocked from my mind while focussing on my work commitments.

I thank God for my job. It is truly a blessing to enjoy one’s work as much as I do. I really wondered after Leah died if I could ever enjoy anything again.

There have been days when I have felt so overwhelmed with grief on my way to work, that I wondered how I could possibly do my job effectively, but somehow, as soon as I slipped into “work mode”, I felt like a different person for a few hours.

Now, however, I have ahead of me a planned absence of three weeks. Three weeks to cover the anniversary of when Leah was admitted to ICU, her birthday, her death and her funeral.

Several people have asked me how we plan to spend these anniversaries – so far we haven’t made any plans.

I actually find it too painful to think about, much less discuss.

I wish that I could just hibernate and wake up in the month of February.

We only managed to make plans for Christmas Day because our eldest daughter insisted on discussing it.

I’ve just been coping by concentrating on getting through each day and trying not to think about the next day.

Last Sunday at church our student minister was speaking about Mary’s reaction to being informed of her “unplanned pregnancy” by an angel during her engagement to Joseph – Mary’s response was

Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.Luke 1:38

Part of the Christmas story is how Mary humbly and unquestioningly accepted God’s will for her life.

This is certainly a challenge for me as I face what Mark Schultz calls a

DIFFERENT KIND OF CHRISTMAS

Snow is falling Christmas Eve
Lights are coming on up and down the street
The sound of carols fills the air
And people rushing home, families everywhere

Putting candles in the windows
Lights upon the tree
But there’s no laughter in this house
Not like there used to be
There’s just a million little memories
That remind me you’re not here
It’s just a different kind of Christmas this year

In the evening fires glow
Dancing underneath the mistletoe
A letter left from Santa Claus
Won’t be the same this year in this house because

There’s one less place set at the table
One less gift under the tree
And a brand new way to take their place inside of me
I’m unwrapping all these memories
Fighting back the tears
It’s just a different kind of Christmas this year

There’s voices in the driveway
Families right outside the door
And we’ll try to make this Christmas like the ones we’ve had before
As we gather round the table, I see joy on every face
And I realize what’s still alive is the legacy you made

It’s time to put the candles in the windows, the lights upon the tree
It’s time to fill this house with laughter like it used to be
Just because you’re up in heaven, doesn’t mean you’re not near
It’s just a different kind of Christmas
It’s just a different kind of Christmas this year