Grief often invades without warning. This was my experience several nights ago, as I drifted off to sleep. Suddenly, my mind was reliving the night my father-in-law, Bob, passed away. Every detail as clear as that night, over three years ago. The tears began to flow.
Why are these thoughts appearing now? Upcoming graduations. Bob was so proud of his grandkids. And graduations were a big deal! Not something he would ever miss.
Ryan, the youngest, graduates high school in less than two weeks. Bob would be smiling, telling his friends about Ryan’s creative artwork and college plans.
Rachel, the youngest granddaughter, graduates college at the same time. Bob would certainly brag to his friends, “You remember my granddaughter, Rachel? She already has a teaching job for next year!”
His absence will be felt when each of them walks across the stage. I wish he was here. Such is the nature of grief.
This will not be a one-time experience. Future events will most assuredly bring similar emotions. Yet, we must continue to celebrate. Celebrate the present while remembering the past. Remembering the love of a Papa who would do absolutely anything for his grandkids.
Our whole family is missing Papa. And it’s okay to say it out loud. Saying it out loud brings us closer together. It helps us remember how much he loved us and how much we love him.
Today marks three years since my father-n-law, Bob died. Each of us remembers him in our own way, with our own actions. Most importantly, we purposefully remember. We choose certain things that to others might seem insignificant, but to us say Papa, Dad, Bob.
Here are a few:
Peanut butter on pancakes Wild Cherry Pepsi Chocolate covered cherries Lego sets Family photos Catholic Mass Barbecue rib dinner Extra whipped cream on your dessert A cigar and sip of Drambuie
Finding words may be difficult, but incorporating these little things into our day help us remember him and smile. Each item represents something we know he enjoyed or something he would often get for us. He was always generous. Always thinking about his family. Loved to spoil his grandkids.
We miss him…grateful that the life he lived continues to influence ours.
Grandparents are special people. My grandparents were an essential part of my childhood. Spending time with them was important. As a child, you don’t really think about losing them. You imagine they will be part of your world forever. Then you become a young adult, or in my case, a high school student and that idea is shattered.
When my Grandpa Mahar died, it was very sudden. Early on the morning of July 4th, he woke up before anyone else, sat down in his favorite chair, and did not wake up again. We had seen him the day before. The family would be gathering on the 4th to celebrate. How could he be gone?
I mostly remember shock and tears from that day, almost thirty-five years ago now. The reality of my mom losing her dad brought a new perspective on the frailty and brevity of life on this earth. And it was made even more difficult because there had been no chance to say goodbye. This seemed especially hard for my mom and her siblings.
This was not the case for my own children with their first loss of a grandparent. Before my father-n-law passed away, we knew our time was limited. Watching as death approached was not easy, but we found comfort in having time to say goodbye. He will have been gone for three years this coming week, and we miss him more with each passing year.
One circumstance is not easier than the other, just different. Grief is present in both. We hang on tight to memories. We look at photos, share stories, cling to anything that reminds us of the person we lost. And as soon as we think our grief is fading, a birthday, holiday, or other event brings it right back to the forefront.
Sometimes the grief catches us off guard, and we are encompassed by unexpected emotions. How do we respond? That depends on the person, for we are all different. But here are a few personal thoughts:
When tears well up Let them fall When your heart aches Let words flow When a friend is near Lean on them When feeling motionless Take one step When tempted to forget Remember For that memory Is a piece of your heart
A memory of my Grandpa Mahar: He is wearing overalls and telling me if I do him a favor, he will dance at my wedding. 😉
A memory of my father-n-law: He would always bring me a box of See’s candy when traveling to California. We both had quite a sweet tooth. 🙂
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4
Today is Thursday, November 22, 2018, Thanksgiving Day! As the day begins, I realize one of the things I’m most thankful for is the ability to remember. There are specific people, places and foods which come to mind with each Thanksgiving past. They all blend together, creating a beautiful tapestry.
As a child, my family spent Thanksgiving next door at my grandparent’s home. There were lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. With thirty plus people present, finding a place to sit was often a challenge. Thus, the phrases “On your feet, lose your seat” & “Butt in the air, lose your chair” were uttered often with laughter.
I had two important Thanksgiving jobs growing up. One was stirring the pie filling for my dad’s chocolate pies until it began to thicken. It seemed to take forever, but oh so worth it! There would always be enough filling left for a few small bowls. My second job was chopping the pecans for mom’s four-layer carrot cake, using a hand-crank chopper. Remember those?
Our family also made the fruit salad, complete with marshmallows and coconut. The funny thing is, every year we’d forget to take it out of the fridge. About the time we were ready for pie, someone would say, “Hey, where’s the fruit salad?” Better late than never, I guess.
After I was married and had my own family, there were new Thanksgiving traditions. Sometimes we would host the family meal, having my family travel from Arkansas to Oklahoma to be with us. Other years we would have dinner in Owasso with Gart’s parents, his sisters and their husbands, and our nieces. There were also times our family would travel to Arkansas, and I would share childhood memories with my children.
A couple of Thanksgivings were spent far away from home. The first was a trip to Colorado. My parents, Gart’s parents, and our three children spent Thanksgiving in a cabin in the mountains. Complete with snow, fire in the fireplace, a big picture window, and deer in the front yard. Except for one harrowing drive during the snowstorm, it was a perfect trip!
Then there was Thanksgiving in NYC. A once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our daughter, Rachel, marched in the Macy’s Parade. Watching the parade on television had been a tradition every year for as long as I could remember. Seeing it in person was so special. Even though it was the coldest parade day on record, and we survived by taping hand/body warmers all inside our clothes and shoes!
So many great memories. So many things to be thankful for. Yet in the middle of them, there are moments of grief. The Thanksgiving we’ve talked about most the past couple of days is November 2015. The pictures confirm the meal was at our home. A photo of Gart, his dad, and Robert-three generations. Gart’s parents sitting at the bar. Gart’s dad in the kitchen helping his granddaughter, Hannah, and daughter, Andrea. Typical snapshots from any of our family gatherings. What we didn’t know, however, was that it would be our last Thanksgiving with my sweet father-n-law.
So, what are our plans for this year? Today will be a quiet day at home. Me, Gart, Gart’s mom, two of our children. We will watch the Macy’s parade, eat a simple meal, but we will also prepare food for Friday-cornbread dressing and chocolate pies! Friday we will all travel to Dallas. A huge meal and celebration have been planned at Paula and Martin’s home (Gart’s sister and brother-n-law.) Friends, family, even a great grandbaby will enjoy each other’s company, eat lots of good food, while adding to our beautiful tapestry of memories.
Will there be moments of sadness? Most definitely. People we love dearly will not be with us. Some for the first year, some for the third year, and so on. We miss them. Their absence felt even stronger on days such as this. Days we know they loved because they were about family. Yet through the sadness, we will be thankful. Thankful for the memories of Thanksgivings past.
We celebrate life from the very beginning-baby showers, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, promotions. These events bring happiness, reminding us of the beauty of life. But how do we respond to death? How do we prepare to say goodbye?
Although I’d experienced the death of family and friends in the past, I’d never witnessed the process of dying until the passing of my father-n-law. Our family was given precious time to reminisce, create final memories, and say goodbye. Sadness mingled with gratefulness as we each had the chance to say, “Remember when…?I love you.We will be ok. God is with you.” While coping with the grief that followed, my mom reminded me of the following verse:
”God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” Psalm 46: 1-4.
Today it is my mom’s turn to witness this process of dying. She will soon be saying goodbye to her oldest sister. In preparation there have been family gatherings filled with memories, laughter, and tears. Today my prayer is that mom, her siblings, and my cousins will fall further into that refuge and strength spoken of in Psalm 46. Even though sadness and grief will surely come, my hope is for peace found in having had the precious privilege of saying goodbye.
Why is letting go so hard? I remember the day we dropped off our son Robert at college. I cried the entire drive there and back. Two years later it was Rachel’s turn. She was staying a little closer to home, but it was still difficult to leave her in that tiny dorm room alone. One more year and it will be Ryan’s turn, my 6’3 baby. I’m trying not to think about that just yet.
Today brings a different kind of letting go. Letting go of someone who was never mine, but who found a lasting place in my heart. Today marks one year since my first visit to an Emergency Children’s Shelter. I went to see a former student who had been removed from her home. That visit quickly turned into one of many. There were phone calls, we celebrated holidays, a birthday, enjoyed movies and shopping. And even though I knew deep down our family was not the final answer for this child, the thought was always in the back of my mind.
Recently someone said to me, “What do you think your family could provide for this child that another family could not?” That stung, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. Suddenly the words “letting go” began invading my thoughts. And then it hit me-maybe our purpose had simply been to provide love and friendship during a year of uncertainty and confusion, and that was ok.
How appropriate that on this day, one year later, I receive word of a foster home placement. Today some of my tears are selfish because I will miss her, but most are grateful-grateful for caring foster parents and a fresh start for our precious friend. I hope to share more about this past year’s experiences in the future, but today tears must fall as I once again learn how to let go.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…”
Today we celebrated Father’s Day. I prepared the requested chicken enchiladas and yellow cake with chocolate frosting for lunch. Our family, including my mother-n-law, spent the afternoon together, ending our day seeing The Incredibles ii. Such a nice day! But someone was missing, my father-n-law. He passed away February 2, 2016 after a hard fought battle with cancer. Many moments today I sensed we were all thinking the same thing-we miss Dad, Papa, Bob. None of us said anything, but his memory was present.
We do talk about him often. How he liked to razz the grandchildren about their love interests. My mother-n-law once called him the nosiest man alive! How he would do everything in his power to make sure we all had what we needed and wanted. He was so very generous. We knew he loved us, no doubts! Though our celebrations may now feel incomplete, they must continue. They must be sprinkled with precious memories of this one who teased us, quizzed us, provided for us, and loved us so well.