Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Death, Grief, and Moving On


Seven months have passed since my daughter Lindsay died. Hard to believe it’s been that long, though even harder to grasp the time’s fleeting compared to the years that lie ahead without her.
In those first weeks after her death, waking up each morning and just breathing hurt. On the nights I slept, Lindsay was still alive. I’d have conversations with her, but she always seemed just beyond my grasp. The more I reached for her, the more elusive she became, until finally I awoke. Then reality crashed down on me, and grief flooded in. She was gone.
My whole life, I’ve heard the verse, “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The meaning is, for Christians, death isn’t an end but a beginning. But it’s only a beginning for the deceased.
The sting is for those left behind. An unrelenting sting that pierces the depths of your soul. Losing a child means part of you has ended—like closing a door never to be re-opened. It’s not so much the legacy most of us reflect on as we reach middle or old age that’s lost. Lindsay’s hopes and dreams that blossomed as she grew from a little girl into a woman—along with our hopes and dreams for her—will never bear the fruit they were meant to.
I appreciate the encouragement of people who’ve continued to reach out to us and include us in their prayers. Isolation in grief is not healthy and leads to depression, but I’ve found most of the time I do best by myself. I don’t have to pretend or engage in conversation. I don’t have to answer the question, “How are you?” I understand people are genuinely concerned, and I love them for it, but it’s a question with an ever-changing answer.
So I usually respond, “I’m okay,” which really means I’m up, functioning, and doing the best I can, which sometimes is fairly good, depending on the day.
But I’m not okay and never will be…and that’s okay.
See, I don’t have to be okay for life to go on. I wake up each day grateful that I’m one step closer to eternity—one step closer to seeing Lindsay again—one step closer to my Savior and living the life I’m supposed to be living. Not the temporary one in this fallen, beat-up world.
Or as the Apostle Paul said, “…to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).”
This is another verse that became more vivid for me in the wake of Lindsay’s passing. For the first time, I can feel Paul’s angst of being torn between this life on earth—where much is still to be accomplished for God’s glory—and going on to heaven where life is no longer a struggle.
But until He calls me home, I’ll continue to get up each day and seek God’s will for my life, and continue the process of grieving with my family.
Just as we got through the “first” holidays in November and December without Lindsay, other “first” milestones will be marked in the coming months—her birthday and Mother’s Day in May, Father’s Day in June, and then the anniversary of her death in August. To say I dread them is an understatement, but at the same time, her beautiful life should be celebrated. Her birth made me a mother. Likely, I’ll go out to the cemetery on her birthday, sit on the stone bench atop the hill overlooking her grave, reminisce…and cry.
And that’s okay. Tears are God’s provision for managing grief. Tears dredge up your deepest pain and bring it to the surface like dross. You scrape away the pain in those moments and then gather your strength to go on and live another day.
Meanwhile, Lindsay’s backpack sits in her room. Waiting to be unpacked. One day. Occasionally, I go through the clothes in her closet, my fingertips seeking her favorite shirts, or drawing a scarf close to my cheek, closing my eyes and drinking in her scent that lingers…for how much longer? For now, I don’t worry about it…her physical imprint is still here.
Someday, maybe I’ll be able to say my heartbreak has lessened. Today is different than seven months ago, or even two months ago, and it will be different two years from now…but broken hearts never truly mend. Especially when one of the broken pieces is buried.
Life has moved on…and yet it will always be the day we lost her. In a weird sort of way, time stood still. The calendar will always seem to read August 27, because that is the day her laughter stopped and we were left with only memories. 

In our grief, God has shown us compassion, showered us with His mercies, and given us hope to sustain. We continue to walk the path laid before us, and we thank you for your prayers and encouraging thoughts along the way. God has truly blessed us through both.
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The
Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him.
Lamentations 3:19-25 
If you’re going through grief or experiencing difficult times, I’d love to pray for you. Please leave a comment or email me confidential requests.
Because of His faithfulness,
Laura

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Depression and Suicide: Reflecting Over My Sister’s Death

Michelle - 1980s
That warm, sunny day in February 2005, when I learned my older sister Michelle had ended her life, was agonizingly contradictory. Her death placed a punctuation mark at the end of a long battle with major depression. Yet, as I took a walk outdoors to clear my head and try to make sense of the news, birds tweeted and daffodils were already in full bloom, raising their little yellow heads to the sun as if to say, “Oh, what a beautiful day.”

And that’s the quandary in which many people suffering from mental illness find themselves. They’re often surrounded by happy people saying, “Cheer up, snap out of it. Find something useful to do, and you’ll feel better.”

Don’t get me wrong. Good physical and spiritual habits, as well as having purpose in one’s life, are all part of mental wellness. But severe depression can be debilitating and challenging to treat, despite the best efforts of those suffering or their loved ones.

Michelle and Me
1979
When I was sixteen and Michelle was eighteen, sometimes we’d go to the University of Florida track and run. Michelle loved to run. Me, not so much. I had a tentative grasp on Michelle’s changing moods that were progressively growing darker. She tried. Oh, she tried. After all, we were out running, something she enjoyed.

One afternoon when we finished, we went into the restrooms. I heard her lean against the wall in the adjoining stall and begin to cry. I asked what was wrong. Most of what she said I already knew. In my naivete and helplessness, I said, “We’ll figure it out. I’ll help you.” Of course, what was I going to do? I was a kid myself.  I had no way of knowing this was only the beginning of a long journey—one I’d learn more about than I ever cared to know.

I’ve written many times about mental illness. My family experiences have mirrored others I’ve met at local and state National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) functions. I get emails from people walking this difficult path. I’ve read numerous scientific studies and first-person accounts. Yet, I don’t have the answers to explain the mystery of major depression—why some people overcome while others succumb.

Of a side note, one thing that alarms me after a suicide are folks who speak with great authority on the subject, yet their opinions often prove they have little actual experience with or knowledge of mental illness…which is why I continue to write.

For twenty years, Michelle suffered with major depressive disorder and schizophrenia, the former being the most intractable to treatment. Her heart broke for others battling major depression.  She once said, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

We had many conversations about the state of mental health care. At times, she shared my excitement for the latest news and scientific studies in medical journals. She’d say, “Laura, don’t ever quit looking for an answer.”

Michelle - 1997
But then, once, in a dark moment, she wrote: "There are so many people who love me and they just do not know what to do. Nothing is the answer. I have to do this on my own."

Years later, in her final note, she said, “I just can’t cope anymore. Forgive me, please.”

It’s in those dark, impenetrable moments that one takes their life. For those of us on the outside or left behind, we cope in differing ways. Some grasp for immediate or obvious answers: the person was selfish, only thinking of themselves; if only they’d gotten right with God, He would’ve fixed it.

(I wrote about the selfish angle on my blog a few years ago after country singer Mindy McCready’s suicide. Click here to read.)

I certainly know the validity of spiritual wholeness with God in order to maintain one’s sanity because I’ve experienced that myself, many times, especially since the death of my daughter six months ago.

But suicide goes much deeper than either of these quick explanations. It’s a riddle those of us left in the aftermath struggle to unlock. The conclusion I’ve reached in the twelve years since Michelle’s death is there are no easy answers. Ultimately, suicide reflects deep hopelessness in a person at the moment they make that decision. The only thing we can do is keep advocating for better mental health services and reach out to those suffering with a willingness to listen, encourage, and point people toward effective resources.

Behind every suicide is a real person with a real family who never gets over it. The fact there's still a stigma associated with treating depression medically or with counseling is a form of insanity itself. I can’t believe in the 21st century we’re still having this discussion, but we are.

Today, I also choose to think of the good memories because Michelle’s life wasn’t all dark. She had a happy, mischievous side. She loved to play practical jokes, like the time she put red pepper on my pizza when I had my back turned. Her risk-taking behavior often pushed me out of my comfort zone as a teen. As adults, I’d occasionally be surprised with a letter from her. The stationery was usually dotted with her familiar “smile” notations accompanied with a smiley face. Though she often didn’t feel like smiling, she wanted others to smile.

I treasure the quiet conversations we shared. These became rarer as physical distance of living almost 500 miles apart separated us later in life, and her schizophrenia interfered with her rational thoughts. But in those quiet moments, Michelle spoke from her heart. During her stretches of wellness, she modeled what I feel Christian behavior should be in its truest form—caring for others more than herself and uplifting others to make them feel better about their life situations.

If Michelle was ever angry toward God for how her life played out, she didn’t voice it in our conversations. Instead, she embraced the promise of a better life one day in eternity. She understood what so few grasp—life on earth is temporary. Her temporary life was a minefield. I pray she found the peace in eternity that seemed to elude her here on earth.

Michelle - 2004
Are you struggling with depression, the suicide of a loved one, or maybe just a situation that's overwhelming you? I’d love to hear your story and pray for you. Please leave a comment or email me confidential comments or prayer requests. Also, check out the mental illness tab at the top for a list of resources that might help you or your loved one.

©Laura Hodges Poole

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ready To Ring In A New Year

I'm not gonna lie. 2016 was the worst year of my life. But it was also the year of grace that I spent with my daughter before she died, so I'll cherish that forever. Even so, I'm ready to rip 2016 from the calendar and get on with 2017.

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that 2017 will be filled with blessings…and when trials come, as they always do, you’ll seek the solace of Christ’s peace (John 14:27) that carries us even in the hardest of times. God bless you all.

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be. 
         ~Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1809–1892~

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV 

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters, “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 NKJV 

Do you have a favorite Bible verse or poem that inspires you? I’d love to hear it! Share it in the comments for everyone to enjoy.

If you have a prayer need, please leave a comment or email me confidential requests.

Happy New Year!

God bless,
Laura


FREE Kindle download December 31, 2016 through January 1, 2017.

From the time she was a child, Carly Shepherd has gazed at the silent stars in the night sky of her home town of Bethlehem, North Carolina. With her childhood overshadowed by her father’s abandonment and mother’s alcoholism, she wonders how anyone can believe in an equally silent God. After all, she’s not felt his presence any more than her earthly father. Though she remembers Christmas pageants and attending church as a child, she no longer has any use for what she considers fairy tales.

Drew Middleton is seeking shelter from a rain storm when he walks into Carly’s vendor tent at a fall festival, but he’s quickly taken with the talented artist and her creations. Feeling an instant connection, Carly is confused by her feelings, especially when she realizes his spiritual commitment.

Dealing with a wayward brother and career opportunities that may require relocation, Drew knows now is not the best time to begin a relationship, especially with someone who doesn’t share his faith.

Carly’s past and their chance of future together collide when she’s snared into refurbishing sets for a Christmas pageant with Drew’s help. Will Drew’s love and their shared experience bring about a spiritual awakening in Carly this Christmas? Or will time run out as the stars continue to shine silently over Bethlehem? 

Click here to get your FREE kindle download now. 

Fireworks Celebration and the City Night Light image courtesy of Areeya/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Dr Seuss Tree

I made a pact with myself today.

I’m not going to cry. For one day. No tears.

After thinking about Christmas and what it’s always meant—the family traditions and celebrating Christ’s birth—I decided maybe I could do a Christmas tree after all.

Trouble is I didn’t want to put up a big traditional tree so late. It’s a lot of work, and my energy level is unpredictable from one moment to the next.

So in the pouring rain, I decided to go to Lowe’s and see if they had live trees. Maybe even a Charlie Brown tree. J I could picture in my mind what I wanted, and when I walked through the front door of the store, there on the left sat a display of live Norfolk Island pines almost four feet tall. Glitter had been sprinkled their branches.

Perfect!

I hefted one into my shopping cart, added a $2 strand of lights to the purchase, and headed home.

After finding something to place the tree on to give it more height, I went up into the attic and sorted through our ornaments. I carefully selected a few that held special meaning. An angel Josh bought me when he was about ten years old, little wooden ornaments my in-laws bought us when Lindsay was just a baby, some from Pigeon Forge that Lindsay had helped pick out when she was six, and a few others that would hang gently from the small branches of our Christmas tree.


I stood back and surveyed my work. My throat ached, and those dreaded tears threatened to spill. Then I thought about what Lindsay would say about my abstract, nontraditional, wacky-looking tree. My Charlie Brown tree. Although looking at it now, maybe it's one the Grinch or the Cat-in-the-Hat would've picked out. It's very Dr. Seuss-ish, wouldn't you say?

Even though she loved Cinderella as a child and still believed in fairy tales, Lindsay had grown to be a minimalist. I could hear her saying, “It’s perfect, Mom. I like it.”

Her laugh filled my mind, and I smiled.

And my pact?

Well, a few tears did fall, but they didn’t just reflect my sorrow.

I choose to celebrate the joy of my Savior’s birth and the joy of having a beautiful daughter, even if it was only for thirty-three years. I savor the memories of her child-like approach to Christmas each year and how, in the end, she chose to see joy in simple things.

Boy, do I miss her.

Laura

©Laura Hodges Poole

Friday, December 2, 2016

Grieving Through The Holidays

I thought I'd try something different this time by sharing a video—my first. I hope you find it encouraging if you are grieving the loss of a loved one, as my family is this Christmas.

God bless you all,
Laura
©Laura Hodges Poole

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Moving Forward Through Grief

Temporary grave marker
I stare at the email on my computer monitor, my finger resting on the mouse.

Do I click send?

Will approving the headstone for Lindsay’s grave mean she’s truly gone? Is that why it took eight proofs to get it just right? Perfect…and yet oh, so final.

All I know is fresh, hot tears flow down my cheeks once again, as I grieve for Lindsay, for what was lost, for what might have been—her dreams and yes, my dreams for her.

There’s something really wrong about having to bury your child. Sounds cliché, but there’s really no other way to express it.

Trying to make sense of an unexpected and tragic death from a human perspective doesn’t work. As my husband and my mom said, Lindsay’s death is senseless. At least to us.

So we choose to trust the One who it does make sense to. God has the master plan, and our faith tells us that He works all to our good (Romans 8:28), even something meant for evil. God has been faithful to us in so many ways throughout our life. He wouldn’t stop now.

Even when life doesn’t work out the way we want…Even when living without our loved one hurts to the marrow of our bones…Even when we don’t understand the hurtful path we now find ourselves on.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 

And maybe therein lies at least part of the answer. We’re never given trials for us alone. There is a greater purpose. Something outside ourselves. Perhaps for others to gain some comfort from us as they grieve their own loss.

I click send, and the proof is forwarded to the marker company. Sometime before Christmas, the headstone will arrive, and James, Josh, and I will make the trek to the cemetery to see it laid at the head of Lindsay’s grave. No doubt, more tears will flow that day.

Meanwhile, we move forward—in time, in life, in circumstance. Though we’ve always known life is precious and often short, Lindsay’s death altered our lives irreparably. So we look above for comfort and cling to the knowledge that one day we’ll see Lindsay and other loved ones again who’ve passed. And we cherish our memories of the beautiful person she was. 

There’s still much to accomplish in this life, or God would’ve already taken me, yet I long for the day when my Savior returns, and there’ll be no more suffering and no more tears (Revelation 21:4). 

Come, Lord Jesus, come…

What’s your go-to verse for comfort in times of grief? Have you ever had a chance to help someone from a trial you’ve been through?






If you’d like me to pray for you and your family, please leave a comment or email me confidential requests.

Looking above,
Laura

©Laura Hodges Poole

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Her Journal Will Never Be Read

After experiencing several deaths in my life and watching friends lose loved ones, I noticed a common theme among mourners—the regret that there wasn’t more time to say or do one last thing with the deceased. As I grew older, I became more purposeful in my living, stopping to hug my kids good-bye or telling them I loved them, even when they were in a hurry or thought I was being melodramatic.

In fact, that was the case the last time I saw my daughter Lindsay alive—the morning I left for Nashville. She rushed through the house to leave so she wouldn’t be late for work. I yelled after her, “No, you don’t. Come here.” She laughed as I gave her a hug, told her I loved her, and to be safe. She would be off to Kentucky before I returned from Nashville. She gave me the assurance I wanted and sprinted away, the kitchen door slamming behind her moments later.

About six years ago I decided to start two journals—one for Lindsay and one for my son Josh. My intention was to write in them periodically, recording personal thoughts, Bible verses, poetry, quotes, basically whatever struck my fancy that was meaningful to me and hopefully, would be to them. One day I’d be gone, and they’d want one last thing from me—a tangible reminder of my love, and I knew I could do that through my words.

Sadly, I didn’t write in the journals as much as I’d planned. Often, months would go by before I’d “find the time” to sit down and write. While in Florida last month to help my mom through cancer treatments, I made the time to reflect back over Josh and Lindsay’s childhoods and write in both journals.

Now Lindsay’s journal sits here, untouched, except by me, and she’ll never read the words I wrote to her. Her death changed the whole scheme of things. Our pastor used the phrase “death out of time” at her funeral. I wholeheartedly agree. There’s something really wrong about it.

The cliché that parents aren’t supposed to bury their children rings true. It’s certainly not something I ever imagined myself doing. Now I’m acutely aware of the club I belong to as I look at my friends and count the number who’ve also lost children. It is unnatural, but at the same time, God has a purpose for our suffering, even when we don’t know what it is or we rail against it.

Oh, how I long to know what that purpose is.

Meanwhile, as I trudge through this valley, becoming more worn and tattered by this earthly life, I can only put my hope and trust in God that one day all things will be made new and there will be no more suffering, no more tears (Revelation 21:4-5). I look forward to the reunion in heaven with my loved ones!

I echo the words of the Apostle John when he said in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Please come.

How many I pray for you today? Leave a comment or email me confidential requests. I’d love to join you in prayer. And while you’re at it, if you have a verse of encouragement, I could use it right about now.

Looking above,
Laura

 ©Laura Hodges Poole