The Beets/Beats


Have you ever been taken down by a jar of pickles? Humbled by a simple table condiment? Brought to your knees unexpectedly? 

The evolution of grief can feel like you are on a spiral staircase. The progression isn’t necessarily forward or backward, but there is movement. You go up and fall down, spin round and round, but rarely do you stop.

I have these moments where I feel confident and driven. I can imagine that the future will be bright and picture myself rising out of the ashes. There is a sense of empowerment and strength and I believe that the worst is behind me. Almost as though I’ve reached the summit and I’m enjoying the view. Looking at what is behind me and seeing the grandness of what is ahead. As though the clouds part just so I can catch a glimpse. And that first peek is promising. My heart can almost remember completeness. I feel in control.

I am strong. I am resilient. I am fierce.

I am tough. I am powerful. I am whole.

But as I am perched precariously on my tippy toes distracted by the break in the fog suddenly I am knocked over. Not by a gentle push to help get my head out of the clouds or a tap on the shoulder to bring me back to earth. But a wallop of epic proportions. A hit so hard that my knees buckle, the room turns dark and my arms flail like untethered straps. I’ve not only lost my breath, I have forgotten how to breathe. The blow so hard I cannot even understand how it is possible that just moments before I felt that the world held promise. That elated feeling and memory wiped from my consciousness.

Yesterday that reality came from a jar. After a long and exhausting day, trying to get supper on the table for my family, I grabbed some pickled beets from the pantry and as I tried to open it my frustration grew. Putting every ounce of strength I could muster into my effort, I could not make that lid budge. If I have the world to conquer, how could I let this jar get in my way? And as it became apparent that I was not going to be able to open the lid, that lid became my undoing. The pendulum swing was overwhelming. The anger, self-loathing, and sadness washed over in a torrent.

I am frail. I am weak. I am undone.

I am broken. I am cold. I am alone.

And as I sat there feeling ashamed for still mourning my losses I was reminded that we were never created to be by ourselves. Even when we are victorious at the top, our personal strength is an illusion. It is He who lives within me, and those who stand beside me who are my strength. I don’t need to fix myself, finish healing, and move on. I need to accept this brokenness and be used in it. Though the pain has grown laborious and I relish occasions where instead joy overwhelms, I find the ache is ultimately what drives me to relationship. And relationship is what propels and gives me purpose. It is what brings humility to each day.

And as much as it pains me to say it; may I always have a jar that I can’t open.

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If You Could Be Three


“Supper Time!” I call out the back door, “Don’t forget to wash your hands!”

I watch as their little bodies rush to the house, each stamped with the marks of summer. Grass stained knees, mud smeared like war paint, mismatched tan lines, hair bleached blonde, and road rash in various stages of healing.

The noise carries from the back door and I hear them scramble to remove footwear and take their turns at the sink. I visualize the grime of the day literally sliding off them onto the bathroom sink and floor. The stampede finally makes its way to the kitchen table as everyone finds their seat and anxiously looks to see what is for supper.

The shiny hands are folded, and freshly scrubbed faces bowed. Grace is said and mouths then filled. And finally, after spending the entire day trying to keep up with her brothers, it is her turn to lead. Between bites she entertains the table with a tale of today’s exploits. Everyone is raptly attentive because she is a gifted storyteller and because she is greatly adored by her audience. Her eyes glow bright and her facial expressions punctuate each part of the day’s exciting adventures.

Her brothers have to correct her a few times. Though as it is done with such gentleness it is received likewise. The story is slightly embellished; filled with laughter and second helpings. Even in that she must do her best to emulate her big brothers. Were she not the epitome of exquisite feminine charm it would be easy to lump her in with the boys.

Once mealtime is over the table is cleared and the boys take to their neglected chores. She stays to help me load the dishwasher, fill the soap tab, and press the start button. This is one of her favourite jobs. Then she runs off to find her boys. She may be their muse, but they are her idols.

Though it is still quite light out it is getting late and it is time for a bath. She is reluctant to leave her brothers who are on the floor building Lego, a rare treat for her to be included in, but building spaceships and battle stations will have to wait for another day. She attacks the bubbles and water with the same exuberance as the sandbox. Turning the bathtub into a shop of magic potions and elixirs. As I pour the ‘invisible’ mixture over her head to rinse out the shampoo her nose crinkles and she smiles from ear to ear.

Soon she is snuggled in her pink terrycloth towel. With her face, framed by wet hair in ringlets, peeking out the top and ten pink toes wiggling out the bottom. She smells of soap, lavender body lotion and a scent that is all her own. She picks out her bumblebee pyjamas and recounts all the ones she spotted in the yard that day as I brush her hair.

She grabs her blanket and bunny off her bed and runs to jump on my lap. We read a few stories and then I hold her closer as I sing to her. Her eyelids are heavy and her thumb is in her mouth, but when the songs end she says, “Sing Dilly, dilly please Mom?” And I can’t deny her one more song so we sing it together as her head rests over my heart.

When I tuck her in and kiss her goodnight, she giggles as my breath tickles her neck. I kiss her again and again just to hear that sound. Finally there is one last embrace.

Standing at the doorway I gaze at her frame as it slowly succumbs to sleep.

“I love you Madeline.” I quietly tell her.

“I love you too Mommy.” She whispers back.

“Have a good sleep.” I say not out of habit, but to prolong the goodbye.

“Hmmm…” is her reply.

“Tomorrow you will be three.” I offer.

But there is only silence.

She is already gone.

Paper, Wood, Silk

Today would have marked our fourteenth year of marriage. Fourteen years of upholding legal and spiritual vows that bound us together with an unseen thread. On these special days I am acutely aware of my loss, but this morning my grief is exaggerated as I ponder what could have been. Mourning the fact that I will never be a half of those couples that celebrates forty, fifty or even more decades with one constant love.

My whole life I have had the privilege to witness many milestone anniversaries with family and close friends. Large celebrations where people travel great distances to reminisce about the time a specific pair has been together. To laugh at the comedic, cry at the devotion, and marvel at the path two souls could travel side by side. Even as a young woman I knew the road wasn’t like a parade, full of cheering, marching bands and confetti, but rather an endurance race, with rough terrain, harsh weather and just enough splendour to keep you motivated.

And I anticipated that day when my husband and I would be celebrated by all our family and friends. When it would be my love story that would capture the hearts of the listeners. When my history would be told as though it were the olden days. When my husband would catch my eye across the crowd and wink at me as I would mouth “I love you” back. And that look would communicate thoughts and feelings that words never could.

This all because we had put in the time. Coming back to each other humble and broken, time and time again, committed more to us and the covenant we made than to our own desires.

I always felt assured that I had it in me. It was never a question of if, but rather who with. Not in an arrogant sort of way, but with a tenacious, loyal, stubborn mindset. And the life that Colin and I built together only confirmed for me that I would get there. Knowing that our marriage was held safely in the palm of the Almighty there was never a moment of doubt that one day our children would plan that Golden Anniversary party. There was every confidence that we would survive the trek. And not only cross that finish line, but do it holding hands, leaning on each other, and more committed than when we started.

And it breaks my heart that I will not get to be one of those couples now. As I watch marriages fall apart all around me or limp along in mediocrity it is like salt in the wound. Wishing I still had the chance to fight through all the hurdles relationships bring. Missing the frustration of unmet expectations, or the resentment of unnoticed sacrifice. Hurt, disappointment, the mundane, and all the pain. The things that you only get to feel when you have someone in your world that means more to you than your own life.

And it may seem strange that on a day like today that this is what I am thinking of, what I am longing for. But these are the burdens that walk hand in hand with the poignance of such deep deep bonds. You can’t have one without the other. Which I guess makes both sides a privilege.

Really, the devastation of great loss is a testimony of a greater love.

Crossroads


It has been almost two years, on a beautiful Sunday like this one, since I’ve been back. 

It has been said many times that they were taken too soon from this world. Though today has me wondering if those left are just not taken soon enough. 

Hearts Break


Oh fickle heart.

You have let me love those I could never keep.

Though I was promised everything my dreams could not be.

You encouraged me to trust that my feelings could solve anything.

Except I was left empty when it was not enough.

I believed that you were brave and wise, a pioneer.

But you have shown that your power is not absolute.

It was never in your design to consider the implications of tomorrow.

You said, “Come follow me!”

Yet you did not bring a map.

I was deceived by your passion and confidence.

Swept up in the fantasy you constructed.

It was a mirage that disappeared when I got close enough to touch it.

You flaunted your life giving strength.

Though I know now that your walls are paper thin.

You may not shatter like glass.

But you aren’t truly fixable either.

The holes we have made will always weep.

The Statue


For her it began in a warehouse; just a rough cut of stone alongside hundreds of other potential projects. Yet despite the bleak appearance of her surroundings, the Sculptor’s storehouse was an intriguing place to be. The atmosphere was vibrant and the rows of waiting bedrock were often bursting with tales of the Master’s renown from all corners of the world. Sharing stories of His demand among the elite art collectors and the ever growing value of each of His original pieces. His talent had become legendary and the wait list for His work continued to grow. Each unfinished slab waited in anticipation of the day they would be chosen and of what the Artist would render them to be.

It was common knowledge that His work was always commissioned. No project was ever started before a destination had been secured. So there was never any fear that he would start something and abandon it; each time He picked up His tools there was someone waiting for the piece to be completed. He drew inspiration from the uniqueness of each rock and never missed the potential hidden beneath. The full dimensional figure went straight from the Creator’s mind to the stone itself.

In every direction she was surrounded by so many beautiful and precious rocks. There were cuts of soapstone and alabaster, a softer stone prized for its translucency and manageability. Limestone and sandstone which were excellent for carving; and even more precious stones such as marble, travertine, and onyx. Each highly coveted mediums due to their beauty and the vast array of colours they possessed.

She was none of those, but rather a grey granite with ribbons of white throughout. Nothing that stood out among the rows of other rock and something she had rarely come across during her time in the storehouse. And though being the most durable of all the sculpting stones correspondingly it was also the most difficult to work with. This knowledge sometimes stung, but she stubbornly held to the fact that the Master knew all of this and had bought her anyways.

When the time finally came for her metamorphosis the rumours had reached her long before the Sculptor arrived. Though she tried to keep calm she was filled with excitement and pride unable to envision what she was stepping into. Every story she had ever heard of this artist tumbled around her head as she was moved to the workshop. He was kind and gentle and yet His presence commanded such respect and admiration. As He gazed upon her rough edges and shapeless form she felt a moment of shame for being so imperfect. But The Master’s look was filled with such a powerful confidence she was enveloped by it.

He picked up his chisel and mallet and began pitching pieces off her figure. It was startling at first as she saw large masses fall to the ground and smash into tiny fragments. Some were ones that she had imagined might be the best parts for the Master to use and gave her doubt that He would find what He was looking for underneath it all. She was quiet as she watched and waited for the Sculptor to finish the roughing in. When the first step was done she felt raw and exposed. But she reminded herself that even though for her this was all new He had done this many times. Not only was He the expert He was making her special for someone.

The hours in the Master’s shop accumulated into days and she marvelled as He slowly brought shape to her form. His work was resolute and faithful. He never had a moment of hesitation or uncertainty. While He worked she would daydream of her future and the one who was patiently waiting for Him to finish. She wondered if their excitement matched hers. If they had ambitions and hopes of the future as well.

Somehow even though The Sculptor’s tools never touched inside the rock she was changed there too. Peace and Joy filled her and at the end of every day she was overwhelmed with the hope and assurance in each new change. Now not only was her external form new, but her soul had begun to take on the heart of her Sculptor.

The day finally came when the Master was content for His statue to be placed with the intended recipient. She was nervous and in many ways still felt inadequate and unfinished. But she had learned to trust Him.

The feelings of anxiety soon faded as her new home became her sanctuary. She was deeply loved and cherished. Every part of her was displayed proudly and she continued to feel confident in the skill of her sculptor. The Master came to visit at her new home and sometimes he would bring His tools. Whenever He would leave she could see that His talent was second to none and she was proud of the work that He had done in her. Sometimes His visits would be farther apart but it seemed that no matter when they asked He had time to come. It was impossible not to see how perfectly the one whom she had been made for fit her. Never had she felt so whole. She was content. They were content. And the foreshadowing of the durability and difficulty of her granite left.

But eventually the devastation came. The earthquake shook her home and broke the walls. The floods came and washed everything away. And fire burned anything that had survived until all life was turned to ash.

When it was over she looked around to see she was alone and the landscape was desolate. She was left with nothing and the one who had cherished her was not around to protect her anymore. When she looked down she was ashamed at what the storm had done to her. Broken and black from the fire she could see she was not useful for much. Instinctively she wanted to call for the Master, but she was afraid that He would no longer have a use for her. She was disfigured and the one whom she had been made for was gone.

So she picked herself up and tried to fix what she could; relying on her resolve she kept moving forward. The strength of her exterior served her well but she was covered with scars and deep cracks. She tried to remember how the Master had worked doing her best to repair His damaged work. Sometimes her repairs lasted for a while but they could never hold up for long. She found it was easier to just hide the brokenness. Many days she came so close to asking the Master for help, but then shame and fear would drive her away.

In a moment of desperation she cried out to Him and in an instant He was there. No tools just His steady arms reaching out and His eyes saying ‘come as you are.’ Though hesitant, she came with her head hanging low. Knowing she did not deserve His grace and fearful of what the future would hold for her now. The half she had fit so well was gone and she had come to realize she could never make it on her own.

He took her back to the workshop and stripped away all that she had used to cover the damaged parts. He looked at her as if she was ready for the first time, and then He brought out the finishing tools.

In His gentleness he began refining her. With His broad sweeping stokes that which had been defeated began to transform into the tiniest of details and come to life at His touch. Hidden underneath her grey exterior, ripples of the most delicate pink granite came through. The patterns swirled throughout her form and as he began to polish her they shone as beautiful marks of what she had survived. Never had she experienced such love. Never had she felt so exquisite.

Amidst all the emotions engulfing her in that moment she felt confusion. Being unable to comprehend why this world renowned sculptor would take the time to make her beautiful again when there were so many new pieces to work on and no one left to appreciate any labour wasted on her.

His gaze rested on her and in His eyes she could see that He knew the depths of her thoughts. He reached out to wipe the tears from her cheeks and said, “My dear creation I only do guaranteed work, in that you are right, but it has always been that I commissioned you for me.”

This Mother’s Day


You and your brothers have made me a Mother. You are the reasons that people wish me a happy Mother’s Day. And it IS happy, it’s the best thing in my life, but it still breaks my heart. How I long to place your homemade card on the mantle, and accept the dandelion bouquet from your chubby fist, to have you run to me and wrap your arms around my neck; and, because you couldn’t know any better, tell me I’m the best Mommy in the world. 

Grief Makes a Stranger


Grief alters us. An idea we could all agree on. Though I wonder if that change would be more accurately described as a mutation. One so unorthodox that there is a risk it will render the victim unrecognizable.

Many of us have had to grapple with the practical, emotional, and physical changes that death thrusts upon us; yet I am realizing that there are shifts that we often don’t consider.

The modification in status and stage.

I remember shortly after the accident I was registering at a hospital one morning and the woman at the desk asked me my marital status. It was the first time I’d publicly identified myself as a widow and the staggering array of emotions I was flooded with almost knocked me over. At this point I had already been alone for over two months, but in that moment as my lips formed that word, it was as if I was aware of its permanency for the first time.

Normally big changes have a natural gestation period. Layers of lectures and books to start a new career. A set time to go from Miss to Mrs. Many months to prepare for parenthood. Years to move from Diaper-bags to Backpacks. In the end time seems to have moved quickly; yet looking back one can still trace over a dot-to-dot line of all the in-between points that took us from then to now. I believe this is God’s intentional design to assist us as we move through the stages in life.

But with grief or trauma often many of these steps are recast or lost; and we daily face the challenges of loss while navigating a foreign trail. In some ways one is shoved forward and in other ways pushed back. Left trying to bring together all the freshly severed ends and make some semblance of a recognizable timeline.

On the surface it is going from hanging out with other “couple” friends to constantly feeling like the odd one out. Scheduling play dates around nap times to filling up any child-free hours with appointments and errands. Looking forward to quiet evenings at home with the spouse to wanting to get out of the house and break the routine.

Yet deeper still the wrestling match between so many contradictory and confusing needs play out and I find there is no mentor or peer whom I can relate to. Obviously, I am grateful that life has not formed a long line of role models for me to emulate in this scenario; but there is so much fear and embarrassment as I struggle in all this. Wondering if I am seen as emotionally unstable or in crisis. Watching relationships change and reestablishing boundaries. Worrying if I am being judged as I blunder through my new status orientation. All the time feeling like I am a mismatched set, but knowing there is not really anything I can do about it. I have become the toy where the head and the body and the legs don’t match.

Parts of my life relate to being inexperienced, single, and deciding what I want to do with my life. Other parts fit with those who are established and content, eager to finish with the task ahead. And then there is the seasoned veterans with whom I share nostalgia, being left behind, and the anticipation of closing the final chapter.

Trying to reconcile all of these parts seems improbable; giving me empathy for those who have battled grief and decided to walk away from everything and everyone that is familiar. Though I desperately don’t want that. As unsettling as this feeling is I am not eager to run from all that we know, but it leaves me speculating if I will always feel like an alien in my own home.

Spring’s Lessons in Loss


The calendar tells me that the vernal equinox has arrived though the snow still covers much of the yard. But I sense it, we are on the cusp of a new season. And for the first time in a long time I feel as if my life may be ready to shed its winter clothes parallel to the changes around me.

I have heard and talked much of the seasons of grief, but this is the first time since that day I feel like I actually understand what that means. Until this moment it was just a theory untested.

When I look into my yard each day to see the sun rising earlier and the patches of grass and earth growing I feel not only the ache of loss, but also this fragile anticipation. The lawn is still brown and there are no signs of life in the dirt; yet I know underneath this seemingly lifeless layer something is happening. Those early stages of life are waking up and preparing to make their journey out of the dark. As the harshness of wintertime fades new buds, teaming with life, prepare to move from survival to fruitfulness.

It has been a timely reminder in the necessity of allowing each season to run it’s course. I have been on the receiving end of many blunders from the moment that Colin and Madeline left this earth. Trying to put into words how to avoid causing extra pain in these situations is complex. I have perused many articles itemizing the dos and don’ts of grief never finding one that fit exactly. Being such a personal journey it can be hard to truly understand what others are going through even if your stories are similar. Everyone’s “list” and “path” will be unique to them.

But one constant that I believe is so important as you stand beside those who grieve – family, friends, acquaintances, strangers – is to be aware of the season they are in. When that winter storm hits be ready with the parka and mittens, the hot cocoa and extra blankets. And even when you are ready to move on look for the signs in the grieved, not your environment. You may need to keep stoking their fire as you plant your garden and shovel some snow before you head to the beach. Trying to coax that tender shoot out into a winter frost can be catastrophic. Underneath, where eyes can’t see, that root knows when it is right. It won’t be rushed and it doesn’t need you to remind it to grow. Eventually the signs that Spring is on its way will come. Stop. Remain patient. Wait.

As you stand in silence with rubber boots and an umbrella in hand you may be astonished when they finally turn and ask for the tools of Spring. And as alluring as the picture of springtime is in the backdrop of Winter’s grey it is still a time of great challenge with much to overcome.

Even in this new season the hint of summer is not quite on the horizon.