Not quite ready for Swedish heavy metal…yet.

November 20, 2014

I am cleaning today, sort of, catching up from having the small furry guest for four weeks. I am still smiling over a text I received from Ryan, our surviving son, I had shared with him that I was madly cleaning in preparation for our book study. He shared that metal was good listening music for cleaning. I laughed and said I wasn’t sure I was up for that, yet, we keep such a quiet house. I thought I could put on some Christmas music though, oh the scandal right? Thanksgiving still a week away and me thinking of listening to Christmas music. The shame of it all.

I don’t get all wound up about the calendar, the seasons, shopping, or holidays. Life since Justin’s death has the flavors of one long Lent. And there are themes of Advent in grief also, the waiting. Waiting to be reunited one day, hopefully. Waiting for a quiver of excitement to come back when the calendar turns to November and December instead of a shiver of dread.

I think it all nonsense you know. This bickering about what is appropriate before Thanksgiving, after Thanksgiving, whether we should “allow” shopping on Thanksgiving Day, what do you suggest, more legislation that dictates when businesses can be open? We don’t need one more law. I can only speak for myself, but as a bereaved parent, I really don’t care that you are indignant that some big box store is open on the Thanksgiving evening. I also don’t care that there are Christmas lights out before Halloween. Easter candy will arrive in February, and so it goes.

I want my dead son back. I want to hear his voice. I want to feel that rush when his car pulls in the driveway and that dark curly head appears at the door. I want to see the cats come running and turn themselves inside out at his feet. I want to see the heads of my two sons close together in conversation, laughing at some inside joke they have from childhood. Perhaps you can see why I find all the focus on the “appropriate” days and time wasteful.

We don’t celebrate the holidays in traditional ways anymore. I will not be dictated to by some erroneous day on the calendar when I should celebrate family and friends. Everyday belongs to God, not just the few, everyday I live the cross and manger. I should put as much care into a meal for everyday as a “holiday.” The soul and body need to be nourished everyday. If I wake up and no one has died, then it is a good day, a day for the best dishes, a day for giving thanks.

We have an open door policy for Ryan, the door is always open, and when he comes home, it will be Christmas. Be it July or January. I bake Lucia Buns on days beside December 13th, and we have cookies year round. I can pull together a turkey dinner with my eyes closed. What freedom there is in declaring everyday that we see our son a holiday, a holy day. Everyday that the family gathers is sacred. We intentionally move the stress and pressure that is absolutely needless away from us, and we simply enjoy the moments that come our way.

I wait in my grief to feel something, to feel desire for living, I live Advent as I wait. And if in this waiting I want to play Christmas music before Christmas, I chose to see it as a sign of life. A small sign that one day I may even graduate to securing a Christmas tree or decorating. But right now, a little “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” sounds appealing, that and a cup of Holiday tea with cinnamon and citrus.

Do not feel sorry for us that evidence of the holidays do not abound in our house or on the outside of our house, we certainly don’t feel sorry for ourselves. It isn’t all about the trappings and exterior. We live our interior of waiting, we wait uncluttered, and we wait in a certain freedom, freedom from having to “do”, just allowing ourselves to “be.” To be watchful for when that boy does come home with his big dog, to be watchful for when family comes to sit and relax, to be watchful for friends to come and visit. To watch for quiet moments of reflection.

I can promise you that if you stop by, you may not find Better Homes and Gardens, but you will find the kettle on in a moment’s notice and there is always crackers and some sort of almond butter on the counter, slice a few apples and all of a sudden you have a feast. There most likely won’t be any Swedish metal music either, we are still taking baby steps.

Categories: Uncategorized.

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I dreamed of you last night…

November 19, 2014

Such a long time since I dreamed of you Justin. In my dream I walked outside, it was dark, and there you were sitting on our old garden hose box in that patient way you had. The joy and elation of finding you, I hugged you – you were flesh and bone. I brought you inside and all I can remember is you saying “I can’t stay.” I remember fragments, half finished sentences, no complete thoughts, almost like you were troubled. And then you were gone, I couldn’t find you. I woke up with such a sense of loss, only a memory of what the joy of seeing you felt like, the reality being that you were gone. I eventually fell back to sleep and looked for you in my dreams, but I never found you again.

Still disoriented twelve hours later, one foot in the dream world, one foot in reality. So much to do, the counters full of dishes, mail to be sorted, coats to be mended, and all I do is stare. Why couldn’t you stay? We didn’t even  talk, no sentence finished, why the dream, why the brief visit? It only stirred up longing. One foot in the dream world, one foot in reality.

Haunted still by your death happening on my watch, the anxiety spills over into everything I do now. So fearful that something bad will happen on my watch. Logic tells me that I could not have prevented your accident, you were hundreds of miles away, but I am a mother, it will always be my watch. Hyper vigilance, it eats away my heart and energy. Too much loss. Too much loss.

I wondered how long you had been sitting, waiting in my dream for me to step outside and find you. I wonder why you did not find me? Why didn’t you come inside to look for me in my dream, why outside? Why the silly hose box in the side garden, we replaced it this year with a new one, yet you were waiting on the old one.  And you were solid, not spirit, but dark, the entire dream dark and shadow.

Why couldn’t you stay? I almost wished that I didn’t dream of you, it makes the waking almost unbearable. To have held you, if only for a second, but it wasn’t real, was it? Part of me wants to ask you to stay out of my dreams, it is too painful to see you. I can’t live with one foot in my dreams and one foot in reality.

Grief, you are so stealthy, you slink in and out of my dreams, you stalk me through the day, but you will not corner me. We dance, sometimes you lead, sometimes I lead. Exhaustion is the enemy, not grief. Grief, I must dance with you, but you follow my lead, you will heed my tune, my rhythm, not yours. I give you back your accompanying anxiety and pervasive sense of doom, I give you back your dark and shadow. Did you forget I carry a knife? If you back me in a corner, I will fight until we are both bloody, but you won’t win. Grief, you and I may always be partners, but I shall lead the dance.

Justin, I know you can’t stay. We still can’t hardly speak your name to each other, maybe one day we will, but you are our every breath, our every thought waking and sleeping, you are the reason we dance.


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Dying with Dignity, the other side of the death bed.

November 5, 2014

Let me offer right up front, I am not judging the actions of Brittany Maynard for taking her own life. I am sad, but in a way that might surprise you. I have avoided reading much on the story, but today she and her family are much on my mind. My mother died nineteen years ago today, a hard death, she and her body took a beating that lasted a long time. I remember seconds after she died feeling so betrayed, I had prayed for a gentle passing for her, but it had been a battle royal.

I would not write of such matters except, if we don’t share our painful stories, how can people know that there is great dignity in a hard death, our mother died with such grace and dignity. Her gentle whisper of “I am afraid” will never leave me, it was her most heroic moment. Again, I will reiterate that I do not feel that Brittany was without courage, or her death was a coward’s way out, shame on those who have breathed those words about her. I simply want to share another story, the other side of the death bed so to speak. Those who promote an appropriated end to life, seem to only highlight the great horrors that await a hard death. I think it important to share that witnessing a bloody, painful death of someone I was so close to, who I loved and admired, was one of the greatest life lessons that our mother ever taught us.

Our mother started to throw up blood eighteen days before she died, it did stop, but we suspected that she was bleeding internally. Her lungs were starting to fill and her body functions slowing. She was on a morphine pump, but at times very lucid, making phone calls and saying goodbye to people. We kept a diary of her last days, it started out as a record of her medications and pain doses, but we each started to add little notes and observations as we kept our watch. See, it was a privilege for each of us to sit with her, not a burden. I remember her saying to me that she feared me watching her die, she did not want to hurt me. I told her that I was not afraid to be with her when she died, that I would not leave her. We would see it through together, all of us. How important that was for her to hear those words, do we speak them often enough? Did anyone tell Brittany that they were not afraid to be with her as she died through the natural progression of her disease, that caring for her would be a privilege and a gift? Did they tell her and her family that there would be moments of riotous laughter and such moments of clarity that only come in the bitterest of suffering? That dying through natural progression is a gift of grace to your loved ones as they serve you and care for you. Did they tell her that there was nothing more important in their world than that time with her? I don’t know. Would it have made a difference in her life choice? Perhaps.

Our mother taught us many life lessons, but at the end, she shared the most important lesson, how to die. She was extraordinarily courageous, she had fears of course. She feared being taken by the undertakers before she was dead and waking up in a morgue or coffin. She asked if we would promise to sit with her for as long as possible to just to make sure she was dead before we allowed them to take her body. And we did. We held her hands and smoothed her hair. We made the necessary phone calls. The hospice nurse came and I had the greatest privilege of all, helping her wash my mother’s body.

Our father died at home also, a massive coronary 39 years ago. We were in that curious era between a generation where death was such a part of life, that wakes were held in the home with the body resting in the parlour with guests coming and going through the day and night, to a very sterile approach to death.  I believe that now we are starting to dialogue more on death, it will be an awkward dialogue to be sure, but one we must encourage and engage in with charity being our guide.

Our mother taught us that allowing the natural course of life to happen, without intervention, brought many gifts to those who walked the path with her. My brothers and I share a bond that cannot be severed, those moments at her side, each holding her forged a seal with blood and tears. We each carry with us her courage and strength. For a sterling moment, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, no doubts, no regrets, just the sure sense that this was a rare moment.

Was it difficult to not know the day or time of her death? Yes, it was. You search for clues, you ask the hospice nurse, you read books, and yet we could not know the hour or day. Not knowing meant we had to live in the moment, without being able to plan beyond generalities, we learned to let go that which we could not control.  For me, not knowing was the hardest. I am, or rather was, the consummate planner, detail oriented, calendar based existence, the land of Not Knowing was hard to accept. And yet, when the moment came, we did know. Waiting taught me to be move observant. I saw mottling on her legs and was able to catch my brother before he left, he had the night watch. We called our other brother who had opened the store that morning to tell him it was time.  If my mother had chosen to end her life sooner, I would not have held it against her, but she clung to every minute she had left with us. I hope part of her choice to stay was that we had in our very imperfect way, communicated to her that she was worth every minute.  That she knew she was loved, whether she was comatose, or awake, that her life meant something, that her dying moments had purpose. I don’t fault those who chose to end their life, I believe that burden rests with society, each one of us. Until we dare to love with abandon and tell those we love that their life has meaning, that they have purpose, then fear of death will have its rule.

Those who paint the worst case scenarios for a death bed and instill fear in those facing hard deaths can only be overcome by love. Fear can only be doused with love. We may not be able to change the legislation for assisted premature death, but we can love those near us, we can let them know that they are precious to us and that every moment counts. And that is how things change, one life at a time. One conversation at a time. One story at a time.

In loving memory of Doris Claire Sharkey Dyer, March 15, 1923 – November 5, 1995.


Doris Claire Sharkey Dyer

Doris Claire Sharkey Dyer

Categories: Brothers, Family, Hope.

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In answer to a question, Listening and Hopelessness

October 29, 2014

In following up on my post of what makes a good listener, I have thought much on what supportive listening looks like when met with hopelessness. It has provoked much staring off into space, avoiding staring at my near constant companion, hopelessness. I write from my own experience, so it may not be for all. I thought that first I would try to paint a picture of what hopelessness looks like. Hopelessness didn’t happen during the first year of Justin’s death, it descended during the second. The losses piled up, there seemed to be no end to the disappointments, things that didn’t work out, rejection, and somewhere along the way hope was lost. You are made to feel like it is a deviant character flaw to experience hopelessness and despair, that if you were stronger, better, more faith filled, you would not feel so empty and devoid of hope and light.

Hopelessness manifests itself physically, it can buckle the knees to where you are sliding down a wall to sit hunched over struggling to breathe with the weight crushing your chest, hopelessness is trying to sleep and in the quiet you see your child’s face and longing overwhelms you and there is nothing for it but to lie there with tears sliding down your face, hopelessness is to think “why bother”, for naught matters, there never will be any good anymore. Hopelessness is to look at projects, yard or house, website, or even laundry and not know where to start and why bother, nothing ever changes, nothing is ever finished, nothing is ever done, so why bother? Hopelessness, to think how long you have to endure a life of meaningless activity, just to die alone. Please do not point out that what I described above is depression, either situational or clinical – there is a difference, the presence of one does not dictate the presence of the other, and yet they can co-exist. Let go of having to label someone, please. Labels are so convenient, so tidy, so organized, and they work well for flour and spices, but human souls? No.

When you have the opportunity to sit with hopelessness in another, I can’t help but think it is an invitation to sit in the tomb on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of  Christ takes place over a three day span, culminating in an empty tomb on Easter Sunday. But Good Friday’s can last a lifetime, or so it feels. Our lives reflect the paschal mystery, and we should not be surprised when another experiences being laid in coldness with a stone blocking all the light, trapping them in stone. I am not sure we are called to roll away the stone, but to instead summon the courage to sit in the tomb with the suffering. To descend into hell and meet their hopelessness with quiet courage. Please do not throw scripture our way. Yes, we are told that scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training, and so it is – but it should not be used like a sledge hammer.  Hammering out scripture is easy, meeting hopelessness is not.

If someone shares with you their hopelessness, be honored. Know that they trust you. Know that they are perhaps overcoming a fear of being chided again or “corrected”, be that safe harbor. You cannot fix our hopelessness, but you can keep company with us, supportive listening for hopelessness is to empty yourself of all the temptation to share the latest evils of the world. We know the evil, being told of the latest pandemic, or a brutal group murdering children is not the best conversation for us.  Bring the hope that you hold in your heart and let it be enough, see I think that is key, you have to be hopeful to bring hope, it has to spill out over your reservoir that is already full, so full that it spills over into your very countenance.

I am not sure I answered the question of how to be a supportive listener when faced with hopelessness. Just don’t fear us or fear the hopelessness, see if the experience of sitting with hopelessness does not bring you a new awareness for small joys, simple pleasures, that by being with us in our hopelessness you are not stretched in your capacity to feel, that your heart stretches to encompass a love for the wounded. It isn’t about words or responses, it is about be willing to just be, to just keep company in the tomb for however long it takes for the stone to roll away. I leave with a quote from Sr. Constance Fitzgerald:

 “The hopelessness and emptiness of the Dark Night is precisely the condition that makes hope, in the strictly theological sense, possible. Hope comes into play when we are really radically at the end, unable to find any further resources to connect the memories, feelings, images and experience of life in a meaningful pattern or a promising future. Then hope, forfeiting the struggle to press meaning out of loss, become a free trustful commitment to the impossible, which cannot be built out of what one possesses.”

Desolation as Dark Night, The Transformative Influence of Wisdom in John of the Cross





Categories: Dark Night, Faith, Hope.

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Like A Virgin

October 23, 2014

I missed the 80’s, I was doing unvirgin things like getting married and having babies. I have never listened to Madonna, not familiar with her songs. In fact, I don’t even remember the 80’s, sleep deprivation can be a beautiful thing. I had not even paid much attention to the “singing nun” from Italy, Sr. Christina, until last night.  Sleep deprived with a foster puppy, I was trying to stay awake until 10 pm to take her out one last time in hopes of maybe getting to sleep until 4 am. She came across my newsfeed on Facebook and so I watched her cover of “Like a Virgin”, then I watched a couple more of her videos and I found myself smiling. Smiling at this beautiful young woman so full of life and joy. So gifted and exuberant. I wasn’t troubled by her singing one of Madonna’s songs, even with the title being perceived as controversial. For a culture that is obsessed with sex, we still don’t like to talk about, well, sex. Or sexuality, or sensuality, or anything that happens between sheets, on sheets, or even near sheets.

I was surprised at the flurry of comments directed at this young woman, this nun, who dared to sing this song from a different perspective. Why is it wrong for her to sing of being touched for the very first time? Is not the experience of being touched by Jesus what evangelization is all about? Scripture is full of the nuptial imagery, deeply sensual imagery – go read the Song of Solomon. She sings of being shiny and new – Jesus says He makes all things new. Hold on to that last thought, we will come back to it.

I remember many years ago when I was studying Theology of the Body and all that sex stuff, that it was thought we carried around with us every person we had a sexual encounter with, carried them around for the rest of our lives. Makes for a crowded bed. I accepted that reasoning, but it never resonated with me. It planted one of the first seeds of doubt in my mind about the power of Christ actually. Jesus said He makes all things new. Jesus said come to Him. Jesus said “I forgive you, go and sin no more.” He didn’t add and for the rest of your life you are carry this burden with you. No, not there. I looked. So is He the Christ or isn’t He? Look at the confusion we cast on our young adults. Go to Jesus, go to Confession, you will be made whole and clean. But oh, you had sex, sorry about your luck – yeah, you need to go to Confession because you are in mortal sin, and oh by the way, now you are burdened for life with that memory and that person. And don’t tsk, tsk, me. I had young adults and they talked to me. We tie them in knots about their own sexuality. Allow me to clarify, yes, sex is for marriage, please do not misconstrue what I am saying here.

We all can experience being a virgin whether we are sexually active or not. The word virgin is not solely a word to describe an individual that has not had sexual relations. I am going to link to the dictionary so you can see the multiple meanings: virgin. Did you see, virgin to sorrows, virgin wool, virgin forest, and yes, a maiden. Here is a virgin experience, approaching the marriage bed after the death of a child, yeah – quite a bit like a virgin. We live the cycle of virgin experience our entire life, but our narrow view refuses to accept it and we see only the sexual experience. More the pity to us to be missing out on the constant renewal of our being.

I thought last night as I listened and watched this young nun sing of being made new, saving her love, being touched, that I could hear many of the female mystics brought forth in her song. They wrote of a mystical union, she sings of a mystical union. She shares a window into the dynamic life of a religious woman, celibate does not mean asexual, chastity does not mean absence of sexuality. It is the integration of the two that create – yes, create, so it is even fruitful.  I think we all hunger to go back to our original innocence, isn’t the Joy of the Gospel is that we can, and part of that joy is that what is restored to us and in us is even better than that original innocence because we have been brought into relationship with Christ?

All humans need human touch. Whether religious or not, humans need to be touched. Not all touch is sexual, there is no shame in singing of being touched. Babies die without human contact, children need hugs, and even us grown ups need human contact, we shrivel and die without a touch, a hug. We lavish on our companion animals more affection than most people receive in a lifetime. It is sad.

So sing Sister Christina, sing and be not afraid. Show the world your relationship to Christ, sing of His presence in your life. Don’t let your joy be stolen.


Categories: Faith, Marriage.

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In answer to some great questions…

October 22, 2014

I love when people ask questions about grief and how to respond to someone who is experiencing grief, it is such an avenue for dialogue and it gently coaxes me to reflect on what I found and still find most supportive and not demeaning. This article “Well Meaning Statements That Devastate Mourners” by Larry M.  Barber, started a great conversation and made me think all morning. I revisited some painful moments when people thoughtlessly said things that hurt bitterly, and made me even ashamed of the way I was feeling after Justin was killed. I withdrew and learned to build sturdy walls to keep me safe.

The question posed was “what does a supportive exchange look like”, what specific words could a supportive listener offer when confronted with anger or hopelessness. Great question, the question alone speaks to me of a compassionate heart. Lets look at anger first, anger scares people, we want to make it go away even if it means telling the person who is justifiably angry to not be angry. Well, we can’t make it go away. We are angry. We are angry our child is dead, we are angry that we are angry – no one likes being angry and we can’t shut it off. I am only speaking from my experience, I lay no claim to expertise. I remember being so angry some days that I could have joyfully thrown things through windows. We get angry that people stop calling us, we get angry that people avoid us and walk the other direction when they see us coming, we get angry when we are told that we should be over it. We get angry when people tell us that their faith would never waiver regardless of what happened to them. Leave the God talk alone. When confronted with someone’s anger, there are no words, just listen. If a grieving person shares their anger, know that they are showing you a deep wound and are incredibly vulnerable, when we show that anger we open ourselves up to judgement, ridicule, invalidation, rarely do we meet compassion. You can gently encourage someone to share more, to keep talking – often we are made to feel like we need to keep our grief to a thirty second sound bite and then move on. The gift of someone who simply listens is priceless. Some of the most healing words I have heard is “Thank you”, someone thanking me for sharing a vulnerable spot, it was humbling and anger diffusing, the kindness of that short, but sincere exchange has never left me. Anger is diffused with beauty, bring beauty to an angry person in your own person, when we have inner peace that is communicated to those around us – don’t bring your angst, whining, or complaining. We need to have practiced good self care before we can sit in silence with someone who is angry and grieving. Anger can be channeled through creativity, me, I write. And I fight with myself to truly write my heart – but when I do write honestly, it is like boulders sliding from my shoulders. Art, coloring – I love to color, I love to take photographs. Creativity moves our anger around, and exercise – how often have I wished to just all and all out spar with someone, I know my body can’t take full contact anymore, but to punch and kick until I am exhausted is so appealing. Thank that person for sharing their heart, even if it was an angry heart, don’t personalize it, don’t internalize it, just let it flow away from both of you. Follow up with a gift of colored pencils or crayons, chalk, beautiful stationary, nothing big, nothing expensive, but something that tells them you listened, truly listened, and a note telling them that you were glad of the time you spent together talking. We fret you know, we fret if we are authentic that people will leave us, because in reality, some people have already left us – our grief and anger overwhelming to them.

I can still remember with such clarity where I was and who I was speaking to when I was told some very hurtful things. A few people were downright mean and miserable, professed holy Christians, and their words and behavior despicable, all so soon after Justin had been killed. Those wounds never heal, it is like the trauma of child loss leaves us more vulnerable and impressionable to hurt. That causes a different anger. A supportive listener does just that, they listen. Don’t explain away someone’s bad behavior or make excuses, just listen and keep that confidence. Build a bridge of trust between you and the grieving heart, it will take courage. I think of my brother and sister-in-law who invited us to vacation with them, what a gutsy thing to do, not only invited us but told us that we were free. Free to do and plan as we saw fit, no obligations, we could participate or not, be quiet or engaging, the freedom to just be was pure gift. They are courageous and fearless, not afraid of our anger or hopelessness. There is one friend in particular who didn’t fear my anger, she just kept coming back, gently and softly. Never saying much, but she speaks volumes with the gifts that she has always brought to me, even at my most horribleness. A Grinch ornament that sits on my desk year round, that told me she had faith in me. She gave me frogs, that told me that she read my words and understood, they remind me to keep growing what I need, it was a shared silent humorous moment, not a word spoken.

Honest, just be honest. It is okay to say that you don’t know what to say, neither do we most times. To my good friend who asked this question, know that you are already reaching out and being so supportive. I was so touched by your gift of Post-it-Notes! You didn’t tell me to take a vitamin or see somebody for my memory gaps, you listened to what I spoke and then indulged me with bright colorful Post-it-Notes, that is supportive listening, you didn’t have to say a single word, but I will never forget what you said with your gift. You heard my heart, no words necessary.

The other question was about hopelessness, lets do that next post. I have a small, but determined German Shepherd puppy we are fostering, chewing on my desk chair. I will have to wait for another nap time.

Categories: Brothers, Family, Friendship, Grieving, Justin.

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