A Promise Kept

Almost two years ago I had to make a tough decision, like many of you have had to do as well. And it wasn’t easy. It was a decision we’ve had to make several times before, and each time it’s awful.

For those of you who are pet lovers, you’ll understand what I’m talking about very quickly. Because our fur babies are part of our family, from the first moment we bring them home. They jump into our hearts and make their nest, and we quickly wonder what we ever did without them.

And all too soon, we end up saying a tearful good bye. Because their lifespans are much shorter than people’s, and even though we know that from the beginning, we still pour our hearts and our love into each one of our special pets.

And they do the same for us.

Over the years I’ve had both dogs and cats. I’ve loved each and every one of them, and cried buckets of tears when it was time to say goodbye.

It was really bad when just two weeks after our daughter’s wedding, we had to say goodbye to Angel dog, my mother’s Pekingese that we had cared for since my mom’s death ten years before. I felt like I was losing the last part of my mother I still had left.

As I was crying and sobbing, my dear husband told me he could just picture little Angel running on her now arthritis-free legs, right up to the door of my mom’s heavenly mansion and barking to be let in, and happily joining my mom’s other dogs she’d had over the years that had been waiting for her at the Rainbow Bridge. I can only imagine what a wonderful furry reunion that must have been!

But I was still heartbroken….

Then a year later I had to say a very teary goodbye to my very favorite cat, Princess, a beautiful black tortoiseshell Persian with curly whiskers and the most wonderful purr I’d ever heard. I put off the decision as long as I could, but sadly I finally had no choice but to let her go to the Rainbow Bridge.

Again, I was heartbroken, but before she left, Princess gave me a promise that she’d send me a new kitty that looked just like her. And she told me all about the Rainbow Bridge where pets go when they pass on to their next life, waiting for us to join them, or going to meet their owners who have already left them for their heavenly home.

And I held on to her promise.

I didn’t realize how it would turn out, though. And certainly it wasn’t like I’d thought.

You see, Princess had promised to send me a kitty just like her. I tried and tried, with no success, to find the one she’d promised me. She was nowhere to be found.

But what I didn’t know, was that all along Princess Kitty had had something better in mind, and she just didn’t want to spoil the surprise she had for me. And she knew I wouldn’t mind if she changed things around a bit.

About a year ago I was involved in an auto accident. It was a bad one, and it threw me into a depression I hadn’t expected. It affected me in ways I never expected. And I needed something to bring me out of my funk. But nothing seemed to be able to help.

And then, out of the blue, a friend of mine posted on her Facebook page that she needed a new home for her Yorkie, because she just couldn’t keep him any more. He needed a home where he could run outside and play, where he would have people who’d love him as much as she did, but could give him the attention he deserved.

Now I’ve always had a thing for Yorkies; I’ve always wanted one. For about 40 years, but who’s counting? What an opportunity! Of course I immediately contacted her!

Obviously Princess Kitty had planned a surprise for me I’d never expected. As much as I love our kitties, I also love Yorkies, and this was my chance!

And two days later, Benji joined our family. I don’t know who was happier, my husband or me. Because Benji’s an awesome dog, perfect for us, sweet and loving and loyal. Plus he’s willing to put up with my dressing him in doggie t shirts and bandanas, and taking his picture with Santa and the Easter Bunny!

I knew Princess had sent him to us. She knew how much I’d always wanted a Yorkie, and she took care of it. And maybe she just didn’t want us to have another kitty who looked like her. Because she really was one of a kind.

As much as we adore our Benji we felt guilty leaving him all by himself while we went to work. He needed a friend. So a few months ago the search began for a sister for Benji.

And it wasn’t easy. It had to be the right doggie, younger, but not too young. A little girl dog who needed a new home, and a big brother to show her around, to protect her. Someone to play with, and to go squirrel hunting with. A doggie who needed to be rescued.

That wasn’t easy either.

But suddenly after three months of searching, we had the opportunity to get Benji a sister. Someone had turned in a 4 month old little girl Yorkie-Shih tzu mix to a local animal shelter. She’d been spayed, and would be up for adoption the next day. As soon as we saw her picture I knew she was perfect! And that Benji would be really happy with her.

We just had to make it happen. Come on Princess Kitty, help us out here! You promised!

The shelter opened the next day at noon. My husband Ben was there by 11:45 and there were already 14 people ahead of him in line. Most of them wanting this particular dog. But one by one people started dropping out of line. Some didn’t want to wait until noon to go in, and some didn’t want to pay the $100 adoption fee!

And then there were only two people ahead of him. Both wanting the dog WE wanted…

When the shelter opened everyone went in and had an opportunity to look at the dog they wanted from a distance, and then fill out an application for adoption.

Afterwards everyone went in one on one to play with the dog for a few minutes. The first people came out a few minutes later and said they’d decided on a bigger dog.

So then there were two.

While Ben and the other lady were waiting for their turns they had been talking, and he’d told her he wanted to get the dog for his wife’s birthday gift, and how our other dog needed a playmate!

When the lady went in to play with the doggie, it seemed like she was in there forever. All this time I was waiting to hear from Ben, and…nothing. I just knew it wasn’t going to happen. I was a nervous wreck…and I’d not even seen this little one in person!

Then all of a sudden he texted me and said, “she’s ours!” Princess Kitty came through! The lady had come out after seeing the doggie and playing with her, walked up to Ben, and said, “I’ve decided to bless you and let you have her for your wife’s birthday present.”

An hour and a half later I finally met little Chloe in person. She was sitting in the front seat of Ben’s car, wagging her tail at us, and smiling like only a newly rescued puppy can smile! She knew she finally had her fur-ever home!

And now Benji has a little sister, who’s already following him everywhere, sleeping beside him, and yes, irritating him on occasion. Because that’s what little sisters do.

Princess Kitty kept her promise to me, and although she didn’t send me another kitty that looked like her, she sent us two wonderful furry friends that have already taken over our house, filling it with more love, assorted dog toys mixed among our granddaughter’s toys, and a jar of dog treats sitting on the counter beside the (human) cookie jar.

Princess Kitty kept her promise in her own way. After all, cats do their own thing, and make their own rules. They keep their promises, but sometimes in their own way. And I have to say. I’m thrilled at the way she kept her promise.

Benji and Chloe are the perfect pair of dogs for us. We couldn’t be happier at the way Princess worked things out!

And one day when we see Princess again, we’ll be able to thank her in person!

Note: If you’re looking for a fur-ever friend, whether it’s a dog or cat, please consider your local animal shelter, SPCA, or rescue organization. They have many animals looking for a loving, fur-ever home. You won’t be disappointed.

Artwork by Stella Violano…Fine Art America

Want to read the other stories in this series?
Meet Me at the Rainbow Bridge
The Bridge is Calling

A Little Girl’s Memories

Recently I attended the memorial service for a friend. My husband and I had actually helped with the couple’s wedding some eight years ago and had wonderful memories of their special day. You could tell how much they loved each other, and how excited they were to begin their new life together. All of their pictures featured big smiles and joyous laughter in anticipation of their new beginning together.

And they were very happy. They had two beautiful children, a daughter and then a son. Dad would tell everyone how lucky he was and how long he’d waited for this family of his; how proud he was of his wife and kids. He’d talk about all the things he did with them; and all the things he was looking forward to doing with his children as they got older. Taking his son fishing for the first time, and taking his little girl to her first daddy-daughter dance.

Now that’s all changed. Future plans will never happen. Because Daddy unexpectedly passed away just a few weeks after his little girl started first grade.

We all felt so bad for his widow, who’d lost the love of her life. We felt even sadder for his children who’d never have the opportunity to really know what a loving father they’d been blessed with.

As I sat at this man’s memorial service I couldn’t take my eyes off his children, sitting in the front row between their mom and their aunt, wearing their best clothes and looking, shall I say, a bit lost. And I wondered what they were thinking. Particularly his daughter.

You see, I knew quite a bit about what she was feeling. Because almost sixty years ago I was that little girl. And I have to say, even after all those years, the memories came flooding back.

It’s just not something you forget. Even as a child, such memories don’t totally fade with time. Even when your child’s mind doesn’t totally process it at the time, those memories are always there.

Sadly, our friend’s three year old son will most likely only remember his daddy because of photos and stories told by his mom and other family members. He’s just too young to really remember.

But his six year old daughter will be a different story.

She’s old enough to know that her dad is gone; that he’s not coming back home anymore. She knows he’s in heaven with the Lord, because she’s been told that many times; and she’s been taught that in Sunday School.

But she doesn’t understand it. Not really. She has a lot of questions that she doesn’t even know how to ask.

Well-meaning people have probably told her that her daddy is with the angels. Some may even have told her that her daddy is an angel now; that God needed another one so he took her dad because he was so special. Sometimes she worries that God might need another angel and take her to heaven as well, and she doesn’t think she’s ready for that. They often tell her how Daddy is watching over her and her little brother from up in heaven, hoping to make her feel better.

And this little girl nods her head as if she understands. But she doesn’t; not really. Her child’s mind just can’t totally comprehend all of it.

Even those of us who are mature in our faith sometimes have trouble understanding when it’s our loved one who’s passed away.

But there are things his daughter will remember when she’s older. It’s amazing, really, the things that stay with you. Things that may seem insignificant at the time will forever linger in your memory, and come out at the most unexpected times.

She’ll remember a few scattered times of fun, just between the two of them. Walking in the woods and talking about nothing important, except to them. Helping him put up the Christmas tree while mommy made dinner. The times he’d tuck her into bed at night and tell her how much he loved her as he kissed good night.

She’ll remember the last time she saw her dad, lying in a hospital bed with machines attached to him; she’ll remember that it just didn’t seem like the man she knew as “daddy”, and eventually she’ll wonder if it was really him.

She’ll also remember the exact words her mother said to her when she told her that her beloved daddy was gone. In fact, that’s one sentence she’ll remember for the rest of her life, and she’ll hear it in her mind over and over, as clearly and distinctly as if it were being spoken all over again.

That’s one sentence a child can’t forget. I haven’t. Because whether that child totally understands or not, she knows in her heart that things have suddenly and irreversibly changed.

Sadly, like me, his daughter won’t have years and years of memories to make with her dad. Many of the few memories she had will fade, and try as she might, they’ll never come back the way she’d like them to.

But she’ll always remember that day on the front row in that church, and remember how people were talking about her daddy, and how her mother kept trying not to cry, and so did she, because she wanted to be brave like her mommy.

I sadly have no remembrances of my dad’s service, because when he died I was quite sick and unable to attend. And children didn’t always go to funerals back then, even for their parents. But I remember the days immediately following his death and all the people who came to the house, talking to my mom and me, telling us how sorry they were. I, too, tried not to cry and be strong for my mother.

Because I just didn’t understand at the time what it all meant, and how it would affect my life. But there were a lot of nights afterwards that I lay in bed, curled in my mother’s arms as we comforted each other, and cried. And his daughter will, too.

She’ll feel terribly sad at Father’s Day and look at all the cards she’ll never be able to give to him, because he’s gone. And she’ll wish the day would hurry and get here so it could go away.

There will most likely be times she’ll imagine that her daddy didn’t really die; that he got sick and people took him somewhere else to live because he wasn’t going to get better, and he didn’t want his family to see him so sick. She’ll probably daydream about finding him one day, and how happy they’ll both be to find each other again.

Yes, I did that, too. And I imagine many other children do as well.

There will be lots of times she’ll be envious of her friends who still have their fathers, who go places with them. She’ll feel uncomfortable when an uncle takes her to the daddy-daughter dance at school instead of her father; or she won’t go at all because she’ll be secretly jealous of the other girls whose fathers were there with them.

There will also be the day when she’s ready to walk down the aisle on her wedding day. She’ll be so excited, but she’ll still feel a sense of loss that can’t be described, except by other daughters who’ve been there as well. And she’ll shed an extra tear because her daddy can’t walk her down the aisle. Her brother will stand in for him, but it won’t be the same.

Yes, all of these thoughts went through my mind that day, and I so wanted to take that little girl in my arms and hug her, hold her, and tell her she’ll be all right. That even in the lonesome times, the sad times when memories rush at you so quickly you’re not prepared for the impact; the times you see someone who reminds you of him, or see another daughter with her father and you want to be her…just for a second or two; to tell her in those tough times you’ll be ok. It won’t be easy, but you’ll be ok.

The death of a parent or a spouse…or even worse, a child…is an unimaginable pain. But when you’re just a little child, and you lose a parent, it’s a grief like no other. And sometimes it takes years before you can fully and totally grieve for them. For me it took almost 50 years, when while cleaning out my mother’s house I found the sympathy cards and funeral book she’d kept from that time so long ago. I read each card, and surprisingly remembered who some of some of the senders were, and read the names of the attendees. And I cried.

And cried some more. And finally, I truly grieved for my daddy.

I pray this little girl will have a much easier time as she goes through the next weeks and months. My heart goes out to her and her little brother as well. Yes, and to their mom. But those children…and that little girl…

Because I know what’s ahead for her.

But How Do I Know…..?

It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot recently. So have several of my friends. Because their parents or other loved ones are at that time in their life, or should I say almost at the end of their life.

And they’re not sure. They’re not certain. They don’t know for sure their loved ones will be going to heaven, because they don’t know their loved ones’ relationship with the Lord.

And it worries them. A lot.

Many times they won’t ask. They either don’t have that type of relationship with them, or they’re afraid of the answer. Or they don’t know what to say if the answer to their question isn’t what they hoped it would be. They can talk to people they barely know about their faith, share their love of the Lord with them, but when it comes to their own parents, their family, that’s a different matter.

Why? Are they too close to the situation? Or are they afraid of the answer? Or are they afraid they may have to go out on a limb and speak the words to them that come so easily when talking to strangers…and be scorned, made fun of, or worse, told to leave because no one wants to hear what they’re saying.

But this is a serious matter. It affects eternity. Their eternity as well as yours. Because you want your loved ones with you forever. And you want to be sure they’re going to be there with you.

However, you cannot truly know what is really in someone’s heart. Even when they tell you how they feel, and what they believe, sometimes they may not be telling you what they really believe. They may be telling you what you want to hear, or they may be baiting you, telling you something entirely different just to see what you’ll say.

Each of us has a relationship with the Lord. Yes, we do. Even those who profess they do not believe have a relationship with Him. It’s certainly a one way relationship, because the Lord continues to quietly speak to the non-believer, who turns a deaf ear to Him. But the Lord is still speaking in that one way conversation.

And those words are heard. They may be ignored, but they are heard, and unconsciously remembered in the back of the mind. And I dare say those words are remembered in those last few minutes of life. We don’t know what conversation takes place between that non-believer and the Lord at that point, but I have a feeling it’s totally different from any other conversation they’ve had.

Does a person have to profess publicly to someone else their beliefs in order to be accepted into heaven? I don’t believe I’ve seen that in scripture. In fact, the Lord spoke about praying in private so as not to be seen as boasting to others about how devout, how religious, they were.

Our relationship with the Lord is personal. And it should be. There’s nothing wrong with sharing it, but there’s nothing wrong with keeping quiet when you feel you should. There’s a difference in speaking out all the time and knowing when to speak out when others will be receptive.

Let me address another issue that so many of us are told at these times. And if I step on toes, then please, instead of telling me I’m totally off base, and blasting me for my beliefs, think about what I’m saying first.

For years I’ve heard from so many people, “Oh, that denomination…they aren’t real Christians. They don’t believe the right way like we do. They won’t be going to heaven.” “That person was a member of xxxx group, and they aren’t true Christians, in fact, they have idols in their meeting places, so they won’t be in heaven!” “So and so was Jewish, and never accepted Jesus, so she isn’t in heaven. No chance at all.” (So…what about all of the Jewish people murdered during the Holocaust? Aren’t the Jewish people God’s chosen people? I do believe He wouldn’t NOT have them with Him.)

Have any of you been told any of this, or had similar conversations about who’s going to Heaven and who isn’t? Yes, scripture tells us in John 14:6 that Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And I believe that. We are also told that sinners cannot enter into His kingdom without repenting, and I believe that as well.

But who am I, and who are you, to say that we know exactly who’s going to heaven and who isn’t? I know what scripture says, but there are a lot of things I don’t know, and I cannot in any way say that I know totally who will be in eternity with me. I’m not God. I can only interpret His word how I interpret it. Interpretation is personal. And I cannot say I’m the only one who’s right, any more than anyone else can.

Here’s one other thing to think about. Does scripture say that someone has to make that decision at a certain time or it’s too late, and tell as many people as possible about it? What about the person on their deathbed that lapses into a coma? That person’s mind may still be consciously operating on some level, but we have no way of knowing, and they have no way of communicating with us.

But they most likely are communicating…just not with us. How do we know they aren’t communicating directly with the Lord? Just the two of them. A very personal and private conversation. Why would that be so difficult to believe?

How can we positively say we have all the answers? How do we know what is said between someone and the Lord when they are in the last seconds of transitioning between earthly life and eternity?

And how long are those last seconds in earthly time? After all, doesn’t scripture tell us in 2 Peter 3:8, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Obviously the Lord has all the time He wants…and needs…to speak with us in those final seconds. All the time to extend His hand of love and forgiveness and give us that one last opportunity to realize Who He is, and why we should trust Him; why we should know Him as Lord.

Isn’t that all He wants from us? And it doesn’t matter how long or how little the time we’ve loved Him. That we do accept Him is all that counts.

So why would He not do anything and everything He can  to reach us; to touch our heart one last time and give us that final chance to love and trust Him as Lord.

And that’s exactly what I believe happens in those final moments if someone is not in a place of believing. That in those final moments He reaches out with His nail-scarred hands and says, “Come to me.” And in that final moment the non-believer most likely becomes a new believer, and eternity welcomes another soul.

He loves us all so much that He wants us all to be with Him. Isn’t that the Lord we serve?

Let me tell you a story. About fifteen years ago the husband of a coworker was seriously ill in the hospital. He’d undergone a heart transplant but unfortunately the heart wasn’t in as good shape as it should have been and the man never regained consciousness from the surgery. It had been three weeks, and we all knew he wasn’t going to be alive much longer barring a miracle. I was returning from lunch and entering the building when I very clearly heard a voice telling me, “Don’t worry. He’s with me now.”

What?

I didn’t put the pieces together until I got back to my desk and about twenty minutes later received the news that our coworker’s husband had died. Out of curiosity I asked what time. About five minutes before I heard those words “Don’t worry. He’s with me now.” This particular man had been raised Catholic but hadn’t been to any church in years, nor did he profess to have any faith, nor did his wife.

Coincidence? I think not at all. The Lord clearly told me what I needed to know, and what his widow needed to hear. Even though at the time she never believed a word I told her. I hope she does now. Or else she may be one of the ones the Lord has to reach out to at those very last few seconds. And I am quite sure that she will make the right decision when she comes face to face with Him.

You may or may not believe anything I’ve said, and that is your prerogative. But what is important is eternity. I want to spend it with my loved ones, my friends, and most importantly, with my Lord. I want to talk to family members I never met. I want to talk with so many people I’ve admired and respected from a distance. I want to run and laugh with the babies I miscarried, that I know are waiting for me.

I want to sit and talk with my Lord, and ask Him all the questions I’ve had over the years. Questions to which I’ll probably already know the answers before I even ask.

And I want to see so many others that I’ve known throughout my life that I’ve lost touch with, and tell them, “I knew you’d be here!”

So do you stop praying for your loved ones? Of course not. Your prayers are heard, and acted upon. Go forward with the hope that your loved ones, like mine, will make the right decision, even if it’s in the last few seconds of life.

Heaven will be a wonderful eternity. And I believe it will be full!

Letting Go

Sometimes there are decisions that adult children are called upon to make for their elderly parents or other close relatives.

Decisions no one should have to make.

Life or death decisions.

Sometimes they’re decisions set forth in a living will or an advanced medical directive. Those are somewhat easier, but not really. Not when you think about what you actually have to authorize, and what it means.

Sometimes, though, those decisions were not made in a living will or an advanced directive. Sometimes you’re called upon to make that decision because your loved one asks you to. Begs you to. And you have to make a choice between what you want, and what they want.

It’s not a good position to be in. It’s not a place you want to be. And it’s certainly not a decision you want to make. Because you’ll be the one who made that final decision, and there are a whirlwind of emotions that surround that decision.

Many years ago my elderly uncle who was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s went into a coma. He had a living will, and an advanced directive, both of which clearly stated he wanted no life-sustaining procedures done to keep him alive. No resuscitation; no feeding tube; no respirators. In short, he wanted to be able to pass from this life with whatever dignity remained.

His youngest sister, whom he had designated as his representative after his wife had died, couldn’t accept his wishes. She argued with the doctors and insisted a feeding tube be inserted. “I won’t let my brother starve to death!” she told them. She was in the process of calling an attorney to try and have his requests overridden when thankfully the Lord intervened and took my uncle Home.

However, what happens when your parent tells you she’s done. She’s had enough. No more respirator or dialysis. No more feeding tubes. She doesn’t want to live like that any more. You don’t blame her. But on the other hand…

You don’t want to be the one to tell the doctors. You don’t want to have that decision resting on your shoulders. You don’t want to be the one who’s responsible for her death. Even though you know that’s not really true, in your mind that’s what you’re thinking.

It puts you between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes. You know she’s suffering; you know she’s miserable. And you know she won’t get any better. You also know you wouldn’t want to stay alive like that either.

What do you do?

I’ve counseled a number of women who’ve been in this position. It’s a hard place to be. I’ve talked with them before they made their decision, as well as afterwards. There is no one right decision because every situation is unique. And extremely personal. In fact, it’s one of the most personal you can ever make. And it’s not reversible.

One of the biggest problems, especially afterwards, is the huge feeling of guilt; the feeling that you and you alone were responsible for her dying. Many times other family members will tell you that as well, because they simply cannot accept the inevitable. They have to blame someone, rather than look at the overall situation and realize you were only carrying out your loved one’s wishes. Whether they were your wishes or not.

I am thankful I was not in that position with my mother. The Lord took care of her, and took her Home when she was ready. I honestly do not know how I would’ve handled such a decision had I been asked to make it, although she also had a living will and advanced directive. I do know, though, I would’ve been criticized, blamed, and called everything but a loving daughter by some of our other family members. Which would have made a bad situation far worse.

Advice? First let me say, none of us want to lose a loved one, particularly a parent. It doesn’t matter how old they are. We want them around forever. We want them to fight whatever is wrong with them, and we pray they’ll get better. But sometimes they don’t; sometimes it’s just time. They know it. And we know it in our hearts, whether our minds admit it or not.

Letting go is hard, but for those of us who know the Lord, we know it’s not goodbye; it’s not forever. It’s “I’ll see you later.” But we have to remember it’s not our decision; it’s theirs. We have to honor their wishes and put aside our own. Because one day we may be in their place, and we will want our children to do the same for us. We have to honor our parents’ wishes.

For anyone in this situation, my heart breaks for you, and I wish I could be with you to hold your hand and tell you it’ll be all right.

Because eventually it will be. When you meet again. And you’ll have eternity to make up for lost time.

Letting go is tough. And with God’s grace you will survive it.

And the reunion will be so very worth it.

Mom, I Wish I Could Tell You…

I have so much to tell you. Especially about last weekend. Do you know how many times I caught myself thinking…I have to remember to tell Mom that! Or, wait til I tell my mother about… Or, Mom will be so excited when I tell her who I saw…

But I can’t do that. Because you’re gone.

Even though it’s been ten years, I still have moments…lots of them…that I start to pick up my phone to punch in your number. I still remember it, you know. And probably will for many more years. That’s not something you forget when it’s been such a big part of your life.

But last weekend after my book signing, I really, REALLY have so much I want to tell you. So much I know you’d be happy to hear. So much I want to share with you.

Like my first visitors…a couple I’ve known for years. Now in their early eighties, but hardly looking even seventy. I remember when Emma and Joe were married. You and Daddy dressed up and left me to stay with my aunt and uncle while you went to the wedding. Before you left, Uncle Fowler took a picture of the two of you, and you can see me reflected in the mirror behind you, giggling like the little girl I was at the time. This couple had stories about you, and even more precious memories of my father, who had been a loyal customer at their family car dealership for many years. (Joe sold us my first car – a 1968 gold Camaro with a black vinyl top!) Mom, you would’ve loved to have seen them.

A lady who’d known you for years came by. She told me how as a young nurse she used to go to our house and give insulin shots to my grandmother when she’d lived with us. And as soon as she said that, I remembered her! I’m sure you would, too!

And Mom, a couple of ladies from your church came by as well, and told me how much they still missed you. One of them reminded me how you sat behind her every Sunday! (You all did make sure you sat in the same pew every week!) And did you know the church actually put the word out about my book signing in their bulletin? I couldn’t believe it!

Several of your former students also came by or called. They told me how much they loved you, and how you’d been their favorite teacher. How you gave them snacks every day, and taught them colors and numbers, and always made sure their day was fun!

One of your assistant teachers even came by and said you were the best teacher she’d ever taught with! And I’m sure you were!

I even got a personal note and book order when we got home from your former reading supervisor from your teaching days. She said the most wonderful things about you, including how honored she’d been to have worked with you!

And did you know some of my friends from high school had a reception for me afterwards? As you remember, a lot of them still live there, but several of them came back to town just to be there for us! Us. You and me.

Only you weren’t there. Except in our memories.

And my friends had wonderful memories of you, too.

Carol and Molly told me how you’d taught their daughters, and how one of those little girls had obviously never had to pick up her toys before. Until Mrs. Chapman taught her that’s what was expected!

Diane reminded me about the dining room set you’d given her when she and her husband were married almost 50 years ago! And she wanted me to know that same dining room set is now being used by their son and his wife. They just couldn’t bear to get rid of it. (And she bought three books! One for her and one for each of her sisters!)

I know you remember my high school best friend Laura. Of course you do. After all, her mom joined you in heaven about 6 months after you got there. She and I had a great time getting reacquainted after all these years. And I so hope we can continue to rekindle that relationship.

And my friend Jenny’s brother told us how his mom would let him walk across the field from their house to yours, watching him every second, of course, so he could go visit you. You’d give him milk and cookies and talk for a while, and then you’d walk him across the street and watch him cross the field to go back home. I’d never heard that story, but I can picture you doing it.

Everyone there remembered the parties you let us have in our basement rec room. We’d eat sandwiches and potato chips, listen to music, dance, and shoot pool for hours. Many of them remember going upstairs during the parties, just to talk to you for a few minutes, because, well, they just enjoyed your company.

Everybody loved you, Mom. I don’t think you had any idea how much.

I just wish I could tell you all about how wonderful it was to see so many people I grew up with, and how touched I was with their remembrances of you.

Many of them have already emailed me about how much they’re enjoying our story. And I’m so happy…I just wish you were here to enjoy it with me.

I miss you so much. But what an impression you made on so many people.

It was all worth it.

 

Note: Names of my high school friends have been changed. But you know who you are.

Sometimes the Memories…

Of what might have been…of what could have been…or what should have been… Of what will never be again.

Sometimes those memories are too painful to think about.

But we still do. It’s how we’re made.

We miss our loved ones so much…and there are still those times, no matter how many years it’s been, that we just need to hear their voice. That we need so desperately to talk to them, tell them our problems, and ask them what to do. Because they always had answers when we didn’t.

At times like this I try to imagine what my mother would tell me to do. What she’d say about the particulate problem I’m wrestling with. She’d have an answer; she always did. And usually she was right on the mark.

There are so many times I still wish I could ask her what to do. I wish I could dial her number just one more time, hear her say “hello”, and as soon as she’d hear my voice she’d know something was wrong. So I’d pour out my heart. And then hear her tell me….what? I’ll never know her answer to this problem…or others that will also present themselves from time to time.

I can’t hear that voice any more except in my heart, because she’s no longer here. And I miss her so much.

Yes, no matter how many months, how many years go by, nothing can replace that special bond we had. No one else, not even my husband, or my best friends, can give me the answers she did. And the problem I’m wrestling with right now can only be solved by my thinking the way she would have.

That’s easier said than done.

I’d also like to share my joys with her as well as my problems, but I can’t do that either. I can’t tell her about her beautiful great granddaughter, or what a good mommy her beloved granddaughter is. I can’t tell her how much our son in law loves that little girl, and what a proud daddy he is. I just hope she knows.

So tonight, as I sit here again missing my mother so much, all I can do is write this and tell her in my heart how much I miss her and how much I still love her.

And remind each of you reading this…don’t let time take away your opportunity to make memories…to ask questions. Or to just say “I love you.” Don’t waste even one day, because one day you won’t be able to make any more memories, and your loved one won’t be able to hear you say “I love you” any more.

Old Memories…New Traditions

The song starts off with: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” For many of you it is…the joys of Christmas with family and friends. Buying presents for loved ones. Holiday dinners and toasting for a new year filled with excitement. We see ads with happy faces and smiling families around the Christmas table. Old and young alike. It’s picture perfect.

Not for everyone though.

For many it emphasizes loss. What used to be and what will never be again.

And it hurts. A lot. This first holiday with missing loved ones is extremely painful. Grief hurts. Especially now. It’s no longer that most wonderful time of the year.

But we are still expected to function even as we are bombarded with reminders of what should be a happy time. All we can remember is what was, and is no more. All we have left of them are memories, and they aren’t here to make any more with us.

But Christmas comes whether you want it to or not. Maybe you don’t want to face it, but others around you who can’t totally understand your feelings are still filled with anticipation of the season. As much as you don’t feel joyous, you don’t want to spoil their happiness. But your happiness is so long gone…

While I can’t make it better, and I can’t make the hurt stop, I can give you some ideas of things we did that helped, as well as ideas from other friends.

A few years after Ashley was born, my mother had a friend knit Christmas stockings for each of us, including one for her that said “Grandmom”. The first Christmas without her, I couldn’t not hang it up; it just didn’t feel right. So hers was, and still is, in the middle of our stocking display, with a spray of red silk roses in it, her favorite flower. The Willow tree angel holding the rose on our mantle was the last one I’d given her on Mother’s Day, and stands watch over our stockings. This is the ninth Christmas without her, and that stocking is filled every year with those roses. I’m sure she’d approve.

That first year we marked a gift for each of us “From Mom” or “From Grandmom.” The funny thing is, I did it for Ben and Ashley, and didn’t tell them in advance what I was doing. Ben also did it for me without letting on to Ashley. We even gave her dog a gift and told her it was from my mom! (No, I’m sure she didn’t understand, but it made us feel better, since she had always bought Angel a Christmas toy or two!)

When I was packing up her house I had found several Christmas cards she’d bought and probably forgot where she’d put them, so I signed her name and gave them to Ben and Ashley that first year; one read “For my wonderful Granddaughter…” I think Ashley still has it.

We had also brought the Christmas ornaments home she’d used on the little tree in front of her fireplace. Ashley and I divided them up and used them on our trees. This year she proudly hung the one we gave them for expecting their first baby beside the last ornament she had given my mother…that said “Best Grandmother”. Several of my friends use their mother’s ornaments on their trees as well, and one friend actually uses all her mom’s ornaments on a tree dedicated to her mother. Another friend has taken several small collectibles that belonged to her mother and used them for Christmas ornaments.

Some people put framed pictures of their loved ones on the holiday tMemory Photoable as a way of still having them join the family. I tried it for two minutes; it was too painful, but it may not be for others. In a similar fashion, others elect to display a picture of their loved one near their tree or other place of honor, with Christmas décor around it, and sometimes even a small wrapped box as a memorial gift.

Other families have also taken special items that belonged to their loved one, and given them as Christmas gifts to family members that first year, including a note about why the item was chosen for them. One friend gave a mixing bowl to her mother’s sister, with a note telling her how she remembered watching her mom make her sister’s favorite recipe in that bowl, and she wanted her to have it as a remembrance. What she hadn’t known, was that bowl had originally been given to her mother by that sister, as a birthday gift.

I have also talked to families who would write a brief letter to their loved one every year, tie it to a helium balloon, and release it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, as their gift to them.

Another family I know, whose mother was dying of cancer, recorded her reading “The Night Before Christmas” before she passed away, so that she could still continue her tradition of reading it to her grandchildren every year.

I have also h51oDJOG76fLeard of families asking friends and relatives to write a handwritten note with a memory of their loved one at the holiday season, along with a picture if they have one, and bring it to the holiday dinner. The notes are collected and placed in a basket to be read privately during the evening, or they can be read aloud for all to hear; personally I would handle it privately, as my voice still sometimes chokes when I talk about my mother, and it’s been nine years. The notes can later be made into a scrapbook or other memory book, which can be displayed each year as another special remembrance.

Many people advise grieving families to start entirely new traditions that will help ease the sadness, rather than try to do what you would normally have done when your loved one was still here. But that decision is entirely yours; there is no right or wrong way to survive holiday grief. However you choose to handle it is the right way for you, and it should be your decision.

I know it’s hard. But one thing I kept telling myself that first year, is that my mother would not have wanted us to mourn her, or be sad in any way. She would not have wanted us to do anything different just because she wasn’t around. So we chose to remember her and honor her in ways that fit her unique personality and character. And I truly believe she would have been pleased…except for the times I cried for her privately.

This year, however, will be a bit different. Because this year we will have our first grandchild, our granddaughter Rachel, who is named after my mother, celebrating with us. I cannot help but wish my mother were still here with us to see her great granddaughter, her namesake. I know how excited, and how proud she would be of her. But I also know she is celebrating Christmas in a way I can never imagine, and I know she is also watching us from heaven during those special moments the Lord allows. I know she is smiling and excited, and so very happy to see that her beloved granddaughter Ashley now has a daughter of her own.

However, the joy of our granddaughter still does not take away all of the pain of missing my mother. Because the loss is still there.

I’m sorry, Mom, but I’ll always miss you….Missing Mom Christmas

When Grief Steals Your Merry from Your Christmas

No matter how long our loved ones have been gone it seems we especially miss them at Christmas time. There are triggers everywhere which bring back memories to us of happier times, brighter times. A part of us longs for those happier days when we had those special people with this. And, oh, how we would so love to have them back with us, even for just an hour, to celebrate part of Christmas with us.

But what about those who lose their loved ones during the season? A friend of mine, whose story is told in my book, “Memories in a Daughter’s Heart”, lost her mother to a drunk driver just two days before Christmas. My friend was a newly married young woman looking forward to the best Christmas of her life. Instead, it became the worst.

Just a year ago during this holiday season two friends of ours suddenly lost their mothers within a 24 hour period. One of these friends’ mothers had only been sick for a few weeks. It appeared she had a stroke, was briefly hospitalized, and sent home. She had appeared to be somewhat recovering, and then took a turn for the worst, not being able to walk, feed herself, or see out of one eye.

Her condition deteriorated, and she was sent back to the hospital, unable to eat or drink without aspirating food into her lungs. Our friend and his wife, along with his father, went through a grueling week of stress and concern for his mother. Because she was unable to eat or drink, and her heart was quickly weakening, the decision was made to take her back to her own home with hospice care. She had only been at home for two days when she went home to be with the Lord. This woman and her husband had been married for 63 years, and the entire time she was in the hospital, her husband would not leave her side.

Our other friend had spent a great Saturday with her mother. They went shopping and were most likely finalizing family Christmas plans, and probably making arrangements for baking Christmas cookies for the annual church cookie exchange. When my friend left her mother that night she was fine. I can imagine in my mind them telling each other good night, and saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

But when my friend went to pick up her mother to take her to church the next morning, her mother was already gone. She had left sometime during the night to be with the Lord and her beloved husband of many years who had passed away several months before.

I can not in any way imagine how my friend felt when she knocked on the door, got no answer, and let herself in, calling out “Mom? I’m here. Are you ready?” And then finding her. I’m sure it was a total and devastating shock; something she will never, ever be able to put out of her mind. I cannot imagine the despair and helplessness she felt. How do you confront something like that?

And just this year, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, another good friend very unexpectedly lost her mother. She had talked to her on the phone one night, planned their weekend together, said their normal “good night, I love you’s”, and two days later, after my friend, as well as her mother’s friends, had been unable to reach her mother, Catherine received that dreaded phone call…her mom had been found unresponsive in her bedroom. She’d most likely passed away a few hours after Catherine had last told her “I love you.” Her mom hadn’t been sick; she hadn’t complained of any strange pains or ailments. We have no idea what caused her sudden demise, which left Catherine, her brother, and their families to try and put together the pieces and recover from a loss almost more devastating than losing their father several years ago had been. Because his death had been anticipated; their mother’s had not. None of them had in any way been prepared for this sudden event. But then again, are we every truly, TRULY prepared?

All of these families are very strong in their faith. But in these circumstances, no matter how strong, our spirits are shaken to the very core of our being, and as strong as our faith is, we scream out “WHY??” to the Lord. And during this Christmas season…”Why now???”

I have no answers. No one here does. Platitudes and statements like “It was her time”, “God wanted another angel”, “She’s in a better place”, “She’s with her husband and happy again” just don’t do it. We know all of that in our heads. But our hearts are shattered and crushed. Our spirits are destroyed. We don’t know how we’re going to be able to go on, and especially how we can get through this Christmas season. Because we aren’t happy or joyous. We’re miserable, devastated, and just don’t know how we’re going to get through the next day, let alone Christmas.

At times it seems we hear of more tragedies, more unexpected deaths, during the Christmas season than at other times. Or perhaps we just notice it more, because during this special season of joy and love, we want to dwell on the happiness, the joy and magic of the season, and only see the beauty and goodness that is supposed to be all around us. But when you’re hurting, when someone you dearly love is no longer here to help celebrate this special time with you, the tragedy and the grief are magnified, and finding the Merry in Christmas is almost impossible. You just want it to be over.

I cannot give you answers to make it better, because, as I said previously, I have none.

I can tell you that you will all survive. You will mourn. You will cry more tears than you realized you had inside of you. You will question God. Scream at Him. Perhaps even tell Him you don’t believe He’s even there any more. And He’s not surprised at any of these reactions. I had many of those same reactions. But He’s heard them all before. From lots of us. And He will continue to hear these cries from others in similar circumstances until we all join Him in eternity. Where we will have answers to all of our questions before we even ask them.

For my friends, I can only offer our love, our prayers, our shoulders to cry on, our arms to hug them, and our ears and hearts to listen as they pour out their grief.

For anyone who has lost a loved one at Christmas, it’s a grief that’s magnified even more because of the season. Everyone is supposed to be happy. Butchristmas-candles you’re not, and with good reason. Let me tell you, it’s ok to be sad, and it’s ok to cry; you’re not the only one in this situation. You may think you will never enjoy another Christmas, but you will. Time is a great healer, and with the Lord’s help, you will get through this.

You will make new traditions, and remembrances to honor your loved one. There will be new memories. It will be different, and uncomfortable, for the first year especially, and for several years to come. But the reason for the Christmas season will always remain the same. And because of that, we will one day be re-united with our loved ones for all of eternity. And eternity is so much longer than our stay here on earth.

Finding An Angel

For anyone who’s gone through it already, you know the pain of going through that first Christmas without your loved one is unlike almost anything else. It was bad enough when you lost him or her. You didn’t think it could get any worse. Well, it really can’t….until you lose another loved one. But going through a holiday like Christmas for the first time without that special person, when so many memories are tied into that holiday, well, it can be one of the most emotional times of that first year.

For me, there were a lot of moments during that first December without my mother, which brought not only a rush of memories, but buckets of tears and a lot of streaked makeup running down my face. Even when you finally start to get into the Christmas spirit a little bit, those memories sneak in and hit you where it hurts the most.

But somehow the Lord always gives us certain “divine appointments” with others in similar situations who also need to know they’re not alone, and He sends them right into our path to make each of us feel a bit better.

He certainly did that for me that first Christmas without my mom. Shopping that year was extremely difficult. There were so many happy faces, heading out to buy gifts for loved ones. I was missing my mother terribly, and the last thing I felt was happy. Although I’d always had trouble deciding what to buy for my mother, there were certain items I could always get her that I knew she’d like. And of course, in every store I went in that first year, there was something I started to pick up, thinking I’d get it for her. Then I’d remember, she isn’t here anymore, and it stayed on the shelf.

One evening when I was trying to shop, I overheard a lady in a gift shop talking to a friend on her cell phone about some of the Willow Tree angels she was thinking about buying. (I also collect them and had given several to my mother.) She’d made a comment to the store’s manager about how she could find the gifts she needed for her friends, but she just couldn’t get into Christmas this year. The Lord prompted me to speak up, and I said, “Neither can I.” She asked why, and I told her about my mom.

Then she told me her husband had died two months ago, about the same time as my mother, and how much she was missing him. We talked about how we each felt for several minutes, and in that time, I knew I was ministering to someone who needed comfort more than I did. She tearfully made a comment about coming in the store to look for angels, and I told her we’d both found one. Both of us cried and ended up hugging each other, like old friends. I guess the people in the store thought we were a bit crazy, but I really didn’t care.

We’d never seen each other before in our lives. Obviously we both needed to share our grief with someone we didn’t know, because Christmas is meant to be shared with loved ones more than any other holiday. Why I didn’t exchange information with her I don’t know. But I pray she has found her peace as well.

Willow_Tree_Angel

How do we make it through one of the most difficult holidays during our first year of grief? Unfortunately there are no easy answers, no right or wrong ways to survive the season. Even now, after nine years, when I stand in the kitchen making cookies, or planning Christmas dinner, or writing out a Christmas shopping list my mother’s name isn’t on anymore, or hearing “Little Drummer Boy” or “Silent Night”, it still brings back bittersweet memories, as well as a few tears.

May I never reach the point of not remembering.

And may I always find someone new to share a bit of Christmas hope and love with, just at the moment they need it the most.

When Holidays Hurt

Over the last month I’ve had three close friends lose their mothers. Two were expected, although it does not make the loss any less painful, but one was most definitely not expected. It was a total shock; unexpected, and without warning. And the lives of those left behind to mourn and grieve were forever and irreversibly changed.

Going on with everyday life after losing a loved one, parent, spouse, or even worse, a child, is one of the most difficult things to do. Reminders are everywhere, and those first days, weeks, months, are a constant reminder of what was, and what will never be again.

At this time of year, during the holiday season, it’s even worse.

That’s when holidays hurt. A lot.

We cannot help but remember back to the previous years, remember how we celebrated with our loved one, and in most cases not having any idea that it would be our last holiday with them.

That empty chair at the table is a painful reminder of what was lost. That missing face in family photos is very evident, a glaring hole in a canvas. Some families, at least that first year, set a place at the table for their loved one and put a picture of them there. Some will edit their holiday photos and insert their loved one’s picture in it somewhere.

For some, it helps. For others, it’s an even more painful reminder. Because their photos, along with our memories, are all that we have left of them. And in the first few weeks and months, those memories are almost as painful as the loss.

Fresh grief is the worst. And at the holiday season, it’s almost insurmountable.

If you haven’t experienced it, there is actually no way to really and truly understand the pain someone is feeling. It’s almost a physical ache, a knife in your stomach that you can’t pull out; a pain in your chest that overwhelms you.

Well-meaning friends try to make you feel better, but again, unless they’ve been through it, they honestly do not know the depth of your pain. All you can do is accept their condolences, and thank them for what they say, because they do mean well, and want to help. Yes, we know he or she is in a much better place, but right now, during this holiday season, we want them with us to share just one more day of memories!

To those of you who are wondering how to help your grieving friends at this time of year, I can offer several suggestions. Be sure to reach out to them, let them know you’re thinking about them. Offer to take them to lunch, or meet for a cup of coffee. If you haven’t been in their shoes, don’t be afraid to preface your conversation with something like, “I don’t know exactly how you’re feeling, and I can only imagine. If you want to talk, I’m here for you.” Remind them as well as show them you care. And make sure they’re not going to be alone, especially on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. Because those two days can seem to be two weeks long when you’re grieving.

The first holiday season is the roughest. I know. All too well.

When you’re grieving, holidays can really hurt.

But take heart…it does get easier. Time heals the emptiness and your pain will be eased. You will never forget them, but you will learn to manage your memories.

Be thankful you had them for the time you did. Be thankful you have your memories. Be thankful for the love you shared.

Hold the ones still with you close, and make as many memories as you can. Because you never know when you’ll need them.

God, Where Were You?

When my mother died before I could get there?

When my friend’s child was killed in an auto accident?

When I miscarried my baby?

When my husband/wife was dying from cancer?

When my child was born with a life altering, debilitating illness?

When my friend was abducted and brutally murdered?

When my husband left me for another woman, leaving me totally broke and homeless?

When my sister had surgery and became a paraplegic as a result?

When my best friend’s grandchild died from SIDS?

These are all good questions. Some I’ve asked. Some were asked by my friends.

The answers? Those are not up to me to even begin to try and answer. Because I’m not God. Only He knows the answers.

But in our most troubled times, times of great turmoil, unimaginable sorrow and pain, all we can do is cry out to the Lord for answers.

And sometimes there are none. There’s only a deafening silence. Which makes us think He isn’t listening to us. That He doesn’t care. And we suddenly feel we have absolutely no one whatsoever to turn to. And we descend into the deepest void we’ve ever been in.

Because we KNOW we’ll never recover. There’s truly no way to recover.

The good news is…we do recover. Slowly. Sometimes extremely slow. Sometimes it’s so slow we don’t realize we’re recovering.

But, we still ask, “God, where were you? And why didn’t you intervene and stop this??”

And still we have no answers.

We won’t have them until the day we meet Him face to face.

But we do know, although there are times we find it very difficult to keep believing and remembering, that God loves us. All of us. But God is not a master puppeteer who controls us all from above. He doesn’t pull our strings and make us do His bidding. He doesn’t force us to do things. He allows us to make our own choices, and our own mistakes.

Sometimes the choices we make impact other people in ways that affect them horribly. And sometimes things just happen. And we never know why.

But remember that deep void you found yourself in after that tragedy? You weren’t alone. The Lord was with you, comforting you, loving you, holding you, collecting your tears. He knew your pain, and yes, He could have stopped it. But at what cost to so many others? This is the hardest question of them all. Is He supposed to pick and choose from all our prayers and pick the ones He wants to answer because He loves us more than our neighbors?

I think not.

God does not give us trouble. That’s not who He is.

Our troubles come from life. From the actions of others around us. The Lord even told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Notice how He didn’t say, “I will save you from all your troubles so you won’t have any, and your entire life will be easy.”

But He did say, “Come to me, all you who are tired and weary, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) That’s faith, and hope, and love. A promise to be held in heavenly arms that give us comfort when we need it the most. “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you, and you will be comforted.” (Isaiah 66:13) And He does. If we only let Him.

Where was God when all those bad things happened? Right there. Beside you. Carrying you. And holding you. Helping you through the pain and sorrow.

And one day, you will be equipped to help someone else survive a similar and sometimes tragic event in their life. Because you’ll know how God pulled you through with the help of others around you.

And it will be your turn to do the same.

This is Amazing Grace…

This post was written by a very dear friend of mine, Linda Salzman, in memory of her beloved granddaughter, who passed into the arms of Jesus on November 16, 2011. It is long, but it is from her heart, and I encourage every one of you to read it.

 

“In celebration of the life of Jazlyn Grace Smith.

We only had her for 3 short months, but she forever changed us. You will both laugh and cry as you read these words, and it will be a bit lengthy. But it has to be to tell her story and ours. Our prayer is that through your tears and your smiles, you will be blessed and encouraged with how God walks us through those things we think we can never endure.

2016-11-15-22-16-42Jazlyn Grace Smith…. Butterfly Girl… Jazzy Jazz… Our Princess with the crooked smile… Here we are marking the 5th anniversary of the day that will be forever etched in our hearts…. The day we had to say “See You Later” to our beautiful little baby girl.

The morning came with no warning. No chance to say good bye.

Life suddenly changed. For your mom, who thought she was going into your room to wake you up to start the day, and ended up doing CPR instead. For your dad, who received the phone call that literally made him feel like his heart stopped; this could not possibly be true! For your brother Josh who was awake and getting ready for school, and who still struggles with the helplessness and pain he was feeling,

…and for her little brother Jayden who was too young to understand everything that was happening.

For all your aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents…for all the loving friends on both sides…life changed. Not only did it change, but it seemed to stop.

Phones were ringing, and news that sent us into shock and disbelief were spoken.

How could this be true? God would never allow such a thing to happen.

It had to be a mistake and everything would be alright.

But it was not a mistake. And nothing was alright.

As I write this post, the song “God is a Good, Good Father” is playing and the tears are streaming from my eyes. I remember how God walked us through those dark days when I struggled with wondering if He really was “a good, good Father.”

Being a Pastor somehow made it harder. Because I was being asked questions I had no answers for. Those questions were coming from our family, and that unexplainable place of grief. Not only did I have no answers, but my heart felt cold towards God.

That day my mind shut off, and I couldn’t seem to get a straight thought on how to pack to leave for Florida to be with my daughter and her family.

When I spoke to my daughter Stephanie on her way to the hospital in the ambulance and heard the shock and pain in her voice, and heard the wail of the sirens over her tears, it broke my heart in two… I couldn’t fix this. Her sister Jennifer called me, and I could not understand her words through her sobs.

My husband and I were in total shock and disbelief.

I vaguely remember being on my knees and screaming and pounding the floor.

My son Shaun and his wife Kaitlin were trying to comfort me, while in shock themselves.

Jazlyn’s grandmother Penny had called, and her voice sounded hollow with grief. Jazlyn’s grandfather Dave and her Aunts Kelly and Krysta and their husbands were all in the same place we were. Our other grandchildren as well were in total shock and disbelief. How do you digest the news that this beautiful 3 month old sweet baby girl; the one we had all the plans of making such memories with; of watching grow up; was gone?

We couldn’t.

SIDS comes suddenly and without warning.

The days following that phone call are still a blur at times.

The trip to Florida and all the phone calls in between took forever. My husband and I flew down there on the first plane we could catch, and my son Shaun and his wife drove. Stephanie called to say that police cars were lining her street when the family got home from the hospital. They had to separate them and ask their questions.

And I was told the detectives were so kind to them. Protocol had to be observed to make certain the cause of death.

That was the longest trip of my life. It seemed to take days.

I was so thankful for her family that could be there with her and Michael from the beginning.

Walking in the door was both a relief and heartbreaking.

Finally, we were there.

But as Stephanie ran towards me, and I grabbed her, and we sobbed together, and her husband Michael came and put his arms around us, I saw the grief and the pain in their eyes…I felt so helpless and so broken.

All I could seem to pray was, “God help us get through this.” But my prayers felt empty to me.

At one point, I felt compelled to go into Jazzy’s room and sit on her floor. I walked in and shut her door behind me and just sat there. I smelled her sweet baby smell in that room. I looked at her bassinet and saw her stuffed animals and toys. I picked up her pink blanket that Stephanie let me keep, and I buried my face in it and I sobbed.

Those kind of tears go beyond any I had ever cried before.

linda-and-jazzyI wanted to be strong for my daughter and her husband, but at that moment, sitting on Jazzy’s floor, with my face buried in her blanket, that is when it became real to me. The shock was wearing off. It was as if I had been given a sedative that was now wearing off, and in the place of shock and disbelief, came the deepest grief I have ever felt.

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t pray. All I could do was sob from the deepest part of my being.

Part of my mind was trying to say “get up and go back out with everyone before you’re missed,” but I could not move. I’m not sure how long I sat there. I do remember walking into the kitchen and trying to hide, and all of a sudden, Stephanie and Michael were in there with me, holding me and we all cried together.

I truly thought my heart would break into a thousand pieces.

The days following were almost more challenging.

When we had left to join the family for Florida, I thought I would be the speaker at her service. They did not have a church home in Florida yet, even though they had been looking for a while.

God’s grace came in the form of the amazing people and leaders from Freedom Destiny Church. My daughter’s ultrasound tech was a member there, and when she heard the news, she rallied her church family. And they began to come around us all with such love! Food was brought every day for the next two weeks or more. They called, and they visited. These strangers to our family became family, and they still are today.

The next few weeks were filled with calling the medical examiner’s office many times as they would not release her body until the autopsy was completed.

Finally, one day I called them and for lack of better words, I had a breakdown session on the phone.

We were unable to plan her service, or even see her, until they released her. And I told their office they were keeping us in a type of excruciating limbo.

The next day she was released by the medical examiner, and we were finally able to go to the funeral home.

That was so very hard, and as we walked through the front door, an assistant greeted us and we asked to see Jazlyn. He was very kind and pointed to our left, and there she was in a tiny casket. Stephanie ran to the casket and buried her face into Jazlyn’s and sobbed over and over…”My baby…my baby…!” She looked like so beautiful, and it seemed she was just sleeping.
kids
Michael was wonderful and tried to comfort Stephanie, but there was no way he could. He was so grieving himself, and I could see the look of helplessness on his face.

Jayden didn’t understand. He kept calling her name, and wanting to kiss her.

We all stood there around her casket. It was like experiencing those first hours all over again.

The only thing was, there was no shock now. We knew it was real.

As we left to go home, we all felt like we were somehow leaving her there. Alone.

Stephanie and Michael made the decision to have family pictures taken with her. Some people may not understand that, and it was hard to do, but now that we have those photos, we would not trade doing them for anything. Those are precious pictures, and they always will be.

Those next days were filled with how to possibly plan her service.

Freedom Destiny Church so surrounded our entire family and helped us navigate through the difficult planning and details that had to be made.

Stephanie had wanted to get something very nice and special to wear to her daughter’s funeral, which meant she had to go to the mall and pick something out.

As we walked towards the doors of the mall entrance she said to me, “I’m going to pass out. I can’t do this.” And I had to be firm with her and force her to keep going.

I knew on the day of Jazlyn’s service, it would be so important for her to look beautiful, and so we pushed ahead. Her sister wanted me to take Stephanie home, but I knew in my heart how important this was.

The first store we stopped in had exactly what she needed, and I know that was God.

As we were all in the dressing room helping her, she broke down and cried and the sounds that came out of her could be heard by everyone in the dressing room area. But we got through it, and finally left the mall.

The day of Jazlyn’s service came, and her parents dressed up and looked so wonderful; it may sound strange, but that somehow brought them a sense of comfort.

Her cousin Bri and her Uncle Robert and Aunt Jen had put together a beautiful video tribute to her.  It was so very sweet and made us cry, but it also made us smile.

Memories were spoken and shared. Her Grandmother Penny wrote a special poem, and I shared some things that were on my heart.

The funeral home director said he had never seen such a sweet service for a baby that was so well done in all his years there. Freedom Destiny Church did a beautiful reception afterwards for her, and they were there at her service to speak and to love on all of us. What a tremendous blessing and comfort that was.

As the service concluded and we walked outside into the sunshine, the sight of the pall bearers carrying that tiny white casket to the graveside was so surreal. It felt like watching a movie that wasn’t really happening.

A few nights later we all went to the cemetery. It was Thanksgiving night, and after we ate dinner, or shall we say went through the motions of eating, we all knew we had to go to the cemetery. Our family knows that only her body was put in that grave, and she is with Jesus, but we were compelled to go. It brought us a sense of somehow being close to her. As the family gathered around her grave, I decided to take the smaller children over on the sidewalk to try and keep them a little occupied. And all of a sudden I looked up and saw the family gathered around the tiny grave with the lights from our cars shining on that gravesite. And as the car lights lit up the area where they were standing and shined on the spot she was buried, it was such a feeling of “this just can’t be true!” that flooded my heart.

It didn’t seem possible, and I asked God, “How did we ever get here?”

When I walked back over to them, Michael asked Jayden, who was still just a toddler, “Where is Sissy?”

image4Jayden looked straight up into the night sky that was filled with beautiful stars and pointed his finger towards Heaven. The look on his face was a look you have when you see someone you know, and I believe God let him see her.

That Sunday we went to church for the very first time since Jazlyn died, and I didn’t want to be there. I was struggling so much with my faith.

I felt cold inside, and I told God I didn’t want to be there. My emotions scared me. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and he said, “Linda, when praise becomes a sacrifice.” All of a sudden, I felt as though my body was turned to face to my left, and as that happened, I looked and saw my daughter Stephanie and my son in law Michael, holding hands, and their other hands were lifted straight up to God, and with tears streaming down their faces, they were praising Him.

I tapped Stephanie on the shoulder, and when she looked at me, it was a look filled with such pain and agony. And yet I saw a peace on her face. I told her I wanted to be like her when I grew up.

The following days found us all on autopilot and stumbling to find our way.

And yet, we prayed and we held onto God as best as we could.

When we had to leave to return home, it was so very hard. Saying good bye to Stephanie and Michael and the kids, and her sister Jennifer and her family, was emotionally almost impossible. Shaun and Kaitlin had had to leave before us to return to work, and that was so difficult for them as well.

Our family was drained in every way possible. We were broken. I would like to say that we were so filled with faith, but that would not be the truth. It shook us to our very core.

gravesiteIt was at our lowest point, after Jazzy’s funeral, and when things quiet down and the world keeps going on, and you have to go through the motions of life once again, that some amazing things began to happen.

We had just launched Lions Heart Ministries three days before Jazzy died, Stephanie and Jennifer came that day to surprise me. Little did we know how soon life would change.

That first Lions Heart meeting we had after returning home was bittersweet.

As I shared our story, which was becoming a testimony without my knowing it, many were being encouraged and blessed by hearing how God had kept us, and how He was healing our hearts in the midst of such pain. They were relating it in their own lives, and some that had lost children of their own were getting healed by hearing our story. They were relating in different ways to feelings of helplessness in the face of agonizing trials, and they were being released from the guilt of having felt like their faith was but a shred, and of being angry at God and not understanding “why?” We had so many people share with us about extreme things they had walked through, and how they, too, had struggled with their faith. They shared with us that they felt safe with us. And God was beginning the healing process in us.

About a month after we returned home, God gave me a vision of her. She was older, and she had flowing long blonde hair like her mother’s. She was running through a field of flowers, and her face was radiant.

A few days later, I told Stephanie about the vision, and she had been given the exact same one! [And I had it, too.] Then I read a post Shaun had written on Facebook about her, and it described the vision.

My granddaughter Kaitlin went to her Mother and said, “Mommy, if you look into the light, you can see Jazlyn. She is playing with her dolls.”

My grandson Jayden would just start laughing for no reason as though he were seeing someone.

My daughter Jennifer was having butterflies visit on a daily basis.

Stephanie and Michael told a story about a nurse in the ER that had taken Stephanie by the hand and led her over to the bed as they were working on Jazlyn; and put their two hands together.

Michael said he remembered walking over to the bed, but there was no nurse there. We know it was an Angel.

Butterflies would land on us and not move. That may not sound like such a big deal to some, but we knew it was God comforting us.

And more and more people were sharing how our story was such an encouragement to them to keep on going, no matter what they were going through.

Was it easy? No. The days were filled with memories, and tears still flowed for no reason at all, and very often.

Stephanie and Michael struggled so much with thoughts of… “What could I have done different that night…?” The truth is – nothing. There is nothing anyone could have done different.

Losing our precious Jazlyn caused us to begin to press into God.

You see, we know that one day we will spend eternity with our Butterfly Girl.

And we began more and more to share her story and the message of salvation.

steph-and-mikeStephanie and Michael were blessed in the next few years with two more children. Jayce, who is such a sweet boy of almost four years old. And Journee Grace who has her big sister’s middle name. She is 19 months old and quite a little character.

Jazlyn has two more cousins added to the family now, Adelyn and Noah. Precious little ones and all her cousins are growing up so fast!

It is our hearts’ desire to start a SIDS foundation and help other families who will walk this way, not only as a result of SIDS, but in any area.

Yes, life has gone on. It must. But we were forever changed by our beautiful blue eyed Princess. We can laugh now with memories of her, but we still cry as well.

We wonder what she would have been like. There will always be an ache in our hearts and a missing piece.

But we will testify to the goodness of God! Because we would not have traded one moment of those 3 months we had with her for anything in the world!

She is playing at the feet of Jesus and waiting for us to one day join her.

Our family would like to thank all our friends who have walked with us on this journey! To thank you for your prayers and your love! To thank you for knowing you did not have to say a word, but just love us. Thank you Jaelyn Steverson for the Angel you are, and the love you have shown keeping her graveside watched over and full of flowers!

Thank you to all our extended family and to Freedom Destiny Church!

You were all love in action!

And thank you to Jesus! Our Heavenly Father.

In the times we could never understand, You carried us in Your arms. You knew where we were and what we were going through. You showed us so many signs along the road of Your never- ending love! Thank you Jesus that we are guaranteed to spend eternity together!

And I want to say “Thank You” to our family. We are not perfect, not even close, but I love all of you with all my heart.

Stephanie and Michael, I know Jazlyn is proud that you are her parents. God picked you both just for her. He gave you a special treasure, and you watched over her well!

Josh, you are the oldest, and memories are hard, but you were a great big brother!

There is so much more to her story, but that will be written later.

As this closes, I go back to the title. This is amazing grace. This is unfailing love…

2016-11-15-08-01-06We pray our story has encouraged you to keep walking through whatever storms that may come your way. Knowing that is not the end of your story, just like it isn’t the end of hers. For truly, we are here but for a short time; we are just passing through.

Heaven is our home but we are here to make a difference. Thank you Jazlyn Grace Smith for making a difference in all our lives.

Always and forever. To the moon and back…”

 

 

Blessings and prayers to this entire family! I love you all so much!
Deborah