March 19, 2018
During a recent visit with my daughter, we were talking about the traveling I love to do, both in Montana and across the United States as well as out of the country. I was sharing the great experiences my brother and I had with a People to People Program visit to Cuba. Among those experiences were several times when we got to talk extensively with people in Habana and Cienfuegos including our local tour guides.
Among many benefits of such interaction was the major benefit of realizing how much we have in common in life experiences, both good and bad. In talking with my daughter, I said .that I was aware now that my years of traveling as well as living in other states had subtly prepared me to know that I am not alone.
My book coming out in September deals with grief and depression and shares some ideas for coping and healing through walking with Jesus, the Light of the World. One concept related to light is that of the candelabra, where the light is intensified when we all shine together. At the same time, we need to be aware of all the grief that is shared.
When our son died, many repeated the idea that parents are not meant to bury their children, that “normal” involves the other way around. Although we acknowledge that truth, we also learned another truth: that the world is full of parents who have buried children, from babies through older adults.
Does such knowledge make the hurt less poignant? No. Does such knowledge mean that in feeling for others we can share the hurt and help each other to heal? Definitely. Reaching out means opening our arms and eyes, moving the focus from miring in self-involvement to empathy and compassion.
God shows us through Jesus that empathy and compassion result in miracles, including miraculous healing for others and for ourselves, light in the darkness through His Light.
March 14, 2018
My apologies for not having a new blog entry on Monday as promised, but I had a reason. I wanted to blog today because as of today I am 70 years old! I am staggering under the realization that the whole decade of my 60’s has passed by! Where did that go?
But the reason for making this a blog post is to count my blessings, something I always do on a birthday. My book exhorts people to look at the future, and of course birthday wishes fit into that category. But beyond wishes, gratitude for past and present is also important.
Do I realize that not everyone has a past to be grateful for? Of course, and my compassion goes out to those who deal with difficult presents and pasts that haunt you. Do I also realize that not everything in my past is a blessing? Of course. But I believe in the part of the Bible which tells us to give thanks to God in ALL things.
That’s a difficult concept. But we have to understand that even though God does not bring calamity and trouble upon us, He is still in charge, still with us, and He can guide us to understand that even that difficult things make us stronger and shape our faith.
So, what blessings can I share? First, I grew up in a family of faith. Regular church attendance and Sunday School were an unquestioned part of my youth. In fact, my dad was the Sunday School Superintendent and my mom was a teacher – and my first opportunity to play the piano for accompaniment happened when I was 12 and accompanied “I Love to Tell the Story” for the main session. And among my many blessings at church were some amazing pastors who implanted solid ideas about God and Jesus in my heart and mind until Confirmation and beyond.
Second, I grew up in a household where education, music, the outdoors, flowers and gardening, and individual achievement were valued. Those things have stayed with me strongly, and the additional blessings of graduate school and a degree followed by writing which led to my published book. Church attendance, music, and the outdoors continue to be strong parts of my life.
Last but definitely not least, my marriage and my relationships with my children, other relatives, and friends are blessings definitely sent by God. Praise Him! – today and always!
March 5, 2018
Last week I shared with you some preliminary ideas about organ donation, and this week I want to continue with that topic. Of course, organ donation is crucial for people who are waiting for life-saving transplants like major organs or life-improving transplants like vertebrae that can relieve pain or skin that can promote healing. For that reason alone, it is worth everyone’s consideration.
However, organ donation is also one of the many possibilities for positive ways that a loved one’s life can continue to make a difference in the world. If you know that in small to large ways your loved one is contributing to the quality of others’ lives, the knowledge can bring great comfort. For our family, it has helped to keep the grief at bay.
We have had the privilege of meeting the young man who received our son Josh’s heart, of listening to that heart through a stethoscope. My reaction to that sound was to realize that I first heard that heartbeat while our baby was in my womb, long before his birth. The fact that this heart now gives life to another man who has a daughter gives affirmation of the cycle of life which negates some of the sting of death.
Again, the process is not easy. However, transplant agencies like LifeCenter Northwest have advocates who work with donor families to help them through the process. People like us become part of a team which includes not only representatives from the agency but also hospital personnel, and they can help in so many ways.
To give you an example, while we were waiting for all this to happen, I wanted to write our son’s obituary. The hospital, in collaboration with the transplant team, provided me with a room, a computer, and even an flash drive to complete and save the document. At the time, that was a great convenience and comfort for me.
What a gift to realize that not only has someone’s life made a difference but also someone’s death has made a difference, too.
FEBRUARY 26, 2018
Because our family had such a major experience with organ donation, I want to share some thoughts about that commitment and process. You should know that I am an advocate for LifeCenter Northwest, the organ donation center for our part of the country, and have written articles, given presentations, and appeared on TV for this cause.
Organ donation is not easy. I sincerely believe that everyone should consider signing up to be a donor, either for all organs or for eyes specifically. I hope that everyone reading this column will consider signing up.
What are you signing up for? Because heart transplants and kidney transplants are often in the news, people tend to view organ donation as something involving the major organs. Of course, the major organs are involved. Our son’s body became a source of a new heart, new lungs, new liver, new pancreas, and new kidneys for six people.
However, you need to know that over 100 people actually benefited from his body parts, way beyond just major organs. Two people were saved from amputations because of his veins, for example. Everything from vertebrae to tendons to muscle tissue to skin to eye corneas and so much more was harvested and stored to help people in operations of all kinds.
If donation is easy to sign up for and so beneficial, why did I start by saying it is not easy? This is a major commitment which requires consent to dismemberment of a body, leaving cremation as the logical end. Furthermore, it is a commitment which involves time because the hospital crew and transplant crew have to work together for several days to ready the body for removal of organs and other parts and to ready the patients on the other end for transplants which must happen immediately and provide for storage of the parts which can be used later.
I will continue with this topic next week, but I want you to consider the necessity of thought and commitment in this process.
FEBRUARY 19, 2018
Today is Presidents’ Day, one of those artificial Monday “holidays” which replaced Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays and ended up somewhere in between.
I wish that school kids could study Washington and Lincoln in the in-depth way students studied them when I was in school. They – and all of us – could learn something about true leadership as well as the ability to deal with challenges and grief. For the record, they were both God-fearing men who prayed in adversity and saw God’s hand in the destiny of both our country and our people.
For purposes of the study of coping with grief, let’s look at two specific situations in the lives of these great Presidents. First, the winter that George Washington spent at Valley Forge was an exercise in adversity and patience. Washington ached for his soldiers dealing with snow and cold and lack of adequate warmth and provisions, and his grief over their pain was tangible.
But Washington knew that if they could get through this time, they could be victorious and see the implementation of the dream which would become the United States. The fact that he held them together and saw it through is a testimony to endurance in the face of hardship, an endurance which would hold together the highly diverse group of men who would come up with the Constitution and establish the country.
Second, let’s join Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. Of course, we know the “Address” -- or should – but do we realize the pain behind those words? Lincoln knew great grief in his personal life, but on November 19, 1863, his grief was for fallen soldiers and a nation anything but united at that point. Yet his speech expresses hope.
Where do grief and pain lead us? Do we mire into the despair, or do we reach for handholds and hope? Two of our greatest Presidents remind us that forward-looking people can find the hope and share it with others for outcomes which overcome the darkness.
FEBRUARY 14, 2018
This blog will mostly be devoted to subjects and insights related to grief, healing, religious belief, organ donation, and relationships.
But today is Valentine’s Day – obviously a relationship day -- and I want to introduce you to a very special man and share what he means as far as my life, my thoughts, and this blog are concerned.
My husband Doug is an old-fashioned cowboy who values not only horses and Montana’s wide open spaces but also integrity and honesty. He is honest about everything, and that includes love. He has been strong and steady throughout our relationship, someone I have always been able to rely on. I call him my “rock.”
When our son died tragically, Doug was in extreme pain and still is. But he handled grief in the way he has always handled things, with directness and awareness of everything and everyone around him. He can ride our son’s horse and drive our son’s pickup and feel close to him surrounded by things they both understood and valued.
Maybe that seems simplistic, but it works. And it brings me to reflect on the fact that sometimes we make experiences and emotions far more complicated than they need to be. Miring ourselves in angst does not help with healing. No one can escape some contemplation when hurting, but we can remind ourselves to focus on the important things and escape some of the extraneous details.
My wish for every reader is that you can deal with Valentine’s Day and the rest of life with some of those simple cowboy values that Doug embodies. Understanding what we are feeling, accepting that, and moving on can be so valuable. Add some time in nature, enjoying the beauty around us and seeing God’s hand in creation and sustaining Love – and life can be so good.
I just want to continue to share ideas about grief and life with people who long as I do for comfort and understanding.