Ambushed

It’s Sunday night. I’m sitting at my kitchen table because my daughter asked me to sit with her while she does her homework. Aside from the fact that I just want to go to bed, I don’t mind. The truth is, I cherish these moments more and more. The reality that I only have a couple more years with her living at home is not lost on me. So, I sit. She’s writing out flash cards for Spanish. She explains everything she’s doing as she goes along. Half talking to me, half to herself. I smile.

Truth be told, it’s the first real smile of the day. It’s just been a “blah” day. One of those “I’m just not feeling it” kind of days. Couldn’t really place my finger on it till later this evening. Then it hit me. I’d been ambushed.

It’s funny really. I hear the word “ambush” and my mind goes back to my military days. Whether it be scouting the perfect spot for an ambush, or reacting to contact while getting ambushed. The nice part about that was, each of those options had specific tasks to execute. We had practiced enough that we knew exactly what to do. For the most part, it was second nature. Muscle memory. We just did it without thinking. We identified the situation, executed the necessary tasks, then conducted our after-action review. Then we moved on. No sweat.

Today, was not that kind of ambush. Today, the ambush was executed flawlessly by the enemy. Today, the only thing left to do was begin the lengthy process of picking up the pieces.

It’s been a little over five years since Christina got her wings. I don’t feel like I actively grieve her so much anymore. Instead, I try to use what I’ve learned over the last five years to help others as they walk through their own valley. This has taken several forms, but the more visible form has been teaching a class called GriefShare. I’ve done it for several years now and have seen it help many people. If you’re currently grieving, I highly recommend the program. It’s not like any program I’ve ever tried, and I don’t like “group stuff.” You can find a group at www.griefshare.org

Well, these last few months have been quite the roller coaster ride. My favorite ride being the park bench, you can imagine how this has worn on me. So much has been happening and so much has not been happening (at least not how I normally would like it to happen). It’s really taken its toll. I didn’t realize just how much until today, when grief ambushed me.

When I moved to Colorado (and to a new church), I decided that I would sit through the 13-week program again as a participant, before jumping back into a leadership role. It’s been great to see the unique way the program has been facilitated and I really like the change from what I’m used to.

As I sit in the GriefShare class, I naturally look around at the others in the room. Each one in a different place with their grief. There are a few couples in the room, all of whom had one thing in common. They were touching each other. Holding hands. Arms around each other. A hand on a knee. At one point, we even talked about the power of touch. It was then that I realized what was happening. But it was already too late. There was no “react to contact” maneuver that would overcome this ambush.

All the memories started to flood back as if a dam that had burst. I realized what these last few months had been missing. Her touch. Her encouraging words. The light in her eyes when something good happened. Her arms on my shoulders, as she gazed into my eyes and told me everything would be alright, when something didn’t go the way we’d hoped. All those little things she did to make sure that I was in peak fighting condition for whatever life wanted to throw at us. I miss them. I miss her.

I sat there quietly as the attack continued. Praying for the time to end or for something to come up that would force me to leave. The weight of the grief pushing down on me like a full-grown man on my shoulders. I don’t think I could have pushed myself up if I tried. The meeting seems to drag. I do my best to participate where I can. But I’m really, not feeling it tonight. My daughter texts me to let me know that the youth group has let out. I saw this as my opportunity and after the next break I politely excused myself. I met my kids in the lobby of the church and we quickly walked to the car.

It was still early and we hadn’t had dinner. We all went back and forth about where to eat before finally settling on a local diner. The food is decent and the price is right, so I wasn’t complaining. We talked about school and getting into a more structured schedule. All the while I just wanted to go home and get to bed. Knowing, of course, it wouldn’t happen. The kids still had homework to do and I likely wouldn’t go to sleep even if I could (but that’s a whole other story).

Grief is not a stranger for me. I’ve seen it before. I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on it. But then a day like today happens, and I realize that while I’ve been studying the tactics that grief uses on me, grief has also been studying my “react to contact” drills. Today, it knew the plays I had ready, and defeated them one by one.  Today, I was forced to retreat. Today, grief won the battle. But today, is not the end. I will regroup and consult higher authority. My troops and I will rest up, and tomorrow, I will regain the ground that was lost.I Am The Storm

“Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.” (Psalm 16:1)

If you’ve gone through the process of grief, then you’ve likely experienced an ambush before. How have you dealt with them in the past? What was the trigger? How do you prep yourself for a future ambush?  Feel free to share your experience. Your story may just help someone else.

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Happy Anniversary!

FullSizeRender 7“Their lives have been blessed by their love for each other and by their faith in the Lord. Christina Marie Nichols and Stephen James Cilento together with their parents invite you to witness the vows that will join them as one on Friday, the thirtieth of April nineteen hundred and ninety-nine at half past seven in the evening. Baltimore First Church of the Nazarene 2750 Rogers Avenue Ellicott City, Maryland.”

My dearest Christina. It’s been eighteen years since we stood at the front of the sanctuary of Baltimore First Church of the Nazarene and pledged out lives to each other. It’s hard to believe that you’ve been gone for five of them.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. As I sit here and peruse our wedding album, I’m overwhelmed with memories. I smiled as I saw the pictures of our rehearsal. I was wearing my cowboy boots. I chuckle now because I know how much you disliked them. You’re probably shaking your head and rolling your eyes now because, since you’ve been gone, I wear them all the time. I sang “You are my sunshine” as we were supposed to be leaving for dinner. You smiled and rolled your eyes. The world saw “ugh, really?” But I saw “I love you.”

FullSizeRenderWe went to Old Country Buffet for our rehearsal dinner. We used to go there with friends every Sunday after church. I cringe now and wonder “why did we do that?” I remember it being more of a hassle than a good time. But we managed to salvage the evening and enjoy ourselves.

FullSizeRender 2I was a nervous wreck on the day of our wedding. I had gotten a phone call that morning from the limousine company saying they wouldn’t be able to pick us up afterwards. I had to call in a favor to make sure we had transportation to our hotel.

When I got to the church, I had no idea what was supposed to be happening. Didn’t know which room I would be using to change. I think I ran around the church three or four times looking for someone who knew what was going on. Never did find anyone, so I just picked a room and gathered my wedding party there. My Mom arrived shortly after I changed and made sure she was there to put my boutonniere on my lapel.

FullSizeRender 3So many memories from that day. None of which compared to the moment the doors opened in the sanctuary and I saw you standing there with your Dad. You were so beautiful. My heart stopped and I couldn’t breathe. It was happening. We were about to say, “I do.”

FullSizeRender 8As you walked down the aisle I could feel my heart beating faster and faster. I couldn’t take my eyes off you. I was the luckiest man in the world.  We kept our eyes locked on each other. You had a huge smile on your face. I’m sure I did too. We had several conversations during the ceremony. I still wonder if anyone saw us talking to each other. I tried to put your ring on the wrong hand. Thought the pastor forgot to give me permission to “kiss the bride.” The whole time you kept reassuring me and smiling at me. Telling me to stop fussing. Sigh. I remember it all like it was yesterday.

On that day, I fully expected to be spending this anniversary next to you. But here I sit, eighteen years later. Alone in our living room. Tears running down my face. Remembering what it was like to have you next to me. To hold your hand. To feel your body leaning into mine. Your eyes gazing at me. I would likely be stealing a kiss at this very moment. I miss you so much Christina. I miss being, “us.”

FullSizeRender 4The kids and I will do something to celebrate. But it will never be the same without you here. Enjoy our day in heaven. Don’t worry about me. The kids will work their magic and cheer me up. I’ll be greeted with hugs in the morning, and we’ll do as we always do. Smile, blow you a kiss, and keep moving forward. Give Jesus a hug for me, and I’ll give the kids a hug for you. I love you Christina. And knowing what I know now, I would still have said “I do” eighteen years ago. Happy Anniversary.

The “Mom Switch”

Natural Bridge

Let me start this by saying, I’m a guy. It is what it is. It’s how God made me. I like manly things. It’s easy for me to be rough. I wrestle with the kids, and win – most of the time. If you come to me with a problem, my instinct is to try to fix it. I’m better at eating than I am at cooking. Cleaning doesn’t come naturally to me, and when my daughter mentions the word “boys” I instinctively reach for my shotgun. I am who I am. It’s how God made me.

Because I’m a guy, there are certain things that seem to come natural to me. For example, I’ve been told that I’m a pretty good Dad. I’m Not bragging. It’s just what I’ve been told. Conversely, there are certain things that do not come natural to me. Like, for example, being a mom. That’s why God gave me a wife – even if just for a little while.

My wife was my perfect match. She was awesome at everything I wasn’t, and if she couldn’t do it then I probably could. This “yin & yang” relationship applied to most everything. Especially parenting. She was a great mom, all the way up to the day she passed. She took her last breath while holding the kids hands.

My wife had an amazing amount of patience with the kids. She loved them, and was able to connect with them on a completely different level than I. Whether it was helping them with homework, comforting them when they got hurt or trying to imagine “the perfect wedding,” she was always there, ready to make them feel special. I, on the other hand, was known by all as “the Drill Sergeant.” You can probably imagine how I got that nickname, and the difference between my wife’s relationship with the children and mine.

I find it amazing how God plans things. He brought my wife and I together for a reason. We were a perfect fit. We went together like peas & carrots. She was the chocolate in my vanilla, the sugar in my coffee. She made everything – better.

Mark 10:6-8 (NIV) states “But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

It all makes sense, especially when you get to look at it retrospectively. I have the benefit of having experienced what it’s like when “the two become one flesh.” It just works. There are certain traits that men and women have that the other does not. Women are just naturally more nurturing than men. That’s why when we get hurt, we naturally want Mom. On the other hand, men were built more for battling and protecting. It’s what we’re good at and requires a thicker, less sensitive side. We somehow aren’t bothered when the kids start crying after they fall down. Our natural response is to say something to the effect of “suck it up and drive on”, while Mom bends over to kiss the booboo and “make them feel better” – ugh, gag me please!

So if we are so much better together, then what are we supposed to do when we suddenly find ourselves without our “other half.” Or, in my case, my “better half.”

Study after study has shown that when a person loses the use of one of their senses (vision, hearing, etc.), the other senses become enhanced to pick up where the other can no longer contribute. For example, if someone loses their vision, then typically their hearing becomes enhanced. It’s a body’s natural response to the loss of the other sense.

I would argue that the same applies when we lose our “other half”. When Dad now has to play the part of Mom, or vice versa. It doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it takes a lot of practice, prayer and patience. But eventually, we develop that sense. The ability to take a step back and ask ourselves “what does the situation need at this moment? A mom? Or a dad?” And in my case, it lets me know when to throw – the “Mom Switch.”

Being a Mom is totally different from being a Dad. It’s not easy as a Dad trying to “play Mom.” For starters, there’s no instruction manual. I looked. There really isn’t one. So the best I could do was try to remember what my wife would have done in circumstances needing a Mom rather than a Dad. In these times, I usually ask myself “what would she have done” and then try to picture her sitting there doing what she did best: being a Mom. Then, I throw the Mom switch and go to work.

There are several circumstances where I find myself playing mom. My kids tell me that after four years of practice, I’ve gotten a lot better at it. I on the other hand, still feel inadequate as a mom, and much more comfortable in my role as a Dad. That being said, I do feel that I’ve won a few victories in my role as “Mr. Mom.”

When my wife was alive, we did a great job of tag teaming when it came to Alexys and the topic of boys. She would sit down and talk about how great it is to be in love and how wonderful the wedding day would be. They would look at wedding dresses and get all gushy and weepy. It was sickening to watch;but as long as they didn’t say anything about me sitting there with a shotgun in my lap, I was okay with it.

So, how do I tackle this situation now as a dad playing mom? Well, I can assure you that I haven’t discussed a wedding day or dress. We haven’t gushed or gotten weepy over anyone who just happened to be “the cutest guy ever!”

What I was able to do was put the shotgun away and force myself to come to the understanding that my little girl won’t be little forever. One day (later rather than sooner) she will find a guy that she wants to “go out” with. When this happens, she’s going to tell someone who will likely give her advice. I wanted that person to be me. So I had to throw the Mom switch, even if only halfway. And that meant making myself available for “boy talk.” We do this often, fortunately. I don’t like to brag about much, but I think most would agree that a daughter talking to her Father about boys is a pretty big win.

Just to be fair, I’m still a dad. I can be quite insensitive at times. Not intentionally of course. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just a little slow to throw the Mom Switch sometimes. That’s all. I mean, the fact that I take pleasure in watching Andrew squirm for a couple seconds before blowing on the scraped up knee I just poured peroxide on doesn’t make me a bad person. Does it?

Okay, all kidding aside. This is a real obstacle. My wife was quite good at recognizing the difference between crocodile tears and real tears. She had a sense about her that would tell her when the kids needed comforting as apposed to a lesson in tough love. It’s this part that I seem to have the hardest time with. When the tears start flowing, I instinctively think, “Really? Why are you crying?” It’s in times like this that I have to take that step back and decide if they need dad? Or a mom? Then decide if it’s time to throw the Mom Switch, or sit back and enjoy the show.

God gave us all kinds of senses. Those senses all have a purpose. They’re all responsible for their own things. So, too, He made men & women, moms and dads,both with their own strengths. Nobody ever said that life was going to be peaches and cream. There’s no expectation of perfection or trouble-free living. It’s life. Things happen. The questions is, what do we do when problems find us? Do we curl up in a fetal position and wallow in self pity? Or throw the Mom switch and get to work?

I choose to throw the Mom Switch and get to work.

Hindsight

It’s a topic for small gatherings. For fun discussion. Something we talk about when we’re bored. It’s a question we all have probably asked, or been asked at some point in our life. “Knowing what you know now, if you could go back and change one thing or do one thing differently, what would it be?” It’s a pretty deep question actually—one that allows us to think about our past, and the decisions we’ve made, good, or bad (usually bad). It’s kind of fun to think about all the things we could have done–what the possible outcomes would have been, how life would be different now. Of course, then reality hits, we all laugh a bit, and then change the subject. Sound familiar?

I used to think this question was ridiculous. Because I can usually link a pretty valuable lesson that I learned from the decision in question. A lesson that shaped who I am today. But then something happened that changed my opinion. Not totally of course. But I found something that I would change if given the chance. I don’t want to call it a regret, but I would definitely do it differently, if I could.

It was the evening of August 4, 2012. It had been a long day–a very long day. Christina was in bed and there were about eight or ten people in the room chatting with her, including me. At one point, she sat up in bed and said, “I want some ice cream.” Everyone jumped up to get it. I think my mother was closest to the door and ultimately got it for her.

When she came back to the bedroom, she had a full bowl of Chrisina’s favorite–Chocolate/Vanilla twirl. Christina held the bowl and let the ice cream soften a bit. At one point our pastor looked at the ice cream and said “Wow, that ice cream looks really good.” Christina looked up at the pastor, squinted her eyes in a feigned glare and said, “You get your own bowl.” The room erupted in laughter and the slightest grin crept onto Christina’s face. In a time when we were all in agony over the prospect of losing her, she was still able to bring joy to everyone, and lighten the mood a little.

We all talked for a bit more, and then I called it a night. Christina was doing her best to remain strong for everyone that was there. But you could tell her strength was waning.

People were slowly starting to leave, and I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. I knew Christina would soon be back to sleep, so I said “good night” to her, kissed her, and let myself succumb to the sleep that so desperately called to me.

That’s it. That’s the moment that, if given the chance, I would change. See, that was the last time I saw Christina awake. That was the last time I kissed her and got a reaction from her. It was the last time I got to converse with her. It was the last time I heard her sweet voice.

When I woke up the next morning, Christina was asleep. Her breathing pattern had changed. She was taking about 5 or 6 breaths a minute. I knew at this moment that she would never wake up again. And she never did. I laid there with her for the remainder of her life. At about 1:20 pm, while she was surrounded by family, wrapped in my arms, and holding each of our children’s hands, Christina took her last breath on this earth.

I tell people that I have no regrets. Christina and I had a lively marriage. We fought like cats and dogs. We disagreed on a lot of things. We hurt each other, said things we shouldn’t have said. We also had wonderful times. We took trips. We moved across the country. We have two beautiful children. We built a house together. But more than any of that, we loved each other unconditionally. No matter what happened, we both knew that we would be there for each other. Leaving never crossed our minds. We were best friends. I miss her dearly. Every day.

So what is it? What would I have done differently on that night? Well, if I had it to do over again, I would have fixed a pot of coffee, and stayed up all night talking with her. Listening to her. Looking at her. Holding her hand. Rubbing her feet. Whatever. Just being with her.

See, even when we are caring for someone who is on the brink of death, we find ourselves getting into a routine. That routine tends to give us blinders to the cold reality of our situation. I went to bed that night fully expecting to see Christina the next day, fully expecting to fix her breakfast, to help her get cleaned up, to give her a hug and a kiss good morning. I expected to have that next day with her. It was the routine.

I wonder how much our daily routine blinds us to the reality of life. How many of us went to bed tonight expecting to see our loved ones in the morning? How many of us leave for work in the morning expecting to see our loved ones when we get home? How many of us say mean and cruel things, expecting to have the chance to say we’re sorry? How many of us will one day say “I wish I had fixed a pot of coffee so that I could just be with her a little while longer”?

The bottom line is that we will all make mistakes. We will all do crazy things. And we’ll all have those times when we wish we could have done something different. It’s life. The question is, “What can I learn from those times to help make my life better”? Maybe that’s the question we should be asking in small gatherings. For fun discussion, or when we’re bored–or when we really want to know. Maybe?

Cheerleader

Cheerleader – Noun

:a person who is a member of a group (typically a group of young women) who shout out special songs or chants to encourage the team and entertain the crowd during a game in sports like American football and basketball.

:a person who encourages other people to do or support something.

As with most things I right about, there is typically something that happens that gets me thinking. Something I see, hear, experience. This time, it was a song I heard. I have a friend who is going through their own “season”, and has been posting the “song of the day” on FaceBook. Since I love music, I have enjoyed watching and listening to the songs and videos that he has been posting. A while ago, he posted a song called “Cheerleader”. I hesitated when I saw it, because the picture looked like a bunch of scantily clad women and I thought for sure it was going to be about a bunch of half naked women jumping around. But I know my friend, and I figured there must have been some kind of message, or he wouldn’t have posted it. So I clicked on it. And I’m glad I did.

The first verse of the song goes like this;

“When I need motivation, my one solution is my Queen, cause she stay strong, Yeah Yeah. She is always in my corner, right there when I want her. All these other girls are tempting but I’m empty when you’re gone”

Part of the chorus goes like this;

“Oh, I think that I’ve found myself a cheerleader, She is always right there when I need her”

Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the artist was talking about his girl, and not making a bunch of sexual references to a group of half naked girls. And as always, I found it quite interesting how it applied to my current situation.

The last couple months have been pretty stressful for me. My new position at work has proved to be a lot more of a challenge than I originally thought it would be. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing. I enjoy a good challenge. The last few months seem to have magnified the challenge.

June has always been a busy month. Not only is it the end of the quarter, but it’s also the end of a year for us. My team seems to have hit a road block, and they’re having a hard time getting past it. Now, this isn’t uncommon. Many new agents get a great start to their career, and then get a little too comfortable. Then they plateau. And they tend to have a hard time getting started again. Some get it going again. And others, well, don’t. Throw all of this into the month of June, and it provides for a very stressful month. Not only have I been trying to help my agents get their businesses moving again. But I also have several new agents that are trying to get started. My biggest challenge has been recruiting. Not the actual recruiting part, but getting the candidates in for the interview. In the month of June, my assistant and I scheduled 40+ interviews, and 9 showed up. By far, the worst month ever. Now, I’m sure it’s an anomaly. As it’s the worst month I’ve had in that respect. But that doesn’t help with the stress. Add to that, home life. Taking care of the kids. Dance schedules etc, etc. Yeah, I’ve definitely been feeling the pressure. And the last two weeks, I’ve been in a bit of a funk as I have really been feeling the loss of Christina. And that song hit the nail on the head with what I was feeling.

It’s like the definition say’s……..cheerleaders encourage the team and entertain the crowd. They encourage other people to do, or support something. It’s that one piece that seems to have been missing for me. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of encouragement from family and friends. But there’s really no substitute for the support, encouragement, and “cheerleading” from that one special person. That affirmation from the one I chose, and who chose me. That person who could release the stress of the day with just a touch of her hand. Sigh. She had magic hands. I loved her hands. Without it though, the stress builds and builds until it gets almost unbearable.

So what’s a guy to do? Well, I guess it’s at this point that all of my Christian friends would say “Steve, it’s at times like this when you need to lean on the Lord”. “He wouldn’t bring you to it, if He didn’t have a plan to bring you through it”. Yeah, yeah. I know. I get it. And that works to a certain extent. But there’s a certain power in the affirmation from that one special person. And I believe God planned it that way. It’s why he put Eve in the garden with Adam. Genesis 2:18 states “The Lord God said, It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him“. A cheerleader.

Well, my cheerleader isn’t hear anymore. And while I truly believe that the affirmation of my cheerleader is powerful. I also believe that God will carry me through this season. And I will ultimately be better for it. God tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness“. I am grateful for His provision during my time of weakness. I am grateful that I have a heavenly cheerleader, in the absence of my worldly cheerleader. And I’m grateful for all of the friends that He has provided to help me through these tough times. I am truly blessed.

Sympathy vs Pity

I’ve been pondering this one for a little while now. And I’ll admit, I’m still a little flustered with it. But as always, I had to go back to the definitions to try to figure this one out. So let’s start there (and forgive me, I stole parts of this one).

 
Sympathy, [sim-puh-thee], noun
1   harmony or agreement in feeling, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another
2   the harmony of feeling naturally existing between persons of like tastes or opinion or of congenial dispositions
 
So I guess what it’s saying is that for someone to feel sympathy, or be sympathetic to someone, then they too must understand what the other person is feeling. Whether it be good or bad. But then, I always felt that was more “empathy”. Sooooooo, let’s look at that one;
 
Empathy, [em-puh-thee], noun
1   the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another
2   the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself:
 

Yeah. Not helping. I mean, it does. But doesn’t. I think I get it, sort of. But having a hard time explaining. Because it just confirmed what I was originally thinking. It’s all so flustering. So I decided to ask Google what the difference is. It took me to Dictionary.com for the best explanation that I couldn’t put into words:

“Both empathy and sympathy are feelings concerning other people. Sympathy is literally ‘feeling with’ – compassion for or commiseration with another person. Empathy, by contrast, is literally “feeling into’ – the ability to project one’s personality into another person and more fully understand that person. Sympathy derives from Latin and Greek words meaning ‘having a fellow feeling’. The term empathy originated in psychology (translation of a German term, c. 1903) and has now come to mean the ability to imagine or project oneself into another person’s postion and experience all the sensations involved in that position. You feel empathy when you’ve “been there”, and sympathy when you haven’t.”

So I guess what I’ve learned from this little word study is basically a confirmation of what I already knew…..I can feel sympathy for someone, even if I “haven’t been there”. I can still fee a sense of loss, even if I haven’t experienced it. Or even a sense of accomplishment in something, even if I haven’t experienced the same accomplishment. But ignored to empathize with someone, I have to have been in their shoes. Experienced what they’ve experienced. And be able to feel the same feelings with that person. So where then, does Pity fall into this?

Pity, [pit-ee], noun
1   sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, often leading one to give relief or aid or to show mercy
2   a cause or reason for pity, sorrow, or regret

And this is where it get’s frustrating (worse than “flustering”). I’ve always thought of pity as a negative thing. To “feel sorry” for someone. To….pity them. It just feels negative. But as I write this, I’m finding my thought process change about pity. Reading the definition, it doesn’t sound negative at all. In fact, it reminds me of something else…..compassion.

Compassion, [kuh m-pash-uh n], noun
1   a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering

Yeah. Not much of a difference there. With the exception of the “strong desire to alleviate the suffering”. But again, there is no negative connotations in any of the above definitions. So where then is the line, between feeling sympathy, empathy, pity, or compassion, and causing harm by enabling a victim mentality in those we feel sympathy, empathy, pity, or compassion on?

For the last few years, I have had a conversation with each of my kids teachers during “meet the teacher” night prior to the beginning of school. I explain to them that the kids Mother had passed away, and they have still been known to have their “moments”. Each time I speak to a teacher, I explain that I am telling them this for the purpose of understanding, NOT as an excuse for an actions that may occur during the school year. I have NEVER allowed my kids (or myself) to use Christina’s death as an excuse for bad behavior, or as a reason for not being the absolute best that we can be. We are NOT victims. We are participants in this wonderful thing called Life. And sometimes in life, bad things happen.

In my own life, I meet a LOT of different people. As I get to know these people, “my story” always seems to find it’s way out. Not because I’m looking for sympathy, empathy, pity, or compassion. But because it’s part of me. It’s part of who I am. And while it has aided in shaping who I am today. It doesn’t rule my life. and yet, the knee jerk reaction of everyone who hears it is to say something to the effect of “I’m sorry”, “gasp!!”, “oh no”, or an other variation of an expression of sympathy, empathy, pity, or compassion. And (after doing tonights research on this topics) I must admit, I feel bad about my own knee jerk feeling (I try not to let it show)…..I hate it. I’ve learned to take these comments and gestures in stride. Since they only last a moment.

What I don’t tolerate, is a victim mentality. Ironically enough, I personally don’t get it much. But I see it a lot with my kids. Those close to me know how I feel about this. And while they try (they really do), I often see them giving my kids special treatment. Doing things for them (over and above the norm). Or even letting them get away with bad behavior because they “feel bad for them” or because “they’ve been through so much”. And I have to say…….I HATE THIS!!! It does nothing for them except breed a sense of entitlement. A sense that they deserve more because their Mom died. And this does nothing but fuel the victim mentality that is so prevalent in today’s society. It does nothing positive.

I’ve always been told (and have also experienced evidence of the same) that adversity breeds success. Whether in business, or in life. In fact, Jesus tells us the same thing:

Romans 5:1-5 say’s “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured our His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us”

So I will end with this; as you hear me talk about “my story”. Or start to feel sorry for my kids. Stop for a second. And think twice before feeling bad for us. We are not victims. We don’t need to be treated differently than others. We are no different than anyone else. We are all participants in Life. And we have all experienced our own trials and sufferings. Ours is just……different, from yours. Maybe. But NOT worthy of special treatment. Instead, rejoice with us! For we are in the process of being strengthened. We are building perseverance, character, and hope. God is working in our lives. He knows what He is doing. And He’s doing awesome things.

And since it’s now 3 o’clock in the morning, and I have to be up at 5 (but will likely sleep till 6:30/7), I will say……….good night, and God bless. 

&%$#!!!!!!!

Well, I was going to title this entry something to the effect of “Lonely”, or “Lonesome”, or something else to that effect. But the more I tried to piece it together in my head, the more pissed off I got. Then I looked up the word, and it just doesn’t quite capture what I’m feeling at the moment. See, the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “Lonely” as:

: sad from being apart from other people
: causing sad feelings that come from being apart from other people
: not visited by or traveled on by many people

Dictionary.com got a little closer with it’s definition:

: affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone; lonesome
: destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship, intercourse, support, etc

The reality is, with few exceptions, by the definition, I’m not lonely. I have many friends. Family. A very large support network that keeps me surrounded with people. People that love me and care about me, and want the best for me. So, by definition, I’m not lonely. So what is it then? What is this feeling I have that I just can’t seem to shake. So I thought “Troubled”? Why not check that one out also. Here’s what Dictionary.com has to say about “Troubled”:

: to disturb the mental calm and contentment of; worry; distress; agitate.

Hmmmmmm. “disturb the mental calm”. Yeah, that pretty much hits the nail on the head for how I’m feeling. But only because I can’t put a finger on the real feeling. Is it “sad”? Hmmmmm. What’s the Dictionary have to say about that one:

: affected by unhappiness or grief; sorrowful or mournful

Wait!!! There’s that word. You know, the one that’s haunted me for years. The one that everyone tells me will crush me one day. Bring me to my knees, unable to function. You know the one……”Grief”.

: keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret

Okay, well I can’t say that I have any regrets. But what is this word “keen”? And how does it apply to this definition? Keen:

: finely sharpened, as an edge; so shaped as to cut or pierce substances readily

It’s interesting really. I had never actually looked at the definition of Grief until I started writing this. But wow. “Keen mental suffering or distress”. Yeah, I think I can relate to that. But I think I would describe it a little differently. See, “mental suffering” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what this is like. It’s tricky. It plays games with you. Just when you think you’ve got it licked, it jumps up and stabs you again. Sometimes it’s a flesh wound, and you’re able to continue the battle. And other times it’s a near mortal wound requiring help. Sometimes your able to shake it off. And other times it leaves you curled up in a fetal position praying for the pain to go away. It’s not really anything that can be put into words. It has to be experienced, to be known. But one can always try, right? So let me see if I can do it. “Grief”:

: waking up in the morning…………alone
: standing in Church on Easter Sunday, watching as everyone around me is holding hands, have their arms around each other, heads leaning on shoulders, and realizing that you’re the only one who doesn’t have anyone
: leaving the office and wanting to call that one person to tell her about your day, and hear about hers, but not being able to
: searching the house for something that might possibly have her voice recorded on it so that you can hear her one more time.
: walking in the front door, and not getting a hug and kiss from her
: making dinner for 3
: seeing a family picture with 3, instead of 4
: seeing a family picture with 4, instead of 3
: hearing my kids tell me how much they miss Mommy
: watching a movie alone on the couch
: staying up till 12/1/2 o’clock in the morning, knowing you have to be up at 5/6 in the morning, but dreading the thought of going to bed alone……….again
: staying up late, and not hearing her call me to bed
: going to company meetings……….alone
: going anywhere……..alone
: wanting to feel the touch of her hand, the kiss from her lips, her gentle embrace, her head on my shoulder, her feet touching mine under the sheets, her head on my chest, my head on her lap, her hand in mine, my hand in hers, cuddling on the couch, cuddling in bed, sex (yeah, I said it)
: longing for the smell of her hair, her perfume
: not hearing the excitement in her voice when I call to say “I’m on my way home”
: not seeing the excitement in her eyes when I finally get home
: that first kiss in the morning, and the last kiss at night
: realizing just how much she did………and how much I haven’t done………and how much still needs to be done……..and how much time I DON’T have to do it.

I could go on. But I digress. Because even I can’t really put it into words. Because that’s MY grief. That’s MY “keen mental suffering”. This is my hell. And I wish I could tell you there’s a happy ending to this one. But the bottom line is, this sucks. There’s no way else to describe it. I miss my soul mate. My bride. The Mother of my children. The yin to my yang. My better half. My muse. My wife. My best friend. I feel like I’ve lost part of my life. And it SUCKS!!!!! And I just want her back.
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. Okay. My temper tantrum is over. I just needed to vent. I hope I didn’t offend anyone. I love you all. And I’ll be okay. This just REALLY SUCKS sometimes.

Words

My dearest Christina,
It always happens at the oddest moments. Something happens. Somebody say’s something. And all of a sudden, we’re reduced to tears. Sometimes it’s me. Sometimes it’s the kids. Sometimes it’s all of us at the same time (THOSE are fun times). 😉 And while we all grieve in our own way, nothing breaks my heart more than to see the kids grieve. It’s an indescribable pain. And sometimes, it hits when I’m feeling my own grief. And it’s at these times that I feel at a loss. For example………….

I was out in the field for most of the day today with my new agent Jane (changing the names to protect the innocent). We met up for our first appointment on I-Drive. Since we had a few other appointments, we left my car in a parking garage, and I let her drive (she knew where she was going). Our last appointment was at the home of a really nice couple. The only down side…….they had 1 cat, 3 kittens, and a dog. A very, VERY hyper dog. As you can imagine, within about half an hour, I was starting to feel the effects of the animals. My chest started to get heavy, and I was finding it increasingly hard to breath. Fortunately, we didn’t stay long. Since we were so close to my house, I asked Jane to take me home so that I could get/use my inhaler. While I was home, I snatched up the kids, and we all went to get my car. On the way back to I-Drive, we all decided that it would be fun to go get something to eat, whether it be dinner or dessert. We opted for Carrabba’s, but somehow found ourselves in Outback. Still not sure how that happened. This is where the fun started.

We were seated quickly, and our waiter (who was absolutely fabulous) arrived shortly after. At one point, our waiter addressed me and referred to Jane as “your wife”. After he left, I mentioned it to see if anyone else picked up on it. None of them had. It happened a couple more times throughout our meal. I didn’t think too much of it. It was an honest, and innocent mistake. He didn’t know any better. I mean, let’s face it. Anyone of us would have made the same mistake. No sense really in making him feel embarrassed by pointing out the mistake, right? After about the second time, I started to feel that “tug” at my heart strings. And I realized……I really miss hearing that. It’s really interesting what gets me sometimes. And of all the things to get worked up about. Missing hearing someone say “your wife”. I hadn’t heard those words used with me for so long. And as I sit here typing this, the meaning of those two little words just really hit home for me. You were “my wife”. I was “your husband”. We chose each other to spend the rest of our lives with. You wanted me. And I wanted you. It’s one of the things that made being married to you so awesome. Knowing that no matter what happened, I could always come home to you……and you would always be glad to see me. It’s interesting to sometimes to realize the things that we miss. Something as simple as hearing the words “your wife”. Yeah. I had a bit of a moment. A moment that was short lived.

The last time our waiter slipped up, he addressed the kids referring to Jane as “mom”. I saw immediately in Alexys face, that one hit home for her. I could tell she was trying not to let it bother her. But then the anxiety symptoms kicked in. And as I tried to talk her through it, I could see the tears starting to well up in her eyes. At this point I decided that the waiter needed to be corrected. Fortunately for all of us, he didn’t make the mistake again. But the damage was already done. I had Andrew switch places with Alexys, put my arm around her, and try to comfort her as much as possible. And as we sat there, I couldn’t help but think that she must have felt something similar to what I felt. It’s been two years since anyone has used that name like that with either of the kids. And like me, Alexys probably hadn’t realized just how much she missed hearing that. I know how I felt. I can’t even begin to imagine how it made her feel.

There’s an old saying that goes “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. And while I understand what this is intended to do, and I agree with that intent. It does tend to undermine the fact that words are important. It’s our words that communicate things like love, compassion, trust, empathy, excitement. But I also think that the lack of words can sometimes have an even more profound effect on us. We may not realize it at the time. But eventually we will hear a word used, and realize just how much it meant to us to be able to hear and use those words. So while I’ll echo the words of a childhood song “be careful little mouth what you say”, I would also say “be careful little mouth, what you DON’T say”. Because it’s those words we use all the time, and so take for granted, that we will miss the most when gone. So use the words that build each other up. And don’t use the ones that tear each other down. Treasure those you love. And hang on every word they say. Because one day, you may find yourself realizing just how much you miss hearing those words.

Disclaimer: It’s almost 1am. I’ve been up since about 4:30am. Just throwing that out there in case it sounds like I’m talking crazy talk. 😛

Peace

My Dearest Christina,

Wow!! What a great night. I continue to enjoy the Grief Share classes I have been attending. Tonights class specific topic didn’t really apply to me per se. But the direction the discussion took totally did. I continue to be amazed at some of the realizations I have during these classes. So many times I hear something and think “yes! that’s totally how I feel!”. Or I just have a realization that what I’m feeling is okay, or right. It’s really been a great experience.
Tonights epiphany was a pretty cool one. I’ve gone the last couple years wondering when I would have my “meltdown”. You know, that moment when I finally crash into a valley of self pity. Unable to function. Questioning EVERYTHING!! I have been told several times by several people that “it will happen. It’s part of the grieving process.”. Apparently, I’ve been so strong for everyone else during this whole season, that at some point I would have to crash. It’s the rule. And while I won’t deny having my moments (to be honest, they happen all the time), I just cannot see myself “melting down”. But if it’s “the rule”, why am I not having mine? And there it is. The big question.
One of the best parts of Grief Share is that it dispelled the myth of “steps of grieving”. I’ve never really thought about it much. But I’ve always been taught (and have taught) that there are 7 steps of grieving……Shock & Denial – Pain & Guilt – Anger & Bargaining – Depression/Reflection/Loneliness – The upward turn – Reconstruction & Working through – Acceptance & Hope. And while I certainly feel that there are some that will experience all of these feelings, I officially don’t believe that EVERYONE will go through ALL of them. The reality is, we all experience grief in a different way. And while we may all share a similar journey. Our journeys are all unique. And the even bigger question then being…….where am I in my journey?
In our discussions tonight, one of the other attendees started expressing similar feelings to mine. So I began listening pretty intently (not that I wasn’t listening, but, you understand……I hope). And that’s when I heard the comment that turned on my light bulb. She said that while it still hurts, she is at peace. I thought “yes! I think that’s me!”. But of course, I can’t just jump on the bandwagon. I had to go to my trusty Merriam Webster App and look up the definition of “Peace”. It’s pretty extensive. But there is a part that resonated with me……..
                         “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions”
Yeah. I think it’s safe to say that sums up the status of my journey at the moment. Don’t get me wrong. This sucks. BAD. I miss you SO much. But………..I’m at peace. Life is still good. And God is GREAT!! But then, you know that first hand. 😉
I love you Precious. Can’t wait to see you again. XOXOXOXO
~If my heart had wings~
Stephen

Clothing & Other Belongings

My Dearest Christina,
Okay, so as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I have been taking this Grief Share class at church. And as crazy as it sounds, I’m actually liking it. It’s not at all what I thought it was going to be. Part of the class assignments are suggested journaling topics. Since the topics are suggested, I figured it would be a good opportunity to catch up on some of my blog posts. So with that being said, let’s talk about your clothes and belongings. Hmmmmmm……………..where do I start?

Well, to start, I still have pretty much everything. Although I’ll admit that I did clean out your closet. And sweetheart!? You had WAY too many shoes!! Alexys decided that she wanted some of your shoes, so she took quite a bit. The sad thing is, some of them actually fit her pretty good. She picked out a few articles of your clothing that she liked, and then left the rest to me. Most of your closet fit into 4 Rubbermaid bins (the BIG kind). The rest went into shopping bags (all 1000 pairs of your shoes). 😉 I still haven’t gone through your dresser or nightstand. As for regular belongings? Well, I’ve given some of it away to those that I thought may like them. We had a few of your blouses made into teddy bears for the kids and one for your Mom. But that’s about it as far as what’s been dealt with so far.

So I guess my question to myself becomes…….”why do I still have everything after two years”? And I know what everyone says….”in your own time Steve” or “you’ll know when your ready”. But I still find myself wondering sometimes if it’s something more? Am I subconsciously trying to hold on to you? Is there a secret hope that maybe this is all still a dream? Or do I truly just not have the time to do anything with it? And while I can honestly say that time does tend to be a factor. I would then be forced to tell myself that “if I really wanted to do something with them, then I would make the time”. And round and round I go. Welcome to my world. It’ll get done one day. I’m sure of it.

So here in lies yet another question. “What do I do with them when I finally get around to it”? For some reason it just doesn’t seem right to haul it all over to a second hand store and just drop it off.  Not saying that would be a bad thing. Just not feeling it at the moment. I’ve tried contacting various different organizations (women’s shelters, “Dress for Success”), but to date, they have all declined the donation. Then there was the thought of selling them, and taking the money to the CF Foundation, or one of the aforementioned charities. Of course, I could be seriously overthinking this all in an effort to hold on to them for just a little bit longer. Who knows.

What I do know is that God is good. And in time, I’ll figure this out also. The kids and I are doing well. Andrew had a great week at school last week. Cost me a new skateboard. But it was well worth it to see him excel in school. Alexys continues to dance, and loves every moment of it. We miss you dearly, and are living life to it’s fullest. I hope you’re enjoying wings. Stop in and say “Hi” sometime.

With all my love……..
Stephen