Sunday, December 25, 2011


From the four of us to you all,

Have a Blessed Christmas!

Friday, November 18, 2011


Yes, it's been a while.

But you see, I've been avoiding certain things, and when I say certain things, I really mean anything grief-related.  This past month I've been pretending to myself that I'm just the mom of one really nice four year old who's blessed enough to stay home, craft, bake and preach. (And part of that is true!) I've been pretending that my life is really going well, that I feel great inside, that nothing huge or no one essential is missing.

These days I do my crying in the middle of the night while sleeping, accidentally waking myself up from sobbing.  Because I'm not unhappy.  In fact, I'm absolutely fine.

So I tell myself.

Again and again.

No really, I'm doing great.

This past year since Vincent died I have done some serious grief work.  Up till now I have faced my wounds head-on, dealt with hosts of secondary losses in stride and worked from rage to a somewhat reluctant acceptance.  But now that the anniversary of Vincent's passing looms before me, I am pissed.  Angry.  Mad.  Furious.  I suppose I should be happy that Vincent had a place to go when he died, that he passed from being in my arms to being in Jesus' presence.  I should be glad that one day I'll be reunited with him, that nothing again will ever part us.  I should be thankful that at least my marriage is secure, my other child healthy.  But no, I'm angry.  In the words of the longtime news anchor Howard Beale from the 1976 film Network, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

Once again, the source of my deepest pain is laid open.  And let me tell you, this wound stinks.

But for now I'll ignore it.  I'll bury myself in tons of sewing.  I may even write a few prayers.  But they'll be happy prayers, because I'm fine.  Really, why wouldn't I be?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Perhaps another time

Today I was a really cheerful person, talking and laughing with the Starbucks baristas even after they confused my drink order and lost my debit card. I was chatty and friendly for meetings, jolly and interesting. I was at my out-going best.  Even my hair looked better than usual, bouncy and voluminous.

By the way, today marked Vincent's 11 month "angel" anniversary. He died exactly 11 months ago. But I didn't want to think about it, didn't want to face the darkness, so instead practiced avoidance techniques like crazy. All day I exuded graciousness, read smart intellectual books, (as opposed to my usual detective novels) pinned like crazy to my pinterest account, e-mailed my mom, hung out on Facebook, organized the refrigerator, moderately worked on a message for Sunday, and played with Theo.  Oh, and I made dinner.

You should have seen me. I was beautiful and bubbly.

Oh, it wasn't all fake. I really felt all of those emotions. But really, I was hiding. Avoiding. Keeping away from a door I didn't want to open. A door I pretend doesn't exist. I kept it closed all day for fear of drowning.

But late tonight, right before bed, I just had to look at one video of Vincent, to see his face clearly in my mind. I selected it carefully, one that wasn't too long, where he didn't look too sick, when we weren't in the hospital. In the end I watched him wave a flag around on the 4th of July.  All 30 seconds of it were perfect, beautiful, exactly what I could handle.

Now as I go to bed I'm going to attempt to shut out the other videos playing in my head, ones involving labored breathing, devastating developments, failed chemo treatments, cracked lips, line infections, somber doctors, feeding tube malfunctions and bleats of pain. I can't deal with them right now.  Maybe another day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bed Bugs

Wednesday I purchased a beautiful wooden four poster twin bed from craigslist. I picked it up late in the afternoon, thrilled with the price and quality of workmanship, excited to spend the weekend transforming Theo's toddler bedroom into more of a big-boy hangout zone.

Yesterday morning I was bringing a friend to the store and excitedly telling her of my amazing find when she commented about being wary of buying used furniture.  Because of bed bugs.

Bed bugs?  I didn't think we had a bed bug problem in Hawaii.

*note*:  this picture is not of a "real" bed bug!

When I arrived back home, I double-checked the solid wood bed frame lying in our living room (there's no mattress as of yet) just to be sure.  That's when I saw some funky-looking patina that may (or may not) be bed-bug-doo, as well as some dubious looking shriveled insect shells.

Unfortunately, this triggered my PTSDish-I'm-not-safe-anymore-this-is-a-crisis, and I promptly spent the next 3 straight hours googling pictures of bed bugs, (don't do this, ever!) reading articles on ridding your house of a bed bug infestation, calling Terminix for a free consultation, and hanging out in chat rooms dedicated to bed bug removal.  In other words, I totally freaked out.  (As a measure of how disturbed I was, I absentmindedly placed my treasured cast iron pan in the sink and filled it with rust-inducing water, a big no-no in our house.)  The bed was carted outside in pieces, and the carpet was sprayed with alcohol and a "green" bug killer.  Theo, left to his own devices, emptied out all his puzzles on the floor of the kitchen, scattering hundreds of little pieces around the house.

Then Mike from terminix arrived with his trusty flashlight, thoroughly examined the bed, pronounced it clean from bed bugs (as far as he could tell) and told me that the insect shells were baby cockroaches left there from storage.  What I thought were eggs was really old glue that had seeped outside the seams.  The wood was solid and clean.  So I hope.

Unfortunately, the rest of the day I felt shaky, uncertain, foreign.  The house didn't look safe.  We've purchased all our furniture from craigslist and never worried about bed bugs before - now, that's all I could think about.  After retiring to bed yesterday evening it got so bad that I began to feel light-headed and had to practice calming breathing exercises.  (And this in a bug-free bed!)

This past week I've been working on a sermon from Psalm 16, a beautiful golden jewel of a psalm.  Some commentaries argue that the crux of the psalm is in verse 8, where it says, "I have set the Lord always before me, because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."  I've been pondering what it means to mindfully keep the Lord day by day in the very center of our lives, indeed, of our very souls.  What it might look like for me.  

Well, yesterday I saw what it might look like to keep my eyes on Fear.  All afternoon bed bugs consumed me, for hours I felt them crawling up my back and causing my head, legs, and arms to itch uncontrollably.  I thought I saw their droppings in the carpet, on our walls. They were always before me, in the center of my mind, at the forefront of my thoughts.  I let them run rampant in my head, growing and reproducing, becoming more and more of a threat to my safety and security.  I was badly shaken.

How can I let Jesus run rampant, as it were, in my mind?  How can I let his anchoring reality sink into me so deeply that I feel his palpable presence around me, holding me, guiding me?  How can I open my eyes to see his work in our home, lives, and surroundings?  How can I keep him at the center of my mind, growing in strength and power, his life in me becoming a threat to injustice, inequality and evil?

Today, that's what I will choose to think about.  I will keep my fingers from keying bed bug searches into google, I will sing silly songs while vacuuming behind the bed and take better care of my cast-iron pan.  I will play puzzles with Theo.  And all the while I will choose to think of Jesus, letting his reality and that of his kingdom sink into my head and heart.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Having Enough

For those of you who have been following our family's story, you know that this past year has contained a lot of crappiness.  It has also has included meaningful moments of great joy, beauty, and discovery.  But mostly it's been pretty bad.  (Of course, I guess it could be worse!)

Earlier this year I attended a lecture given by a noted author and spiritual director.  At the end of her presentation she guided us through a prayer based on the 23rd Psalm.  The beginning of the prayer was paraphrased to say, "The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need."  I could barely choke out the words and in the ensuing minutes of meditation felt increasingly disturbed.  How could I say I have everything I need when my precious child was painfully snatched from me?  How could I say I have everything I need when our house was broken into after the funeral and I lost most of our videos of him?  How could I say I have everything I need when months have passed since our last paycheck and bills are looming?  Believe me, the last thing I felt I had was everything I need.

Since we lost Vincent, I have felt crushed, abandoned, disappointed, angry.  It has not been easy.  But somehow I have been able to wake up and get out of bed each morning, (even if I get back in later on) take care of my 4 year old, read, write, and worship.  Some days I feel my sanity stretched to the limits, having chimerical conversations with people I believe have wronged me, disappointed me.  I'm often scared, furious, apathetic. Yet somehow in the midst of confusion, disappointment, frustration,  I have come to believe that God's grace is simply enough.  That it's sufficient for what I need to survive, even when it doesn't feel like it.

To keep the Apostle Paul from being needlessly conceited over his supernatural experiences and revelations he was given "a thorn in the flesh" - an unidentified something so troublesome, so unlivable, that three times Paul pleaded with God to remove it.  Three times.  And God simply replied that His grace was "sufficient."  The word for "sufficient" in the Greek literally means "to suffice" or to "be enough" or "be content".  In other words, God's grace is exactly what you need.  Not what you need to be live a blissfully happy life, with ne'er a care in the world.  Instead, God's grace gives us exactly what we need to carry on, to make it through the day.  Paul himself may not have always felt that way, (hence the repeated requests for change) but that's what he got.  Sufficient grace, plus the added reassurance that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Before my life fell apart I used to have many misconceptions of grace.  I used to think that God's grace was overabundantly more than enough for any difficult circumstance.  I used to think that God would somehow empower people who go through unthinkable situations to get through them gloriously, or at least with strength to spare.  Not anymore.  

Instead, I've found the grace God gives us when we go through difficult circumstances to be a grace that's just enough.  It's not effluent, spilling over the top.  It doesn't make difficult, horrible circumstances uncomplicated, smooth, easy-peasy.  God's grace doesn't give you a magical life that can make you feel triumphant and joyful in the worst of times.  Instead, I've found that living in terrible situations with God's grace is living with just enough.  Over this past year of grief and loss I've found that God's grace has made the unbearable somehow bearable. I wouldn't have thought I could survive the death of my child, and yet I have.

...The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

This past week

I don't have any funny stories to share with you all today.

Or sad stories, either.

The thing is... I don't have a lot to say.  I said it all this morning when I preached on John 14:23 where Jesus talks about making his home in us.  Most of this week has been spent in thinking and exploring the topic of the furious love of God, longing for union with his beloved.  

So tonight I'm going to wrap myself in a big quilt, visualizing God's all-consuming love enveloping me.  And then I'll watch an Agatha Christie Miss Marple detective DVD.  (with popcorn and hot chocolate!)  Incongruity aside, this sounds like just what I need! 

May each of you be blessed with exactly what you need, right now, at this stage in your journey, whether it be healing prayer, a cup of coffee (or hot chocolate) or a good film.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

10 Months

Yes, it's been that long since Vincent died.

Ten months as of yesterday.

Since I have no words to say, here are some of my husband's thoughts.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

He paid on our first date & love notes from heaven

Before going grocery shopping on Monday, Theo ran into the bedroom and emerged with his "money bear," a bank I made him from a plastic honey container.  Grabbing two dollars, he gleefully informed me that he would be buying a hot dog at Costco.  (A not-healthy treat we occasionally allow him to consume.)  I told him he didn't need to bring money, that I would buy it for him, and then he said, "But mommy, I'm buying it for you!"

And he did.  I ate it with relish and lots of onions.  (Sorry all our vegan and vegetarian friends!) I bought him one too.  We had a great date.

Yesterday morning I woke up to this.

In case you can't tell, it's a love note.  Theo finds scraps of paper (usually from to-do lists in my purse) and writes notes on them, sticking them up with tape on random walls/furniture of the house, waiting for me to discover their existence.  Yes, my four year old son thinks I'm pretty cool.

You'd think I'd be happy receiving all this affection from my 4 year old (and indeed I am), but it makes me wish I could feel some of Vincent's love.  At 18 months, he was very warmhearted, loved giving hugs and kisses, and after he died I have desperately missed him and his sloppy wet open mouthed smooches, the feel of his head on my chest, and getting my hair pulled as he gurgles "baa baa!"   Since we came home on hospice and he gradually slipped away from us I have felt very far from him indeed.  I know many grieving parents have seen "signs" from their kids, messages of love sent from above, but I'm not one to read into things.  It's just not my style.  So when I see a pristine gray feather on my floor by the bed in the morning, I don't think, "Wow, that must be from Vincent"- instead I think, "Gross, how did that get there?"  (This really did happen a few weeks ago!)  I saw a few more in the kitchen the other morning, too.  I have no idea how these bird feathers are getting into the house during the night.

For all I know, Vincent could be sending me love notes from heaven.  I'll try to keep my eyes peeled and heart open.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

On this day

Last year on this day I brought Vincent to the beach and we snuggled, splashed in the water, and played with hats.  I wrote this (as Vincent) on his Facebook page:
"We had a great, great day today!  Mom and Dad kept my tube plugs securely taped, and we went to the beach where I splashed my feet in the sand and waves.  Pictures to come shortly!"  
Vincent playing with Popo (Grandma) on 9-11-2010

I find it hard to believe that just one year ago today, I was taking pictures, cradling Vincent in his ergo baby carrier, and putting on sunscreen.  One year ago I had two car seats in the car, two sweet little boy bodies to hug, and two smiles at me in the rearview mirror.  I had diapers to change, feeding tubes to plug and fill, and medication to dispense.

Last year on this day I had both my children with me.

And exactly ten years ago I crowded with dozens of other frightened students in the lobby of our college library, listening to the blasting newscast (usually on mute) and watching in shock as the second tower was hit.

It's amazing how your whole life can change in a single day, whether it be from a cancer diagnosis, news of a relapse, a car crash, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack.  For those of you today who are grieving, I pray that you find peace and rest for your soul.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bedtime Rituals

Since our house was broken into and robbed after Vincent died, I've been very paranoid about our security.

Every night before I go to bed I double-check all the doors in the house, close the windows, peek behind shower curtains, (although for some reason I'm OK without checking closets) and set the alarm.  If my husband has set the alarm, I do this all over again.  Thanks anyway, honey!

Upon retreating to bed, I lock our bedroom door as well as Theo's.  (Our bedrooms are connected by another door that I leave open in case he needs anything at night.)  I make sure the bottom half of the window louvers are firmly closed and secured.  So far I've drawn the line at putting chairs underneath our door knobs, although I did this once to Theo's door that opens up to our main living room.  It just didn't feel safe that night.

During the day when I leave the house I hide my laptop, ipad and camera.  These locations rotate between a few selected favorite hideaways, punctuated by the odd one I can never remember.  Thankfully, I can usually recall where they've been placed. (Except the camera that I lost for around 3+ weeks during which time we went on a tourist-fest with friends from out of town.  Oops!)

To some people, this may sound a little paranoid, perhaps a little extreme, but by trying to control some of my environment I manage to feel a bit more safe.  Some people need a nightlight or a blanky I need to triple-check the doors.  On occasions in the past when I didn't do this (and when we lived with more family) we wound up with unlocked doors or worse.  One night a little over a year ago I awoke at 4:30am to find our front door (and screen) propped wide open.  Apparently they were never closed (or locked) after bringing in large amounts of groceries the night before. (hello mosquitos!) So I never take it for granted.  Every night, a-checking I come.

How do you guys feel about home security?  Any particular things you do to feel safe(r?) Any of you had your home broken into in the past?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Odds and Ends

It's September already.  In a little over two months we're going to be observing Vincent's one year angel anniversary which is a rather overwhelming thought, one I'll delay for a few more weeks.

Ten months of intense grief changes you.  I can't name one iota of my life that has not been violently impacted by Vincent's death.  A few curiosities stand out:

Sometime in the last few months I've stopped wandering the house, looking for him.

Last week there were four days in a row I couldn't cry.  Not a single drop.  Incidentally, those days were severely crappy.   Apparently I take being able to cry for granted.

At night now, I sleep with all lights off.   We've finally realized there's no need for bright light to adjust pumps, change pajamas or administer medication.  I've exchanged my nursing gear for normal bedclothes.

Saturday I talked about him to a friend, musing aloud how Vincent used to love train tables, clutching onto the miniature wooden trees for hours.  He was even buried with his favorite bush.  

I didn't cry.  Did I mention that?  I wish I could.  I wish I did.  

I'd gladly cry all day long, sleep with lights on, endlessly wander the house, wear nursing clothes, and avoid the train table if it helped me feel closer to him, but nothing does.  Losing a child is like losing the best part of yourself.  I wish I could have it all back.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blog Update

Over the next few days I'm going to be tweaking the blog a bit.  I'm adding some stand-alone pages up at the top to make looking for specific posts a bit easier.  

Please, let me know if you like/don't like the changes.  I am not a clever computer person by any stretch of the imagination, so I'll take any input you have!  And if you encounter any glitches or links that don't work, just drop me a comment or an e-mail, I'll be standing by.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lethargy and a quick Rant

I really feel off schedule.

Studying for my new message on the loaves and fishes is almost impossible.

Yes, I am actually taking pictures of my bookshelves

All I want to do these days is lay in bed, read to Theo, and get to the gym for half an hour. (Although I did make dinner almost every night last week, as well as clean a few kitchen cupboards and scrub the bathroom tub.)  The list of things I didn't do is slightly more comprehensive.

Perhaps I do need medication.  Or a kick in the pants.

Or perhaps another baby.  (Which is not a current option because our health insurance doesn't cover anything pregnancy-related.)
Two of my favorite guys
Oh, and our 17 year old car finally died last month, and in the last several weeks our 8 year old car has required over $2,000 worth of repair.  Apparently she needed a new clutch, master/slave, engine coils, and alternator (among other things!)


OK, enough blowing off steam.  How are you guys doing?

Musical inspiration here.  (I can literally listen to this for hours!)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Selective Memory

I'm starting to find that my memories of Vincent are increasingly divided into three categories: things I remember and recall on a daily basis, things I have already forgotten, and things I remember (and don't want to forget) yet the recalling process is painful because of the very nature of the memories.

Nine months ago this week, Vincent died.  His last few days, weeks even, are burned into my mind, easy to visualize, precious, yet painful.  I don't enjoy recalling these memories very often, I have a file of pictures on my desktop entitled "pictures to never look at" and yet sometimes I wake up in the morning and throughout the day have mini flash-backs of those very moments.
Last time to play outside
Those are also the days I cry constantly and stay in bed.  Don't get me wrong, I never want to forget any of these memories.  But recalling them regularly is painful, costly, exhausting.

Then there are things I can recall easily on a daily basis:  Vincent nursing, playing and taking baths with his brother, going to the park, watching Sesame Street, everyone eating dinner and going to the beach.
First year photo shoot by Luminosity
Sprinkled in here are memories of diagnosis, hospital stays, medical complications.  (Like that d*&% feeding pump!!)  Most of the time I can remember these easily and bring them to mind without great pain, without that sinking, suffocating feeling of overwhelming grief.

And then there are things I have simply forgotten, memories that are lost somewhere in my mind due to exhaustion, inattentiveness.  For years now I've read blogs written by moms of multiple kids, and somehow they seem to manage their farming, crafting, nursing, and mothering pretty well.  I, however, was one of those moms that felt very overwhelmed with having two children under the age of two.  Both children were in diapers, needed more attention than I could give and had difficulty eating (Vincent had GERD).  My husband was gone 3-4 nights out of the week attending grad school, and I was working as well, largely from home.  It wasn't until Vincent turned one year old that I felt I really had a handle on it, raising these two kids, crafting, cooking dinners, cleaning the house, and staying on top of work.  Vincent's first year was a blur for me of busyness, exhaustion, and overwhelming stress.

And then he was diagnosed with cancer, right after his first birthday.

There is so much I'd like to remember from that priceless year we all shared.  I'd love to be able to recall just one week of how we spent our time, loved each other, how we made it to the end of the day in one piece.  I'd love to remember that one Christmas together, that Easter season, any day trips we took.

There is so much I don't remember.

For now I'll keep recalling any memories I do have, painful or not, overwhelming or mundane.  I'll nurture them in my heart like my love for Vincent, ever flourishing.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What TO Say to a grieving parent

My last post (read:  rant) was on the topic of what NOT to say to grieving parents.  Today I've decided to be a bit more helpful and instead give some ideas of what TO say to parents who are grieving the loss of a child.

1.  Acknowledge the depth of the loss 
There are so many ways of doing this, the important thing is to be authentic you can say something like "This is so heartbreaking" or "I'm so, so sorry for your loss" or "I can't even begin to imagine how terrible this loss must be for your family."

Don't think you are exempt from this point if you haven't seen the griever in question for a while!! Many grievers (myself included) can barely even remember who attended the funeral, we feel so dazed, disoriented.  I'm just emerging out of the fog that was the first few months after our son Vincent's death.  So make sure you do this when you see the griever, even if you sent a sympathy card and/or attended the funeral.

This is also an important point not to forget when you're meeting people for the first time and hear a bit of their story.  Since Vincent's death we've met several different couples at various birthday parties, and the inevitable "How many kids do you have" question came up.  Our answer these days is, "Two, we have a four year old named Theo and another son, Vincent, in heaven."  Believe me, it can be quite the conversation killer.  People often look confused, flustered, some have even said "Oh" and walked away.  I'm pretty ruthless, and for those that haven't yet walked away I usually follow up with, "Yes, he passed away last year from liver cancer."

This is a sort of test for me - if you pass it, we can be friends.  If not, well, then, perhaps not.  Fortunately, most people have the presence of mind to say something conciliatory.  So if you find out upon meeting someone that they have lost a child, please, meaningfully acknowledge the depth of the loss.  "That's so incredibly sad.  I can't even imagine how that must feel."  That can start a decent conversation.  And if you've been that person who walked away without saying anything, well, it's not too late to go back and tell the griever, "I'm so sorry I walked away, I had no idea how to respond, but I just want to say I'm sorry you've had to go through all this."  Grieving parents are happy for any support they can getI don't think many of us hold grudges, so it's not too late to start over!

2.  Feel free to talk and ask questions about the deceased child.
"How did your child die?  What was his/her name? What was their personality like?" Please note, this is NOT to satisfy morbid curiosity (a parent can always tell) but to let the griever tell the story of their child.  I've heard it said that to most parents, their dead child's name is like music to their ears.  We WANT to talk about our child.  Heaven knows we talked about them while they were alive.  And suddenly, after they died, talk about them stopped as if they had ceased to exist (which they haven't.)

Don't worry that you will accidentally offend the griever in question by speaking about their child.  If you ask questions in a respectful, sensitive way, you can do a great deal of good.  If you knew their kid and have a nice story to share (emphasis on NICE, I've heard horror stories of bereaved parents being told of naughty things their kids did) then by all means, please share it.  If you cry or get teary-eyed when hearing the story of their child's passing, or by sharing a story about the child yourself, you get bonus points.  And if a grieving parent doesn't feel like talking about their bereavement at that moment, believe me, they'll let you know.  
3.  Ask how the grieving parents are doing.
Some people have told me that it's a little scary to ask a grieving person how they're doing as they don't want to bring up bad memories and make it worse for the person in question.  This is my answer to that— I have yet to be offended and/or hurt by someone who asked me how I was doing and sincerely wanted to know.  I always carry the wounds of losing Vincent in my heart, they are such a huge part of who I am that you don't need to be afraid that somehow asking that question will be a trigger for me to remember something bad and then feel worse.  I already remember all the bad things that happened. If you ask me these questions I'll then have someone with which to share the darkness.

And don't be afraid if the grieving parent cries while speaking about their child.  They're already crying on the inside.  Sometimes it's a big relief to have the permission to manifest it on the outside.

4.  Be a good listener.  
Part of being a good listener means engaging your heart and mind with the person speaking.  I mean, just think about it.  It's totally rude to ask a very deep personal question like "How are you doing?" if you only have a few minutes of talk time, or if you're in a large impersonal group of people.  Instead, say something like, "I really want to hear how you're doing.  Can we go out for coffee/cupcakes/a drink?"  (And you have to MEAN it!) Or you can call ahead and show up at their house with a meal. You could do this anytime from a few days after the death to a few years later.  You can also send online messages or little gifts in the mail.

Oh, and if you don't have time to adequately hear how the parent is doing, then don't ask. I'd rather you not ask me how I'm doing than be looking at your watch every minute as I attempt to explain.  That's really not cool.

5.  Keep the focus on the bereaved parent  
This is not the time to start talking about your dead aunt, grandma, cousin or pet. Nothing, that's right, nothing is the same as losing a child.  Psychologists put losing a child as the most stressful life event ever, right over losing a spouse.

If conversation with the grieving parent naturally evolves into talking about past losses and they show an interest in your story, then please share tastefully.  But don't use the occasion of the bereaved parent's loss to talk about your own, unless it is really similar or unless you and the grieving parent are connecting well.  You might have felt devastated when your pet mouse died, but really, it's not the same as losing a child.  Not to the grieving parent, at least.  (Quick side note:  I've received e-mail messages from people who've lost loved ones or encountered deep loss and none of these offended me in the slightest!  I'm talking about people who come up to you out of nowhere and start talking about their loss as soon as they've heard of yours.  I know I've done this before.  But it's not a good idea.)

6.  Resist the urge to "solve" their pain  
It can be easy at the end of the conversation with the grieving parent to want to "put a bow on it" basically wanting to neatly tie up the conversation.  People do this by using hurtful "solving" statements like "Well, God can make all things good in the end" or "At least he/she didn't suffer" or "Well, hopefully everything works out."

I think this happens because after delving into the world of the griever, acknowledging and conversing about their loss, asking good questions and being a mindful listener, you're emotionally exhausted.   As a comforter, you've shouldered a bit of the pain from the grieving parent, and now you want to give it back or dump it somewhere.  From my experience, this is where all the abominable dismissive one-liners are usually used.  People are now feeling a bit overwhelmed.  They want to make their life manageable again, and they do this by neatly "fixing" your pain for you.  "Well, at least they're in a better place" or "Maybe God was keeping you from something worse."

We grievers understand the need to find a quick exit from the painful world of child loss.  As much as we long for it, we know the only solution to our pain will be when we reunite with our children at the end of our lives.  For most of us, that's still a long time away.  Bereaved parents aren't on a day-trip pass into the chaotic world of grief.  We live there, all the time.  So believe me, we understand the need to distance yourself, to "solve" our pain, "fix" our anger and confusion.

Resist this urge and instead exit gracefully from the conversation.  Say something like "Thanks for sharing with me how you guys are doing, I'll be holding you and _____ (name of the child) in my heart"  or "I'm feeling overwhelmed by the amount of pain you deal with every day, I'll be praying for (or thinking of) you" or "I appreciate the trust you showed by sharing some of your grief with me." These are just a few ideas to wrap up the conversation while showing consideration for the griever. (You could also cry and give us a hug.  That works too.)

7.  Be honest
If you have not had the occasion to grieve deeply, or if you have no idea what to say, please feel free to say just that.  Be honest.  Most grievers don't know what to say or do either.  We're heartbroken, devastated, shocked, angry. We're in uncharted territory, and because of it we respond well to honesty, to people who say, "I want to help but I don't know what to do."  That's a wonderful, beautiful, and very constructive place to start. One of the best things our pastor did when Vincent was dying was to tell us that he felt helpless, unsure of how to help best, and wishing he could do more.  He is now one of my favorite pastors of all time because of that beautifully heartfelt message.

These are just a few ideas of what to say to a grieving parent, there are so many more. Fellow-bereaved-readers, what are your suggestions?  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What NOT to say to a grieving parent

It being over eight months since Vincent passed away, most people we know have already had the "condolence" conversation with us.  Overall, I've been impressed with people's empathy, love and thoughtfulness.  One particularly precious memory is of watching Vincent's video together with old friends.  Afterwards a classmate from high school (now a doctor) choked out a tearful impromptu a-capella version of "See."  Our hearts have been broken.  And many of our friends have entered into our sorrow with us. For that we are grateful.

There have been some well-meaning people, however, whose remarks were rather unhelpful, even hurtful.  I've found that when people DO say or write hurtful or un-helpful things, it's usually because they are not allowing your pain to enter their heart.  It's easier to hold someone else's sorrow at arms length where it can be easily dismissed, waved away, forgotten.  To truly empathize, you must be willing to hold the other person's hurt in your heart, letting their reality become real to you and opening your mind to the awfulness of their situation.

This is truly difficult, perhaps even impossible for some people, even when you are friends.  After all, who wants to imagine their own precious child slowly wasting away, eaten alive by cancerous tumors?  Who would want to imagine life without that same precious child?  These are thoughts too horrible to be borne, so people often close mind and heart and instead regurgitate little phrases they've heard without realizing their utter unhelpfulness.  (For us Christians there exists yet another category of people who are self-appointed God-protectors, determined to squelch any hint of disappointment with God.)

That quick vent aside, here is a list of the most common blunders we've experienced:

1.  "Your child is in a better place."
My internal response:  Well, I wish I was there with them.  Thanks for reminding me that I'm stuck in this crappiness for the rest of my life.  I'd rather they be with me, thank you very much.

2. "At least they're not suffering anymore" (or with sudden deaths - "at least they didn't suffer.")
My internal response: ....ummm, but I am.  And I wish they were still here.  Alive. Preferably not suffering, but at least alive, in my arms.  (Quick note:  Some awesome people have said this while simultaneously sobbing.  I'm totally OK with that.)

3.  "At least you still have your other child."  OR "At least you're still young."
ARGH!  Both of these really get my gander up.  Children are not expendable objects!  No kid can "make up" for the loss of another!  They're not like glasses that break and then are replaced.  Sure, I still have my other child.  That does NOT help me get over the loss of this one.  Can you imagine saying to a little kid who lost their mom that "at least you still have your dad/uncle/brother."  Can anyone replace a mom? Heck no!  And as for my age, yes, it's true I'm still "young."  That simply means I have more time here on earth to grieve the loss of Vincent.  Even if I had dozens of children, none of them would be him.

4.  "It could be worse."  (There are a lot of variations to this one, usually along the theme of "At least xyz didn't happen"  or "Maybe God was keeping you/him from a worse fate").
Yeah, heard a lot of this one, in all its glorious variations.  I don't find it helpful for several reasons. At the drop of a hat I can think of dozens of horrifyingly terrible situations, and someone could easily dismiss them by saying "it could be worse." The terrorist attack on 9/11 was bad, but it could have been worse, right?  Or it's evil what the LRA army in Uganda is doing to children, but it can always be worse, can't it?  That statement is just a dismissal of the awfulness of the situation because "it can always get worse." Ugh.  Not helpful.

And last time I checked, God doesn't have to kill you to give your life a good ending.  He IS altogether-goodness-itself, so most of us believe.  I don't for one second think he let Vincent die because it was the lesser of two evils.  Most people who say this didn't sit with Vincent week after week, watching the tumors steal his nutrition, take over his body, watching him shrink, thirsty, day after day until his heart stopped beating.  It wasn't a good death, but hey, I guess it could have been worse, right? (Side note:  It's totally alright if my husband says this.  But it's preferable not to hear it from anyone else.)

5.  "God's ways are perfect" (Similar to this would be "God makes no mistakes" and "God is always good.")  
Thankfully, I only heard this once but it was so awful I had to include it here.  Please don't use it. Ever.  It is not the job of a comforter to instruct on theology.  Last time I checked, it was Job's comforters who tried to use his tragedies to "teach" him right thinking.  God said he'd only forgive them for what they said if Job offered a sacrifice (which he did).   Honestly, I'm not so sure I would have been as quick to forgive as Job was!  Even Jesus in his hour of deepest need cried out to his father, "Why, why have you forsaken me?"

For the record, if someone you know is grieving the loss of a loved one and asks you questions pertaining to faith and God, by all means, prayerfully answer them.  But don't use dismissive one-liners in hopes of comforting the griever.  It doesn't work.

6.  Say nothing at all
I am not referring in this point to individuals who, after crying with you and giving you a big hug, say nothing.  I am talking about people-you-know-pretty-well-but-haven't-seen-in-a-while that one day start talking to you like nothing ever happened.  This one is almost worse than the other five.  If I was standing in front of you with an amputated limb, blood gushing from the open wound, would you pretend nothing was wrong?  Would you talk about the weather or would you call 911 and get some kind of tourniquet on my stump? Come on folks, don't be immobilized by fear.  Just don't get caught uttering one of the five previous gaffes.  Tricky, I know.

OK, the rant is over now. My next post will be on what TO say to grieving parents.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Language, language

This morning Theo and I attended the tail end of a multi-family garage sale held at our old church.  Many of our friends were sellers there, and being generous people, tried to give us all their remaining merchandise.  I protested, repeatedly saying, "My husband will kill me if I bring home too much stuff."  Having just had a garage sale ourselves to slim down our belongings, I was hesitant to load up on more items we really don't need.

I didn't think anything of using this particular figure of speech until Theo pulled me aside and anxiously said, "Daddy would... kill you?"  Uh oh.  I guess I win the wonderful mom of the day award for thoroughly horrifying my 4 year old.  We had a short conversation on the use of language.

This episode got me examining the words I daily use, the figures of speech I employ. Theo really listens to what I and others have to say.  He asks me probing questions about conversations he's overheard between family members and friends.  He quotes me every day when he over-enthusiastically says--"That's a great idea!" (possibly my most over-used phrase EVER.)  Thankfully, as of yet he's not repeated the more unsavory words I sprinkle in from time to time.

I can no longer excuse my language with the "he can't understand what I'm saying" gambit I've used for years.  My little boy is growing up.  And I should too.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

E.E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Monday, August 1, 2011


Saturday Dan I arrived home from a short outing to be greeted by a houseful of friends yelling "Surprise!"  Together we shared a lovely afternoon noshing on food, catching up, and laughing.  I found it deeply meaningful that all in once place I could see friends from different areas of my life— individuals from various churches, our cancer connection group, family members.

at the party Saturday...Theo and I are so sweaty!  

Did I mention I'm turning 30 today?  Well, I am.  I am glad to embark on a new decade, but am also fully cognizant that I will not be sharing this one with Vincent.  I knew him, held him, kissed him and nursed him when I was my twenties.  Last year on my birthday Vincent and I were sharing a hospital bed and recording videos of us playing together. That will never happen in this decadeor this life, for that matter.

my 29th birthday with Vincent
Turning 30 feels bittersweet (at this moment, rather bitter) but Saturday while talking with friends, eating, drinking and opening presents, it was pretty sweet.  Thanks to all of you who sent messages, prayed for me, and/or e-mailed.  You rock! (Can I still say that now I've hit the semi-big 3-0?)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Heart Pain

This past week I've been "working out" (I'm using that term rather loosely) every day at the gym down the road using time I usually spend blogging and reading.  Boo to the latter.

I have noticed, however, some benefits to daily exercise.  I can keep up with my son Theo at the park without getting out of breath, sleep deeply at night, and not feel guilty about eating that extra whole wheat chocolate chip cookie.  My "fat"pants aren't so darn tight.  

Treading on that @$%* elliptical for 30 minutes every day has definitely put me more in touch with my physical body.  In the past week I've experienced cramps, shooting pains, numb toes (apparently my tennis shoes are too small) and sore muscles.  I've sweat enough liquid to fill a small swimming pool, and every afternoon on that darn machine my face and body turn bright, beet red.  (This attractive coloring lasts for several hours past the workout.)  I've known since middle school that my face turns red after running and that sore muscles are a result of working hard, but I have experienced something else I never, ever expected.

Grievers often find that their inner pain exhibits itself through their physical body - studies show that people in a prolonged stage of high-stress grief are at increased risk for heart attacks, heart disease, ulcers, and kidney stones (among other things).  One of the best and most difficult pieces of advice my spiritual director gave me was to "make friends" with my inner pain, and during my daily workouts this week I made the initial steps toward doing this.  How, you may ask?

Well, I have finally found my pain's physical location.  It's in my heart.  My heart hurts so much.  It feels constricted, broken, aching, throbbing, heavy, so, so, heavy it can be difficult to breathe.  In the last eight months since Vincent died, my whole body has felt heavy all day long, sluggish, unresponsive, numb, unhappy.  But now, now all this inner pain is all centering itself in my heart where it throbs at odd moments every day, triggered by memories, songs, pictures, words, images. 

Now that I have discovered the location of my pain, all that remains is for me to simply "make friends" with it.

...I'll let you know how that goes.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Walk On

This week I joined 24 Hour Fitness, located just down the road from our house.  It's been several months since this post, and I'm glad I finally got up the nerve to do something about it.  Plus my 30th birthday is rapidly approaching, adding to my motivation.  

Each day this week I broke out of my normal pattern of study/reading while Theo's at preschool and have instead been working out, slowly burning calories that largely accumulated while sitting in bed holding Vincent.  Considering my last intentional exercise was well over six years ago, I'm not as sore as I anticipated.

But the thing is.... I don't really feel any better inside.  I'm still tired, exhausted, angry, sad.  Perhaps there is no golden ticketno one specific thing that will make my life more bearable.  I guess I should know after eight months of grief work that the only way to feel (minutely) better is to keep walking, moving forward (wherever and whatever that is).

       Lord, strengthen me.
       Let my hands be adept to serve,
       feet quick to follow,
       eyes sharp to see.
       My heart, steadfast, be Yours.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rainbows and Prayers

"Lord, I want to know your ways more and more... This is my cry; give me an endless love and thirst for you... That is my cry to you forever, Amen.       Yours only, Rebecca Holmes"                  
-Diary excerpt dated March 18, 1993  (I was 11 years old)

Last week during his nightly prayers Theo asked God to send him a rainbow, preferably soon.

I thought to myself, "Good thing we live in Hawaii!" and promptly informed him that he would be seeing a rainbow sometime during the weekend.  I was sure of it.

On Saturday while driving to Costco, we saw it, slightly foggy and indistinct, but as we rode along the colors became increasingly bright, almost sharp, and ten minutes later it was a full-fledged rainbow stretching across the sky complete with a double.  Yup, there were two of them. 

Theo was ecstatic.  I was happy his prayer was answered.  Theo thanked God and Vincent for sending him the rainbow(s) and then informed us that when he goes to heaven he's going to make it rain for a long while.  Great.  Double great.  

These days Theo seems to be talking a lot about when he gets sick and dies and goes to heaven like his brother.  I've had "rational" conversations with him where I informed him of the low probability of death for a child his age.  We talked about statistics, how most kids in our country don't get cancer.  At other times I've tried different approaches - we've discussed how it is to miss someone you love, how it hurts to wait to see them, but today when he brought up the topic of his death yet AGAIN, I felt like having a fit.  I don't like having conversations with our 4 year old son about his OWN death.  I don't EVER want to think about it, EVER!  I hope I'm long gone before he kicks the can.  So today, when Theo brought up the topic of dying, I felt like having a very angry talk where I would inform him - yes, instruct him - that he was NOT going to die anytime soon, much less get SICK and die, that I was simply NOT going to allow it.  Because I can control things like that, dag nabit! 

Only I can't.  Obviously.  And that stinks.   

Perhaps at the end of my story I'll be able to look back and see how all along my life was an exercise in surrender - the surrender of control, ambition, treasure.  And how with each surrendering, each large and small death, I was brought nearer to the heart of God, the one who lost (and then gained!) it all.

That would be an answer to one of my earliest prayers.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday Prayer

why, why
exhaustion chases me
my heart heavy full sinks down, lower still,
this is more than I can bear

Why, why have you forsaken me?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Prayer

I'm exhausted
body, mind, spirit, soul.
In weakness make me strong
that I may stand with you on the high places.

Photo by Theo (4 yrs)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday Prayer

Grant me the grace of thinking before speaking,
of offering mercy, not accusation
of forgiving and forgetting.
Let not my past wounds blind me to your presence.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday Prayer

God, I lie so easily.
Must come from years of practice.
Sometimes the truth is more complicated, depressing,
often unbelievable.
As you can see, I'm full of excuses.
Fill my ears with the complicated truth that I may speak it out
even when it is uncomfortable, unglamorous, painful.

Photography by Theo Stringer (age 4)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Prayer

Calm these tumultuous waves.
Let the lake of my heart silently mirror
glory from your life above
as clouds reflected on the water.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Prayer

You know how I hate delayspatience is not my strong suit.
Throughout this day take the moments of waiting
whether for e-mails, approaching deadlines,
family members, parking spaces or grocery lines
and create in me an inner place, broad and open
where you can speak and be heard,
a space where the stillness itself resounds with your vibrant song.

photo by Theo (age 4)

A Week of Prayers

Starting today for one week I'll be posting a prayer every morning.  Feel free to check in during the week and pray along with me.  See you all!

(photo by Theo Stringer, age 4)

Mon bébé

Last night I stayed up late for hours
restless, surfing the internet
reading odd news stories, viewing children's crafts
bone-tired but not sleeping
I think I was searching for you

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Downward Mobility

When my son Vincent was diagnosed with liver cancer back in June 2010, my primary goal was to keep life as 'normal' as possible.  I wanted only to get through his treatment and forget it ever happened.  After all, terrible things like childhood cancer don't happen to our family.

Yes, I was experiencing massive amounts of denial.

As we spent week after week in the hospital, I frequently noticed posters advertising the start of a new support group for parents of children with cancer.  Though I initially resisted the thought of hanging out with "the cancer people," our family was thrust into a group of precious individuals well-acquainted with grief, disappointment, and tragedy.  Since attending our first group meeting last year, we have participated whenever possible.  This year alone, two families from the group have watched their children die.  One passed away just a few days ago.

Belonging to a grief-filled community means abandoning the luxury of ignoring life's inherent risks and dangers.  It means admitting fragility and powerlessness over tragic events that shape our brief lives on this planet.  Before Vincent's diagnosis, I belonged to a privileged slice of society whose main worry for their little children concerned where to send them to school and whether or not to vaccinate.  Our family was well on its way to achieving comfortable American middle-classdom.  I held a stable position in church leadership, my husband was completing graduate school, and we were enjoying the development of our two young sons.

One year later, here I am with no job, one less child, and discouraging prospects for the immediate future.  I'm currently a stay-at-home mom to my fragile four-year-old, bartering music lessons for discounted preschool and holding garage sales to pay utility bills.  Much has been lost.

And yet, there remains unlikely connectedness and community in the midst of pain.  We are not the only grieving family.  We recently stayed six weeks in the Philippines where loss and death are all around, homelessness and starvation just a typhoon away.  In a world rife with suffering, our afflictions bring us closer to the life of deep awareness and trust.  Who has time to chase after a bigger house or nicer car when your child is intubated at death's door?  When someone you love passes away, it doesn't matter which name brand you're wearing or what kind of status bag hangs on your shoulder.

For me, participation in a pain-scarred community means living authentically, surviving on faith.  It means caring more about time spent with others than money earned for myself.  Vincent's illness changed my life, not just because he died, but because we are now part of a global community of people who live tremulously. I can no longer presume security and entitlement.  I'm starting to surrender my demands for control, opening my heart to a more simple way of life.  This last year has seen our family begin the path of downward mobility.  Each loss brings a greater appreciation for life's fragile beauty.

I'm reminded of Jesus, our servant king, who willingly chose a humble path marked by sorrow. Scripture says he emptied himself of the glories of heaven in exchange for the poverty and vulnerability of human flesh.  "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head..." He left behind a joyous relationship with his Father to be part of a flawed human family.  He gave up the wealth of heaven to eek out a living as a carpenter, losing celestial perfection for the brokenness of human societyquite an exchange!  He died a criminal's death in order to become the world's greatest hope for peace and reconciliation.  In choosing the downward path at an inestimable cost to himself, he fully identified as one of us, a wounded brother.

Our hospital's Childhood Cancer Connection support group has been a tremendous gift this past year.  I never thought I'd want to be part of a community formed in the shadow of sickness and death.  Ironically, the group continues to enrich me with a greater reverence for life, anchoring me in a context of shared experience, reminding me of what matters most.

There is still a long way to go on this downward path.  I struggle with entitlement, bitterness and anger.  I want more and more things, believing I deserve them for having lost my child.  I often forget how the call to follow Christ is a call to pick up my cross. The smaller and emptier we are, the more space remains to be filled with God's Spirit.  Even though the abundant life is marked with sorrow, it's also punctuated by divine joy.  As John the Baptist once said, "He must increase, and I must decrease."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Prayer of Consummation

Ignite me with Thy scintillating light.
Consume my souldraw me
even as a moth to the flame.
Disintegrate me
and from these ashes birth renewal, healing, perfection.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Prayer (when despairing)

I'm drowning, God.
Are you asleep, tossed about by these waves?
Or perhaps taking a midnight walk across the water?
Do you not see that I am weak, weary, sinking?
I keep waiting for things to get easier, but they don'tto find my footing
but instead I am mired, enmeshed, submerged.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Last Day

Today is our last day here in the Philippines. The last six weeks have been a fun ride, a great time of spending time with family, sightseeing, and stuffing ourselves silly with my mom's scrumptious food. We enjoyed seeing old friends both here and in Singapore, and Theo got to use his US passport for the first time.

Since this is not the first trip we've taken since Vinnie died, I'm somewhat more prepared for what it feels like to return home. It'll be great to be reunited with our wonderful family in Hawaii, but I know as well I'll be experiencing many mixed emotions once we arrive and get back to normal life.

My plan is to breathe deeply, take mini-time outs from whatever I'm doing to read, blog, bake, spend time on facebook, visit Vincent's grave.  I'm also attempting to daily practice centering prayer in the morning while Theo's at preschool.  We'll be OK.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's the Little Things

In grief work, it's always the little things that trip you up.

People who have lost a loved one often talk about how they'll be someplace innocuous like the grocery store, when suddenly as they're picking out produce or rounding a corner they catch a glimpse of an individual who looks like their lost loved one.

Of course, it isn't, it never is, but in that split second of almost-recognition, the emotions are so strong they can make your heart skip a beat, make you sob out loud. In a heartbeat you go from being OK as you're picking out milk to being close to losing it, throwing the milk, yelling and howling. Most of the time this doesn't happen. People shove their emotions into some hidden inner place, catch their breath, and continue on as law-abiding citizens, which I guess is often a good thing for the rest of us.

But sometimes the grief can sweep over you with such force that you can't not cry, right there in the shopping mall, library, gym. I have friends who throw plates when things get bad. They all go outside and toss them through the air in their yard. I can imagine that would be pretty cathartic (except for the cleaning-up process!)

Unfortunately in our society, people who are grieving don't have many opportunities for public mourning. Sure, our culture has rituals like holding a memorial service, a viewing of the body, and a burial/scattering of ashes. But that's about it. Most of those activities take place within a few weeks of death, sometimes up to a year. That's pretty short considering you still have to live the rest of your life without the person you lost.

Or what about people who are grieving the loss of a relationship, job, health, the loss of status or safety or the death of a dream? There is nothing, no rite, no standard method of grieving through these losses, much less an acceptable way to publicly broadcast grief. Even many of our churches view grief as something to privately finish, to overcome, to get through. By in large, we are left to fend for ourselves.

I've noticed that for many individuals, including me, observing people exhibit "negative" emotions in public is unsettling, scary. We don't feel safe. Why is this? Is this because we are so afraid to face our own inner darkness, our own sadness, our own disconnectedness that we don't like to see it in others? Do we not want to be reminded that it could be our turn next? It's tough because those of us who are grieving have to mix with the rest of societywe still have to get out of the house and do basic things like attend school, go grocery shopping, and show up to work. We usually look pretty normal until almost anything, anywhere can become a portal to a painful or precious memory, a vivid reminder of what we've lost.

I was talking with some people in the car the other day about what happens when you sleephow your eyes physically roll up back into your head. My sister remarked on how she's developed some mild sleep anxiety due to this semi-disturbing fact, I can agree that it's definitely not the prettiest mental picture to have as you're drifting off to sleep.

Then I thought of Vincent, how as he died his little eyes stayed half-open for days, how they never rolled back, but just gradually lost their sight as he drifted further and further from us. I cried in the car on the way to the shopping center, then pulled myself together when we got there.  Because you should never cry in public. People might think there was something wrong.

Why do you think it isn't acceptable for people to show emotions like sadness or anger in public? Have any of you had an experience where you saw an otherwise normal looking person exhibit some strong emotion? How did it make you feel?


Nowadays I feel like writing and posting prayers.  A lot of prayers.  It's not that I'm especially devout. I think instead it's because I don't have a lot else to say.  I think I'm internally shifting, my grief work taking on a different shape and form.

I have a lot of prayers.  I pray them all day long.  Mostly they consist of one word.  You probably pray them too.  My favorite is this one.


and this one -

"Help help help help help help help help help!"

Sound familiar?  That one definitely did not originate with me.
I'm sure people have been praying that for a long time.

Sometimes my daily prayers are wordless.  I sit in God's eternal presence and he sits with me.  We don't say much, but we sure communicate a lot.  I talk to Vinnie too, but mainly I send him up my love, silently.  Words are helpful, but only up to a point.

And when I wrap myself in Vincent's blanket at night it's a silent prayer to God.  Hold my child.  Hold me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Prayer when Mourning

As I sing this dirge
may its notes be transfigured, transmuted, transposed,
the dissonance of fear and anger
resolving into harmonic chords of grace and beauty.
In your mercy let the melody of my life
echo the voice of your unending song.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bits and Pieces

Today I preached at a really cool neighborhood church.  The people were welcoming, warm, funny, and eager to listen.

I talked about disappointment with God, and we worked through the story of John the Baptist together.  Good stuff.  

Of course, since this blog is called "Sermons I Never Preached"  I probably shouldn't talk about sermons I actually have given.  Or not.  Hee hee.    

This week also begins the last week of our trip here in the Philippines, we head back for Honolulu on Thursday where our "real life" awaits.  I'm really going to miss being here. However, I will be happy to be closer to our memories of Vincent, be able to easily visit his grave, and Theo will also enjoy starting up his half-time preschool again.  

I'm planning on seeing Irish on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, to check in on how her son with leukemia is doing. I'll let you all know as well.  

Monday, June 20, 2011


Walking down the stairs to get a drink of water last night I experienced a sudden furious attack of vertigo. I've been diagnosed and treated for this before, gone to the ER when the dizziness was so extreme I couldn't keep down enough liquids to stay hydrated.

On the stairs last night I had to stop walking and as I closed my eyes and clutched the railing I envisioned the tile flat beneath my feet and the walls rising straight up to meet the ceiling. When you have an attack of vertigo it's like spinning uncontrollably under water. You have no idea which way is up.

Much of this past year since losing Vincent has been like that - events careening out of control, feeling helpless, submerged, disoriented, powerless. At some point in time I have to believe that the path is smooth before me, that the spinning in my head will stop. I have to trust that my feelings don't have the final say, that it will get better, that one day I will realize which way is up. Until then I'll keep moving, swimming up toward the light, walking slowly while putting one foot carefully in front of the other. Trusting, even when it feels wrong.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Prayer for Help

When words run dry
fill my mouth with your speech
When patience evaporates
flood my will with your strength
And when my faith wavers
pour in your hope
In the name of Him who turned water to wine and calmed the raging sea,

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I'm so over grieving.

I wish there was something else for me to talk about, think about. I'm tired of hearing myself talk about the same things, go through the same emotions, replay the same tapes in my head.

Frankly, it's annoying me. I'm bored with myself.

But every morning I wake up and realize that our family is still short one person. I freak out at the airport when I can only find 3 passports until I remember there are only three of us here now. I cannot escape or move past this grief. I am fully aware I will live with it for the rest of my life. It is as if I have an amputated limb -- it will never grow back, but with help, I can learn to walk again.

Is there a new song I can sing? A song that embraces my pain yet moves beyond it, a song that doesn't deny my feelings of loss but instead utilizes them, a song shaped by fear but filled with faith?

Hopefully the cavernous hole my son's death left in my heart will become a lake teaming with life.

It needs to happen soon, because my patience is running out.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Good Tired

Since arriving here in Singapore three days ago we've traveled the city-state by MRT, bus, and taxi, as well as walked what seems to be miles upon miles.  I am now experiencing the bone-numbing sensation of exhaustion.  But it's a satisfying feeling, a happy tired.

Tuesday this week we visited the Jurong bird park followed by the Science Center which contains the world's largest I-max theatre. We saw a show about the Hubble telescope -- its various technical issues and how they were fixed as well as phenomenal photographs it has taken.

I don't really cry in public. But I cried-- shaking my shoulders crying-- as we saw newborn stars in nurseries explode into euphoric light. I cried as I saw mishapen galaxies from the beginning of time. And I cried as I saw this - a butterfly made by exploding gases as a star slowly dies.
I miss my little star, Vincent.   And when I went into the rainforest section of the Singapore zoo today, the butterflies fluttering nearby reminded me of his presence with us.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Running Scared

Being here in the Philippines for these last few weeks has been refreshing, rewarding, relaxing. Having time to not do anything, especially with one's own family, is a hard-won luxury. Yet in spite all this free time we've been having, I don't feel that I've made huge bounds in my grief work. I'm still afraid much of the time. I'm willing to go on medication if that will really help, but I'm also hestitant to add another chemical to my already volatile body. I don't want to choose a medical answer if I really have a spiritual problem. I know most of the time things can't be separated that easily, we are bodies as well as spirits and sometimes our bodies need a little bit of help. And some form of medication may be the final solution, especially if I have PTSD which is highly possible. We'll see.

Too often I feel as if the soundtrack to my life is frightening, foreboding, dark. When that happens I just want the music to stop, or to start playing a Bach minuet or a Mozart piano concerto instead. And then my imagination kicks in with a random thought that ends at the gravesite of another family member. Or something worse. It only takes a few seconds for these vivid thoughts to play themselves out in my mind. It happens so quickly that by the time I realize what is happening and give my fear to God, I'm already viewing something terrible.

How do you trust God enough to let go of your fears, especially when something truly horrible has happened to you? Fear is a hard master. But when you keep your guard up and don't expect much, at least you have the option of being somewhat prepared for when the next bad thing happens. You're not surprised. You saw it coming. (So the argument goes in my head.) I know it's a ridiculous argument. Fear does not prepare for you for anything. The very nature of fear debilitates and disempowers. I know that.

So even though God and I are on speaking terms, I still find it hard to trust Him. After all, how can you trust someone as dangerous as God? He didn't hesitate to send himself to die for our sake. He gives freely, loves extravagantly. It cost him everything to offer us a relationship and the hope of heaven. I'm not like that. I love my own skin more than my neighbors'. I don't want to love everyone extravagantly, just my friends and family. And giving freely - forget it! What if my family needs that? Giving freely requires sacrifice, self-denial, risk. I give stintingly, and that's when I feel I can afford it.

There's a big part of me that just wants to be left alone to grow lazy and complacent. I don't fully trust someone who will love me enough to change me, love me enough to give me his eyesight, perspective, wisdom - his very life. That all comes at a cost, a very high, high cost. It demands of me more than I really want to give. And yet He still calls me, compels me beyond my fears to come and lay down my life in order to find it. To surrender my will for his. And to allow myself be worked into the fabric of his glorious future.