Category Archives: Faith

Grandpa Welcomed Her Home

This week has flown by like a flash of lightning. Yet it feels like an eternity since we arrived in Ohio on Monday night. We turned into in my sister’s driveway at 9:15 pm and carried our luggage into the house. We embraced and chatted about plans for our visit…not ready to acknowledge what we were both thinking. This would be a bittersweet gathering. We were happy to all be together at Grandma’s but felt a deep anguish knowing this would be our first Thanksgiving without my Mother.

As we returned to the kitchen, the illuminated screen of my sister’s phone caught her eye. The notifications revealed a missed call from our step-father. The text message that had just arrived demanded her attention. The smile on her face was replaced with knitted brow and her eyes conveyed an air of confusion. Her voice quivered as she shared the brief message that had arrived at 9:30 pm “Mom passed”. His Mother, our Grandmother, was gone.

We rushed to the hospital to join our family. Everyone was in shock. Our sister Elli (who lives in Georgia) had visited with Grandma earlier in the day and had talked with her briefly over the phone during dinner. Grandma had been home from the hospital for three weeks and was doing good. She was excited to have everyone home this year for Thanksgiving.

We embraced one another and shared our tears…our pain…for yet another loss. My heart was breaking for my step-father. Exactly eleven weeks ago, Mom…his wife of 30 years, was welcomed to Heaven. And now, his lightly scabbed wound ripped open by the passing of his Mother. I lost the battle to hold back my tears the second I saw the pain in his eyes. When we embraced, I was overwhelmed by the intensity of my pain. It felt as if a carnival strongman was pounding my bruised heart with a sledgehammer. I managed to choke out a faint “I’m so sorry” between the sobs. We took turns visiting with Grandma while waiting for her transport. I was eerily comforted to see the familiar faces of the gentlemen from the Laubenthal-Mercado Funeral Home.

After deciding on a game plan for the next day, we split company with hugs. Elli was tentative about returning our Grandparent’s house (where they were staying) with her young boys. I’m sure her apprehension was growing as they navigated the train tracks and drove the last mile on the snow-covered road. The headlights on their Acura pierced the darkness to reveal a 10 point buck waiting for her in the front yard. She was shocked that the buck didn’t run away when they pulled into the driveway. Elli’s jaw dropped in disbelief as the buck continued to stand in the grass and look back at them…even when they poured out of the car.

At that moment, God spoke to Elli’s heart and comforted her soul. His still voice confirmed what she had believed to be true. Grandpa and Grandma were no longer separated by the temporary and eternal worlds. After 12 years of being apart, they were now together in Heaven. To Elli, and to me, The buck symbolized Grandpa welcoming Grandma to their eternal home.

Elli’s heart overflowed with peace…with an immense joy…knowing that God provided a vision to satisfy her need for confirmation…a need that she didn’t realize she had until it was fulfilled.

With this realization, the buck walked across the road to the edge of the vacant field. He paused for a moment…as if saying “good-bye”. Then, emerging out of the shadows, a doe stepped into the glow of the street light. A tearful smile spread across Elli’s face as she watched the pair disappear into the night.

My heart leapt in my chest when Elli shared her experience with me. I thought back to the beautiful sunset that God sent to us with Mom’s passing. Both were very different imagery but spoke to us the same way. And although we miss our loved ones desperately, we are humbled that God cares enough to deliver specific signs that speak to us in ways that others may not understand or embrace.

Divided Thanks

Thanksgiving…A time when we traditionally pause and reflect on life. Looking back over the previous year and giving thanks for our blessings…those we recognize and those known to only God.

Today, my heart is divided.

I went to bed at 2:00 am but not because of the usual pre-meal preparations. I was on a mission to finish a memorial video for my Grandmother’s funeral service scheduled for tomorrow. James and I arrived at my sisters’ house in Ohio at 9:15pm. We had barely finished carrying luggage in the house when we got the call that Grandma had just passed. We loaded back into the truck to meet up with the rest of our family at the hospital. Working on the video was draining. As I synced music to photos, I found myself flashing back to September. Back to when I was focused on the exact same exercise for my Mother’s memorial video. At 2:00 am, the final draft was finished…time for bed. Wiping tears from my eyes, I put my laptop to sleep and ascended the stairs to join my hubby.

I snuggled in and quickly drifted off to sleep. But not for long. My slumber interrupted by thoughts piercing my unconsciousness. Rising from bed, I looked out the open window…my gaze crossing the lawn…to Mom’s memorial statue. A silent conversation followed…known only to the two of us. Finally I uttered a verbal “Happy Thanksgiving” to Mom.Memorial Blur

My heart is divided.

I am deeply saddened that my step-father has lost both his Wife of 30 years and his Mother…exactly 11 weeks apart. I am saddened that two holidays will now eternally elicit mixed feelings. Mom passed at Labor Day – just before my brother’s birthday. Grandma passed just days ago – on my sister’s birthday and anniversary. These days have been added to the list of other special dates that we remember each year. My Mom and Step-Father’s anniversary also marked the day his father passed unexpectedly. My birthday marks the day my Father left this earth (though he was pronounced a few days later). On the calendar, they are just another day…marching along…leading way to the next. But in our lives, they cause us to pause, remember, and weep…sometimes uncontrollably.

My heart is divided.

When I allow myself to look past the grief, I am overpowered by an intense joy. I know Jesus welcomed Mom home in September. And I confidently visualize Mom and Grandpa, smiling ear-to-ear…standing arm-in-arm, behind Jesus…welcoming Grandma home. My Bible tells me to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3 NIV) I don’t know the reason our loved ones were taken from us. But I do trust that God has a purpose. And when I allow myself to look past the grief, I know that they are happier in Heaven than here…in this temporary world. Our grief will be replaced by pure joy when our time comes to join them…to be welcomed home.

And somewhere in the middle…the dividing line…is a bit of guilt. How can I be happy? How can I enjoy the holidays when we have empty seats at the table? Am I discounting their loss if I move on with festivities so soon after their passing?

My heart is divided.

Does our laughter betray the pain inside? Or do we honor our loved ones by finding a way through the pain to remember the love and warmth we enjoyed in their presence? Can we mourn our loss and celebrate their lives?

Celebration of Life

I roused myself out of bed in time to shower, dress and drive to the Sawtooth School for Visual Art. Today, in the midst of their usual offerings, was a class tailored and sponsored by Cancer Services. The hands-on clay workshop was titled “Survivorship Seminar: Celebration of Life Box.” The focus was to create a box to store memories from our cancer journey.

Street parking was plentiful and free at this hour. I walked the half block on the brick pavers that flanked the unique architecture of the building. The roofline mimics the teeth of a saw…hence the name “Sawtooth”.

I was greeted by the director of Cancer Services once inside. She could barely contain her enthusiasm as she pointed out our workspace and refreshments. The ladies that arrived before me were getting to know one another. There was no mistaking which side of the room was designated for our class. The tell-tale signs of chemotherapy were evident…a head covering (hat, scarf or wig) cloaked extremely short or newly grown hair, absent or missing eyebrows, and an aura of fatigue. Yet they were all smiles and excited about today’s adventure. As was I.

Each station was supplied with two pieces of clay that had been extruded. The center of our table held a basket containing the tools needed to shape our creations. Around the perimeter of our area were bins and tables displaying a variety of stamps, molds, and texture sheets. Our attention was directed to the head table where the instructor meticulously demonstrated the first steps in preparing the bottom, top, and sides of our box. She then dispatched us to choose the design elements to embellish the creation that will hold our precious memories. As we explored the cornucopia of design options, it became obvious when the perfect pattern was discovered. “Ohhh…how beautiful!”

Everyone, except me, settled back into their seats and started working with the clay. The myriad of choices summoned the analyst in me that is always lurking just beneath the surface. Did I want something elegant or playful? As I pondered the question, I thought about the contents that would find a home within the confines of the box. The memories held within would be more than just those from my cancer journey. My “Celebration of Life” box would also contain trinkets that summoned memories of my Mother. The cancer treatments prevented me from making the eight-hour trek home to visit family. Now that I am better and can travel…the trips home won’t be the same without Mom waiting at my destination.

My thoughts were interrupted only by the “BAM” of the extruder as it choked out sheets of clay for the adjoining class. My eyes paused on the nature stamp…decision made. Butterflies and dragonflies are symbols of change – often associated with cancer. Mom loved gardening and spent countless hours with her flowers. Yes, the nature theme was perfect…but presented complications. The stamp was narrow and wouldn’t cover the full height of the box. Leaving me with a quandary of how to fill the remaining area. The stamp was also too short to fit the length of the sides requiring the stamp to be applied multiple times. The details in the stamp would make lining up the images tricky…requiring more skill than I possessed. Determined to achieve the nature theme, I carried my stamp selections to the sample clay beckoning me to practice. Several design scenarios were attempted and aborted before finalizing the plan for my project.

Time to create! The clay felt cool and firm in my hands. I made several passes across the surface with the scraper to replace the canvas pattern with a smooth surface. Slivers of clay peeled off onto the tool. I noticed that they were slightly warm to the touch. An interesting contrast to the initial sensations of the clay. Next, I marked the boundaries for the pattern using the cardboard templates. Before pressing the images, I painstakingly laid out the placement for the stamps. A continuous border would be too difficult so I opted for breaks between each placement. A trio of dragonflies would be pressed within the breaks. Line up…level…place …press with roller…lift slightly to check depth…roll more…lift…good…repeat.Celebration of Life Box - Front

After stamping the sides, I decided on the pattern for the top. Four dragonflies would converge on the center where a cross would stand. The strength for my cancer journey came from my faith. When times were tough, I leaned upon my scripture verse. And when my condition improved, I praised God for his provision.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Phil 4:13

“Dang it!” I cut the top but forgot to extend a half-inch beyond the template. The instructor’s solution…the top could become the inside of the bottom of the box. Crisis averted…Whew! But then I realized this was divine intervention…not an error. If the cross was on the lid, it would be covered by the handle. Not good. Now the cross is inside the box…representing that Christ is inside of me and the foundation of everything in my life. PERFECT!

A brief intermission was announced so we could watch a demonstration for the handle and legs of the box. I had an epiphany…I remembered a wood grained pattern that would compliment the  nature theme! Back to the lid. The dragonfly image was stamped onto the surface pointing toward the center. I cut out four dragonflies and attached to the handle as if they were taking flight…representing that I am moving on with my life…a changed person. VIOLA…done! I’m SO happy with the finished product.Celebration of Life Box - Lid

I realized that I was exhausted from standing but was beaming from ear to ear. I was noticeably more relaxed than when I started. I can’t remember the last time I worked with clay but am now considering a new hobby.

We said our “good-byes” and left our creations to be fired and glazed. Since this is a busy time for Sawtooth, our finished boxes will not be ready until December. I’ll share pictures when I get it back…promise!

Sawtooth Building” by Susan Smith is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A Letter to Mom

Hi Mom,

Been thinking about you a lot lately. I miss you…so very, very much. I long for our weekly conversations. No specific topic…just chatter about the seemingly insignificant events that played out since we last talked. Funny how those discussions don’t feel so trivial any more. They have taken on a whole new meaning. I now see them as the medium in which we expressed our love. Not by the specific words that passed between us…but by the time we spent sharing…keeping in touch over the miles.

Every weekend, I find myself habitually reaching for the phone to call you. You’re still at the top of my favorites list and contact list. When I added your number, I entered “A Mom” to make sure you sorted to the top…easily accessible…always visible…always there. I can’t bring myself to remove your number. When the phone rings, I hold my breath for an instant…wondering if you are on the other end. Then reality comes crashing down on me. I will never get to hear your voice again. Never again chuckle at the messages you left that usually started with “I’m not wanting anything…just calling to see what you’re into. You don’t have to call me back. Talk to you later.”

I wish I could have spent more time with you over the past two years. When I look back on those days, I get angry. No…stronger than that…I become enraged. To borrow your words…“Fit to be tied!” I’m livid that the cancer prevented me from traveling long distances…from coming home to visit. And no, I’m not mad at God. I know there’s a reason that I had to experience the cancer…but I DO wish He would let me in on the secret. No, I’m just mad at the circumstances…mad about the lingering side effects that have a daily impact on my life…mad that we didn’t get a chance to make up for all that lost time.

But I digress. You know how I ramble on and on…and on. Let’s get back to you. I just gotta ask…So, how’s that new body working out for you? I bet you’re thrilled that all of the needles and tubes and staples are gone. No one waking you up for more tests…more needle sticks or to take your temperature. I can see you beaming from ear to ear as you look at your new, shimmering skin. Bruises gone. I bet you’re walking on air…on cloud nine! OK…OK…I just couldn’t resist the clichés. You gotta admit it…now that’s funny, eh?!

I know there’s a lot of worshiping going on in Heaven. How’s the singing work? Do you automatically know the words or is it kinda like karaoke? You know I can’t sing worth anything…not one of my gifts. Which makes me wonder…does everyone sing good up there? I just can’t imagine being in His presence…what’s it like? I bet you’re talking His ear off. I think I would be speechless…which is pretty much a miracle if you think about it….me, speechless. LOL! Reminds me of the Mercy Me song “I can only imagine.”

Oh yea, before I forget. Thanks for the amazing sunset you left for us the day you went home. After we (the immediate family) said “good-bye” to you, we escorted the Hospice team to their cars. Everyone gasped in awe as our eyes absorbed the vibrant blues, pinks, and purples in the sky.Mom Smiles from Heaven

My heart leapt with joy…it immediately understood the significance and beauty of the moment…the significance that eluded me for several weeks.

We stood there…embracing in the driveway…alternating between wiping the tears and taking another photo. We wanted to remember this vision. We needed to remember your smile in the sunset…the beautiful purple sunset. By the way, did I ever tell you that purple is my favorite color? To be honest, I only just figured that out during cancer treatments…but that’s another story. I recently learned purple symbolizes spirituality. So I’m sure you can guess that I was overjoyed to see the image of Jesus silhouetted in the purple clouds. Welcoming you to your new home.

One last thing before I go…We could really use some help down here. We need some guidance on how to move on with our lives…how to live without you. Please help us to move past the pain to a place where the beautiful memories are not followed by the void of losing you. Help us to remember that you are happy, and healthy, and in the presence of perfect peace. Yup, that’s it…maybe you can send a bit of that peace our way.

Until next time…

I LOVE YOU, MOM

He Welcomes Her Home

I’ve previously written about the amazing sunset that appeared over my parent’s house the day Mom died. I recently shared the photo with my Mother-in-Law. As I displayed the photo in front of her, she immediately exclaimed “Do you see it!” At that instant my eyes fixated on the purple image just above the tree line.

Do you see it?

Jesus Welcomes Her Home
Can you see the image of Jesus with outstretched arms? His robes gently falling from His wrists. His glory illuminated above His head.

The day before Mom passed, she continuously chanted the word “Ohhhh…” followed by the name of a family member who had already gone to be with the Lord. She continued the roll-call of sorts…moving through each of her siblings. Periodically she changed focus and mumbled the name of a living relative…once. For a brief moment, she uttered a single reference to the living before quickly returning her chant to those waiting for her in Heaven.

My sister and I pondered her words. We imagined that Mom was between our world and Heaven. She was in awe of the beauty before her but couldn’t find the words to describe its magnificence. Her wonder could only be expressed as “Ohhhh!” Her family beckoned for her to join them. Perhaps the angels were singing to greet her. Jesus was there…smiling…with outstretched arms awaiting her arrival. But as she moved toward her new home, she glanced back toward her body…still in the world of the living. She saw us…caring for her…praying for her…loving her. We think that it was those moments that she mentioned our names….attempting to comfort the family that she would leave behind.

We miss Mom dearly but feel peace knowing she is in Heaven smiling down on us.

Frozen in Time

People often use the “seasons” metaphor to describe life. I get it. We we all have images of what each season means. And though its Fall on the calendar, my life is stuck in Winter. Over the past 2 1/2 years, I’ve been experiencing the longest, harshest winter of my life.
Frozen Melody

A blanket of heavy, wet snow envelops my heart. Joy has been suspended…No…frozen in time. The music of my life…silenced, yet again. This time from the pain of my Mom’s passing.

How did I get to this place?
How do I dig out?
How do I move on with life?
How do I end my self-imposed isolation?

After Mom’s passing, I kept myself distracted by all the “tasks” that needed to be handled. I avoided the attempts of friends (and most family) to reach out with words of comfort or empathy. Conversations that triggered emotions had to be avoided… At. All. Cost!!!

Now that I’m back at home and in familiar surroundings, I’m supposed to be moving on with my life. But I can’t get the images or sounds of Mom’s final days out of my mind. The visions fill the darkness behind my eyelids when the lights go out. The interrupted rhythm of her breathing…and then silence…drowns out the otherwise constant ringing in my ears*. During waking hours, I erupt into sobs of despair over seemingly insignificant reminders of Mom.

In the midst of this season (the dead of winter), I feel paralyzed. Frozen with grief. Clinging to a life that used to feel “normal” while a blizzard of emotions swirls around me. I can’t make time move any faster…I’m trapped. Trapped while waiting and praying for the weather to change and reveal the melody of Spring.

While I wait…
Do you have any insights or suggestions on the grieving process that you can share?

*The ringing in my ears started during chemo and never stops. The intensity increases with my fatigue level.

My Mountain Mother

In the hills of West Virginia, she began her life
the daughter of a coal miner and loving housewife.
Born at home in Plymouth Bottom, the coal mine town
where the company required they settle down.

Blind to the poverty of the coal dust streets
her joy was shared with each person she would meet.
She eloped at 15 for marrying young was the custom
and within two years, a new life she welcomed.

Mom and Me
Mom and Me

Blessed twice more in rapid succession…
her family complete, a smile her permanent expression.
The love story continued with a promising future
until tragedy struck and left her a single mother.

She moved to Ohio looking for work
for she couldn’t support her family as a restaurant cook.
Nights in a factory were difficult and tough…
we didn’t have much extra but always enough.

Her children grew and built lives of their own
leaving her proud of their independence but feeling sad and alone.
Out with a friend, one night she chanced to meet
a smooth talker that swept her off her feet.

Thirty years ago she married her second love
and while taking a new name, she gained a daughter and a son.
The new couple sped through the years enjoying each day
as they laughed and loved in their own special way.

Graduations and weddings and grandchildren, now eleven
drove her empty nest to yearn for attention.
Looking through the window, she found her calling
to rescue stray kittens, now her life had new meaning.

As the years passed, her heart began to weaken
perhaps drained from the love she shared without hesitation.
We felt her embrace and affection in everyday actions
for saying the words, didn’t often happen.

She learned as a child to keep her feelings contained
and limit expressions of emotion, the reason unexplained.
It was sometimes difficult to see through her tough exterior
but we knew she loved us deeply, and that’s what matters.

I held Mom’s hand as her breathing became shallow
and reminisced of a vibrant woman, who was now only a shadow.
I wished to go back in time for a long sweet embrace
to tell her “I Love You!” and “You can never be replaced.”

We said good-bye as Jesus welcomed her home
and rejoiced in knowing we would never be alone.
For we see her smile that continues to glow
in every sunset that graces the heavens, both above and below.

Mom Smiles from Heaven