Happy Crappy Anniversary

Everyone suffers loss.

Whether it's a relationship gone wrong, moving far away, the death of a loved one, or children leaving the nest, there is no meter that measures how much more one person suffers than another. When left unchecked, grief can waylay you when you least expect it. A major loss, like that of a family member, creates anniversaries that loom over you like a dark cloud. But it's the little things that crop up unexpectedly that can leave you juggling emotions while trying to navigate your day. A certain smell, a song on the radio, or any one of a hundred things can sucker punch you into having to deal with the loss like it was yesterday. How we handle these sudden emotions can cause us guilt and shame if we don’t learn how to deal with them in a healthy way.

After keeping some emotions at bay for too long after my son passed away, I found myself disproportionately angry at the automated message on the Verizon help line. My sweet husband made the mistake of saying something horrifying like "calm down" or some other insane request, in an attempt to get me to stop yelling at a computer. I lost my mind and decided I needed to do some damage. I stomped over to the bathroom and tried to slam the door, but it wouldn't close fast enough to slam. After ridiculous attempts to make a satisfying slam, I screamed at it, and attempted to throw my mini clock on the bathroom counter at the mirror to break it. It bounced back and hit me in the chest, without so much as cracking the mirror. After a few minutes of rage shenanigans, I began to feel sheepish and looked at my beleaguered husband, who has his own grief to contend with. I was making it so much worse for him. I apologized profusely, and we held each other awhile, and he was his usual amazing self. Until the doorbell rang, and the police perp walked him out the front door after our concerned neighbors assumed he was beating me. So, there was that. The patience was a little thinner after that, and my shame immeasurable.

We can feel guilty about our grieving for so many reasons; not necessarily for making the cops ring your doorbell. As I navigate the waters of grief, I've found a few ways to deal with the dreaded anniversaries and unwanted reminders.

Be prepared. When certain dates or situations are coming up, it's not business as usual, and having your normal routine with blinders on is not the healthiest choice. Take off from work, miss your kid's soccer practice, do whatever you need to do to leave room for emotional response. Those emotions will come to the surface, and they will not be denied.

Plan a distraction. Those times that you know are going to be hard, like being around certain family members, or holidays, anniversaries, etc., need to be arranged in advance for your protection. Have something planned for others to do if you need to be alone. If you need company, plan a simple outing or something else to look forward to. Those around you may not always be your best support system, so ask a friend if they will provide back up for you on those days.

Celebrate the good. There is always something beautiful you can glean from a memory, or something in your new surroundings. Find the hope in something small, and it will bring a little light into the shadows.

Reclaim it. There is always something ruined by loss. For me, it is a love of all things fall related, including Halloween. I wanted to buy a pumpkin spice latte so I could throw it at the first happy person I saw. Instead, I forced myself to sit down and appreciate something that used to bring me joy, so that grief could not have it. Sharing it with a friend, talking about the future, and not focusing on sadness, made it okay to smell fallish things without crying. Well, sometimes.

Make a tradition. Start trying things that will become your new traditions, like honoring a loved one with a planting or donation, or serving a charity when you are newly single or empty-nesting. Focusing on things outside yourself will become something you can look forward to every year. For us, we turned Thanksgiving Day into a Grace Party, where we ask friends and family to share moments of grace to be read aloud at dinner.

Ask God for help. No one has more experience with pain and grief than the one who endured the cross for us. He is the foremost authority on suffering, and the author of redemption. He literally wrote the book on it. His grace is the key to realizing hope, walking into healing, and freeing yourself from shame. There is no right way to grieve, but there is a wrong way; alone. No one can understand you like the One who made you, so open your heart and let the healer knit your soul back together the way only He can.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ." - 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)

What is Love?

What is Love?  When we get married, we are confident that everything will be perfect because “we are in love”.  We read in I Corinthians 13 that love is patient and kind; and feel confident in our ability to be just that to our husband.  I Corinthians 13 does give the characteristics of real love; but how we want to receive love and feel loved, as an individual, can be very different from what our spouse desires. We have all heard the phrase, treat others the way you want to be treated, but have you ever thought what we really should do is treat others the way THEY want to be treated.

Growing up, I was blessed to have a mother who cooked every night.  I now know, one of the reasons I felt loved was because she gave of herself by preparing a meal for our family. Fast forward to the first couple of years in my marriage; I worked so hard to have extravagant meals each night, the kind with at least 10 ingredients in it.  I was showing my man how much I loved him.  Imagine my surprise when he said, “You know I am good to have a sandwich for dinner every now and then”.  What?  I couldn’t believe it.  He would much rather have me sit on the couch, side by side, with him to watch a movie  instead of in the kitchen preparing a fancy meal.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe 100% that meals should be eaten together as a family at the table, even if it is just the two of you. The time that is spent together during a meal is priceless. I realized to show him love it did not need to be a dinner that took hours to prepare, he needed something else from me, not wrong just different, from what I knew. He needed more side by side with me.

Whether you grew up in loving home or one that was less desirable, you have determined what constitutes real love.  If he is doing this, then he must love me and if he is not doing that, he must not love me.  We have to stop to realize that we have come from different families with different backgrounds and traditions. 

So back to the question, what is love?  Have you asked him?  I have seen so many couples work hard to show the other love, yet missing the very thing that the other needed the most to feel loved. It could all be quickly resolved by simply asking the question:

  • How would you know that I loved you?
  • What do you need from me to show you I love you? 

Wow, a few simple questions that can save so much heart ache and wasted time on things that may not be important.

I have learned that I can not tell my husband I love him and then ignore the fact he has asked me to shop within a budget, even if it means buying him something new.  He cares more about the finances of our family then how hot I think he will look in the new shirt. On the flip side, while out shopping, years ago, with a girlfriend, her husband was a little hurt when she did not return with him a little gift that said she was thinking of him while we were out.

To show me love, my husband has learned going on a long walk, just to talk (thankfully he likes that too) or helping me with household responsibilities is more important than any fancy jewelry or flowers.

 Philippians 2: 2-4 says:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

 Instead of showing love the way we want or how we THINK he wants, let’s save ourselves some time and put our energy towards “what is love” to him.

Family Holiday Traditions and Starting Your Own

Growing up, my (very large) family had more Holiday traditions than you could count! There were just things we ALWAYS did. Starting with pulling out all of the Christmas decorations and putting up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving to homemade pizza and "It's a Wonderful Life" with a fire in the fireplace on Christmas Eve to everyone getting an orange in their stocking to remember the year during the depression when that's all my Great-grandparents to afford to get my Grandpa and great-aunts and uncles. These things remind me of family and home. As we grow and changes take place - people moving away, we may have moved ourselves or started families of our own. Maybe this year you're not able to make it "home" for Christmas. It's important to be able to adapt and make this Holiday Season one to remember. Here are a few Holiday Traditions I've had and ideas I've come across that may be a good fit for you!

  • Have a tree decorating party with family or friends! Put on some Christmas tunes and have some appetizers and hot cocoa to snack on
  • Take a drive to find the "best" and "worst" decorated houses
  • Attend a Christmas Eve church service
  • Gather friends and family to check out local Christmas parade or live nativity scene
  • Have a Chirstmas movie marathon with all of your holiday favorites like: It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th St, Elf, Christmas Story, Charlie Brown Christmas, and White Christmas.
  • Volunteer a few hours at a local hospital, orphanage, or nursing home. There is a great resource called "Holiday Project" that hooks up volunteers with organizations that need extra help around the Holidays! This is a great way to help kids (and adults alike) remember that the Holidays are about more than their Christmas list.
  • Give PJ's to your immediate family on Christmas Eve. This makes for great Christmas morning pictures when everyone comes down in their new, comfy PJ's!
  • Read the Christmas story from Luke in the Bible or "The Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve.
  • Cinnamon rolls and a quiche on Christmas morning (along with a big pot of coffee!!)
  • Have a battle of the sexes boys vs girls game of charades, pictionary, or gestures
  • Make different Christmas cookies and decorate them with kids (if you don't have any of your own - borrow some - they make the whole processes fun :)
  • Create homemade ornaments.

Whatever season of life you're in, remember to take time to count your blessings and be generous this Holiday season. Be generous with your love, your smile, your time, and the blessings in your life!