Thursday, November 20, 2014

Celebrate Anyway

I have been reading posts about the holidays, how awful they are when a loved one has died, how hard it is for all who are grieving. Well, I have had a different experience. Our 8 year old son died in July of 1991. He is one of five siblings. My husband and I both come from large families. Holidays, especially Christmas, are a BIG deal in our family. After the Runner died I grieved deep and hard. It pushed the depression I already lived with even deeper. The holidays were a relief to me. It got me out of my house and out of my own little grief filled head.  Also in my world that had suddenly changed into a dark scary place, the ancient carols and the Christmas story remained the same. That was a great comfort to me. We always include the Runner in all our memories and celebrations; no one has ever had a problem with that. Yes, it is different, sometimes we cry and someone is missing but celebrations are still important. 

With big families someone is always missing because they live far away, may be traveling or celebrating with the other side.  My sister's oldest son died when he was two. She now has a big family and for many years would never have a family photo taken because one was missing. Then one year she came to the conclusion at some point her kyds grow up, one by one they would leave home and not be in the picture anyhow so she takes family photos now with whoever is there.  
Celebrate anyway. Choose joy. Wear red boots for courage.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Stone Keeper

I have a friend who lives far away. She has been through hard things and many obstacles in her life. She has freely given her best years to help others. Today, from far away, I am able to help her. I gather a few cleaning tools, some rags and a bucket of water. These are the tools of her trade. The wind is wild in the treetops but fallen leaves are too wet to twirl and dance. This day is chosen for this task because the lichen is rain soaked and more easily removed. The first time I went looking for this stone I wandered searching because the names  are so obscured.

The first step is to scrub the stone with a dry brush. This removes a fair amount of lichen.
I soon find the tools I collected for the job are not sufficient so I improvise. A crunched empty water bottle, a Snapple bottle and a pick from a long faded rose are put to good use.
As I scrape, scrub and rinse I ponder things. Scrubbing is good like that.  I am intrigued by double middle initials. I wonder what J. M. and A. E. stand for.  I think of the baby girl who lived from June until July, all of one day. I picture the little boy playing in his front yard behind the stone wall, waving at the pay loader driver. I cannot imagine  the heart of driver when his brakes give way and he goes over the stone wall.  The mama who went through the heartbreak of laying these two angels here has long since been laid to rest herself but someone still remembers. Someone remembers the life, the death, and the heartache. Someone's heart still bears the scars. 

I think of stones on other little graves and other little ones from times past. I walk up the hill to remember.
The pinwheel whirls in the wind like life and time whirling by. It stops for a brief moment. Time stops and stands still when death comes crashing into our lives or at least it stops in our hearts for a season. 

Bubbles for Kerry and Mary

There is deep peace here but the wind and rain are picking up. The perfection part of me is loath to leave any lichen hiding in the cracks but I have long been on my knees. Anything that brings us to our knees is a blessing. It is indeed a blessing to be reminded how much Jesus loves the children. 

Lichen is beginning to grow on the Runner's stone. I wonder in the long years to come if someone will scrub his stone and find his name.  I wonder if we should scrape the lichens from stones. Should we clean the dust and cobwebs from little red bicycles? Maybe we should leave them be to show the years going by and time whirling on but today I am the stone keeper because someone still remembers. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rain and Red Shoes

In the morning we have appointments. I wear red shoes for courage. The weather is a special gift: seventy one degrees mid morning in mid autumn. There are trees, gowned and ready for the October Ball, just glowing in the rain.
The morning has many moments of waiting with book in hand: "With malice towards none; with charity for all; with firmness as right as God gives us to see right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."  A. Lincoln

We dash through the rain into the Diner. A friendly lady at the next table shares her spinach artichoke dip with us while we wait for Yankee Pot Roast, a fitting feast for a late lunch after a long morning that needed courage. The friendly neighbor table is eating New England Boiled Dinner and a Hot Roast Beef Sandwich.
Home again through the pouring rain, the red shoes get swapped for red boots to go out to check the chickens. They have had enough sense to come in out of the rain, half in the coop and half under the coop. A little persuasion from scraps and some gentle lifting they are all in the run, raindrops rolling like crystals off red feathers. Except LunaMae. She runs around going back and forth and around again, frantic, looking like the proverbial wet hen. She finally goes in and the gate is shut behind her. There are six warm brown eggs  rain speckled in the egg basket.

Today I am grateful for books and boots,
 rain speckled eggs, 
and red shoes for  courage.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Today I wear red shoes

Last night we gathered to in support of the Biker's extended family. We honored a young husband, father, son whose life ended abruptly when living became too much to bear. The pain was deep, the understanding little, the friends and loved ones many. As I walked away last night I wanted to take my boots off, and curl up in a fetal position with a blanket and pillow. Instead the Biker and I picked up pizza and went to our own little family. The Biker played with the littlest one. I put together a jigsaw puzzle with my Mama and my kyds. We did normal things.  Normal is so far away from the family in the center of this tragedy. That road had ended and the one they now travel long and treacherous.

Today we will gather again to stand with them as they say farewell. And I wear red shoes for courage.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Following Your Footsteps

Down the cold and winter night road
Daddy speeding, Mama panting, down the cold and winter night road
Flashing lights and wailing sirens follow down the long cold winter night road
Such a hurry to start running
Running down your little life road.
Running, leaping, flying footsteps down your little life road.

One big brother, built in best friend
You the younger, he the older, 
Leaves behind his books and pencils, his beloved books and pencils 
Leaves behind his books and pencils
You the younger yet he follows
Follows flying over bike jumps, building high and leafy tree forts
Follows running, flying over bike jumps, leaping, climbing in the tree forts.

Little sister, almost twin sister
Chanting chicken soup with rice
"Going once, going twice, going chicken soup with rice"
Hand in hand, side by side chanting chicken soup with rice
Follows in your gift of friendship
Your sweet and twinkling gift of friendship
Finding, making, loving, keeping sweet and twinkling friendship.

Little brothers follow with their tiny footsteps
Follow with their tiny toddler footsteps
With their tiny trusting toddler footsteps
Riding high upon your shoulders
Riding high and safe upon your shoulders
Riding, laughing, flying safe upon your small and sturdy shoulders.

Down the hot and summer night road
Flashing lights and wailing sirens down the hot and summer night road
Follow flashing lights and sirens down the long hot summer night road
He is gone. Where shall we send him?
Send him down that road to heaven
Down that road of light to heaven
Down that road of light and love to heaven.
We will follow in your footsteps
In your running, leaping footsteps.
In your running, leaping, flying footsteps that lead us straight to God.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

And I am okay.

Twenty-three years ago at the end of a long, hot summer Saturday God called the Runner home. And long, hot summer day turned to long, dark winter night. At first it started on Friday night in anticipation of Saturday and I would not sleep until the wee hours of Sunday morning. As time went on it was the twentieth of the month that would send me spinning. Then as the years passed it became July, sometimes just the long hot summer days that would set me off. For years I hated summer. Yes, I hated summer. Summer was out of control.  Summer was fear. Summer was paranoid thoughts flashing in my mind unbidden. Summer was some untoward thing just waiting to happen. Last year was over the top, worse than ever, maybe because it was just so long, hot summer. The Biker and I were getting ready to head south on the bike and my head was a jumble of paranoid and untoward thoughts. I did not want to go. I did not want to stay home. We left on a long, hot July day. A few miles from home the bike broke a belt. We had to go back and start over. While the Biker did repairs I did prayers calling in reinforcements from a few trusted prayer warriors. The next morning we headed out. The jumble of paranoid, untoward clouds over me lifted and I was okay. It was still a long, hot summer day but I was okay.

This year as summer approached I wondered if I would be okay. I wonder every year and every year I think. yeah, this year I will be alright and every year I was not alright and once again I hated summer. But this year, praise God, I am alright. Yes, twenty-three years and I am okay. Today is a long, hot summer day. We went to Hillside Cemetery after lunch and released balloons. We each chose our favorite color. The wind carried them away and I am okay. All my fear, and hate and paranoia has truly been carried away on the wings of prayer. He is still gone and we still miss him but I am okay.

Ninja Turtle Green
Purple for Royalty
Pink for Sister
Blue for Because
Orange Woody for Uncle Leroy
and Red for Courage

Friday, July 4, 2014

Farewell Yellow Ribbon

In 2007 our Memorial Day celebration changes though we celebrate just the same as we always do: two parades and a visit to the memory stone up on the hill.  It changes everything when you know your two middle children plan to go the next morning to sign on the dotted line to join the United States military. And sign they do. She leaves in September. Mama grieves. Daddy cannot understand because he is so proud he is busting his buttons until the day it dawns on him that she is actually leaving.  Christmas that year changes too. We have our traditional Christmas Brunch twice. He leaves for boot camp five days before she comes home for Christmas. Mama grieves. The first the yellow ribbon is on the mail box and more on the Christmas tree.

Oh, the places we go...
Road tripping to boot camp. Parade in Review. Mama's heart beats a proud cadence: "We are the Navy, the mighty, mighty Navy...". The next time we fly. Great Lakes in February is mighty, mighty cold.

A year in Monterey at the Presidio. Mama misses out but a special someone makes it there. A Sweet Sailor comes home to get married. Foregoing yellow we beribbon the church in blue and brown.  The Biker extends his annual bike ride south all the way to Pensacola to take a sailor to dinner. We celebrate a Hawaiian Christmas, a gift from sailor. Pearl Harbor. Hickam Field. Waikiki. Hanauma Bay.  All the family gathers in his unfurnished apartment at Mililani Manor. We decorate a pineapple with purple ribbon and watch ribbons of oil rise from the USS Arizona.

Hawaii again. This time Mama keeps the watch in a square chair at Tripler. Jaw surgery is brutal and it is successful.  The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl Crater and the Foster Botanical Gardens, both in Honolulu. And the ribbons of light coming into Phoenix.

We have Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant in Virginia Beach and we visit a little house in Augusta, Georgia. There is a blue ribbon on the mailbox to welcome our little Georgia Peach.

There are many comings and goings. Sighs and tears. Surprise visits and anticipated homecomings. At some point a bright yellow bandana becomes the permanent yellow ribbon on the front door. It weathers and fades. Then, after six years, they come home. In August the Sweet Sailor finishes her enlistment. They pack up the little Georgia house, the little Georgia Peach and move home. Three months later the Super Sailor follows suit from Virginia Beach. He is home in time for Christmas. There are job offers coming in from all over. In January his life starts over again, this time in Houston.

There are still comings and goings and Texas is too far away. The yellow ribbon is no longer on the door. Today there is red, white and blue to celebrate our freedom. Freedom that they stood watch for away from home and family. We are proud and we thank you.

Keep a yellow ribbon tied around your heart for those still coming home from far away places and far too many kinds of battles. Wear red shoes for courage.

Friday, May 2, 2014

And I cry.

All through the evening I think of her and I cry. I crawl into my bed and I think someone somewhere is not sleeping and I cry.  I don't really know her but her daddy is my cousin. She is a little mama with three white haired babies and one soon to be born and now she has to have an empty place and a grave and her mama lives far away. And I cry. I think about that far away grandma and I cry. I don't know him either but he is my sister's nephew and I cry. I think of another white haired boy and a brown eyed boy and other brown eyed boys and all the other little boys and I cry. I think of all the little mamas and all the pain and I can't curl up in a tight enough ball to make the pain go away. I couldn't curl up tight enough then and I can't curl up tight enough now and I cry. Today a little boy winged his way to heaven and tonight I just don't know if there are enough red shoes...        

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Choose Healing

I posted this today on a grief page where I am a member.  May it be a light on your healing journey.

In the past week or so I have read many posts here by bereaved parents who are 8, 12, 15 even 20+ years into their grief journey.
These quotes catch their general feelings:
 "They said it will get better but it gets worse every year."
"I have nothing to "go on" for in my life."
"I still have a boulder on top of my heart and feel kind of numb or frozen."
"I can barely find a reason to still hang on."
This just squeezes my heart and makes me so sad. Our son died 23 years ago as a 8 year old.  Leroy would now be 31.

The first years of my grief were a deep, painful journey, dark and lonely.  It was a terrifying place of sheer survival. As the years have passed I have found deep, deep healing. I no longer walk in the dark. I am not afraid. I have joy and laughter.  Yes, I miss him and yes I cry.

I faced the death of my son the same way I do any new experience: I read every book I can find on the topic.  I found a couple a rummage sale in my home town.  One of them, Don't Take My Grief Away by Doug Manning, became my grief manual.

This book is divided into 3 parts.  Part one is funeral planning which we had long passed when I got  the book but I was gratified to learn that some of the decisions we made instinctively were very healthy.

The second part encourages one to grieve as needed, in their own way and at their own pace, hence the title. Don't let anyone take your grief away. He says you need to give your self permission to grieve and not let anyone else dictate what that should look like.

The third part emphasizes giving yourself permission to heal. Just as we need to give ourselves permission to grieve, we need to give ourselves permission to heal.  Unspoken and deep within us we have the belief that if we stop grieving we stop loving and we have forgotten. We consider it a betrayal of our child. That is so far from the truth. If we do not choose to live and choose to heal we are in essence saying that the death of our child is more important than our child's life.  When we allow ourselves to heal there is nothing holding us back from treasuring every photograph and  reliving every memory with joy. There is nothing that stops us from enjoying every place we ever went with our son. We celebrate a little brown eyed boy by eating his favorite foods with pleasure. We celebrate his birthday every year with cupcakes frosted blue and decorated with sprinkles and gummy fish. Some years family members have made them in four different states.  We are sharing his life with the next generation who will grow up knowing Uncle Leroy from the stories we tell, his trunk full of belongings and pictures of him everywhere.

I want to leave you with two quotes I collected today:

"The last 20 years have been what "I" have called not kind. I have learned to go into my trials and pull out my joys and blessings."
Sandy Holombo-Olson 2014

"We can still choose to either die alongside them,
spiritually and emotionally, or to take this day and
soak up as many good things from it as we can muster."
Erica Farrimond 2014 TCF

Choose healing and wear red shoes for courage - Pat

Monday, March 3, 2014

A link: 15 Things I Wish I'd Known About Grief

First time for everything.  I am posting a link to another blog for the first time on and red shoes... because it is good.  I have read it all and even written some when it comes to grief and bereavement; this is among the best I have ever found.  May it be good for you also.  
 15 Things I Wish...Identity Renewed

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Don't grieve for me...

Line from a poem  called Letter from Heaven:
"Grieve for me, but for a short time please
I am here beside you on my knees
You must remember when you feel sad I do too..."

My response:
I do not grieve for my son. I grieve for me.  No one alive or dead including the one I am grieving can dictate or limit or command my grief.  It is mine to do with it as I need and as I will.  I sorrow because I love.  My grief is an expansion of the relationship and love we had here into the relationship and love we continue to have.  I do not believe my grief for my son withholds peace from him.  What I see from my side is so finite. He has gone to infinity with God beyond space and time, his understanding now includes eternity, no beginning and no end. My understanding is locked in time, in space, in the beginning and the end.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Walking Shoes

I found this on the Compassionate Friends Facebook page. After 22 years my shoes fit pretty well. Some days they still hurt and some days I hate them but mostly now they walk in sweet memory of my little brown-eyed boy.  We will celebrate the Runner's birthday next week on Family Night eating Rice-A-Roni with hamburg, bean beans and Fish Cupcakes. It will be good. I will miss mine who are away more than the one who is gone away.

I hate my shoes. 
Each day I wear them, and each day I wish I had another pair. 
Some days my shoes hurt so bad that I do not think I can take another step. 
Yet, I continue to wear them. 
I get funny looks wearing these shoes. 
They are looks of sympathy. 
I can tell in others eyes that they are glad they are my shoes and not theirs. 
They never talk about my shoes. 
To learn how awful my shoes are might make them uncomfortable. 
To truly understand these shoes you must walk in them. 
But, once you put them on, you can never take them off. 
I now realize that I am not the only one who wears these shoes. 
There are many pairs in this world. 
Some woman are like me and ache daily as they try and walk in them. 
Some have learned how to walk in them so they don't hurt quite as much.
Some have worn the shoes so long that days will go by before they think about how much they hurt. 
No woman deserves to wear these shoes. 
Yet, because of these shoes I am a stronger woman. 
These shoes have given me the strength to face anything. 
They have made me who I am. 
I will forever walk in the shoes of a woman who has lost a child...
Author Unknown   

Following the Shepherd - Pat