This month marks the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death from cancer, and my father’s subsequent suicide. January 2010 was by far the most difficult time in my life. I watched my mother slowly die mostly from her hospital bed. Equally heart wrenching was watching my brother and father watch her die. Then my father’s suicide eleven days later left me planning yet another funeral, and taking on the overwhelming task of settling two estates. I can honestly say burying my dad with fresh dirt on my mom’s grave was the worst moment of my life. BUT, that was all four years ago now. The paperwork has long been completed, debts have been paid, and I am slowly getting used to life without them. I no longer think ” Oh, I gotta call mom to tell her X, Y, or Z. “, although I often wish I could. Holidays are starting to feel a bit more normal again, and I can sometimes even smile instead of cry when thinking of them.
The point is, that yes I’ve been through something horrible, but I survived. Not only have I survived, but I feel like I have grown in ways that have had a positive impact on my life. I realize that I am not the only person who has experienced a personal tragedy, and there are far worse things happening to people every day. I just wanted to share some things that I’ve learned that have changed me for the better.
1: You get one chance to make your mark on the world. I know that is cliche, but it took my parents deaths to make it real for me. My husband and I no longer put things off, and we live a more purposeful life. Once you’re done, that is it, you’re done. One day we will all stand before God, and be accountable for our lives’ work, or lack there of.
2: Let your loved ones know how you feel. Again, cliche, but so true. With my mom we knew she was probably going to die, and I had those tear filled I love you moments with her. On the other hand my dad’s death was a complete surprise, and I didn’t get that goodbye time with him. When going through my mom’s things I found notes I had written them over the years. I found a card telling my dad that I would always be his little girl that I sent just prior to getting married. I found cards to my mom thanking her for planning our wedding, and staying with us after our first daughter was born. At the time they were just sweet little gestures. Now I cherish them, because I know my parents really knew how much I loved and appreciated them. I have no regrets.
3: There is a true freedom to entrusting your life to the Lord. About a week after my father’s death I was standing on my back porch uncontrollably sobbing. Suddenly the stars caught my attention as they danced in my tear filled eyes. As I stood there feeling overwhelmed with grief, and the monumental task of dealing with the estates I heard in my sola ” Be still, and know that I am God”. I think that was the beginning of my healing process. I have developed a strength and faith that only comes through tragedy. This is one of the worst things that I could have imagined, but I survived. I know now that I can truly “do all things in Christ who strengthens me”.
4: There is nothing more you can give your children than each other. We thought we were done after two. We had a boy and a girl that we could provide with a nice middle class life. More kids would mean having to spread the wealth, giving up private schools, and having less “Me” time. Now that my parents are gone it is just me and my brother. He has never been married, and has no children. My kids have no cousins on my side, and frankly it kind of sucks. We’ve added two children to our family, and now have a crazy busy house with two boys, and two girls.
5: You eat an elephant one bite at a time. After the funerals’ there was so much to do. There were cars and a house to sell. There were accounts to close and bills to pay. There were a lot of medical bills, and insurances to be dealt with. It was very overwhelming. I was swimming in paperwork, with no end in sight. I felt like I would never get it all settled. My husband and I sat down, made lists, and started checking stuff off. With his help it took us a good six months working almost daily to make a good dent in the task. It was emotionally exhausting, but that was four years ago, and it is over. Even the biggest of tasks will eventually be over if you just break it down, and do one thing at a time.
6: Grief is not a linear process. I just assumed that when you grieve it gets a little better every day as time passes. Over all I would say that is mostly still true. I do not cry every day anymore, and I am starting to get used to life without them. However, sometimes I will really miss one of them, and it will seem like it happened yesterday. Usually the hardest days are the ones that sneak up on me when I least expect it. I might walk by a house being built, and the smell of the saw dust will remind me of my dad’s wood working shop. I might put an outfit on my daughter that I know my mother would have loved. Those times are getting further and further apart, but can still hit me hard. I guess you move on, but never fully get over it.
7: It is important to have a church home and family. When my parents died my church family really rose up and rallied around me. They brought food to the house, babysat my kids, and just really supported us with love and encouragement. I would have had a very different, and more difficult time with the funerals, and the days following if not for my church family.
8: It’s all just stuff. My mom had a large cedar chest that my dad made her that was full of things that each represented an important moment in her life. My mom had gone over each thing while reminiscing together at least three times before this. She would say ” If something ever happens to me make sure you remember this is X, Y or Z, and save it for your children.” It had all seemed so important to my mom, before she got sick. Those last few months my mom and I talked a lot about life. She told me to love my husband, and care for my children. She said that her biggest regret was not having more children. Not one time did she mention the things in her cedar chest, or where the family furniture came from, and who it all should go to. In the end it is all just stuff, and I guarantee my mom could care less what was kept and what was sold after she was gone.
9: Don’t count other people’s blessings. For a long time after my parents died I couldn’t go to gatherings where grandparents and their grandchildren would be together. I grew up surrounded by many grandparents, and even great grandparents. We lived in close proximity, and I was spoiled by them regularly. My husbands family lives across the country, and it broke my heart that my kids wouldn’t have that experience. Through prayer I realized that my grandparents were a great blessing to me, but that wasn’t the blessing God had in mind for my children. Instead He had other blessings prepared for them. Spending my life comparing God’s blessings for my children with the blessings he has for others, even my own, only breeds disappointment and jealousy. Neither of which I have room for in my life.
10: Don’t let today’s struggles rob you of today’s joys. I was so consumed with grief, that I don’t remember much of the year following my parents’ deaths. This, sadly includes memories of my children. It is almost like I left when my oldest two were four, and one. It is sad to say, but I don’t have a clear memory of my son learning to talk, or of my daughter’s preschool year of school. The memories I do have are only through pictures or information written in a baby book. I am just now truly realizing how much of the good things I missed that year because I was so focused on the tragedy in my life.