Category : Grief

Grief, Love over hate!, Making our neighborhoods safer., Uncategorized
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Love Attracts Love is more than words on a shirt!

I wore my love attracts love shirt on Monday to work out in.  I hadn’t heard the heart-breaking story that was featured in the news earlier that morning. A senseless tragedy took place at Carter Jones Park during a community picnic on Sunday evening around 7:25 p.m. A lovely summer day ended with two children suffering gunshot wounds after someone fired 24 times from somewhere near the basketball courts. Stray bullets changed the lives of everyone there and claimed the life of an 8-year-old girl named Markiya Simone Dickson who was fatally wounded. The 11-year-old boy Jacquez Moses sustained life threatening injuries, but he is expected to recover.  How could this happen to two innocent children in a park that is meant for recreation and rejuvenation for all who go there? If love attracts love then, what do we do when anger and hatred enter into our lives causing havoc and chaos?

With a heavy heart, I drove by Carter Jones Park this morning, and saw a few paper hearts on the rocks on one of the borders of this community park. I recently moved to the Southside of Richmond, and my thoughts drifted to the playground where my sons had played when they were younger. What if this had happened at Mary Munford Playground? Would I hover over my sons and let them play after such a thing as this? Would fear or courage rule my choices? Are we at a crossroads in Richmond? Do we work together to make our small corner of the world a safer place? Love attracts love is more than words on a shirt! What will we do?

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grace during grief, Grief, Inspiration, surviving the anniversary of a loved one's day of death, Uncategorized
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Seventeen Years of Understanding Loss

This day marks the seventeenth anniversary of losing my fun-loving husband David and dedicated father to Andy and Ben. It was a Thursday much like today with lots of white puffy clouds against a sunny blue sky. The beauty of the spring day faded later around dusk.  David suffered a fatal heart-attack on the basketball court while playing with Andy and some other boys after school. Even after all these years, my heart beats to a different rhythm as I rewind the events of that day. It is a challenging day, but time has given us ways to remember all of the goodness that David shared and lives on in each of us. I catch a glimpse of him when Andy and Ben smile. I hear his laughter when his best friend from childhood comes to visit. I feel the strength of his hugs when Ben or Andy give me a tight hug around my shoulders. I see his compassion for others lived out in all of us as we try to help brighten someone’s day.  I jump with his sense of joy when his beloved Virginia wins the Final Four.  I see his hope and radiance in his grand-daughter’s face as she sees a bird flying in the sky.  I feel my heart expand with the warmth of his love when I draw closer to my family, friends, and even strangers on this journey of living life to the fullest! Seventeen years brings understanding to loss and gives me a deeper appreciation for the one and only David Butterworth.

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Blogging, Grief, Inspiration, surviving the anniversary of a loved one's day of death
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Reflections of our loved ones

Seventeen years ago, my Mom died of a fatal heart attack. The melancholy that drifts in around the anniversary of her death threatens to overcome me each year.  I decided to take a walk around the gardens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to shake the blues and the dreariness of this winter day.  As I rounded the edge of the museum, I was surprised by the peacefulness that swept over me.  The 24-foot-tall sculptural head of a girl named Chloe carved by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa summoned my attention.  The gray barren branches of the large oak tree behind her stood in stark contrast to her meditational visage, radiant even with closed eyes.  Chloe’s powerful pose reminded me of my Mom’s determination to raise her 3 daughters to be strong women. I could always count on her encouraging words whenever life became hard to navigate. She often ended those conversations saying, “Everything will work out, and I’ll be thinking about you. Hold your head up high!” These words have been implanted in my heart, and I often use them to encourage my sons in their own challenges. As I turned to leave, I took this picture that shows the strong presence of the oak tree next to the imposing presence of Plensa’s Chloe. These towering images both represent to me the reassurance of my mother’s words. Her comforting words are as permanent in my mind as the images of oak and marble that spoke to me from that image.  Throughout the seasons of our lives, the words of loved ones can anchor us over time and space.

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amazing golden retriever dogs, dog love, grace during grief, Grief
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I love the way my dog loves me!

Almost 16 years ago at Thanksgiving, my family and I adopted a golden retriever who has given us unconditional love every day. I’m so thankful for her undivided attention by our sides all these years. When we selected her, I recommended that we get the runt of the litter. My sons and husband stared at me like I had lost my mind. They thought that was a terrible idea, but I persisted. I reminded them that our other 2 golden retrievers had been roly-poly fluff balls and lived relatively short years. (Our first golden named Nugget had died at 6, and our second golden named Kelly had lived to be only 8.)  After an hour of playing with the puppies, they decided that I could make the final decision.

I chose the smallest and slimmest girl puppy, and we began our journey back home. While traveling, we had a fun time trying to think of names that suited her.  Finally, I said, “Let’s call her Maggie after my grandmother,” who had died when my sons were very young. Without hesitation, we all agreed that was a great name for our darling golden girl.

Maggie continues to be a ray of sunshine in our lives. She has traveled over the miles of ups and downs that we have seen in her long life. Maggie loved retrieving in her younger days. When she was a puppy, I taught her to retrieve the newspaper and take it to my husband David in bed. On the days after David died, she would grab the paper in her mouth at the mailbox and race upstairs to make her speedy delivery.

After several weeks of watching her frustration and confusion as to his whereabouts, I sought help with our dog trainer Sally. She confirmed that Maggie was grieving just like all of us. Sally took her to her home for a month until we could begin to manage our own grief better.  When Maggie returned, we were better equipped to cope with our grief and to love Maggie in spite of our sadness.  She still wanted to take the paper up to our room, but I was able to teach her to take it to one of my sons instead. (It still brings tears to my eyes thinking about her wanting to bring the paper to David after he died.)

The days and years that followed our loss have held changes for all of us. But, Maggie has remained our faithful and loving companion all the way. She doesn’t move so quickly these days due to her arthritis, but her devotion to us has never faltered. Maggie takes her sweet time when fetching up the paper, but she can almost knock you down racing to her food bowl. She’s kind of a dog foodie.

Her reddish furry coat is turning white especially around her face. Our time together won’t last forever, but I know I’ll treasure her devotion and unconditional love forever.  She loves me with all of her heart!  As I think about her almost 16 years of greetings, handshakes, boundary border keeping, running, walking, swimming, fetching, begging, eating, hiking, exploring, and ever present desire to settle in by me, I just love how my dog loves me!

 

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Blogging, grace during grief, Grief, Inspiration
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Grieving makes you hungry sometimes!

After my husband died, hundreds of people came to see me to offer sympathy. After several hours I excused myself from the living room where some still were gathered. I just couldn’t shake another hand or shed another tear because I was exhausted. I fell across my bed as my son Andy came in to check on me. He wanted to know how I was doing. I swallowed hard and replied, “Right now I’m starving.” I asked him if he would go down to the dining room to make me a plate of food from the banquet laid out by my friends on our dining room table. He disappeared and returned moments later with a silver platter. As he sat the tray in front of me, I realized that he had brought me a tray consisting entirely of homemade brownies. I smiled at him as I reached for one of them. He told me that they were really good. It was one of those moments I can never forget. Eating brownies from a silver tray with Andy was a bitter sweet moment of grief. Grieving makes you hungry and why shouldn’t I eat a whole plate of chocolate brownies!

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Grief, Inspiration, Life, Moving forward one step at a time
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I’m all about the color blue!

While my husband David and I were in our wooing stages of getting to know each other, he sent me a card that had a crayon box on the outside. Inside the card a blue crayon drawing said, “Color me blue when I’m without you.” Whenever I see a crayon box, I remember those words. Time spent together was never long enough and times apart seemed like forever.

That card pops into my head whenever I’m having a rough day since he died. Rainy, cloudy, and cold days can really stir up the color blue……. color me blue when I’m without you…it will soon be 15 years and that’s an ocean full of blue! A whole blue sky with no puffy white clouds kind of blue. Blue-footed Booby bird kind of blue for keeping one foot in front of the other after his death.

But, life goes on and we learn to color other shades of blue. Turquoise blue to give you hope on winter days. Steel blue for standing tall at funerals. Tiffany blue for falling in love with someone else. Superman blue for seeing your sons become strong men.

Color me blue when I’m without you! What if I had known how much blue there would be in my life? I’m all about the color blue!

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adolescent depression, Blogging, Grief, Inspiration, Moving forward one step at a time, Parenting during grief
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Moving hearts one step at a time!

Finding hearts!My husband David wore tennis shoes most of the time. His favorite shoes were his white leather Converse Chuck Taylor high tops with red and blue trim. He wore them to business meetings, work, church, basketball games, and even to his weekly shopping trip to Costco. One day someone asked him, “Why do you always wear your basketball shoes?” He smiled and said, “They remind me to keep moving forward by taking one step at a time.” The woman who asked this question had a puzzled look on her face. Sensing her confusion David explained, “Sometimes it’s hard to get going at all, but when I look at these shoes I’m reminded to put one foot in front of the other and walk.”

Several months later, David wore those infamous Chuck Taylors to play a game of scrimmage on the basketball court with our son Andy at his school. After blocking a shot, he collapsed onto the floor in front of Andy and the other boys. The stillness of this moment traumatized Andy and these young men as they scrambled to get help for David. Although the details are blurry, the memories of witnessing someone suffering a heart attack cannot be easily erased. While waiting for the doctors to tell us more about his condition, I thought about David’s conversation of putting one foot in front of the other. How would I even move one foot if the unthinkable were to occur? Upon learning that the heart attack killed him instantly, we sank into the depths of despair that sent my sons and me in different directions to find solace for our brokenness.

Instead of putting one foot in front of another and walking, I spent most of my time waiting for the other shoe to drop! The trauma of losing someone suddenly, and knowing that Andy couldn’t forget watching his Dad die changed my role as a mother. The more I tried to console him, the more he pulled away. The darkness that engulfed him pointed me towards finding a doctor who could treat depression. Unfortunately it’s difficult to find the right approach or therapy for an adolescent who faces this disease. While the doctors and I sought to strike a balance between counseling and prescriptions for easing his pain, Andy began to look for answers on his own. Much to my surprise, he found remedies in cabinets and closets right in our home. Our lives became very entangled and complicated as we looked for ways to manage our suffering and grief. It seemed like our family was drifting apart instead of moving closer to heal.

Somehow we managed to keep moving forward against many obstacles during those years. There were times when one step forward really took us two steps backward. Time became our friend and constant companion no matter where our feet landed. The people who reached out to help us gave us signs of hope whether we went sideways, backwards, upside down, or forward. Thinking back to David’s words, I longed for a way to avoid taking one step at a time. I wanted our pain to be relieved instantly. Yet, there were no short cuts to our recovery. Each step took us places that would change our outlook on life forever.

During one of Andy’s recent trips home, he asked me to walk with him around the campus of St. Christopher’s School. It seemed like we had the grounds to ourselves, as it was a cloudy and damp Sunday morning. We wove our way towards the new Field House and gym, which was completed after David died. I could feel my body tense as we stopped to peer inside at the newly designed space. I confessed to Andy that even though it had been 13 years since his death, I experienced anxiety whenever I approached this area of the campus. He said, “Mom this is probably where he played basketball the day he died.” Tears spilled down my cheeks as I took in that he had estimated the approximate place where his father had died. He told me that he found comfort in coming here and standing with me in this space.

I felt goose bumps as we turned towards an outdoor basketball court where two basketballs were nestled together on the sidelines.  Andy started to shoot baskets, and I began to rebound for him. So much had changed, but our love for David and one another had remained solid.

Walking further across the soggy grass, we happened to see Charlie Stillwell, the Head Master of St. Christopher’s School, walking his puppy under the tall pines near the cafeteria. It was incredible that we saw him after so many years had passed. After catching up on school news and our families, we talked about our eternal gratitude for his kindness that helped us through some of the most difficult times of our lives. He and the larger community of St. Christopher’s School had given our family guidance, love, support, and stability in extraordinary ways. While looking for a new home after selling ours, Charlie and other colleagues arranged for us to live in a home on campus until we could find a place to call our own. In addition, he helped Andy transition back to campus after leaving for a year spent at another school.  Andy, his brother Ben, and I were fortunate to make friends here that stood beside us over the days, months, and now years since losing David.

As we departed, we heard the flapping of wings and snapping of branches overhead. We peered upward to see a large red-tailed hawk take flight and circle above us. In that moment, I realized that we had come full circle in our healing by taking one step at a time. We walked back to our car in silence knowing that our hearts would always hold the tender memories of David who taught us to remember to move forward one step at a time.

 

 

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Blogging, Creative, Grief, Inspiration
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Choosing Creativity takes Courage!

I decided to lift up clumps of velvety green moss growing around the roots of the pine trees providing shade on a steamy afternoon with my sister. I was making carpet for the playhouse we were making during our breaks while working at our large logged barn for flu-curing tobacco. The bright “Kermit the Frog” color added cheer to our earthy living room made from branches, twigs, tobacco sticks, potato shaped rocks, and old boards that we found scattered around the dusty road and area surrounding the barn. As we worked, I was constantly thinking of ways to add to our elaborate home under the pines. My mind drifted from the heat and harsh conditions and inspired me to keep going in spite of working long hours as a little girl.

Growing up on a tobacco farm in a place called Clover gave me the perfect setting for my imagination to wander wildly. Climbing apple trees and pretending to fly planes, digging holes to make swimming pools, putting on plays behind sheets draped over the swing set, crawling underneath the quilting table and grabbing pieces of chalk to draw with, dressing up our cats and strolling them as our babies in the old cane stroller in our attic, collecting clay from the creek to make an assortment of items, playing dress-up with the old clothes found in my Grannie’s trunk, or adding more squares of fuzzy moss to our playhouse could occupy me for countless hours.

As I grew older and recognized that more and more was being demanded of me in helping run the tobacco farm, I began to study harder in school to make certain that I would never work that hard physically again. While getting my grades up and juggling my working schedule, I placed my playfulness on hold until I was enrolled in college. My flair for creativity shifted to writing college essays. For me, an education meant freedom from farming. I would be the first person in my family to go to college. My father had quit school in eighth grade to make certain his family kept their family farm in spite of his dad’s failing health. His strong work ethics had been instilled in me and led to my academic success.

While striving to be successful, I began to listen to others’ voices more than mine. This desire to please others would ultimately leave me feeling less than capable to choose a career path where my natural gifts for creativity would flourish. In spite of a strong desire to be a professional singer, I became an elementary school teacher. Teaching first graders was good for me because I could make up lesson plans and decorate the classroom using my vivid imagination and artistic tendencies. Seeing children struggle with learning led me to becoming a school counselor for a few years.

My priorities shifted when faced with colon cancer at forty-one. Sitting still for 16 chemotherapy treatments gave me the impetus to journal. I realized that choosing to live fully meant being myself. The little girl who found soft velvety green moss emerged with her strong voice and creative ideas once again. My passion for helping others and vision for inspiration pushed me into faithful actions towards ministry.

Finding my sweet inner creative child was a gift that quickly faded. Just as I was learning to play again, my husband died while playing basketball with our younger son and other boys at school. The irony of this life-changing event threw me into a depression. While the pile of grief books began to resemble the self-help section at a bookstore, I wondered if I should write a book sharing stories drawn from this tragedy.

Thirteen years later while flying home from Montana, the woman seated in front of me turned around and said, “You should write a book.” I was stunned to hear her say the very words that had been rolling around in my head like a hamster on a wheel since losing my husband. During the long flight, she had heard me sharing stories that can’t be made up with the passenger seated by me. In introducing herself to me, she handed me her business card.

Upon arriving home, I decided to do a Google search on Laura Munson, the author named on that card. My heart raced as I wrote her a note inquiring about the Haven Writing Retreats she leads in Whitefish, Montana. Two months later I boarded a plane heading to Montana seeking the keys to writing that book. Under the tall pines draped in snow, the soft green velvety moss emerged on a sunny afternoon and a little girl found her courage to share her stories. Listening to one’s heart opens the doors to creativity!

 

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Grief, Inspiration, Life
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Seeing hearts instills hope!

Standing at a lake with my friend Vonnie on the day of her Dad’s funeral, we heard birds flying overhead. We were surprised to see two swans making a soft landing towards the far shoreline and swimming towards each other. As they drew closer to one another with their heads tucked down, they nuzzled neck-to-neck which formed a perfect heart in their embrace. The beauty of this moment gave us the courage to acknowledge our pain, but more importantly to remember the abiding love that remains forever etched in our hearts! Seeing hearts instills hope!

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Grief
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Surviving the Funeral Home

Going to the funeral home to see if my husband’s body was prepared for our family visitation was one of the hardest moments of my life. Since I was overcome with anxiety and dread, my husband’s best friend, Holt, insisted on driving. It was raining which only added to the dreariness of the day.

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