Category : Parenting during grief

Grief, Parenting during grief, surviving the anniversary of a loved one's day of death, Uncategorized

Time keeps on ticking!

Time keeps on ticking. Twenty years ago today my family lost David.  I usually mark this day by reflecting on all the living he packed into his life of 45 years. This year I’ve decided to focus on forgiveness. The trauma of David’s death has been hard to wrestle with.  David died of a fatal heart attack at our sons’ school while playing basketball with Andy and other boys at St. Christopher’s School. It is always our hope to honor David’s life rather than his death.

There are rarely days without thoughts of David.  His untimely death catches  me off guard sometimes. It happened yesterday when I heard my neighbor’s son dribbling the basketball in his driveway.  I was walking down the street. I glanced up to see this young man quickly shift his weight in front of the goal. I knew he was going for a lay-up. Of course, he made the shot. I said, “Great shot!” He smiled at me and turned back to his pounding of the ball with every dribble. I picked up my pace to avoid the impending grief settling in around me. I was determined to remain positive.

I looked for nature to help throw off the blues. I spotted a patch of clover growing alongside the road. One of my hidden talents is finding 4 leaf clovers. They symbolize hope for me.  Just as I was lifting my hand to touch the top of what was likely a 4 leaf clover, I screamed so loud I startled myself.  A long black racer snake was just inches from my fingers. To say I’m afraid of snakes is an understatement. I quickly realized it was not moving. It had likely been run over.  I bolted past another basketball goal at the edge of the street.

When I returned to writing this reflection, I found myself thinking of how hard grief is to express. There is no way around it. We must go through it to come out on the other side of it. The hard truths of David’s life and the impact on our grief is messy.  I’ve had to forgive David for leaving us much too early in life. I’ve fussed at him in my head and out loud for taking his health for granted. He used to say, “smoking only affects me.” That’s simply not true. He enjoyed being the life of the party, but the impact of binge drinking aged his body too quickly. The hardship of the legacy of trauma that David endured as the only adopted son of a raging alcoholic father affected all of us. His way of coping with his past cast a shadow over ours. During all the years of our grieving his loss, it is finally time to say we forgive you David.  As John Prine sang in the song, Fish and Whistle, “Father forgive us for what we must do, You forgive us, We’ll forgive you, We’ll forgive each other, Till we both turn blue, then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven.”

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

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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