Silence Please

When grief is suffocating someone you love, what do you do?  That moment when you witness someone's life come to a screeching halt, forever changing them, what do you say?

Sometimes it's easier to cower away because of fear of screwing up and saying the wrong thing, but you can't just walk away. So what do you do?

Confession time. Back when I was green, I mean a clueless hospice newbie who thought she had a clue, I made a lot of mistakes. Words meant to comfort came across all wrong. I never intentionally minimized someone's pain, but I'm afraid my attempts to reassure did just that.

The sad reality is we can't rescue the grieving. Trying to say or do the right thing to make the person feel better is wasted effort. Those who mourn need time to work through the pain, but being a bystander to the process is uncomfortable. As Americans we shun pain. We avoid it at all costs. So it's no wonder we fail when it comes to supporting those who are in the throes of grief.

From my experience, here's the top three things people say at the time of death  but shouldn't. There's always an exception, but for the most part, these are not helpful.
  1. Don't bring God into it or quote Scripture. Gasp. There may come a time, once grief has settled, when there can be a conversation about God's peace, comfort and sovereignty, but when one is in shock or deeply anguished, the words come across as trite. So keep religion out of it when the pain is raw.
  2. Don't try to frame things in a positive way. I'm the queen of positive reframing, so this one is tough for me. Yes, he may be in a better place. Yes, the suffering is over... But it may not be time for these reassuring words. There will be days and weeks following when these affirmations may bring peace but perhaps not now.
  3. Don't say, “Let me know if you need anything.”  Haven't we all done it? And sincerely meant it. But how often does that person call? It's hard for the grief-stricken to breathe, let alone anticipate their needs. Picking up the phone and asking for something? How is that possible when they are under the sheets weeping?
So what can we do?
  1. Be fully present without words. Simply hold their hand or wrap them in your arms. No advice. No words of wisdom. Just be present.
  2. If you just can't stand it and must say something, keep it simple. "I'm so sorry this happened" or "I'm here" is all that's needed.
  3. Offer concrete ways to help. Anticipate their needs. Don't expect them to know. “I'm going to pick your children up from school tomorrow.” “I will bring dinner tonight.” Ease their stress by doing the practical things that must be done without being asked.

    Above all, be honest. Be real. Be transparent. It's okay to say you don't know what to say or do. After twenty years of hospice care, do you want to know the words I say most often?
“I'm so sorry. I wish I knew what to say, but there are no words.”
That's it. No magic formula. No struggle to find wise words to comfort. No perfect verse to bring healing. Not now. Not in the midst of raw emotion. The best gift to offer the grief-stricken is to simply bear witness. Sit in silence as they weep. Hold their hand. Offer your shoulder. But do so without meaningless words. Never be afraid to simply offer your presence.

A Shattered Spirit is Loved

When I hear of someone ending his own life, my heart breaks. Whether it's a person of worldwide fame whose beloved by millions, or a nobody college kid, the question is the same. Why?

From mansion to dorm room, suicide doesn't discriminate. The act of a coward? Those words make my blood boil. No it's not the act of a coward, it's the final act of a desperate soul. A shattered spirit.

A shattered spirit seeking escape. To disappear. Cease existing. Stop the pain. Silence the fear. So much fear. Fear of never being understood. Of being lonely. Isolated though surrounded by many. Fear of failure. Feeling as though you never measure up, even in the presence of fame and accolades. Fear of never being truly, deeply loved.

Fear that boils so hot, there's no other answer. Alone. Engulfed in darkness. Fear lies. Fear consumes. Fear destroys life.

But what if? What if fear is covered by Peace?

A peace that flows right down to the core of your being, warming your innermost spirit. Quieting your restless mind. What if desperation is blanketed in Love? An agape, no-strings-attached, eternal love. A love that offers security, a place of complete acceptance. And what if once you're consumed by this Love, you feel hope? Hope that life can have meaning. Purpose. A divine destiny. A destiny in which you are loved by your Creator.

If you are struggling today, even if your spirit is shattered, I pray that you will reach out to God. He is there with you. I pray that you will feel his loving presence consume you. But please know, even if you don't hear his voice, if you don't feel his presence, He is still there. He is accepting you. He is hovering over you. He is cradling you in his arms. He is loving you. He is mending your broken spirit. He is loving you. No matter what. Always and Forever-
He is loving you.


Unshakable Faith

Squeezing my hand, the frail voice whispered, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”  The nurse rolled him further on his side, he groaned, “For you are with me."  His grip tightened around my hand as he gasped, "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

I glanced over at the nurse who was packing his wound with gauze. Tears were streaming down her face. “I’m so sorry, almost done.” She looked at me, her eyes filled with despair.

It was the worst decubitus ulcer I had ever seen- a gaping, five inches wide, to the bone, bed sore.  Nursing home neglect had taken its toll and now Tom had been moved to our hospice house to die.

As the nurse kept working, Tom’s jaw tightened, his voice strained. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." His voice weakened to a labored whispered, “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I don’t know if the morphine finally took effect or if he passed out from the pain, but he fell unconscious. I loosened his hand from mine and looked at the frazzled nurse.  I asked, “Have you ever seen such faith?”

She wiped her wet cheeks. “No, it seems impossible. How does he do it?”  

didn't have the answer then, and I still don’t. His family had abandoned him in a nursing home. He must have felt unwanted. Unloved. Tom never regained consciousness and died a few days later. In spite of his physical pain, emotional suffering and unanswered questions, the last words on his breath,"I shall dwell in the house of my Lord forever."

I wish I knew his life story, how his unshakable faith was forged. How he still felt the love of his Father in spite of pain. Thankfully, I look forward to asking him one day when I see him whole and in perfect health.

As I reflect on the end of his journey, I’m reminded of others who chose praise in their darkest hour. Jonah, Daniel, David, Paul... the list goes on. In fact, I think it's harder to find a Bible hero who didn't praise through his hardship than ones who did. How reassuring to know Tom is now in a circle of these great men of faith.

Makes me think twice next time I grumble about insignificant nuisances and temporal inconveniences. I pray for an unshakable faith so that in spite of circumstances, even during tragedies and crises, I will be able to praise in spite of pain.

Dudley's Demotion

Saturday morning. 

A mountain of laundry stares at me. The neighbors are probably on their way to take  pictures.

Dust bunnies have grown into annoying rabbits. 

I think I'll name him Dudley.

It's the perfect day to scrub down, sweep out, and polish up. The house is quiet. Hubby is fishing. Jess is living her missional dream in Uganda. Nathan is working, and Katie still slumbers. 

I glove up and jump in, but as I run a feather duster over picture frames, a bittersweet nostalgia trickles in. Pausing, I stare into three little faces. Is it possible that the precocious toddler smiling at me will be moving away and starting graduate school in just a few weeks? Can the snaggle-toothed girl sitting atop her pony really be starting her junior year of college? And Katie, my baby, is it possible that she’s no longer a baby at all but a blossoming tween?

Then... reality slaps me in the face. In ten years, will I look back and feel remorse because I didn't have a tidy, Martha Stewart home? Doubt it. Is it possible I may regret not spending time with my children? Quite possibly. A sense of urgency replaces the nostalgia. Cleaning supplies are quickly put away. The dust can wait. The laundry will keep. Plans have changed. 

I bound into Katie’s room and declare, “It’s Mommy-Katie Day!”

Groggy eyes open. “Really?” She squeals in delight. Her bear hug takes my breath.

After shopping, lunch, a movie and playing at the neighborhood pool, we drag home.  I open the door, and Dudley Dust Bunny greets me. I don’t care. Dudley doesn't bother me one smidgen. He's been demoted to the bottom of my to-do list.

Top of the list: Family. Our little ones leave the nest way too soon not to keep first things first.
Photo by Katie

Three Words

Three words. Three words to describe myself. Well, what day of the week is it? Am I at my best or worst? Am I refreshed with creative optimism or petering out after a high pressured week?  Am I polished and ready to take center stage or wallowing under the covers, feeding my insecurities while unsuccessfully comparing myself to others?

If you haven’t guessed, I’m struggling with this whole time-to-promote-your-book thing. One of the author spotlights asked me to describe myself in three words. Three words! I admit, I can be overly analytical, (oh, that should probably be one of my words) but this is a daunting task. Should I be transparent and admit that at my worst, I am impatient, cynical and smart-alecky? No, that won’t work. I’m supposed to be likeable. Transparency has its limits.

How about my best day self? I can honestly answer with empathetic, capable and creative. No, now I sound like I think I’m all that. When clearly, I'm not. Humble? No, people who claim to be humble, usually aren’t. Perhaps I should go with my ideal self, the woman I aspire to be. Genuine, compassionate, accomplished. No, that's my dream self. If anything, I need to be honest. Integrity? Should that make my list of three?

What about you? What three words would you choose to describe yourself? If you rattled them off in less than five seconds, I’m jealous. Maybe I should add envious to my list.

Okay, it only makes sense to go with an average day. I am warm, caring and sarcastic - not biting sarcasm, the fun, bantering- I like you so I’m going to say the opposite of what I mean- kind. Oops, I broke the rule, I can’t elaborate on my words. Conundrum.

Time to wrap this up. Three words! Just three words! Pressure is building. . .THREE WORDS. . . The Jeopardy tune is playing as I peck out words on my keyboard only to watch them disappear as I hit delete.

Sigh. Pause. Throw my head back. Eureka!

Grateful! Yes, grateful. That should be number one, top of my list. I am grateful that I don’t have to fret over being defined by three words or a whole long list of words for that matter.  Why? Because I just realized my three words: Forgiven, Free, Redeemed. Oh, I have three more. Covered by Grace.  Oodles of Grace to be exact.

The Word That Can't Be Spoken

After reading One Word with our church small group, I had an idea of what I thought our family’s word for 2014 should be. But I was wrong. Dead wrong.

As Hubby sat across from me at the kitchen table, my jaw dropped when he announced our word. I knew I had to call our friends for an intervention. Hubby had lost his mind! (He's been married to me for twenty-four years so it was bound to happen.) As I continued to stare at him, mouth agape, he repeated, “Prosper.”

Are you kidding me? We had been swept away with prosperity teaching back in the early years of our marriage, and it’s a place I didn’t care to return to. The name it, claim it, believe it, receive it mentality had proven itself shallow and self-centered. I was speechless- utterly speechless- which is unfamiliar territory for me.

As I tried to orient myself to this new speechless land of disillusion, I heard a distant voice, “Did you hear me? It’s prosper.”

P-R-O-S-P-E-R. No, it can’t be! That’s the word that can’t be spoken! How can it be our One Word?

Hubby sat patiently, waiting for the word that can’t be spoken to sink in.

P-R-O-S-P-E-R   P-R-O-S-P-E-R   An obnoxious cheerleader was spelling out the word, pom poms shaking in my face. P-R-O-S-P-E-R  “Gooooo team!”

NO! I don’t want to be on this team! Materialistic. Greedy. Temporal. I abhor Team Prosperity. I want to be on Team Altruistic. I'm a social worker for goodness sakes. I can't change teams now!

As if reading my mind, Hubby said, “It’s not what you think. I don’t mean material prosperity. God is calling me to be intentional about prospering our marriage, prospering our relationships with our children and friends, prospering by becoming physically healthier and prospering spiritually as we deepen our faith.”

Thank God! The obnoxious cheerleader was silenced. Then, I heard a sweet whisper. I think it may have been my Father. Prosper. It was long season of drought, struggle and unanswered prayers. You can read some of my journey here. Waiting on Pearls

Now there is  light. I feel warmth. I am consumed by peace. I am prospering. There is a pearl.

In less than two weeks since the cheerleader was muted and my Father spoke clearly, I have been promoted to Program Director of Compassionate Care Hospice and I have signed a book contract.

But if you think that's why I'm prospering, you would be wrong. Dead wrong. I am prospering because I know that regardless of my circumstance, whether I am in a season of weeping or laughing, mourning or dancing, feast or famine, my God is still the same loving, faithful Father full of grace and wisdom. He knows just what each of  His children needs and gives it in abundance in His perfect timing. Living in His presence, savoring the peace only He can give, is true prosperity. And without that, none of the other things really matter.