O ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow…
The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love. The pain seems overwhelming: a cheating spouse, soul-crushing anxiety, an ex-husband who seems bent on destruction, an out-of-nowhere heart attack, a teen in the struggle of his life with substance abuse, babies who are stuck in the NICU, my own grief over huge life-changes and financial struggles that seem insurmountable. You get it. You might be in the middle of it. Like me, your thoughts are shouting, “How long? How much? Why? Why especially right now?”
I love the holiday season. From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions. Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few. (A quick confession: I like this paragraph more than the first one. I want to live here. I want all good things, happy thoughts.)
The four-week period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent. It’s Advent right now. Shauna Niequist says,
“Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning. Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl. There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”
Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled. However, Advent ALSO gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting. Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable. But Advent ALSO reminds us there is promise of healing, just as real and palpable. Advent says “do NOT skip over the suffering. Do NOT minimize the heartache. Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.” This is not an easy place. I struggle with Advent. I have difficulty sitting with the grief, the waiting, acknowledging and feeling it. I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come. As Emily Freeman says, “I rush to joy.”
Skipping right to Christmas does NOT work in the end. Rushing to joy does NOT take away the pain. It does NOT prevent bad things from happening (I was in the ER this past weekend to prove that point…I am fine now). It does NOT bring true healing. Advent might be the better place that brings lost-lasting healing. Advent speaks the deeper truth of heartache and hope, suffering and a savior. Both are needed in this beautiful, messy life of ours.
God seems to do some of His best work during the seasons of “Advent” in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times. Especially if we look for those who will “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who will venture into the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us that we are not alone, Immanuel is coming and has come and will stay with us for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.
We still have more than two weeks until Christmas. Let’s not skip to it. Let’s stay in the not-yet, the place of anticipation. Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love. Let’s be okay in the waiting. Christmas will come soon enough. A baby will be here. A Savior will come. What is empty will be filled. Heartache will be healed. Yearning will be fulfilled. What is broken will be repaired. What we’ve lost will be found. But in the meantime, we wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!
Here I sit on one of your chairs, spending some much-needed time with you today. What a mess you are, strewn with apples just bought at the farm stand, my purse, books I am reading, an open cereal container, a dirty plate filled with the remains of eggs and toast, my phone, some unpaid bills and a piping hot cup of tea.
You couldn’t be more perfect.
I am so sorry that I am not bringing you with me next week when we move.
You have been such a strong, yet inviting friend to me. Out of everything I am leaving behind, I will miss you most of all.
I will miss choosing you at the furniture shop over 28 years ago, my thoughts of the future with you swirling in my head.
I will miss decorating you for every.single.reason. From apples to pumpkins to snowflakes to birthdays to easter eggs to whatever tickled my fancy.
I will miss babies being pulled up in their high chairs next to you, surrounded by faces of those who love them.
I will miss the spinning lazy Susan in your middle that holds napkins, salt and pepper, the standard balsamic vinaigrette, butter and some spicy seasoning I refuse to try.
I will miss dogs licking up all the crumbs off the floor beneath you.
I will miss spaghetti-faced toddlers “coloring” you with red sauce.
I will miss sheets turning you into a fort for Dad and his little ones.
I will miss the small missing piece on your leaf where one of us dropped something hard and you paid the price.
I will miss your chairs where each one of us sat in our “assigned” places.
I will miss dishes being set on you for large family gatherings where you became the “kid’s table.”
I will miss laughing and crying, listening and talking, whispering and yelling, all of it.
I will miss nails being painted, pumpkins being carved and homework assignments being mostly finished on top of you.
I will miss the dreams shared, the scoldings given, and the “you have to try it” mantra being repeated every single night.
I will miss friends throwing purses on you and coats on your chairs as hearts were shared in another room.
I will miss birthday parties with cupcakes crumbled in your crevices and balloons tied to your chairs.
I will miss Thanksgiving soup being prepared as veggies and turkey were chopped into tiny pieces on your very sturdy, formica (but wood-look) top.
I will miss the way you endured beer-sampling, game-playing and appetizer-eating on all those crazy extended family holidays.
I will miss arguments, raised voices and quieter apologies with you right there in the middle of it all, holding us together.
I will miss how you held Easter baskets, babies, fondue sets, games, legos and gingerbread houses, displaying for everyone to see.
I will miss flowers, invitations and decorations scattered all over you as showers and weddings were being prepped.
I will miss normal family dinners when someone got trouble for poking the person next to them. (NOTE: It was never Dad.)
I will miss how you watched from afar as silly pictures were being taken on the computer only a few feet from you.
I will miss Friday pizza nights when you were sprinkled with paper plates and plastic cups filled with everyone’s favorite drink of choice.
BUT what I will really miss is the way you stayed with me through six kids, four houses, one marriage, lots of hellos, many goodbyes, and all the celebrations and sadness that made up our family. You stayed with me.
How good and precious for me to be alone with you right now, just the two of us, saying our goodbye to each other. Thank you for being with me as tears sneak down my cheek, a lump forms in my throat and I not-so-secretly hate leaving you behind. I couldn’t be more grateful to you. Thank you. Thank you. You have held my heart well.
You have been a mess in the past. You are a mess right now. But you have been perfect. You couldn’t be more perfect.
I wasn’t good at listening to pain in those early mom years.
I was good at getting things done.
I wasn’t good at facing loss in those early mom years.
I was good at never looking back.
I wasn’t good at sitting in grief in those early mom years.
I was good at looking at the “bright side.”
I lost two babies in the middle of all the other pregnancies that bore children and never skipped a beat. I got things done. I never looked back. I looked at the “bright side.”
This morning, as the reality of moving away from our family home in just a few short days, along with my grown-up children sleeping in homes far away,
I choose to skip a beat.
I choose to listen to my pain. I choose to not get things done. I choose to remember those babies whose names I will never know, who didn’t get to live in our family home and who are not now sleeping in homes far away.
I choose to face my loss. I choose to look back. I lost those babies. I am losing my home. I am losing my heavy-duty, active mom years.
I choose to sit right here for at least a few minutes with this gentle friend called grief. I choose to look at the shadow side. Those two precious souls who live with Jesus in heaven makes this mama heart sad. The truth that I will never sit around my beat-up kitchen table again with my kids makes me sad. The memories of little ones clutching my pant legs and teenagers sleepily coming down the stairs on Christmas morning makes me sad.
I choose to not rush to joy this morning. It’s really good in this place.
I have always made jokes that I didn’t like her (or more importantly, she didn’t like us). That I couldn’t wait to have my house back again without pets (it’s been 25 years of pets)!!!
But as she climbed up on my lap for the last time around 6 pm (I can’t remember the last time that happened – seriously!) and she actually let me pet her without biting me, my heart twinged. It was like she knew what was about to happen only an hour later. She seemed to be saying goodbye as well.
I still can’t believe I cried.
It amazes me how I can appear light-hearted, strong or even callous on the outside most of the time, but that deep-feeling, vulnerable, tender spot within me rises without much provoking and my eyes tell the real story!
This very pretty, calico cat named Tuesday was more like me than I care to admit. Appearing light-hearted, yet deep-feeling. Appearing strong, yet vulnerable. Appearing callous with an “I don’t care” attitude, yet tender.
When she looked up at me for the last time as I said goodbye and told her that I actually did love her, I was in many ways, looking into the mirror of my own soul.
Thank you, Tuesday, for helping me to see that I am not fully one or fully the other, that I am both, all mixed up inside! Thank you, Tuesday, for the weird gift you were to our family and to me!
I still can’t believe I cried, but I’m glad I did.
What happens when you lose your dad eight hours after your first baby is born and then lose your husband one month before your second baby is born?
How do you survive, much less thrive as a parent in the middle of a hugely difficult season, and even a lifetime of loss?
On my Dolly Mama podcast, my friend and young mom, Becky McCoy, tackles the topic of parenting and grieving at the same time. Becky is a mom to two young children ages six and four and a very brave hope-bringer right in the middle of her heartbreak.
She answers tough questions about her own beautiful and messy grief process. She reminds us that there are ALL kinds of loss in our lives and we ALL have to navigate some kind of grief in the middle of our parenting season, even though many times we might not even recognize it as such.
As you listen, you will want her to “keep on talking” as I did, gleaning so much goodness not only from what she says, but who she is. We cry (well I do) and laugh lots which, in and of itself, hints to some of the profound wisdom you will hear from her. My biggest surprises are the VERY universal parenting truths that grief forced her to learn so very early on.
If you need encouragement today (she has one particular thought I can’t wait for you to hear) and you want to have HOPE for your parenting journey, you have come to the right place! Don’t miss out!
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. (Dr. Seuss)
“There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (King Solomon)
In my kids’ high school yearbooks, seniors usually put a quote at the bottom of their picture, words that represented them and they wanted to pass along to their fellow classmates. I loved reading each one of my kids’ friends quotes because they gave me a little glimpse into what mattered to them, their final statement as they pushed on to the next world of college. They varied from very serious and mind-stretching to completely silly and slightly inappropriate (here’s a secret…those were my favorite).
The above quote from Dr. Seuss was under at least a few of the pictures every single year. For a long time, I loved it. It shouted the very important ideas of hope and thankfulness. It helped people look “on the bright side” of life. It granted a new perspective when sadness and pain came knocking. Or so it seemed.
I filled my kids’ scrapbooks with quotes from Dr. Seuss. Many speak words I want to shout from the mountaintops and especially whisper to the souls of my kids.
“Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive that is youer than you.”
“A person’s a person no matter how small.”
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
“And will you succeed? Yes! You will indeed! 98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed!”
Wisdom. Hope. Life.
So why does the “Don’t cry because it’s over…” quote rub me in the wrongest (not sure if that is even a word) way?
I am not good at crying (except at Disney movies and This Is Us episodes). I like to pride myself on being the “strong” one, the “positive one,” the “hope-bringer.” But that pride gets me into lots of trouble. I keep others out, when it would be best to let others in. I put on the “smile” even when I am hurting inside. I push aside any grief (like a good American) that threatens to overwhelm me instead of working through it. I don’t like the negative emotion of sadness. JOY is my middle name after all (no pressure there WINKY FACE).
(and it’s a BIG BUT this time)
I’m discovering ever so slowly that:
CRYING releases toxins and reduces stress. Tears feel cleansing and authentic.
SADNESS speaks to the value of what’s been lost, giving honor to the good in our lives. (I joke often that if my kids or Allen don’t seriously fall apart for at least a year or two or three after I’m gone, I will be pretty upset about it! What does that say about me if they only “smile because it happened?”)
GRIEF brings empathy for the pain of others (our universal human language) and creates a healthy path towards true, lasting restoration.
It’s okay to be sad just as much as it’s okay to feel joy.
It’s okay to cry just as much as it’s okay to smile.
It’s okay to grieve just as much as it’s okay to celebrate.
It’s why funerals and memorial services feel so bizarre sometimes. One moment, sadness, crying and grief are palpable, threatening to overwhelm. A split-second later, laughter and the celebration of the one who has been lost bursts on the scene. What feels so dichotomous actually pronounces the permission to live fully in BOTH AND, not either or, the integrated, beautiful experience of our human space and my human heart in it’s entirety.
BUT (hopefully a smaller BUT this time)…
I say to myself, “Sure, it’s true for the large, visible-to-everyone, life-changing human experiences. But what about the very ordinary parts of my life and my day? What then?”
I cry when my baby takes his first step away from me, but I smile that he is reaching his normal milestones.
I cry when my husband takes a job with a very long commute, but I smile that all his hard work is paying off.
I cry when my friend tells me she’s moving, but I smile because she just landed her dream job.
I cry when my daughter buys her own place, but I smile knowing she’s spreading her wings just like I taught her.
All these run-of-the-mill life happenings echo the same voice as those that are profound. What happens in the momentous also takes place in the mundane. I have freedom to embrace BOTH crying AND smiling, in all that this adventure sends my way.
I do love Dr. Seuss. It’s his birthday when I am writing this (March 2nd)! So HAPPY BIRTHDAY Theodore Giesel. You’ve brought much happiness into my life and the lives of my children. For that, I am truly grateful!
BUT (and this one is a middlish BUT)…
I wish your quote said this instead:
“Cry because it’s over…AND…smile because it happened.”
King Solomon was right.
P.S. When I told my daughter (one of the seniors in the picture on this post) what I was writing about and why, the basic gist of her response was this, “Oh Mom, I think you’re missing his point. I don’t think he’s saying “don’t cry.” I think he’s saying remember to smile.” So there you have it. If you also believe I am clueless about Dr. Seuss’ original intention, you are in good company! Point taken.
P.P.S. If you’ve read this far and want to comment here or on social media or in an email, I’m asking you this question: can you think of a time where you found yourself laughing and crying at the same time? What was it?