Posted in Childhood, Family, Grief, Guest, Motherhood, Podcast - Dolly Mama and the Millennials

The Terrible Gift of Parenting While Grieving

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!  

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

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Thank you for taking the time to listen!  Please share this with anyone and everyone you know who has someone in their lives called children 🙂

Posted in Faith, Grief, Sabbath

What do we do with this space in between?

Now Mary Magdalene and another Mary kept vigil there, seated opposite the tomb. Matthew 27:61

It’s not Good Friday.

It’s not Easter Sunday.

It’s just Saturday.  The space in between.

What do we do when…

We’ve lost our job AND don’t have a glimmer of the next?

Our kids are grown AND our hearts wonder what comes after?

Our marriage is over AND we don’t know if we’ll ever be truly loved?

We’ve gotten the diagnosis AND there’s still no “good course of action” from our doctor?

We’ve filed for bankruptcy AND we still can’t give up our life’s dream?

Our Savior is dead AND it’s still Saturday.

What do we do with this space in between?

WE GRIEVE, whether wailing out loud or whimpering into our pillow

WE QUESTION, possibly shouting to the sky or shushing our inmost fears and doubts

WE SIT SILENT, perhaps eyes wet with tears or as a stunned bird gathering strength

WE WAIT, living the tension of the known past but the unknown future

WE WATCH, expectantly yet with trepidation

and mostly…

WE HOPE, for we long to believe that what lies ahead is somehow richer because of what lies behind

We hope in this place of rest.  SHABBAT.

We hope in this place of peace.  SHALOM.

Yes.  It’s just Saturday…still Saturday!  The space in between.

Hear this my soul, my friend:  Rest In Peace today!

SHABBAT SHALOM!

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Grief, Health

I Don’t Agree with Dr. Seuss on This One

“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).  

BUT…

(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.

 

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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.

 

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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?

 

 

Posted in Faith, Family, Friendship, Grief, Thanks

Dear Mrs. Geiger (#goodgrief),

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  (Warren Buffett)

Dear Mrs. Geiger (otherwise known as Grandma to my kids),

This weekend, I was flipping through my beat-up recipe book trying to figure out what to eat with Allen.  I came across an old-fashioned casserole recipe that you had given me. Made with Rice-A-Roni®, cream of mushroom soup, diced chicken, corn and breadcrumbs.  Usually, I am fairly health-conscious, but it didn’t matter one bit.  I was determined to make it just to honor the fact that you gave it to me (and from what I remember, it was yummy).

From the first time I met you, I felt loved.  The year was 1990.  Me:  a twenty-something, red-headed, spicy girl in a new church in the middle of  a budding romance.  You: a sixty-ish, white-haired grandma, with a contagious laugh (I can even hear it now) and a servant’s heart.  You were pretty spicy yourself.  Little did I know what was in store for the next eight years.

Right from the very beginning, you began planting seeds of kindness and goodness into me.  You were unlike anyone I had ever met.  I wasn’t sure why I was chosen, but I was happy about it.  Within months of knowing me, you invited me (and my new love Allen) over for dinner.  As we pulled up to your Cape Cod on a quiet cul-de-sac in the darkness of winter, candles flickered in the window inviting us to the feast you would set before us and the warmth of your love (and Mr. G’s) inside.

As the months and our romance progressed and I struggled to convince Allen that I was the love of his life, you called me to your home once again and said, “Let’s get on our knees and ask God about this.”   Onto our knees we went beside your bed.   I’m not even sure I had a choice.   I found out we weren’t asking God about anything.  You were telling God that He needed to make Allen see what a gift I was and that he should ask me to marry him immediately.  It was crazy bold and I felt loved.  How good and kind you were to me.

It was sooner than later that your bold prayer was answered and Allen asked me to marry him.  You had us over for a celebration complete with an Italian dinner, those candles again flickering in the window inviting us into your home and more importantly, your heart.  That evening, we spoke of our discouragement in finding a reasonably-priced rental.  Immediately, you told us you would phone the widow who owned the empty home next door and ask if she would be willing to rent to us.  We were not only overjoyed at your kindness, but also because our frustrating home search might be over.  You called the next day.

Within a few months, just weeks before our wedding day, I moved in to 23 Edward Court, the little Cape Cod right next door to you and Mr. G, 27 Edward Court.  After our return from honeymooning in the Smokey Mountains, Allen moved in with me and we started our married lives together, happy to know that you were only about 30 feet away, filled with love, goodness, grace, kindness and wisdom.  What a treasure.  The next several years began to unfold.

You were one of the very first people I told when I found out I was pregnant with our first child.  You invited us over several evenings for dinner as I awaited my baby, juggling work, pregnancy and our new home.  You gave me recipes as a new wife that I made without the same ability and patience as you.  You prayed with and for me, listening to all my hopes and fears about these new chapters I was writing.

When Sarah arrived, you immediately called yourself “Grandma” and Mr. G “Poppy.”  You brought the Rice-A-Roni® casserole (the above one I made this weekend) the day I came home from the hospital, providing food and love once again in a time where I was exhausted and didn’t know my right hand from my left.  The seeds of kindness and goodness you sowed in my heart began to bud.

Time marched on and I had more babies.  You were the truest Grandma in every sense of the word, having Sarah over for tea parties and doll-house playing, beckoning Jared into your home to push the button to make the “choo choo train” whistle, poking Josh in the belly button, reminding him that it was his “tortellini” and causing bursts of laughter for all.  You viewed the dirty fingerprints covering your glass door from six little Goetz hands as marks of love.

You celebrated our birthdays, always making my favorite angel food cake in February and serving Allen a London broil on the grill in our backyards in August.  Our kids expected just the right gift from you on their big days and they had no idea you were anything other than their family.  The truth is you weren’t.

Our lives kept moving along in sync with each other, as we attended the same little church, lived on the same little street, and enjoyed the same little moments over and over and over.  Cups of tea, your love for Bermuda and our promise to go there on our 20th anniversary (which we did), visits for missing ingredients in the dishes I was making (too many times, I am embarrassed to say), stroller walks, laughter until our bellies hurt, tools borrowed, meals eaten together, wisdom shared (this was a one-way street), and hearts connected.  The seeds of your kindness and goodness bloomed in my soul.

The winter came when Allen and I felt we had outgrown our small home.  We began looking.  Knowing we would leave you gave us deep sadness.  When we mustered up the nerve to share this with you, you had your own news.  You were ready to move on to your next home as well, an adult community in beautiful Lancaster, PA.  We were relieved yet very sad.  As the months stretched ahead, we had garage sales and goodbye parties.  We shed mutual tears and shared excited hearts.  And as God would have it, our move dates were only days apart.  At the end of August, 1998, we both packed up all our belongings side-by-side and headed out into the next chapters of our lives.  We both said we couldn’t have done it any other way.

Of course, over the next many years, we visited you often and you came to our new home and we shared beautiful moments together.  One more time, you welcomed our last baby, Rachel, with open arms and hearts.  But the plain and simple truth is that it was never quite the same.  The true gift of those eight years living right next door, sharing our tables and our hearts, was once-in-a-lifetime, something I will treasure forever.  But as we know, kindness and goodness are the gifts that keep on giving.  Those seeds that you planted in my life are growing into a beautiful tree filled with abundant harvest and hopefully shade for others, that same shade you provided for me.

Today, I am a kinder and better woman, mom and wife because of you.  Allen is a kinder and better man, husband and father because of you.  My children are kinder and better human beings, budding adults, spouses, friends, sons and daughters because of you.   I don’t know why I was chosen for to receive this grand, beyond-my-imagination gift.  I am eternally grateful.

It’s been about six years since you passed away.  The last time Sarah and I sat with you in your apartment (only three weeks before you were gone), you shared your excitement about going to see Mr. G (Poppy to Sarah) and Jesus very soon.  You planted more seeds of kindness and goodness even that day.  You gave Sarah a special teacup from your collection, a wonderful reminder of all the tea parties you had with her when she was just a little girl.  You gave me, as I looked into your eyes and hugged you fiercely one final time, the greatest gift I could ever receive, the gift of yourself.

I miss you and Mr. G very much.   I can’t wait to eat that casserole today.

With All the Love and Thanks I Can Muster,

Esther

 

Posted in Family, Motherhood

My House Empty but My Heart Full (to my fellow ordinary moms)

“Yes, please get a new cup every time you get a drink of water.”  (No Mom Ever)

I lie alone in my bed on a very normal Wednesday night at 11 pm here in the sleepy little town of Long Hill Township, NJ.  Allen, my husband, the heart of my heart, is at his apartment in Pittsburgh, where he works three days a week.  Sarah, our oldest, is hopefully sleeping soundly snug next to her husband with her baby boy a few short steps away in his crib (praying he is not sleeping like a baby, but more like a teenager) in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Jared, our blond hair, blue-eyed first-born son, is probably nodding off in his own apartment in Western PA after a really long day working outside.  Joshua, my college senior and future pod-cast cohort, might just be tackling a paper he has procrastinated writing in Long Branch, NJ, about 50 miles away.  Rachel, my baby 19 year old curly-headed musician, is the farthest away, probably jamming away with friends on guitars, keyboards and microphones, all the way in Winter Park, Florida.  My house is empty and my heart is scattered all over the East Coast.

Only eight short years ago, life was completely different.  On those Wednesday nights, after showers were taken, toilets were flushed, teeth were brushed, homework was done, video-game playing came to a close, hugs were given, “I love yous” were said, all five of these people who my soul loves lay their heads on pillows within 20 feet of my own.  My house was full and my heart was in one place at one kitchen table under one roof.

Yet tonight, as I lie in my very empty house, and although my heart is scattered, it is not empty.  My heart is FULL.  Full because today, this very ordinary Wednesday, I have been loved by all the incredible people I shared the better part of my life with in one place at one kitchen table under one roof.

“Thanks, Mom, for all you did for us today.”  (phone call from Sarah as she was finishing up dinner with her new family after I had spent time caring for her baby and doing their laundry)

“Mom, don’t forget to check for my dress pants in my closet for my job fair next week tonight.”  (phone call from Josh on his way home from his internship)

“See you this weekend, Mom.” (reminder from Josh about Friday night)

“Shalom to you too, beautiful wife.” (text from Allen as he heads to dreamland after our discussion about what peace really means)

“Love you too, Mom.” (text from Jared in response to our discussion about us getting him a puppy for his birthday)

Just as I cuddled up under my covers and was about to turn off the light, I received one last “ding” on my laptop.  It was the last of the bunch, our Rachie Bug, as she is known in these parts.  And it was for no reason at all.

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Lest you get some crazy notion from all this loveliness that this is how it’s always been or always is even now, let me set the record straight.  Under this one roof at one kitchen table in one place, we had our moments.  Fights over the huge and minuscule (there was even one earlier this week and it was a doozy).  Broken rules and boundaries.  Critical spirits and hurt feelings.   Addictions and mental illness.  Slammed doors and silent treatments.  Sickness and sadness.  Harsh words and ignorance.  All the things that make up normal FULL family life.

But as today reminded me, this is NOT all there was or is now.  Under this one roof at one kitchen table in one place, there were also “I’m sorrys” and “I forgive yous.”  Respect and authenticity.  Forgiveness and encouragement.  Freedom and healing.  Open hearts and honest conversations.  Health and joy.  Kind words and understanding.  All the things that make up normal FULL family life.

So, Fellow Ordinary Moms and Wives who are…

STILL UNDER ONE ROOF:

I see you.  I was you.  It’s hard.  Look up, Sweet Mama.  Keep up the good work.  Hang in there.  You are amazing.  The days are long, but the years are short.  You’ve got this.  Your family is normal.  These people you love, but are ready to kill at any given moment, are worth every ounce of love you can muster and are pouring out and into them.  They will make it.  You will make it.   You will never regret it.  It may seem like there’s no end in sight, and your stuff feels huge (AND IT IS), but it will (AND THEY WILL) be okay and even possibly wonderful.  Never forget this one truth:  LOVE IS ALWAYS THE RIGHT DECISION!

ALONE IN YOUR BED:

I see you.  I am you.  It’s hard.  Look up, Sweet Mama.  Our hearts are scattered, yet they reach more places.  Our love that we gave and are continuing to pour out is multiplied beyond measure.  Hang in there.  It will feel sad some days.  It does for me too.  I miss those times under one roof at one table in one place.  But it will (AND WE WILL) be okay and even possibly wonderful.   Even though the end is in plain view (and possibly in the rear view), we must keep loving and giving ourselves to our people.  Even though our houses are empty, our hearts can be full.  Never forget this one truth:  LOVE IS ALWAYS THE RIGHT DECISION!

(One heart-wrenching note: for those of you who have lost children, I can’t even imagine.  Your heart has been shattered beyond belief.  It’s hard for me to speak to you because I don’t understand.  I really don’t.  But I do know that the love you showed them while they were here is not wasted.  It’s continuing to multiply over and over again because love is like that.  You loved them with your whole heart.  In turn, they loved others with theirs.  That’s what this world needs and you have given it freely and sacrificially.  Thank you for taking that risk we all are taking as we love our children with our fierce mom love.  I’m so sorry, Sweet Mama.   My heart is with you and all us moms collectively salute you and hug you with our hearts.)


When our daughter became pregnant (CLICK HERE) with our precious grandson (CLICK HERE), I was giddy.  Not because she was going to produce a grandchild to me, even though that’s a lot of fun, but because she was going to join the massive, never-ending “Mom’s Club” that I am a part of.  There’s nothing like it.  We understand parts of each other that no one else does.  We take a gigantic risk loving this human being, but we can’t help ourselves.  We give each other that look (maybe of desperation or joy) across the room and the other mom sees our hearts behind our eyes.  There’s nothing like it.   We turn to each other in times of great heartache and are comforted.   When we can’t speak with our mouths because the joy or the pain is too deep, we receive unspoken affirmation through hugs from each other.   There’s nothing like it.

So Sweet Mama, thank you for loving.  Thank you for sharing your heart with another.  Thank you for making your little world a much more beautiful and safe place.   You’ve got this!  And together, we’ve got this in spades!

**PLEASE LIKE THIS ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND SHARE WITH ALL THE MOMS YOU KNOW**

 

Posted in Friendship, Grief

Grief – One Friend’s Journal Entry (For Steven)

“True love between two human beings puts you more in touch with your deepest self.  The pain you experience from the death of the person you love calls you to a deeper knowledge of God’s love.  The God who lives in you can speak to the God in the other.  This is deep speaking to deep, a mutuality in the heart of God, who embraces both of you.”  (Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love)

Grief.  Most of us try our very hardest to shy away, or even run away from it.  We question what to say when someone is grieving.  We are unsure how often or even if to “bring it up” once life supposedly goes “back to normal.”  We don’t know what to expect from ourselves or what the other might need from us.  Should we come close or give the other space?  It can be a very confusing time for everyone.  And truthfully, if I can speak candidly about myself,  I don’t like to be in pain or be with others in pain.  It’s just downright uncomfortable.

The past couple of years have been filled with family and friends who are grieving.   And like most things in my life, I am not an avoider.  I want to throw myself headlong into the process, engage in it, learn from it, deal with it.  After all, it’s fairly new to me and I’ve heard that it’s horrible, sacred, beautiful intimate, and gut-wrenching all at the same time.

I lost my own sister-in-law, Denise Maret, just under a year ago, after a year-and-a-half long battle with colon cancer.  My brother and 19-year-old niece are left to raise my nine- and ten-year-old nephew and niece, along with the help of their grandparents.

My friend lost her precious brother to suicide.  He has left behind a wife, three children and two grandchildren and her heart is broken.

Our friend and former babysitter lost both her dad and her husband to cancer during her two pregnancies and she is left to raise two young children alone.

I reconnected with someone on Facebook who lost her only son to teen suicide.  This was the second time she lost a child, the other, a daughter, in early infancy.

A friend from church battled kidney cancer for many years.  His wife faithfully cared for him, only to lose him.  He missed his step-daughter’s wedding by only three short months.

One of my best friends from high school lost both of her daughters, her only children, in a tragic car accident on Good Friday.  They were only 19 and 20 years old, absolutely stunning girls, one only 10 days away from her college graduation.

You have your own stories.  So much horror.  So much sadness.  Grief multiplied.

This is probably where you want to click off, log out, go find puppy videos on the internet.  Me too.  At times.  But not today.  Come with me.  Lean in.  Learn along side of me.  Today, we will catch just a glimpse inside the world of my friend, Annie, who lost her baby brother to suicide at just 51 years old.  I promise you that it’s not all horrible.

When she first shared this journal entry with me, my heart was filled with horror, joy, sorrow, connection, injustice and comfort.  Yes.  All of those things.   Loss feels raw and sad and terrible and wrong, but also sacred and beautiful and precious.  Entering in to the pain allows our hearts to be touched with a deeper knowing and beauty that we will miss if we click away.  I ask that you would read on.

Annie’s Journal Entry on 6/17/2017.  Four months later.

Steven is gone.  He is gone.  He is gone from me.  How can this be?  How can he be gone, just gone?  I don’t feel disconnected from him . . . but definitely disengaged.  He is not here to hope, or dream, or plan for a future together.  All those things are gone.

My connection to a future here that includes him is gone, and nothing will take its place.  It is an empty space…and it will stay empty.  It is a space that holds his absence and my missing him.  My own future will always hold this empty space.  I am suffering.  I will suffer, but I will not be destroyed or left desolate by an empty space.

This empty space where Steven is missing is a sacred place.  I would rather have this sacred, empty space than no space at all.  Our love and connection to each other created a space for our future together.  If there had been no love and connection, there would be no space – – and I am thankful for it, for our empty space . . . for my empty space.

I am thankful for all the other spaces, the other spaces that are full – – beautiful, cherished spaces filled to bursting with love and life and memories.  Memories of the two of us.  All the precious moments we had together and apart-but-connected.  All the treasured memories we had together with others.  Those spaces are filled up and will stay full . . .
nothing will change that.

I don’t have you with me now my Steve, my beloved Steven, but I am forever grateful for you – my one time little brother, my forever friend.