4 Things To Hold Onto When Your Backstory Tries To Take You Down

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It’s been nearly 5 years since my mom took her own life and it’s really hard to put into words how I deal with that on a daily basis.

Most days I am still in disbelief that this is a part of my story, my family’s story. I joke to new friends that I feel too normal to have such a dramatic back story.

The back to school days have me in a bit of a depressive funk. Some days it’s just a small gray cloud but once in a while it’s a bit worse than that. I am upping my meds since I am on a low dose currently and choosing to be thankful for Zoloft rather than feel shame that I can’t hack it “au natural.”

The bad depressive days are the hardest when I start thinking about my Mom, when the enemy creeps into my ear and says “maybe you will repeat her story, or maybe your kids will…. it’s in you, it’s in them.” Continue reading

Kuyper Coffee Dates- Friday (Grief Edition)

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Another day, another coffee date.   I don’t know about you but I’m feeling pretty blessed on this end.

Today I want to cluster some of the grief-specific student questions and put them into one post so that those who need them can access them easily.  I know that this topic was peppered throughout the other questions, but I want to dig into this specifically.  

“I would ask her what the hardest thing for her was through the accident of her sister and the loss of her parents, and how did she make it through?  I know the answer is ultimately God, but there are everyday moments in which the strength seems to deplete … and that is where I want to hear what she has to say”

The hardest thing for me about death is the unwavering permanence of it. There is no bargaining that will change it, no medical staff that can un-do it.  We cannot go back in time and save those we have lost, they we are left with a brand new life, with a huge gaping hole.

I can tell you some of the little things that I did to make it through: I was worried about forgetting things, so I wrote down memories and collected pictures and items that were very important to me in my relationship with my parents. 

I took a lot of baths because the tub was the only place where I was still and alone with my deep and painful thoughts, naked before God in every way.  

After about a week I went back to a modified version of my usual routine whether it was work, school or my family schedule.  I found that it wasn’t helpful to sit and dwell on things, that the processing and healing would come in the midst of daily living.  When it did I stopped and gave it priority and I was blessed by others who gave me space for this.

I went to counseling, every time, because I wanted to be sure that I was moving through each season with as much mental health as I could muster.

I can sum it up by imploring you to be intentional about grieving.  Telling your story in trusted settings be open about your aching.  There is no quick fix, there will always be an empty chair, but there is a better place ahead, when the wound becomes a scar and the breathing comes easier.  Continue reading

31 Letters to My Mother {Day 15} A gracious horrible thing

 Dear Mom,

I have no doubt that made it to heaven.  No one at your funeral had a single doubt where your soul had found its’ rest.  Your journey was bathed in God’s fingerprints and your heart was tender for the hurting.

You never stopped seeking him Mom, your bible was open when you died, you were still after Our Father.

Last night I found myself wondering how you felt about God, did you feel abandoned, pissed, confused?

Do I ascribe you more logical thought than you were capable of at the end?

Can the soul find rest when the mind is so ill?  Were you there, underneath the crust of depression, suffocating to breathe the air of freedom?

I know what it is to seek God come up utterly confused in the most painful seasons.  And you’d experienced the pain of depression for at least 25 years.

Could you even come up for air in the end?  Did you find any joy in the living?

I know how many times you thought about running for the end, and I have no idea why October 13 is the date when it all came together.

Sometimes I wonder if that was the night where God let you come home.  Where he lifted the road blocks because the timing was finally right for you to make your exit.

Something about this thinking feels so merciful and heretical all at the same time.

I think I understand the Progression:
First there was the depression itself, oppressive and lasting.
Then came the financial struggles that you felt powerless to change, that compounded your anxiety.
Then Laura’s accident, seeing your baby in a hospital bed, forever altered.
Then Dad, taken away in the night, his heart had failed him.
Then I yelled at you, tore you down, I think you blamed me too.
Then they told you they were taking your job, the one thing you felt like you could still do to contribute, a small sense of pride.

I think that your death was a messy, awful, all-wrong, gracious, horrible thing.

Not God’s plan, yet I believe he was on the other side of it, welcoming his beautiful baby home.

It was so much easier when faith was black and white, easier but less far beautiful.

There is beauty in the confusion, not in your death, but in the ability to have compassion for the broken in a way I would have never had otherwise.

Oh Mumma, I love you, I miss you

Damn life is confusing, isn’t it?

LeaRae

Dear reader, if you find yourself reading these words and considering suicide as an out for your pain, please seek help.  Suicide is never the best choice, this sort of freedom comes at an awful cost to those left behind.  If you are contemplating or planning suicide please call 911 or The suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

31 Letters to my Mother {Day 4} Dawn Memories

 Dear Mom,

Mornings around our house were always somewhat predictable, at least when I was in high school.

You were always up first, on the couch in your flannel nightgown with your big brown bible in your lap and a cup of coffee at hand. I always respected you for this, it’s a practice I still struggle with.

It may be because Noelle and Caedmon get up so crazy early that I’d have to get up in the 5AM hour to beat them awake.  PS I really need to write you about him since you were gone before his arrival.

Anyhow, I always thought that your diligence to morning quiet time was something that made you a good Christian woman, that it was some sort of badge you could show off at church.

Then I grew up and realized that you weren’t starting your day like this to be impressive.  You were doing what you needed to do to survive.  You met with God to gain the courage and strength to fuel another day.

Another day of 3 kids, another day with depression, another day at a job that made you so anxious.

I remember a few years back, after dad died, you told me that you didn’t believe in the phrase “God won’t give you more than you could handle.”  You felt that God had given you more than you could handle and you were drowning in it.  It was one of the rare moments that I saw you cry.

I remember being appalled at the time, worrying about your soul and those blasphemous words.

Then I got older still and realized that that phrase isn’t in the bible, anywhere. You were right and I now see those cliche words as dangerous to our faith, I’d like to erase them from global vocabulary and memory.

If only, right?

I will never be able to fully suss out the jumbled mess of what led you to do what you did, to take your life.  The cords of mind, body and soul are tangled with more knots than any of us can unravel.

We were all a little glad for you when you left and in case you were wondering, no one harbors a single doubt that God welcomed you home tenderly.

I wish you were still here though.  I wish we could have slain the monsters inside you. I may always live with these “what if’s” rattling around inside me.

But I will never forget or cease to draw strength from the memory of you in those flowery, flannel nighties, brown bible in lap and coffee at hand.

I inherited that bible you know, it’s on the top shelf of my closet, unopened.  Waiting for the day when I’m ready to unzip the cover and know you deeper through the highlighted words and scribbled notes.

I love you, I miss you, 

LeaRae

31 letters to my Mother

A while ago I heard about a challenge that a blogger known as The Nester is doing for the month of October: Write 31 posts in 31 days on the same topic.

And tonight I sighed as I realized that tomorrow the calendar will change over to October and I have no idea how I am going to deal with the 2 year anniversary of my Mom’s death, which falls smack dab in the middle of the month on October 13.

Then it clicked and these two things connected.  I can write about her every day for the entire month.  In fact, I can write her a letter every day.

This is what I will do about my grief, this is how I will remember her this year.

This will take the form of hard questions, unearthed memories and whatever else I uncover while spending 31 days of digging into all the baggage I have surrounding her death.

Sometimes the best things go from inspiration to execution in a matter of minutes.

I am praying that this is one of them.

If you’d like a little backstory on my mom’s death, click here

Our mother’s laps and that universal longing

Over the weekend we housed 8 people in our tiny home for two nights.  Our friends Heather and Aaron came to stay with us over the weekend along with their sons, ages 2 and 3 months.

As you can imagine it was madness, life exploded all over the walls and floors of our home.  Luggage didn’t fit neatly into closets and Noelle kept trying to climb into the baby swing.  Friday’s breakfast dishes stayed where they were until we shoved them out of the way to make room for Pizza that evening.

Heather and Kasen

As we attempted to coax all four kids to sleep Heather stood in my kitchen nursing Kasen and singing him to sleep.  She opened with Somewhere Out There from American Tale and then transitioned perfectly into Somewhere over the rainbow.  He drifted off in her arms as I finished the dishes.

There is something about bearing witness to the intimate moments of a friend’s mothering journey that arrives as a special gift.  A baby nestled into his mother’s arms is a sacred and precious thing, don’t you think?

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The longest journey- the week I lost my mom

 I’m positively in love with my home state and try to make it back as often as I can, especially in the summer when I long to escape the Oklahoma heat. The summer before my mother died was no different, Kel was unable to get away from work so it was just Noelle and I who boarded that early morning flight. Braving the trip without Kel would turn out to be a mistake, I needed his strength to survive a two week stay with my Mother. It was beyond painful to stay in that house which died the same day my father did. Every second spent there was a reminder of how much we’d lost and continued to hemorrhage with the passing of time.

Our visit wasn’t going well, the depression was absolutely consuming her, but I was too close to see the disease. All I could see was shell of the woman who raised me, yet no longer knew me. All of my confusion and anger shot out like steam from a kettle and I spewed out dozens of unfair questions and accusations. As I went through the transformation into motherhood I had to decide what kind mother I would be in light of the example I’d been given. I longed to have a relationship with the woman who’d given me life, bathed me in the sink and read me a thousand books. Yet, I knew in my heart she was no longer available to me, even though she was sitting right across the room. If I’d known this was the last time we’d ever speak face to face, I would have done everything different, hindsight is a clear, cruel gift at times.

The next morning I boarded a plane and flew home, happy to leave that house behind once again, determined never to stay there again. A few days later, on Father’s Day my brother called and told me that Mom had attempted suicide by overdose. When I talked to her later that day she blamed it all on me, on my words, my lack of support. We cancelled our Father’s Day Dinner and spent the evening at a low end rib joint here in town. I poked at my smoked turkey and canned beans, trying to muster up the energy to celebrate Kel in spite of the nauseating emotions of grief, fear and anger.

As my pregnancy progressed, so did her depression and in spite of the events of Father’s Day I continued to hope, begging God to break through her crust and heal her. One night in October my husband twisted my arm to stay up late and watch a movie. We laid on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and against all pregnancy odds I stayed awake until the closing credits. Just before we climbed into bed I heard phone from the other room. I mumbled at Kel to grab it, and just before he did he called out “It’s your brother!”
I glanced at the clock, it was too late for a routine phone call, my throat tightened, something, someone wasn’t right. I saw Kel lean against the dresser for his brief exchange with my brother. When he hung up, he looked at me with a heavy gaze. I couldn’t tell you his exact words, but it went something like this: “Your mom died, she killed herself, she walked out in front of a train… at the same tracks as your sister’s accident.”

I climbed onto the bathroom counter and curled into a ball, no small feat in my third trimester. I didn’t cry and I didn’t scream, I just stared at Kel as we looked at each other with a mutual, “Oh God, Now what?” We knew that we needed prayer and so we called our friends Jenni and Tiffany, who cried before I was able to. They started prayer chains and helped us through travel plans. Plane tickets were astronomical and bereavement discounts were a joke. The most practical choice would be to load up our mini van and drive through the night. We ran laundry and drifted around the house in shocked trances. Around 1 AM there was a soft knock at the door and it was friends from church delivering a travel basket with healthy snacks and gift cards. I remember being so strangely calm that I gave them a few grocery bags of fresh food, so it wouldn’t go to waste in our absence. I know that I couldn’t rest until a thousand things were set in motion and so instead of crumble, I focused on meaningless minutia.

 

When I allowed me mind to feel all I would think was: “How could she do that?” I had no

Her rocking chair, in her empty bedroom

idea she was that determined, that ballsy. I was terrified they would make me identify her remains and that my mind would never recover from it. Finally at 3 AM we carried our 1 year old Noelle to the van and started down the longest and darkest journey of my life. Our baby girl bounced in her car seat for the first 5 hours, thrilled about the surprise late night car party.

Our phones constantly lit up with blessings, assurance and text messages, bringing a steady stream of light to our darkness. So many people stayed awake that night simply to remind us that they were on this journey with us. That road trip lasted a grueling 21 hours and I can’t say I’ve ever been as tired as I was when we finally arrived at my Aunt and Uncle’s House.

We awoke, still in our nightmare and headed to the funeral home to arrange all the details that accompany death. We were greeted with the aroma of chocolate chip cookies instead of the usual lilly and chemical smell funeral homes typically provide. My family waited for me in the parlor and parking lot. I melted into the arms of all those who I’d longed to embrace from the moment the phone call had arrived.

Ron, the most amazing funeral director in the world, guided us through the details. He was young and compassionate and although we were planning a terribly unexpected funeral, the planning flowed from us easily. We chose the white casket, “The Old Rugged Cross” and James 1:12: “Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” The one detail I couldn’t figure out was the flower arrangements. I wanted her funeral to feel like fall, perhaps mums or sunflowers? Fall had been her favorite season, in better days she raved about the vibrant leaves and fresh apples. I couldn’t escape the questions, how could she take her life in her favorite season, with a grandson on the way and a wedding to plan? How could I have missed it? I was wracked with guilt, why was I so hard on her? Always placing healthy mom expectations on a woman who was so clearly sick and hurting.

I coerced myself into a trip the mall to buy something appropriate for all the formalities. Who plans for a funeral dress when buying maternity clothes? I also needed to grab something for my daughter to wear. You have no idea how macabre it is to select a funeral dress for a 1 year old whose grandma just killed herself. There was something about having a perfect plan for our clothes that provided a retail therapy, a false element of control.

The next few days flashed by in a haze, I was soley sustained on adrenaline, a sense of duty and cans of V8 V-Fusion. It took all my strength to honor my mother and get her body into the ground, to tie up details and be strong. I knew there was a house to sell and a lifetime of “stuff” to sort through. I could do anything, and go anywhere but her house, the place she ran from to end it all. I hated that house and had dreams of standing in the front yard in my pajamas while it burned to the ground.

We had planned two visitation shifts at my parents church and I walked through the doors knowing I would be viewing her body for the first time. More than anything I wanted to jump into my car and drive home to the safety of our home. Perhaps this was just an awful dream I would soon wake up from, or more accurately, a nightmare. Maybe I would jolt awake any minute, sweaty and shocked in our bed back home in Oklahoma. Denial is the first stage of grief, and it was all so unbelievable, that denial was a sweet companion.

The woman in the casket looked like my Mother, but only barely. Her body had suffered from impact, and everything was all wrong. It’s a picture I don’t like calling into memory. I didn’t linger there in front of her casket didn’t touch or caress her cold hands more than once. I fingered her wedding ring and then prepared to receive mourners and friends a good length away from the casket. I endured 4 hours of visitation and stood on aching feet to greet visitors and receiving condolences and confusion with all who knew and mourned my mother.

The morning of her funeral arose grey and threatened rain. We gathered at the church to share our common pain, to give an outlet for the mangled mess of our emotions. Just before the service they closed the casket and we said goodbye to her face for the last time. The music started and we followed her body into the church, I wept through her favorite hymns and managed to sing “The old Rugged Cross” through the tears — when I was 9 she made me promise I would sing this hymn at her funeral. Mom’s friend Kathy spoke the perfect words on her behalf: “I love you, forgive me, move on with your lives”. 

Pastor Tom read Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” This brought comfort because we deeply believed God was keeping that promise to my Mother that very moment. He urged us not to feel guilty or responsible, that we couldn’t have prevented her end. He assured my family and I that it was alright to feel a dark sense of relief that her suffering and our worry was over. I’m forever grateful to Pastor Tom for honoring my mother with the perfect balance of wisdom and love. His task that day was not an easy one.

My husband, brother and uncles bore her body to the hearse which would take her to her final resting place, in the earth beside my Father. Family and old friends gathered for lunch and Noelle flitted from table to table bringing fresh life to a hard funeral. My mother’s tiny granddaughter was a sweet reminder, that on the darkest days, God gives new hope.

We drove to Georgetown Cemetery and laid her body into the ground on that cold autumn day which never delivered the forecasted rain. After they lowered her into the ground, I walked away, still shrouded in a fog of shock. I rubbed my cold knees as Kel wound our van through the cemetery maze. Driving away, all formalities behind us, brought a paralyzing fear. I would have to return to my normal life with so much pain to sift through. How on earth would I navigate through this new life, heart and sanity in tact? I was now one of those people children of suicide, this new chapter was forever a part of my story.

I longed to do an “I dream of Jeannie” blink and bring our family instantly back to the safety of our home. Far away from the cold reality of this cemetery plot. It was late in October and the holiday season, normally my favorite, loomed ominously on the calendar. There would be Halloween Costumes and Turkey, Christmas shopping and New Year’s toasts just before our son made his arrival. To be honest I had no idea how I would get through any of it, I just allowed my spirit to groan to God in faith that he would lead me day by painful, grace-filled day.