Much has been said about mourning. Books have been written about how to mourn the loss of a loved one, and the stages of grief, neatly categorized, so we can know how to appropriately label our emotions.
And yet, there are always critics on how others mourn.
Not enough. Too much.
Too outwardly. Boxing in emotions.
Getting on with “normal life” too soon. Moping too long.
Ready acceptance. Denial.
And I suspect the reason why we are critical of others’ way of processing loss, is because we all do it differently – this coming to terms with the end. Because, ultimately mourning is a super personal thing. It is an individual sitting with the grief of losing another person with whom they had a unique, personal, individual relationship. With whom they had conversations, shared thoughts, that no one else had heard. With whom they had shared experiences. And physical touch. With whom they had laughed. And cried. Likely, argued. And sat speechless. And as individuals, they have to figure out how they will be carrying that loss with them in a manner that allows them to walk upright. To function. To love again.
Because we carry loss with us. Mourning is not something we do until we’re done. Loss weaves itself into our fibers. In time it might become less obvious, a thinner, lighter thread, but always present.
Three months after the passing of my father, I know I am still in the early stages of mourning. I’ll likely be stuck here for a while, because of circumstances preventing me from being in his space, or giving him a final, dignified farewell. Some may look at me and think I’m in denial, but I am very much aware.
I am aware that I will likely not experience the full impact of the loss until I walk through my parent’s door and hear only one voice greeting me. Have only one pair of arms folding me in an embrace. I know I will truly realize he is gone when I sit in their living room, waiting for the shuffle-sound of his slippers on the tile floor down the hallway. Watching in vain for his fingers to feel for the glass front bookshelf, a landmark in a world long gone dark for him. Never hearing the deep timbre of his voice, abundant with stories to share.
And yet, my heart is not heavy. I mourned deeply the five days between the Tuesday that an aneurysm took his beautiful mind, and the Sunday his body gave out. That week was overflowing with tears. Tears for suffering past and possible suffering yet to come. My father had more than his portion of suffering. He systematically loss his eyesight over a period of about thirty years, of which the last decade was the most traumatic and painful. As his vision reduced, his world shrank. He lost so many of the things that brought him joy: the ability to teach, read, write, watch the waves wash out on the beach, see his grandchildren’s faces. I mourned the possibility of his world shrinking even smaller. Of him losing his vivid memory, his ability to talk, the last meager bit of his independence.
I find that there is a duality in mourning. The deep sadness of the loss, combined with the relief that suffering has passed. Missing his presence in this world, but glad for him that he is spared the present brokenness of the world. It is that duality that makes it possible to walk upright. To find joy. To love. Because the very best way to honor his beautiful life, is to live beautifully.
Does your home feel like a place of rest, a peaceful sanctuary where you want to spend time with those you love? As a mother of young children, it can seem near impossible to find rest. Between the practical jobs of cooking and cleaning and teaching and taxiing, and the emotional jobs like therapist, soundboard, referee and voice of reason, resting is that thing you do when you fall down flat on your bed at the end of the day, right? But that isn't very life-giving. Here are a few ways that I have found to restore rest and peace to my household, and make my house truly the home where I want to be.
Practical ways to embrace rest in your home:
1. Make it easy to spend time with God. Keep everything you need in one place so you can grab a few minutes while the kids are napping or playing. I keep my Bible, journal, a pen, pencil and ruler all in on box that can travel with me from room to room. Every day Bible reading, or quiet time is difficult for a mother of young children. A MOPS mentor once told me “God gives young mothers grace”. Embrace that. But never stop trying. And keeping all your tools together, makes a quiet time more attainable.
2. Make room for solitude. In the book Sacred Rhythms Ruth Haley Barton explains solitude as “being with what is real in my life – to celebrate the joys, grieve the losses, shed my tears, sit with the questions, feel my anger, attend to my loneliness.” This is not a time of fixing, it is simply a time of inner-stocktaking and laying that stock before God. When my second child was a baby, my solitude came with night feedings. It wasn’t a conscious decision; it was just the only time of the day where I was sitting still in a quiet room. But it was very sweet and I often lingered long after my little one had drifted off to sleep. I recently met a mom who takes a monthly day retreat. She goes off to a quiet place by herself for the day - not to run errands, but to reconnect with herself, to be mindful of her emotions and thoughts, and to set her priorities for the coming month.
3. You set the tone in your house. As mothers we have the power to dial down the noise in our children’s lives. Setting good examples and boundaries when they are young, will shape their future habits. Here are few peace thieves and ways to deal with them:
5. Bust time wasters such as Facebook or other social media. (Perhaps moms also need jars with pom-poms?) Spending too much time on social media is never refreshing. It may be helpful to designate one 20-minute miracle towards that. Can you identify other areas in your life where you waste away time that you could have spent doing something life-giving?
6. Control your schedule, don’t let it control you. If you set the pace while your children are young, that will become their normal. Dr. James Dobson from Focus on the Family advises two activities per child per year. Andy Stanly in Parental Guidance Required says, “In our culture, parents often feel pressured to give their children just the right package of experiences. As a result, many children grow up experience-rich and relationship-poor…When it matters most the quality of your relationship with your children will determine the weight of your influence.” If you don’t spend time building relationship when your children are young, you will not have influence when they are teenagers. Relationship building takes time and effort and is hard to achieve rushing from one activity to the next. Let’s be mindful to create time for rest in our children’s schedules.
7. Be prepared. For example, plan meals around the family calendar so you are sure to keep the more involved dinners for evenings when you are not running around.
8. But be flexible. Meal plans and recipes are merely suggestions. Some days our best plans get derailed. Having the capacity to take such a derailment in your stride, adds to a restful atmosphere in your house.
9. Make it a priority to rest together as a family. Having dinner together is a great time to reconnect as a family. It is easy to extend this together time with a quick board game after dinner or sharing funny or heart-warming picture books.
10. Rest with your mate. When our kids are in bed, my husband and I sit down together on the couch with a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate. We rest and unwind together. Every day. This is my favorite part of the day. Make sure some of your resting and recreation include your mate.
Healthy rhythms in your house provide time to work, rest and play. And as we do those things that nurture our souls, we gain the resilience to parent patiently with love and grace.
Oh, this time of year. When the traffic goes crazy, and a ten-minute errand takes an hour. Our calendars grow full and our wallets empty. All the rush-rush-rush. To parties. And concerts. And holiday events. Stack on top of that our self-imposed traditions: Tree cutting; putting up our own and admiring others’ Christmas lights; pictures with Santa; cookie baking and decorating (and eating); equally divided time between families; and the gift buying, and wrapping, and returning. Are you feeling the peace? No?
Why do we do this to ourselves then? What is it that we chase so restlessly every December?
Here’s what I think:
We yearn for the connection that comes from soft conversation with a few friends who stayed to help clean the kitchen after the party. We yearn for the peace we feel when we stop to watch silent snowflakes shimmer in the glow of twinkly lights. We yearn for the moment the light falls just right through the stained-glass windows as choirs sing about a holy night. We yearn for the quiet reflection that comes with that moment. We yearn for assured hope. The tug in our spirits. The Divine.
And we rush, because we fear that missing this event, or the next, means we will miss out on the single opportunity to connect with Divinity. And that we’ll have to wait another year before we can try again. And in our frantic pursuit for meaning, we miss the whole entire point.
That a baby was born. Who would grow up to become a servant king, who sacrificed himself to forever restore humanity’s connection to His Father. We don’t have to wait for December, for tinsel, and choirs, and just-so lighting. Daily we can experience the community. The quiet reflection. The peace. The Divine.
Because of a Baby that was born.
When we first moved to the USA, we had visas that came with tight restrictions. My husband was only allowed to work for the company that sponsored his visa and I was not allowed to work at all. We were very careful to stay within the parameters of our visas, not wanting to do anything that could possibly hinder our road to citizenship, or result in exportation.
Later, when a small private school was willing to sponsor my work visa, procedures took longer than expected. The school year was about to start and my visa was still months away. I volunteered for the first few of months, receiving no compensation for my work in order to stay within the law and not jeopardize our naturalization process.
Three years later, when we received our Green Cards, we felt that we could breathe easier. Our stay wasn’t dependent on one company’s whim. We were able to change jobs when necessary and we had the freedom to stay here indefinitely. But there were still certain privileges we didn’t have.
In 2008 we became naturalized citizens of the United States of America. We checked in our previous citizenship and received US citizenship, along with all the privileges, freedoms and responsibilities tied to it. Citizenship is a loaded word! It implies security and protection. It means I have a voice and a vote – and responsibility in how I use my voice. I have shared interest in local and national government.
But mostly. I belong. I am home. I am not just a “renter” or temporary resident, but I am co-owner. I have interest here. The US have made an investment in me and vice versa.
Sometimes, when we think about God’s Kingdom, we live like temporary residents on a restrictive visa. Like we have to be so very careful not to mess things up. Like we can be kicked out at the slightest wrong-doing.
In Philippians 3:20 Paul writes: “But we are citizens of Heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.” Paul reminds us that when we are in Christ, we are citizens of Heaven. Through grace we have traded in our worldly passports for Heavenly citizenship and we are privy to all the privileges, freedom, security and responsibility this Heavenly citizenship affords. We can put down roots. We are home.
The first time I heard of Notre Dame, was in high school Art History class. We studied the cathedral as an example of Gothic architecture and we memorized terminology and floor-plans. We learned of cross-vaults and flying buttresses. But there was something else: The light in our teacher’s eyes. The awe in her voice as she described centuries of craftsmanship. Her gravitas as she tried to open our self-absorbed teenage eyes to the existence of something so much bigger, and grander, and more significant than anything we would have encountered at that age. Learning about this building ignited my imagination. The thought that places like those were not just for movies or books, but actually existed, launched grand dreams within me.
The first time I visited Notre Dame was on a cold, rainy December morning in 2014. Like almost every other tourist in Paris that day, we were desperate to get out of the freezing drizzle. With scarcely enough time to glimpse at the apostles guarding the entrances, I was carried into the cathedral along with a wave of other people. It was not at all the kind of visit I had imagined. The side-aisles were crammed with moving bodies, silently shuffling along in a dim gloom. Nervous to keep my young children in sight, and pick-pockets at bay (the carnal amid the sublime), I could only sneak quick peeks, or quietly point my children’s attention to the rose windows.
Just before the throng carried me out the doors, I stepped between the rows of pews. My husband, who instinctively understood the gravity that moment held for me, took the kids and whispered, “We’ll meet you outside.” For a brief second, I allowed my gaze to travel up the tapering columns, letting them fulfill their purpose. They drew my eyes, and my heart, past the crisscross vaults and decorative ceiling, heavenward. For perhaps two deep breaths, I beheld the worship offered by craftsmen centuries ago. And added my own. For a breath or two more, this travel-weary sojourner found peace.
The next time I saw Notre Dame, was on a bright blue, summer morning in August 2017. Once again, we were making the most of a long layover, exploring the parts of Paris we hadn’t visited the first time around. Notre Dame was not on our itinerary, as we had seen it the previous time, but we happened to walk past it on our way to catch our water-taxi on the Seine. I asked my family to slow down, to spend some time taking in all we missed that rainy December day. We talked about flying buttresses and structure. I admired tarnished bronze kings who climbed towards the tall spire and the delicate lace that trimmed the roof line. The Lady shimmered pure and white in the early morning sunshine, showing off amid vivid green and white gardens.
All throughout that morning in Paris, as we traveled along the Seine, or walked Paris’ streets, Notre Dame spires and towers were comforting beacons. She was a guide to navigate our way back home.
I wonder, in all the centuries you have graced the earth with your beauty, how many dreamers did you inspire? To how many travel-worn pilgrims did you provide sanctuary? How many lost and lonely did you lead back Home?
This often-lost traveler and dreamer thank you.
‘Till we see you again,
When I was a little girl, my mom taught me to sew. She taught me to thread the needle. She showed me to fold and pin the seams. She guided my unpracticed fingers to weave the needle in and out of the fabric to leave a neat row of tiny stitches. If I forgot to hold the short end of the thread and it slipped through the eye of the needle for the umpteenth time to lie limply on the fabric, she helped me pick up and start again. She taught me about tension. And later, sewing machines. And ripping out when those stitches were wrong, or crooked, or messy. Man, did she teach me about ripping out
While she was sewing grand outfits for her friends, or light summer dresses for me, I made little pillows from her fabric scraps. I embellished them with her cut-off pieces of ribbon and lace. I stuffed them with cotton wool from her medicine cabinet and spritzed them with perfume from her vanity. Carefully, I wrapped them in gift wrap from her closet. And then I ceremoniously gifted them to her. Small gifts from her great gift.
Creating is like that.
The talent and passion were placed in us by a loving Creator. The opportunities, education, and connections orchestrated by the One who provides according to our needs. When we mess up, or get stuck, or stumble, He is the Loving Father who helps us pick up and start again. And when we persevere, and edit, and finish, and offer Him our final product, it is a small gift to the Giver of great gifts.
Somewhere in my mother’s dresser, there is still a lopsided little pillow. The fragrance of the perfume long gone. The stitches crooked and uneven. The ribbon a touch too short and the insides creeping out where the seams were not properly tucked. She treasures that imperfect little gift. Not because she needs another pillow. But because she recognizes it as something made with love and gratitude.
And God is like that.