A Bucket of Sand

Sometimes clawing, creeping fingers of ice threaten to douse the sparkle of the season.
Sometimes clawing, creeping fingers of ice threaten to douse the sparkle of the season.

A few years ago, in the aftermath of my father’s death, I was called to tune the piano in the home of a man who had lost his wife within the previous few months. She had always been the person to arrange the tunings. In his attempts to heal, he was following her habits, taking over tasks that had always been hers. So he called me to tune the piano, even though the main piano player was no longer around.DSC01717

Given my fresh loss, and his, we fell into conversation about our experiences. There is healing to be found by talking with someone who walks the same path you walk. When I headed to my next appointment,  my spirit had been lifted by  sharing our separate and individual grief.

Dan Deener is the man who grieved for his beloved wife Lin. Before I left his home, he gave me a link to find a special analogy he wanted to share. Over the past few years, I have shared his story with others who faced a new loss. I am always amazed at the healing power to be found by simply sharing a personal story with others who hurt.

This is  Dan’s story:

Many years ago when I lost my father suddenly and unexpectedly I came up with this metaphor for the grief I was dealing with. I was struggling and it hurt so much. It was as if God handed you a bucket of grief and it was soooo heavy. You had to get up every morning and carry it with you. You didn’t know how you could carry it but you did.

Bucket in the sand
Bucket in the sand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
But, every morning when you could swing your feet over the edge of the bed and get up you were entitled to take a scoop of sand from the bucket. Every time you cried, every time you smiled with a pleasant memory, every time some one said how much your loved one meant to them, every time you told some one a story about your loved one, every holiday you must endure without them, every anniversary, every birthday, every night when you go to bed……………….you get to take another scoop of sand from your bucket. You get the idea.
The bucket gets lighter but there is always more sand in the bucket and you will have to carry it the rest of your life. Such is the cost of loving some one.
As I sit in front of the computer and tears run down my cheeks, guess what. I get to take another scoop of sand from my bucket. I hope we can help each other make our load lighter.

Many thanks to Dan Deener for permission to share his story here today. And with compassion, I think of all my friends who are nursing pain and loss of their own. I think of those who face this holiday season for the first time in their lives without a special loved one. I think of Cheryl, of Madeline, Kelley, Travis, Scott, Linda and Michael, Maureen, Derek, Barbara, Ann, Helena, Daniel, and Vickie. I also think of Jim, and Mary, Sheryl, Marcel, Travis, Ralph, Mildred, Derek, Kay, Chaz, Gary, Donte, Mike, Jan, Ashley, Wayne, Phoebe, Allison, Juanita, Betty, Jeff, Roxy, and Joyce who continue to feel the void of beloved family members through the passing years. I think of Grizzly, and Barbara, and others who struggle with health issues of their own or in their families.

And I want to say, “You are not alone.”

With each passing day of this holiday season, we can all take another scoop of sand from our buckets of grief. By connecting with others who know what it’s like, we can all help each other make our loads lighter.

Wishing you many blessings for Christmas!PICT0608

Holiday Blues

It happened again last night. I tossed in bed, unable to sleep, trying to still the voices in my head. They pointed out every flaw I’ve ever had, identified my weaknesses, my insufficiencies. Whispers in my mind invited me to retire from civilization, to crawl into my cozy hole and give up on the crazy madhouse of insanity the world has become.

The landscape outside is painted in drab colors. Temperatures plunge into single digits. Winter has arrived, and with it, the holiday blues. I wonder how many others struggle to step through each day, as if dragging buckets of sand with each foot. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe joyfulness of the season is forced into shadows of a heart that weeps silently with unforgotten pain and memories of Christmases long ago when excitement was real.

Those who brace themselves for another season without the presence of a dear one must number in the millions. There are new widows and widowers every year, as well as newly bereft parents, and children who will never share another holiday with a parent. There are friends who miss best friends forever, treasured aunts or uncles or grandparents now living only in memories. There are beloved pets who now wait for their owners at the rainbow bridge, not to mention people who have lost other treasures. Marriages, relationships, and friendships have gone sour. Some people have lost their robust health. Some are disfigured with scars of character in a culture that worships a narrow definition of beauty. Some have lost the vitality of youth and grieve for days that will never return. Some mourn the loss of dreams, of visions they once harbored about the way life should be and never was. Do they all struggle to remain cheerful like I do?

The things to mourn mount in number as we age until they could easily overwhelm us with grief, especially at the holidays. Given the vast array of personal loss, I wonder sometimes if anyone can escape the cold, clawing fingers of holiday blues that spread around the heart and threaten to snuff out the season’s joy. Are we all simply seduced by the advertisers to make ourselves feel better in the stores? Shop until we drop. Buy. Buy. Buy. I have yet to see the frenzy of Christmas shopping make anyone truly feel better. Are we all simply  just going through the motions, with no regard for the long-range consequences?

And yet—and yet—the actions involved in going through the motions can bring healing. Getting up and dragging myself through the day’s routine can be a salve for those forever-wounds. Taking steps to bring a moment of cheer to someone else can lighten my  load and brighten the day’s drab landscape. Choices made in honor of missing loved ones ease the pain of their absence.

So, I smile. Even when I have to make myself smile. I stand a little taller. I pull my shoulders back and put a spring into my gait. When I reach out to others, the gesture warms my own heart. Perhaps it warms them too. Somehow, in some mystifying way, the joy and the peace inherent in the season finds its way into a small crevice in my armor. I am one step closer to feeling whole again.PICT0862

Some things I have tried at various times in the past to help vanquish the blues include (but are not limited to):

1.    Take a box of my homemade cookies to someone who wouldn’t expect them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2.    Focus on the music of the season. Play it every chance I get, in every way possible, on every instrument I have. Piano arrangements, dulcimer music, handbell choirs or small ensembles, even recordings–all can bring joy through beautiful melodies.

3.    Contribute whatever pocket change I have every single time I encounter a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.

Parlor at the Cattle Baron Inn.
Parlor at the Cattle Baron Inn.
Cattle Baron Inn Bed and Breakfast, Howard, Kansas
Cattle Baron Inn Bed and Breakfast, Howard, Kansas

4.   Expand my horizons. Do something I’ve never done before, like booking an overnight stay at a nearby bed-and-breakfast.

5.    Take a long walk in a natural setting. Walk until I see something new, or think of a totally new thought.

6.   Renew an old friendship or make a new friend.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To all who struggle to find cheer during the holiday season, may you feel a moment of peace now and then to comfort your heart.

There is Life After Loss

A year ago I launched The Bridge, following advice of several writing friends. It’s been an adventure for me, providing fulfillment in my life. I’ve learned a lot about the blogging world, but I admit I’m still a novice and have a lot more to learn.

This year, The Bridge is receiving a facelift. Again, advice from various writing sources convinced me that it should be narrowed in scope. The book I’ve labored to write for the last three years is nearly complete. I’m polishing a proposal. I’ve pitched it to a couple literary agents and a few small publishers. Excerpts from my memoir have won awards in writing contests in both Kansas and Oklahoma, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfirst place in non-fiction in the 2012 Kansas Writers Association contest, and first place in non-fiction at the 2013 Rose State Writing workshop contest in Oklahoma.

I believe my story might help someone. I’ve done my best to write and polish the prose. I’m confused at times. Blog-related advice runs the gamut from “You can’t sell a book without a blog” to “Don’t start a blog until you know what you’re doing.”

I’m not sure I’ll ever know what I’m doing, but I believe I’ve been nudged from beyond— from across The Bridge—to proceed. My purpose in this venture seems to run counter to all the workshop advice. My goal has never been one of personal enrichment, of financial gain. Publishers and editors need to assess the marketable aspects of a manuscript. All I want to do is help somebody who needs a friend, somebody who might be going through a particularly rough time, somebody who might be struggling with a life-or-death crisis today. In some ways I am terrified to stir up the past and serve it to strangers. But if I can help someone, I need to find the courage to step forward. That is one of life’s big adventures—meeting your fears and laughing through the terror.

Let me tell you a little bit about the bridge photo in the header of this blog. More than three decades ago, I stood with my husband in the basement morgue of the hospital where our daughter—our precious child—had been stillborn. We gazed at her tiny face, stroked her cold cheeks, fingered her tiny hands, and bid her farewell. We had not thought to bring a camera. That was the one and only time we saw our baby girl.

After her memorial service in a windy hilltop cemetery, we wound our way through the hills of our county, just driving, not saying much. We did have our cameras though. Every so often, something caught our attention and we stopped to take a picture. The scenes were bleak, lonely, cold, PICT0548showing life buried by death, and dreams receding across a bridge. Together they expressed our unspeakable grief. The collage of photos became our picture of little Gabrielle, and the header of this blog was among them. It is a picture of my baby girl. Isn’t she amazing?PICT0547

Since the day three decades ago when I stood on a lonely road taking a picture of a bridge, I’ve bidden farewell to Gabrielle’s little brother. I’ve been widowed. My grandmother passed on, as well as a few friends. Most recently, I’ve been orphaned. Each loss opened a fresh wound and shook my faith in the goodness of life. Each loss was different, leaving a new kind of hole in my heart. Sometimes I thought I could not bear the pain. To watch someone you love die is to watch the world stop turning.

And yet, I survived. I’m here to say there is life after loss. All of us who love somebody risk the pain of loss and we will all have to bid that final farewell to our dear ones someday. After the frenzy surrounding a loss comes to an end, one thing that remains is the certainty that your life has changed forever.

But there is still life after loss. And it can be a good life. After losing my first husband, I met another wonderful man. After losing two children, together my husband and I have raised four. Now we are enjoying the antics of a grandson, and our youngest daughter is expecting a baby girl very soon. Life can be good indeed.

I offer The Bridge, re-designed, to feature topics related to grief and healing, to memorial tributes for my loved ones now gone, and to cover writing topics. Other facets of my life belong in another place. For those who may be facing terminal illness right now, or the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, my heart goes out to you. I hope entries in The Bridge may provide a small bit of comfort and help with your healing journey. At least you’ll know you’re not alone. You have a friend.