This season of my life has been hard. I lost my best pup the beginning of November and then came to the close of semester as I wrapped up caring for our youngest grand daughter.
I was grieving. Big time. I had cared for our granddaughters for the most of the last five years of my life. I knew I wouldn’t do it forever but I had no idea how it would impact me.
I am relieved in many ways since I am a Grandma and not of childbearing age. But the loss was great to me. I actually fell onto a bit of depression and anxiety.
It would come and go and I would cry out to my God to take this from me.
Well, after a few days of intense cold and ice outside that caused us to stay indoors for the most part, I was a mess. Crying and sadness were overcoming me. I cried out to God again and the very day – yesterday – the sun (or shall I say Son ) shined bright in my heart.
We adopted a puppy. Whoever thinks animal therapy is nonsense is very wrong. It may not be for everyone but it is for me!
A friend of mine had an unexpected guest show up at her house in the fall. A pregnant dog who appeared to have had some abuse. Naturally she took her in and cared for her. The sweetest terrier mix with a great personality. She birthed the pups of many colors and I considered taking one when they were of the proper age.
Well, the sweet momma went and got ran over. So sad. She left about six or so pups orphaned but fortunately, they were eating puppy mash at that time.
Because of their orphan state I decided we would take one in a few weeks. I picked the one I wanted. I was still apprehensive until I received a text yesterday saying that there was concern about them being left alone all day in their ever energetic state of puppyhood. Can I take him now?
Of course! I jumped into action. Cleaned the crate and mopped the floors and sent the hubby to the store for puppy chow and replacement milk.
Funny thing is……… all my anxiety symptoms vanished. I came home yesterday evening with a sweet bundle of fur and puppy breath. He needed me.
But more than him needing me….. I needed him. My prayers were answered. Never underestimate the power of prayer. The answers come in many shapes and sizes. Mine came in a bundle of furry mutt that looks like he rolled in a few colors of paint.
It was late January of 2005. Our family was grieving the loss of our daughter. Her memorial was on the 17th of January (you can read our loss journey here – Darkest Day). A dear friend looked at us and said, “Don’t you dare cancel your trip to China or I will drive you there myself!”
Now, back track a few months. We sold a house when the market was high and the first thing we did was purchase two round trip tickets to China to visit our son who was there on a scholarship to learn Mandarin at Shanghai University. What an opportunity, for both our son and us. How many times will we know someone who lives in China and speaks the language? So we seized the moment and bought the tickets. We got our passports and spent a day in NYC enjoying great food, great Holiday decorations and a trip to the Chinese Consulate to acquire a visa into mainland China.
The twenty-one hour flight from eastern USA to Shanghai (via Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) was fantastic. I say that because the plane was practically empty. So we spread out. We saw Mount Fuji sail by, beautiful. It was a reflective time for me. Here we were many miles above the earth and my heart and mind was with my daughter. I knew she was in heaven having the time of her life and that comforted me. I even felt closer to her up in the clouds. But my heart hurt. I wanted to enjoy this trip and time with our son. We three needed each other at this time. I was determined to make the best of it. Looking back, it was a great place to visit when in grief. No one could talk to me and no one wanted to and I didn’t speak the language. It literally was very foreign. That was a comfort to me.
So, here we were, the three of us, in a nice hotel in Shanghai, China. No forks, lots of rice, and a very messy table in the hotel restaurant due to my long flight and a lack of using chopsticks (and you thought rice was only thrown at weddings).
There is so much to tell of this trip but I want to concentrate on The Great Wall of China. We did see much in Shanghai and New Year’s dragon dance and the Chinese Circus and museum and The Forbidden City in Beijing. Such an old land and so beautiful.
We checked into a Youth Hostel in Beijing. My husband and I had our own room and our son was elsewhere in a dorm-type room. After eating an amazing Beijing Duck dinner he informed us that we were signed up to see The Great Wall of China in the morning. A shuttle bus would pick us up early. We were ready – it was winter so I purchased some Chinese long johns in the market place the night before. I put orange drink, peanut M&M’s, Pringle and a water bottle in my bag with my camera. We were picked up early, after our breakfast of Chips A’Hoy cookies and orange drink, and proceeded to pick up other victims, uh, er, I mean tourists for the visit to The Wall.
Three hours later, in a non-heated vehicle, we arrived in the middle of Nowhere, China. We lived at sea-level in the US and here we had to climb stairs just to get to the Wall entrance. Lungs nearly fell out of my body. We entered that “door” behind us and started on the approximately six mile(?) journey of the longest stair stepper I’ve ever seen. Thank God my gym did not have this equipment. Our guide, who spoke only a bit of english, kept saying, “Two more towers”. She made this journey several times a day in the summer with such “tourists” as us. Near the end I wanted to throw her off. But she was so sweet and tried hard to converse with us.
The section above had no steps. But to give you a mental image…… you either walked on flat stones OR steps that were short, steps that were too high for average humans, steps that were steep enough to use your hands also (hence the term climbing The Great Wall) and steps that went down a steep incline so that your guides grabbed your jacket so gravity didn’t take you first. It was amazing and exhausting and in the middle of nowhere. I am thankful for the snacks I brought in my bag. And I am most thankful for the three guides who were conversing together when I heard an english word in the middle of their conversation, “SHORTCUT”. I grabbed our guide and said, “Did you say Shortcut???????”
My husband and I decided to take the shortcut with two guides (appartenly we needed two guides) while our son ventured forward on the wall and we would meet up – somewhere???
The short cut was magnificent. Easy on the lungs, we caught our breath and saw things that were quite amazing….
After a while we came to a bridge (where my camera battery died) – a bridge much like one you would see in Indiana Jones – suspended high over a river. Did I mention that heights and I do not get along? Well, it must have been the lack of oxygen because I started out fine, following my husband and enjoying the view – UNTIL the cables that hold the bridge and acted as side rails decided to drop down to knee level, rather than over my head level. All security left me and I shoved my husband aside and RAN to the other side, leaned against the wall (The Great Wall of China) and refused to look back at that cavern. We waited there for out son, who we saw coming over a high peak toward the bridge. Before we saw him, his guide ran up to me speaking rapid Manderin and threw in english words like son and police. I thought he fell off the wall. Our guide stepped aside and caught our eye and kept shaking her head slightly. What does that even mean? I was starting to panic when two lady tourists of Asian decent approached us and I asked if they understood Chinese and if they spoke english. They did. The guide wanted my son to buy a t- shirt and he said, “Ask my parents”. Go ahead laugh.
I bought the t-shirt:
So, from there we had to get back on the wall – it was so steep that I clung to the steps with all fours, put my head down, and cried. Yes, I cried on The Great Wall of China. My son thought I was having a heart attack or something. I simply said, “I want to get off the freakin’ Wall!”
“Two more towers”, she said. And that’s when I thought of taking her to the bridge and tossing her over the side. Just a thought. When I started to climb to the third tower, she grabbed me and said, this way. We exited The Great Wall and low and behold, a wide paved road stretched before us that lead us to some building. A bathroom and a restaurant!!! I told my son to order anything – don’t care what I eat – I headed to the enclosed hole in the ground to pee. Ahh.
We waved goodbye to our lovely guide, she kept waving as if we were old friends. On the bus back to the hostel we all asked for heat. They turned it on for us. We freshened up and went out again for duck and slept like babies that night.
My son told me recently that we could have gone to a more “tourist” friendly part of the Wall where there are elevators and Starbucks. But he chose the harder route. I am very glad he did. Really, I did CLIMB The Great Wall of China and even bought the t-shirt to prove it. It feels good to have done that and I will never do it again.
Another tragedy for America – The Boston Marathon Bombings. With each disaster that hits our nation comes a twinge of pain, as in an old wound that acts up from time to time. When we experienced first hand a great loss in our family (see Prisoner of Hope series on this blog) it brought a wound that will never totally heal. I’m not even sure that is the right phrasing – I feel I’ve healed in the sense that I got through the initial shock and severe blow of loss – but the pain of loss will always be there. It will pop up when I hear of others pains and loss. It acts up much like arthritis or other similar ailments due to weather change, etc. But much harder. With each new attack of disaster or missing children or even forecasts of severe storms, the pain twinges.
But know that with each twinge it does a good thing deep down inside of me. I’ll try to put it into words. I think that those who understand these words will get this and those who don’t quite, but almost, it will cause you to look deeper within. These twinges bring to me a strong desire for fellow human beings. We are all vulnerable to hard times, to disasters, etc. No one is exempt from hard times. No one. So my heart aches and hurts for those who are hit – in any shape or form – from bullying to misunderstandings to loss and devastation.
My heart goes out to Boston and all those who attended that Marathon. It was a day that represents great victory for all who trained and ran – and turned into such a low blow – such heart ache.
My heart goes out to those who can’t grasp this. I saw some FB posts that implied that this is daily occurrence in other nations – so we should think more of them. I understand that. But here in the USA it is not a daily occurences. It is not part of our daily lives. My heart aches for those nations who do live this way in fear, I want that to change for them. But I also want America to rise up and unite and stand on our roots. I want us to want violence to stop. I don’t know if this is realistic or not. But THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE. ALWAYS.
I pray for our law and government safety enforcement and medical teams to be safe and to have wisdom to thwart these plots in advance. I pray for all who attended that fear would not become a part of their lives and I pray for those who lost that healing would come and they would become stronger through such loss. and able to help others.
The thing about hope is, it is always there. Just within reach whether we want it or not. Everyone hopes. We hope for good weather and we hope for a great day, we hope for so many things. But, to me, real true hope is not wishing. It goes so much deeper than a wish. Hope is solid. Hope is strong. Hope is tangible. Hope is spiritual. Hope is just plain real.
I use the title Prisoner of Hope. It is taken from scripture – God says, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” Zechariah 9:12 I am not a bible scholar, at all. I just know that this passage speaks deeply to my heart. I know that I feel comforted when I read it. There are many “prisons” in life, in our hearts. And when God can tell me that I am a prisoner of hope – well, what a glorious prison! I see a cell with no walls. I see freedom. I personally believe that this hope and freedom only comes from him.
It’s because of that hope that I know we will see our daughter, sister, friend again in eternity. Does it ease the pain of loss? Yes, but it still hurts. But I have hope.
A dear friend, who I will call “J” in this post, recently wrote to me. She was like a sister to our daughter. Therefore, another daughter to us. Needless to say, the loss of Vanessa was difficult for J. But I read the most beautiful words in her letter to me. They speak of another person’s journey of grief and loss and pain. But I saw beauty in these words:
“Grief over Vanessa has been put on a distant shelf and I have not gone there. I even avoid pictures, not conscientiously, but I do. Yet I dream about her a lot. It breaks into my mind and feelings whether I choose it or not. In the few days since I received your package I have thought and remembered a lot and have been surprised at the amount of emotions that have come out. I realized I have been robbing myself of the beauty of grief. It sounds weird, but grief in this last week has not been terrible, but beautiful. There is hope in it and sweet memories. Yes, I miss Vanessa and tears flow as soon as I think of her, but it is sweet right now.”
J put it so sweetly and clearly. The pain and the beauty – when you have hope.
I’ve had a heavy heart all week. Our daughter’s birthday was last Saturday, the 27th of October. She would have been 36 years old.
But that is not the entire reason for my heavy heart. We still wish her a happy birthday and she is in our thoughts all day long. But this year Hurricane Sandy came with a vengeance upon the north east coast of America. Our oldest son and wife and kids (He wrote the last blog I posted) live in the area that was predicted to receive a direct hit from this horrific storm.
We prayed like crazy for protection and for winds to shift. They packed bags and left the area to go to a friends. They were safe and received minimal damage. As a matter of fact I found out that the wind did shift slightly that night and hit further north as we all saw on our TV sets. That is where my heavy heat comes in.
I cry when I see devastating events fall on my fellow human beings. I don’t wish this on my greatest enemies and am greatly saddened over some political posts I’ve seen where people wish it would hit Washington, etc. I say that those posting such thoughts do not know what they are saying. No one deserves such heartache and loss. And I believe they didn’t realize what they were wishing. I also feel totally helpless. I’m far from the needs that have risen back there and I just have to pray. So many are heart broken – of course. Some may not even be able to rebuild on the property they loved and felt safe and at home just a little over a week ago. I’m warm and dry and have food and clothing. So many don’t right now.
Our daughter lost her life in a natural disaster. It was of such a smaller magnitude than 9-11, Katrina, Joplin, MO and now Hurricane Sandy – but not to us or those who were involved. The homes that were lost in La Conchita, California in January of 2005 have not even been rebuilt and probably never will. People have relocated and are trying to go on with their lives. Seems only a few even remember that day. Most people we meet didn’t know it happened. That’s Ok with me. What isn’t Ok is that I should ever take loss of other lives and properties too lightly. I’m not saying you all need to think like me – but think. Think of others and the things they have had to endure. Most people have experienced loss to some degree or other and it’s hard for everyone of them. Many have learned to keep it private so we never know what they’ve had to endure. I understand that to some degree. It’s MY grief, it’s MY loss and I don’t always want to share it with others. But I’ve found sharing it has mostly brought out their losses and grief and it’s totally beneficial to us both. THAT is a good thing.
My perspective changes when these bad things hit the news. Heck, my perspective changed when we lost our daughter! Suddenly some things are not so important any more. I do believe it is OK to desire “things” – big houses, nice cars, etc. But when great loss becomes a reality I tend to look at my life and my view changes. I reflect on what I think is most important and what are the things I really want and need.
This is where my Hope and Faith play a big part. The God I love and serve, Jesus Christ, offers me a security that no home or job or other human can bring. It goes deep. God the father gave his son, Jesus to us. To make a way for us to be with him. It cost him great pain to watch the people that he loved beat and kill his only son. It gave him great joy on the resurrection to make a way for us. He understands loss. He never promises us a life of no pain or loss. But he does promise us hope and love and a relationship that never goes away. He is truth and I am grateful.
My prayers are for those who lost this last week. For those who are in the midst of such a devastation and may be feeling helpless. For the first responders and neighbors of so many. Know that God is aware and it is he who can carry us through. Know you are loved.
‘What If?’ That is one of the age-old questions isn’t it? It can be comical when we go off into our imaginative worlds and day-dream of things if they were different:
What if there was an actual money tree?
What if bee’s produced butter?
What if yahoo was called yagoo?
What if 16 year olds could buy and drink alcohol?
What if we lost WWII?
What if the walls could talk?
What if the U.S. took over Canada and Mexico?
What if dogs had gills?
What if there were no what if questions?
As you can see from the list I found that most of those are not even to be considered or answered. For example, what if bees produced butter? Well then they would also produce milk and graze in fields probably and then maybe the cows would be our honey producers and our pollinators. See what I mean? No sense even going there except in a total imaginative way because it ain’t gonna happen. What is, is. Bees do not nor will they ever produce butter.
Now I suppose that if we lost in World War II our present day world, as we know it, would be vastly different. Also, the one about the sixteen year olds legally buying and drinking alcohol, that goes without saying. And I, for one, have a very imaginative mind. But after all the thoughts have run through my head it comes down to one fact: It isn’t that way – it is what it is.
I realize that doesn’t sound very hopeful does it? I’m a believer of change. I’ve known many people who heard the “word” from the doctor of their condition not being very hopeful, but when putting their energy and hope in prayer and other life changes and surrounding themselves with others who believe and stand with them – it can change from hopelessness to hope! That is a wonderful thing.
I have that faith. I have that hope. When my daughter was taken from me in January of 2005 I just couldn’t bring myself to “entertain” those ‘what ifs’. They came at me with a vengeance. What if you told her to fly straight to Seattle and bypass going back to Southern California? What if you had her stay longer visiting with you? What if you called her and told her to get out of the house that day? I just couldn’t go there. She was gone and me entertaining those ‘what ifs’ did absolutely nothing to change what happened. That is sad to me but a reality. I know that if I focus on what could have been I get stuck in time. It doesn’t speak life to me and we had enough of death. We had to look to life at this point.
“What ugly truths? The ones that stalk every feeling person when a loved one passes the veil. Guilt, selfishness, regret, anger, and even sorrow. All necessary to the process of healing, but all the uglier side of loss. After all, it is the living who feel the loss most. Those passed on remember only the love we feel for them.”
I love that quote. So true. We, the left behind ones, hurt the most. We feel the loss the most. They left us knowing we loved them. What a way to go. Really. It makes me feel very warm inside knowing my daughter knew we all loved her in this life. She is fine and happy now. We are here trying our best to go forward without her. But, when you have faith and are anchored in hope you can see another perspective. It’s only a passing moment of time until we see her again.
Know, dear reader, that I do not taking her passing lightly. I do not think anyone should take a loss lightly. It hurts. We are only human, after all. And as a human being, death is difficult. I pray that as I write my experiences that someone will be touched by my words and build in them a great hope and faith that will carry them through their difficult time.
Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; This very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you.
We named our daughter Vanessa Joy. Vanessa has a root meaning of butterfly. She loved butterflies. She drew them, she wrote about them and when she would give me gifts they mostly consisted of butterflies – a pair of butterfly earrings, for example. As a matter of fact, the last gift she gave me was a throw pillow of an asian influence with a butterfly on it. And when she gave it to me she said, “So you will remember me”.
My thoughts at the time she said that were, how could I ever forget you, and I told her those sentiments in similar words. Well, when we lost her I began wanting to grasp everything that reminded me of her. I felt I owed that to her and to myself.
Our son, on the plane from Hong Kong, designed tattoos in remembrance of his sister. He had in mind for the brother’s to go together and get tattooed, but when I saw them I knew I was to get one. So did at least 3 other women.
This is the tattoo I have on my left forearm. Our son implemented her initials in the butterfly. A V and a J and a B for our last name.
I bought place mats with butterflies, earrings were given to me and other beautiful jewelry. I have a valance with butterflies. I could go on and on. I just needed something tangible to look at from time to time and feel her near me.
Here, on the left, is a picture of Vanessa, the end of December in NYC. The picture speaks volumes of her personality – she did not want me taking that pic of her – thus the “talk to the hand” pose.
On the right – I found this on my camera just after she left our home to go back to CA. She took it of herself – I’m sure so I would remember her.
Funny thing about losing someone. You begin to see pieces of the puzzle of life come clearer. Those few things about “not forgetting” her – she didn’t know that was our last visit together. Nor did we. Right across the street from Macy’s in Manhattan, where the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink is, they display two angels blowing on trumpets. My husband and I went to see the ice skating, and as we returned to meet up with her I gasped and stopped in my tracts. Vanessa was standing between those angels – looking for us – and I remember clearly my thoughts were, “look at Vanessa among the angels!”
Aren’t these memories both beautiful and painful? I friend of mine who lost their teenage son shortly before our loss recently said, “Grief changes over time, I would never call it “getting better”.” www.CallMeOvercomer.wordpress.com
It’s so true, the grieving changes. And that’s OK. My hope lies deep in Jesus, my very best friend. We walk through this pain together. I couldn’t do it alone. None of us can.
We see Vanessa all around us. She’s in my husband and I and her three brothers. You can see her in her nephews and her namesake niece, Lucy Vanessa Joy. The friends that were close to her carry parts of her around. It’s wonderful. Those who leave this earth early are still with us. Just look and remember the wonderful things about them.
“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”
― L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl
“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depths of some devine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.”
― Alfred Tennyson
“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
Grieving is a strange thing. I’ve always thought of it only associated with death. But as life revolved around me I began to see that there is a lot more to it then I thought.
When my children began to leave home I noticed a loss, of sorts. The first two left but I still had two in school at home. But as they grew and spoke of dreams and leaving the loss was getting a little bigger. I knew they had to fly. My husband and I tried our best to instill in them who they are and encourage them in their dreams. We, by no means, wanted them to stay with us forever . We knew they had to go and test the waters of adulthood on their own, but also knowing mom and dad were just a phone call away.
I’ve observed and experienced loss in others and myself and found there are different degrees of loss and grief. Grief is a natural process of life. We can grieve over the loss of a car or other object or even a job. Death, of course, is the most hurtful. The loss of an incredible friendship or relationship to the loss of a pet and hardest the death of a loved one.
Our children growing up and leaving home can be grieved. We need to allow ourselves to grieve. Denying it can be even more painful. I’ve found it’s easier to go with it when it hits.
Growing up near the ocean gave me a picture of grief. I always wanted to surf but never grabbed that opportunity. I use to want to be Gidget (the Sally Fields TV version). Instead I love to watch surfing movies or the surfers wait and catch their waves. The waves come in sets. In between you have a waiting period.. Much like grief. I found I can go days and at times even weeks and no feeling of grief for our daughter. But then a new set comes. And I can’t ignore those waves. Oh I could ignore them but then they are more painful. Even a wipeout of sorts. So, I just grab the grief and ride it through. So much better and I come out feeling really good.
It doesn’t mean I don’t miss her. It shows no disrespect or hardened heart toward those we love. It’s what I found happens inside of me. Please know that I don’t take death or loss lightly. I just know that this life can be really long and miserable if I can’t move forward. I have to move forward. Standing still, trapped in a moment of great pain, doesn’t help the rest of those that I love.
Having others in my life who have lost and have chosen to move forward help me also. Once we share our stories we never have to mention it again. There is a solid understanding between us. And when we feel that punch or the wave of grieve may hit unexpectedly we have each other if needed. It’s a good feeling. Others are crucial to our life on the earth. They bring us more hope.
I so want to bring hope to others. It breaks my heart how much people can hurt. I know my daughter had that same desire for others. I count it as a legacy to carry on her heart. She was getting ready to leave her friends in S. California and go to Seattle with the intention to assist in HIV/AIDS Hospice – bringing hope and comfort to those suffering.
What are you anchored in? It’s sad, in a way, to find where our strength lies when faced with a difficult situation. But that is one of life’s tests. My anchor is in my faith in Christ, my hope in Him as a friend who can carry me through any joy or difficulty. He helps me dance in this life.