Final Moments

Final Moments

This weekend I repeated a joyless task I would prefer not to do. I put flowers on Dan’s grave because his birthday is Monday. I’d much rather for him to be alive and well, with me treating him to a birthday cake and supper. Kim, Cindy, and I change out the flowers throughout the year, usually on holidays. It’s all we can do for him now.

It took a long time for me to get to where I can remember our last day with Dan without tears, without longing, and without anger, feelings common among the grieving. When I put it altogether, God’s mercy and love for us in His plan to take Dan home was evident. His invisible Hand moving people around or placing them where He wants them for reasons we can’t comprehend until much later. Let me explain.

Dan’s final day with us was on a Sunday. It was during his second hospital stay in just one month. I always spent the night with Dan when he was in the hospital, but not that day. He was doing better, so much better he would be going home in a few days. Prodded by Dan because he knew I was dealing with a severe sinus infection, I decided to go home before dark.

Dan was quieter than usual that morning, but he perked up when Cindy came by and stayed with him for a while. Kim, who worked the night before, came later and stayed with Dan until late. She worked at the hospital as a RN in ICU. She was also a member of the Code Blue team, which consists of certified clinical personnel trained to respond to Code Blue announcements on the hospital’s paging system. Upon hearing these, they rush to resuscitate patients who are in cardiac or respiratory arrest.

A few words about Kim and Cindy: they inherited Dan’s dark hair, olive complexion, some of his mannerisms, but their strength is their own. I don’t believe strength is genetic. We learn how to be strong from the people who influence us. My mother, my Aunt Sarah and Aunt Fran, my cousins Carolyn, Angie, and Edna, all of whom are strong women, molded my life by me just observing them. Life changing events, trials, heartbreak, and other ordeals shape and toughen us to face whatever. The first few days after Dan died, Cindy and Kim, though dealing with their own grief, propped me up because in my mortally wounded state I couldn’t stand on my own. They’re strong, intelligent, and well educated, and on my list of phenomenal women whom I admire and who inspire me.

That Sunday seemed like any other day—just regular conversations, jokes, and laughter with no concern, with no inkling it would be our last times with him. We were there that day, there with Dan letting him know we cared, then not long after Kim left, Jesus took Dan home.

God made sure we each had those final happy moments with Dan, and he with us. I believe His Hand was at work in yet another way too. Kim was on the schedule to work the night Dan died, but at the last minute, a coworker asked her to switch nights, freeing Kim to spend the evening with Dan. It also freed her of being at work when the Code Blue went out for him. She would’ve heard his room number over the paging system, she would’ve thought, “That’s my Dad’s room number,” then she would have raced to his room, and outside of it, a couple of coworkers would’ve held her back while the others worked frantically and unsuccessfully to save his life. God spared Kim, a Daddy’s Girl since she was old enough to follow him everywhere and talk his ears off, from that trauma.

An old Jewish proverb says, “If God lived on earth, people would break His windows.” Even in my darkest days of grief, mad with God for not letting Dan live longer, I couldn’t deny His hand at work that day. We each have a certain amount of time allotted to us—meaning there’s a predetermined date for each of us when we must clock out; we’ve completed our work. God and I have a major disagreement concerning Dan’s allotted time, as I wanted to keep him with me much longer. I am grateful for the twenty-six years, two months, and nineteen days we had together. I wouldn’t trade one second for anything.

Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! You will always be one of God’s greatest blessings to me.

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Photo: kerzen3012a © Fiedels – Fotolia.com

 

 

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved

 

Waiting

Waiting

Waiting. It’s hard. Whether you’re nervously waiting for the doctor to come out to talk to you about a loved one’s condition or perhaps you’re stuck on the interstate annoyed and wanting traffic to start moving again, or just waiting for your turn in the bathroom, it’s no fun. The entire time you’re waiting for something to happen, you focus on what isn’t happening.

The same thing can occur when you ask God to act on your behalf, particularly if it involves a life-changing event, or during those difficult times when you’re going through a meat-grinder. Most of us know what that’s about—when dragging your tired self out of the bed is an act of strength and heroism. Despite prayer after prayer, nothing appears to be happening in your favor and all indicators point to the situation(s) getting worse. Just getting through the day is an obstacle course.

I’m there now, and I’m sure many of you are too. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting! I keep reminding myself of this: similar to the gray skies and the rainy days breaking away to the beautiful sunny warm days like today and yesterday, this excruciatingly bad season is going to changeover to something better. Itty-bitty piece by piece, the puzzle of my life will come together to a beauty I never dreamed it would. It’s going to happen for you too. Just keep hoping and praying and yes, waiting.

 

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved

Harper Lee and Joe South

With the recent news about Harper Lee’s new book, I remembered the famous scene in To Kill a Mockingbird where Atticus is teaching Scout about emphasizing with other people. He tells her in order to understand another person you need to see things from that person’s point of view, climb inside their skin. This reminds me of a Joe South song from the early 70’s named Walk a Mile in My Shoes, in which he says to walk in his shoes before you become judgmental and critical. Both of these are lessons in empathy.

A few days ago, I endured an unnecessary conversation, and thinking back on it, I should’ve walked away. Not wanting to hurt that person’s feelings, I defended my life choices to a person who had no clue of what I’ve lived through as a widow.

It’s been several years now since Dan died. The days of the deep mourning, the sleepless nights, the explosion of grief episodes are behind me. The wound, now scabbed over, is still there. All it takes is a memory, a song, a smell, to make my throat tighten and my eyes water.

I want to write this from the perspective of the widowed. I have yet to meet a widow who hasn’t been on the receiving end of some, if not all, of these comments. No one understands what widowhood is like until it happens to them. Empathy is hard to come by, and the widowed, especially new widows, already vulnerable, often endure the most inconsiderate remarks. So here we go.

1 – “You should have known he was going to die.”

This is possibly the cruelest comment made to me after Dan died, and it happened a month later, when the wound was so fresh it was oozing blood. This asinine remark came from someone who should have known better. My husband’s health wasn’t good, but his disease didn’t kill him—a Pulmonary Embolism did.

If a loved one dies after a prolonged disease, it doesn’t make the pain any less. Even though the condition is terminal, loved ones still pray for a miraculous turnaround. The heart clings to hope until a loved one takes his or her very last breath.

2 – “If you need anything, let me know.”

This is common statement, often made with good intentions. Just a nice thing to say when no other words will do—we’ve all said it to the bereaved. We say it and forget it.

At first, a widow doesn’t know what she needs. In marriage, there are usually jobs either the husband or the wife takes care of. Death transfers those burdens to the surviving spouse. This is a particularly difficult situation for the widow

When I dealt with problems Dan would’ve handled, I thank God for the good people who were honest with me, showed up when they said they would, and charged me a fair price. No one can ask for more than that.

3 – “At least you know he loved you.” Translation: the pain of losing a spouse through divorce is worse than the pain of losing a spouse through death.

Yes, I know my spouse loved me. When he left, he didn’t do it because he wanted to leave. Ok, I get that. Losing a spouse through death or divorce is painful. A similar life rebuilding has to occur if one is to move forward.

Here is the difference:

People who are still alive have the ability to change, to realize their mistakes, and attempt to correct them. Sometimes divorcees do remarry, sometimes years later. Where there is life, there is hope.

For the widowed, there is no hope of an earthly reunion—no rethinking, no realization of mistakes, and no reuniting in life. My husband’s body is still in the grave we buried him in several years ago. He is not coming home. Not ever.

4 – “I know how you feel.”

Unless someone is widowed, he or she doesn’t know. For example, feeling alone and abandoned is normal for the widowed, even with a room full of caring people. This may be difficult for many people to comprehend, but the widowed will completely understand those feelings. Just as C.S. Lewis stated, grief feels like fear. That sounds odd, but it is very true.

5 –“You’ll get over it, it just takes time.”

It is a widespread misconception that you can actually “get over” losing a loved one. It is not true. Time makes it easier to deal with, but one never gets over it. The wound is always there.

6 – “They’re better off.”

From the conversations I’ve had with other widows, this comment isn’t as comforting as many people think it is. A new widow is longing for things to go back the way they were before death came and destroyed her world. If he was sick, she longs for him to be alive and well where her world is complete and her heart is whole. It’s human nature to want who we love to be near us.

Yes, I’ve said many times I know Dan’s in heaven, and I’m glad his breathing problems are over. I said it with my chest split wide open, my heart ripped out and smashed to pieces. I’ll never stop wanting to be by his side. The longing will always be there, even though my life must go on.

7 – “You’re young, you can remarry. Why aren’t you dating?”

When someone says something like this, I wonder what makes them think a widow wants to remarry. Remarriage may not be what God has planned for the surviving spouse. I know several widows and widowers who found new spouses. That’s great, but it’s not for everybody. A wise woman once told me there are worse things than being alone. I agree.

When someone tells me to start dating, as if I’m crazy because I don’t want to, I want to tell them to mind their own business and let me rebuild my life the way God wants it rebuilt. I don’t say it because I don’t like hurting people’s feelings.

 

Harper Lee and Joe South reminded us to try to see the world through someone else’s eyes, by spending a little time in their shoes, especially if you feel the need to criticize them. The world would be a better place if more people could do that.

If you’re a new widow, please remember most deliverers of inconsiderate remarks mean well, and as you grow stronger and your thinking becomes clearer, you can tell the difference between who’s being concerned, but not sure of the right words, and who’s being a jerk. No matter what anyone says, don’t ever stop working on rebuilding your life. Never, ever give up!

If you’ve never heard Walk a Mile in My Shoes, below is a link to Elvis Presley’s cover of the song. I like what he says before he starts singing.

 

 

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved

Blue Collar Beginnings

Blue Collar Beginnings

The meme I used in my last post is about doing what people think you can’t do. If you’re discouraged about something you want to do, maybe this post will provide a little encouragement.

I started working in a sock factory when I was sixteen. My plan was to earn money for college, then quit. Like John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans,” I ended up hanging around for a few years, seventeen to be exact, as a sock boarder, making good money for a textile worker, but dying a slow death. A supervisor once told me sock boarding separated the women from the girls, the men from the boys. He wasn’t joking. My chance to get out came when a University of Georgia Evening Classes brochure arrived in the mail. A few months later, I enrolled as a provisional student—the first step on the longest and hardest journey of my life.

Most of my classes were interesting, some were treacherous, a few as boring as a blank wall. Being a wife and mother, as well as a full-time worker, I never had enough time to study. Sometimes I woke in the morning with a textbook opened where I left off when I fell asleep, and a new round spot on the sheets in the color of whatever uncapped highlighter that fell from my hand.

There were comments made by others, often behind my back, with, “She’ll never make it,” being the most popular line. I didn’t listen to them. I kept a poem in my purse called Believe within Your Own True Self by Harold F. Mohn, and sometimes I listened to a local church’s rendition of Squire Parson’s “The Master of the Sea” while driving to and from classes. Just a little encouragement on the bad days, and there were quite a few of those.

During the eighties, UGA required students to take Physical Education courses. I signed up for a class, Body Conditioning, which I interpreted to be aerobic dancing or calisthenics. It was running, not jogging, but running. Each class, weather permitting, we ran through adjacent neighborhoods, with me lagging behind, huffing and puffing, side hurting, and stopping to hug Stop signs. Frequently, people would come out of their houses to watch us. I imagine some of their conversations went like this:

“Look at them chaps go,” said spectator one.

“That one trailing behind look likes she’s about to die,” replied spectator two.

Spectators laughed.

That class didn’t end soon enough for me.

I suffered through three math classes, but made it with prayer and the help of three tutors. The only thing I remember from the most monstrous class of them all, Analytic Geometry and Calculus, was that a ‘D’ stood for Done.

My biggest hurdle came with my first required programming class. The programming logic wasn’t soaking into my brain. I had no tutors, nor did I know anybody who could program anything other than a VCR. After driving home from a particularly frustrating class, I sat in the car and had myself a good pity party. I told God I needed that class to graduate, but I was failing, big time. In tears, I begged, “Please God, I need Your help.” I knew my naysayers would laugh and say, “I told you she couldn’t do it.” Worst of all, I would disappoint my family. How could I tell Kim to go to college when I couldn’t handle it myself?

Pity party done and long story short, the next day I called a woman I knew who worked in the company’s corporate office and told her about my situation. A few days later, a programmer in our IT department helped me understand the logic in the practice program I was struggling to compile. With his help and a lot of prayer, my grades went up, and I passed the final.

Six months later, I quit working in the sock factory, so I could attend day classes and finish my degree, which I completed fifteen months later. I never boarded another pair of socks. My life-changing journey took a little over seven years.

Whatever it is you’re striving for, don’t give up. Got naysayers? Use their negativity like Red Bull to give you the energy to keep going. Run into roadblocks? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have to work harder than the others, do it! Just don’t ever give up. No matter how long it takes or how hard it is, it will be worth it when you reach your goal.

 

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved.

And the phoenix rose from the ashes…

Happy New Year! I am not sad to see 2014 go, no more than I was unhappy to see 2013 disappear. These have been destructive years, of both the inflicted and self-inflicted type, with a few highlights here and there, blessings, or moments of extreme happiness. I woke up on this first day of 2015 with two questions. The first one to God, yes, I’m a believer, and I make no apologies for it. I asked Him, “You see my messed up life—what are You going to do about it?” The second question was for me, the same question, but slightly modified. “You see YOUR messed up life—what are YOU going to do about it?”

Before my husband died, every day was a new beginning, a chance to start over and never, ever give up, no matter the circumstances. It was that attitude that helped me through difficult times, including being married with a young child and disabled mother, working full time in a sock factory while commuting to Athens, sometimes four nights a week to attend night classes at the University of Georgia. In addition, for most of my life, there were people I could take care of:  my mother, helping her with cooking when many teenagers were enjoying being typical teenagers, Dan and Kim—people who needed me, making me feel like I had a purpose. Mama died, Kim grew up, went to college, and moved away, leaving Dan, and me alone; empty nesters, enjoying life as he began his well-deserved retirement. His health deteriorated, and my focus became doing everything I could do to keep him alive and happy. I failed.

After Dan’s death, my purpose in life changed. So used to taking care of others, I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I shoved the grief off to the side, so I could handle the seemingly never-ending cycle of problems. The first four years I managed to keep things together and accomplished a few goals: improved my health by leading a healthier lifestyle, I completed my MBA, which kept my mind busy, and I went on two happy and unforgettable trips to Europe with Kim. Then things started to change.

My Mama used to say, some people would cut your throat and laugh at you for dying to protect themselves. I finally realized there are people who will never respect me or value my presence. In their eyes, I’ll always be second-class no matter what I do or achieve. There are selfish, mean-spirited, condescending jerks who masquerade as decent human beings everywhere, including in workplaces and churches, social media, male and female, all races, and religions. We all deal with them. The trick is not letting these germs and parasites define your self-worth.

I messed up there. Despite being raised by a widow, I didn’t understand that being a widow meant being vulnerable. For the first time I measured myself by other people’s yardsticks. In addition, I foolishly looked for comfort materialistically to help fill the emptiness, which isn’t possible, by the way. I stopped taking care of myself, stopped taking my medications, my weight ballooned again, along with my problems. The attitude that got me through most of my life dissipated, replaced by discouragement and a severely tested faith. I crashed and burned, sinking into unchartered territory, for me, at least, convincing myself there was no hope.

Kim and I attended the Fleetwood Mac concert in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Before they began singing “Gypsy,” Stevie Nicks gave an inspiring speech. Below is an excerpt:

“So, the reason I’m telling you this very long, drawn out story is…if you have a dream and you believe in it and people will always say….no, no, no, you can’t have that, you have to do this or go that way. If you believe in your dream, don’t ever let anybody stand in your way and tell you can’t do it……Just focus and say this is my dream, this is my world, and I’m doing it.”

Her words slapped me in the face. I used to tell people this all the time to encourage them to make changes if they weren’t happy with their circumstances. If I could do it, they could too. Stevie Nicks hit me over the head with my own sermon. I will never forget that moment.

I love the capital of my state: Atlanta. Her symbol is the phoenix; the mythical bird consumed by fire, and then rose from the ashes. Atlanta rose from the ashes after the Civil War. It’s my turn to rise from the ashes. As I start this journey, I pray God will give me the words to encourage other burned out survivors to renew their strength too.

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© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved.