A Christmas Struggle

A Christmas Struggle

The beloved movie, A Christmas Story, is a yearly staple of holiday entertainment for many people. Of course, there is A Christmas Carol with Ebenezer Scrooge and his attitude adjustment. There is also another Christmas tale, not a movie or book, but a brutal reality. It is ‘A Christmas Struggle’ many of us wishes we did not experience.

This Christmas struggle is one of the hardest things in the grieving process I have had to deal with, and in my research, I have not read anything of substance on how to solve the problem. It takes time, sometimes a long time, I guess. Out of compassion, some people recognize it can be difficult for the grieving no matter how many years have passed, and they encourage those struggling to participate in all the holiday parties and festivities. For some of us, we’re appreciative of their kindness, but it does not work.

I loved Christmas. I know the reason for the season, the celebration of the birth of Jesus; nothing changed for me there. I lost the so-called ‘getting in the Christmas spirit’ part, something I excelled in, almost batting a thousand in that area.

Starting early with shopping for gifts, looking for new ornaments, which I loved collecting; the parties at work, sending Christmas cards, getting a tree, real or artificial, stringing the lights and loading the tree down with ornaments; decorating the yard trees, foundation shrubs, and along porch posts with twinkling or chasing lights. I loved every bit of it. I tried the icicle lights a couple of years, which didn’t work out too well, by the way.

Dan fussing about the money I spent, but not hiding he was happy I did all the shopping. Most of all I loved getting together with family and friends and giving them gifts I secretly hoped they loved. Dan didn’t share my enthusiasm for decorating, shopping, and spending money. He tolerated mine. He enjoyed being with family, with Kim, Cindy, Larry, Cindy’s husband, and especially Lucas, his first grandchild. I remember Christmas 2007 well—our last Christmas together. We had no idea. In fact, I was already planning the next Christmas.

Then came December 2008 and everything changed. Dan died on December 1. About two weeks afterwards, his younger brother went into the hospital and later died on Christmas Eve. The sadness of that time has never left me.

Each Christmas since then, has been a major effort with me trying to get through the season. I never thought I would say I do not care during the holidays. Some days I thought hibernation during late November and all through December would be preferable than dealing with the emptiness. I have made a few attempts at decorating over the years, but now I do not even bother. I seldom shop or do much of anything considered Christmasy.

Sadness creeps in when I think about Dan not seeing his new grandchildren, Evan and Emily. They will not know what a sweet and gentle man he was, and he cannot bounce them on his knee or swing them around making them laugh. Lucas is now a young man, and Dan cannot be there to watch him graduate from high school five months from now. In addition, Dan didn’t get a chance to meet Trevor, Kim’s husband. Dan cannot share the Christmas joy with Kim and Cindy and most of all…with me. I miss him.

Now, I know the ‘why’ for people who have trouble during the holidays. Nobody has to write it in big letters for me to read between the lines or see through the forced smiles people give to hide their sadness. I can understand it. I have also learned I am not alone. Others suffer in silence because people around them don’t understand how loss can affect them.

I am learning this Christmas struggle takes a long time to adjust to, as rebuilding a life without the person you lost is indeed a long and painful process. A widow once told me, “It’s never the same.” Not only do I see Dan in Cindy and Kim, I also see him in Lucas, Evan, and Emily in their smiles, the way they tilt their heads and so much more. I wish Dan were here to be a part of our lives and to share in the joy of Christmas. I wish. I wish. I wish.

Love comes with a cost because unless we outlive our loved ones, we will grieve their loss. None of us lives forever. Heartbreak is the price we pay for that love. Grieving does not stop after the funeral, after a month or a year, though the first, and I think the second years are the hardest. There is no getting over a loved one’s death—that is just a worn out myth. One learns to live with the loss, the emptiness, the sad moments when the memories flood back.

Some areas are harder than others to adjust to in dealing with loss, and for me it is the Christmas season. I am thankful for my patient family and friends who deal with my lack of enthusiasm during the holidays. I know God is going to get me through this season the same way He has before—one day at a time.

 

Festured Image Photo Credit: Broken Christmas tree bauble in snow © bellopropello – Fotolia

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

Mistake or Meant to be

Mistake or Meant to be

People make mistakes, whether the misstep or bad judgment was big or small, human beings are inclined to make them. I’ve made quite a few. As I’ve grown older and hopefully, wiser, I’ve learned not all of our bad decisions are mistakes. By that I mean, the road we decide to travel at the time wasn’t a wrong turn at all. Destiny made us tread a certain path, perhaps, to fulfill a purpose.

For a long time I thought the biggest mistake in my life was deciding to take a job in a sock factory. Not even seventeen at the time and from a poor family, I needed money for college, and during the time, factory work paid good money. Instead of moving to a dorm when my classmates were leaving home to attend school, I decided for various reasons to stay at the factory, not realizing what I was doing to my future. It would take a few years for it to sink in, and along with it came regret, an intense regret.

Why did I consider it my biggest mistake? Well, for one thing, the cost to correct it was huge, not just monetarily, but also in the time away from my family. The time to attend classes, most of them at night, work on group projects, study, do homework, do research and write papers, and take exams. Money went to tuition, books, and gas for the car, not vacations. I lagged behind my classmates, especially in the technology classes. Working twice as hard and considered half as good was my new norm.

Despite all of that and a bit more, I no longer consider the decision I made in 1978 a mistake—a detour, yes, but not a mistake. Here’s why. My years in a sock factory taught me a lot one can’t learn in a college class. Many of the people I knew then I treasure now. Reconnecting with them on social media is a blessing. Some of my friends from my sock boarding days have passed away, and I miss them terribly. My life is richer because they were my friends.

Making the transition from blue-collar to white-collar was not easy, not in the slightest, and I’ve encountered people who tried to use it against me in my career. I once had a conversation in which I said there wasn’t much difference between office workers and plant floor workers. The supposedly educated preacher said he didn’t agree, stating emphatically, “Oh yes there is.” We obviously weren’t looking at the two groups in the same way. Character and integrity don’t come from textbooks and no professor can teach them. These qualities are no respecter of backgrounds.

Some people who travel down a wrong road meet their bashert.

What is a bashert?

According to Torch, “Bashert is a Yiddish word that means “destiny”. It is often used in the context of one’s divinely predestined spouse or soulmate. It can also be used to express the seeming destiny of an auspicious or important event, friendship, or happening. In modern usage, Jewish singles will say that they are looking for their bashert, meaning they are looking for that person who will complement them perfectly, and whom they will complement perfectly.”

I’m not Jewish, but yep, that’s what happened in my journey. Why do I feel that way?

Well, it is unlikely I would’ve met my husband had he and I not worked in the same factory. He was older, a divorced father, and he lived on the other side of the county. His friends weren’t in my circle of friends. Our paths would never have crossed had we not worked in the same factory. I worked on several different sock-boarding machines, and he fixed those machines when they broke down. Over time we became friends, then one day after his divorce became final, he asked me for a date. It was a surprise, and after several requests, I said yes.

We were an unlikely pair. Nearly two decades separated our ages, he liked Country, especially Waylon Jennings, Conway Twitty and several others. I like The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Creedence Clearwater Revival, just to name a few. He was a parent already, and I was still living at home. We stood out in a crowd in a lot of respects.  Despite the differences and the typical problems in marriage, we made it work. Only death could separate us. Destiny? Meant to be? He was my bashert.

Regret can eat us alive if we dwell on past mistakes. We all stumble and fall, and we wish we’d made better choices. Instead, think about what you learned through the experience and the people you met travelling down that road. Often, it’s only when we reach the other side of the mistake or after we go through hard times that we see the purpose in it. And sometimes we meet our bashert along the way.

My bashert - one of my favorite photos of this sweet, gentle, handsome man.

My bashert – one of my favorite photos of this sweet, gentle, handsome man.

 

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

 

 

Missing Hero

Dr. Meg Meeker wrote an article entitled, “Your Daughter Needs a Hero,” in which she discusses how fathers can help their daughters. Girls need an authority figure, protector, a hero. For some of us, our hero unwillingly left us much too soon. I was four years old when I lost my twenty-eight year old father to a heart attack. The loss has affected me all my life. When other girls were going places with their dads or their dad chased a boy or two away, or greeted a date at the door before allowing his daughter out, my Dad’s body lay in a grave in a small cemetery by a country church. Although he’s been absent, my Daddy has been and still is a huge influence in my life.

My memories of my Daddy are few, but precious. I can remember him being on the stage of the auditorium of a local school, which is now a private school. We were sitting in the car with Mama, and I turned and looked toward the building as Mama was driving off. He was standing there on the stage, smiling, and singing. Years later, when Kim was little and appeared in Kindergarten plays on the same stage. I remember telling Dan my Daddy was on that same stage singing some thirty years before.

A snapshot in my memories is of him and Mama joking around. Another flash is of my cousin Carolyn and I drinking chocolate milk in the car while watching our Dads walking back from fishing at a local pond. If there’s a fishing gene, it’s in our DNA.

On a fall day while playing in the yard with my cousins at their house, we headed toward the front door. My Aunt Sarah stopped us at the door, and I caught a glimpse of my Daddy lying on the sofa. He appeared to be sick. Aunt Sarah came outside with her camera and took pictures of us, I believe, to keep us occupied and away from the house. She took us around back, and as I turned around, I saw my Uncle William and a neighbor helping him to the car. I never saw my Daddy alive again.

Those are the only memories I have, but I am grateful for them.

I don’t remember this scene, but Mama said it happened not long after Daddy died. She found me crying while sitting in a swing of the swing set Daddy put together for us not long before he died. She asked me, “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?” She said I replied, “I don’t want my Daddy to be dead.”

A few years later, while looking at some photos of him, I asked Mama to name somebody my Daddy looked like. She told me he favored Marlon Brando, the Brando of the 50’s, so I searched through movie star magazines, no internet back in those days, of course, to find pictures of a young Brando. I compared them to the few photos I have of Daddy, and sure enough, my Daddy favored him.

Mama instilled his love of music in us. Daddy was one of those fortunate people who could teach themselves to play music, like the acoustic guitar, steel guitar, Mandolin, most anything with strings, and sing. His talent came from God. He and some of his close friends formed a band that played at different functions around the area. Years later, whenever I ran into any of them around town, they reminisced about Daddy, telling me what a likable, talented, and witty guy he was. Mama kept his memory alive, and these good gentlemen helped her with that task. They have no idea how much I appreciate their sharing their memories with me.

Daddy steel guitar and baby_2

I think if Daddy had lived and because I love him and loves me, we would’ve compromised on the music. He was a true, straight to the bone, Country and Western music enthusiast. No, he didn’t like the Beatles, and no, I don’t particularly care for most Country music. Mama said he used to tease my cousin Edna about the mophead boys from Liverpool during the early days of Beatlemania. Yet, I think he would’ve loved The Beatles’ “Don’t Pass Me By” from their album The Beatles, aka The White Album— a sweet little song with Jack Fallon’s fine fiddle playing and a sweet mixture of Country & Western and a bluesy melody. He would’ve picked it out on his guitar, no need for sheet music because he played everything by ear, we would’ve learned the words, and maybe even me playing the guitar a little. I can see us now, singing, laughing, having fun. If only…

I’ve wondered why God took my Daddy so young, and what our lives would’ve been like, with the exception of my older sister who died as an infant, our family intact and together. Though missing from most of my life, my Daddy has always been and will always be my hero. I love you, Daddy, and I’ll see ya again someday. Oh, the music we’ll sing and play when that day comes.

 

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

A Whisper

You may think I’m crazy after you read this, but it’s ok. To coin the old familiar phrase, I’ve been called a lot worse.

The day Kim and Trevor married, clouds blanketed the sky, and the air was cool on that November Saturday. They wanted a beach wedding, so they decided to marry in the Florida beach town where he proposed to her a few months before. Trevor and Evan rode ahead to the beach, and Kim and I followed a few minutes later. On the way, the sun broke through, feathering the sky in silver and white strips of clouds, with patches of pale blue peeking through. The ocean calm, greenish, and switching to gray farther out and a long pier jutted out from the beach not far away. Picturesque scenery and a beautiful day!

Reed poles with ivory tulle were attached together to create the altar and both red and pink rose petals covered the powdery white sand. Near it, a large vase with two smaller vases stood waiting on top of a stool. Both of the smaller vases contained beach sand—one contained sand colored in Kim’s wedding color, purple, and the other vase contained sand in its natural color.

Someone on Etsy made a bouquet locket for Kim—heart-shaped silver charm encapsulating a photo of Dan she loved, with an ivory ribbon to secure it to her bouquet of ivory and purple flowers. She inherited Dan’s olive complexion, and her ivory gown complemented it perfectly. She was beautiful!

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She walked alone down the walkway and the short distance on the beach to the altar, so lovely and so happy. I watched her as she came nearer, experiencing the bittersweet moments of joy and sadness— joy for Kim and Trevor for their new life together, and sadness because Dan wasn’t there to walk her to the altar.

I sat watching Kim and Trevor exchange vows. Evan, sitting quietly in his red Radio Flyer wagon covered with burlap and trimmed in ivory tulle with a bow tied to the back, started smiling at me and becoming a little active. The Pastor’s wife saw his movements too, so she quietly got his attention to prevent him from tumbling out of his ride.

I turned to Kim and Trevor. Within in a few seconds, a seagull flew behind the altar. At that instant, I heard a soft whisper in my ear, “I’m here, babe.”

Tears filled my eyes and my heart overflowed with joy. An indescribable feeling engulfed me. I struggled to stop the water works. Of course, I forgot Kleenex—I didn’t think I would need a tissue. I watched Kim and Trevor pour the white sand and the purple sand into the large vase, symbolizing them joining their lives together. I believe Dan was watching them too.

You may think it was my imagination or whatever. I believe the whisper was a gift. God is so good at giving us gifts when we need them the most.

wagon bow

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

The Lollipop Tree

Some people have a tree in the yard connected with special memories. I have one, a Red Dogwood tree, I nicknamed the Lollipop Tree many years ago. Yeah, it sounds silly. My mother bought it for us not long after we moved into our house. This gift has rewarded me every year with beauty; its dusty rose pedals dancing in the breeze in the spring and leaves that turn burgundy in the fall. As it grew, it formed a round shape; its limbs meeting at a point on the trunk, like the candy on a stick of a lollipop, spreading in an almost perfect circle. It has lost some of the roundness over the years, but its beauty remains.

lollipop-Tree_7

Sometimes while sitting in the swing, I look at that tree and remember the day we brought it home and planted it. I also remember what Mama dealt with during her life, yet she still held tight to her faith. Mama went through difficult times—the kind that would buckle Paul Bunyan’s knees. Losing her first child, a baby only eight months old, then nine years later losing her husband, leaving her with three children, ages seven, four, and two, Mama knew pain and heartbreak. Later on, she faced ruin and abandonment of another type.

It is true when bad times come people disappear. Mama made a decision, based on legal advice, she thought would fix a bad situation, but it made it worse. People stopped speaking to her in the grocery store, looked the other way when she came near, not wanting to be seen even acknowledging her presence. None of the people who turned on her heard her cry, or should I say sob, when she hung up the phone after telling my grandmother she made the decision to do what her lawyer advised. I did.

Although she tried to hide it, I believe it bothered her. We were always together, including working on the same machine in a local factory. She needed support—someone to be there, so I went with her whenever she needed me, to meetings, to court, to whatever. Through this and several other problems she faced, Mama taught me this important lesson: “You do what you have to do, face what you have to face, and you do it with shoulders straight and your head held high.” Those were hard years, and I know Jesus taught us we should forgive one another. Forgiving is easy, it’s the forgettin’ that’s hard.

Mama knew how fragile life is. She was a no nonsense person when it came to protecting her children. Much like Toya Graham who went to the Baltimore demonstrations to make her only son go home, to remove him from a volatile situation, Mama would show up unexpected to pull one of hers from a serious situation, chase off undesirables, as well as tell off a few. She didn’t care who didn’t like it. She once told me to consider the lioness for a moment. “The lioness will fight to her death to protect her cubs. Any mother worth her salt will do the same for her children.” True!

Mama taught me her final and most painful lesson without speaking a word.

I awoke abruptly around midnight on a hot August night. I’ll never forget the sound in the house—eerily quiet, except for the soft hum of a ceiling fan. Dan worked nightshift then, and Kim wasn’t home yet (I learned later she and her friends who went bowling had car trouble on the way back). I ran to the front door and looked around the yard. Oh my God, where is she?

I went to Mama’s room and said, “Mama, Kim’s not home yet. Something must be wrong.” Mama didn’t respond. She lay there, still and silent, staring at something wondrous, at what I’ll never know. I ran over and touched her hands; they were already cool to the touch. The thought came to me, “She’s gone, she’s dead.” I started patting her hands, shaking her thin arms. “Mama, Mama. What’s wrong? Talk to me.” More thoughts, “She’s gone. It’s too late.” I kept trying, “Mama, please, please.” My mind kept saying, “She’s already left,” but my heart refused to accept it. I got the phone and called 911. I tried several more times to arouse her to no avail. I then stopped.

I caressed her forehead, kissed her there one last time, the tears flowed as my heart now believed what my mind was saying—she had gone home. The final lesson: the mind and the heart don’t always communicate. Perhaps I’d known it all along, but it became brutally real that night.

A few weeks before she died, in her final hospital stay, I encouraged her to fight. “I don’t want to lose you,” I said. Mama turned to me and replied, “Someday, there has to be a parting.” That night we had that parting, and the moment the realization hit me, my heart shattered like fine crystal dropped on a stone floor.

With all of the losses, disappointments, and sickness she endured, I knew there was only one song suitable for her funeral—Precious Lord, Take My Hand by Thomas Dorsey. She was tired. She was weak. She was so worn.

Princess Caroline said in an interview with Barbara Walters, “You grow up when your mother dies…yes, you are alone in the world when your mother dies.” I didn’t comprehend what she meant at first. Thirteen years would pass before those words sunk in and struck a painful chord. Today I understand.

Every year I look forward to my Lollipop Tree blooming and the leaves changing color, but nowhere near as much as I look forward to seeing my precious Mama again. She was my confidant, teacher, protector, inspiration, sounding board, advisor, and criticizer when I needed it. My Mama…was my best friend.

Child drawing of her mother for mother's day

Photo: Child drawing of her mother for mother’s day © sirikorn_t – Fotolia.com

 

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

 

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