Butterflies

Butterflies

A few weeks ago, I spent a nice afternoon shopping with Kim and Emmy. Three generations together celebrating Kim’s birthday. The day reminded me of shopping trips I took with my mother and grandmother when I was single, and with my mother and Kim later. It was also a wakeup call to remember we’re only granted a certain number of days in life. Now in my fifties, my own mortality is glaringly real—a reminder of how quickly we move from being the youngest in a family circle to the oldest, and the need to treasure each moment and make them count.

I remember the days when my mama and grandma and I went shopping together. We would often pick a store and fan out like Butterflies among flowering bushes in warm weather. We’d meet up and discuss what or who we saw, the things we bought. This was a long time before texting and cell phones. Sometimes we’d stop by Baskin-Robbins and indulge in Triple Delight Sundaes. The ride to and from the stores, we lived in a rural area, so we shopped in a nearby city, was the best because of being together and the conversations we had.

As strong-willed as I am, I sometimes grew weary of their advice, and I didn’t appreciate what they had been through, those difficult experiences that made them who they were. Since those days, I’ve learned I come from a long line of strong women who faced and lived through harsh times.

My grandma suffered through a very difficult experience as a young child, the kind that would cripple a lot of folks, male or female. Later, she and my granddaddy worked hard, lived off the land, and made it through the Great Depression. She had much wisdom to share.

And Mama, a widow who also lost a child before I was born, she raised three children alone. She faced tragedies and failures, but she never lost her faith or her smile. Mama was my best friend. She taught me to fight, to keep the faith, although I have struggled with that one since Dan died, but it is still intact.

I remember shopping with Mama and Kim, from Kim’s baby years until her mid-teens. Those were happy years. Mama and Kim were so close. Mama died when Kim was fifteen, and it saddens me when I think she didn’t live to see Kim graduate from high school or college. At her Nursing pinning ceremony when Kim walked across the stage, I fought back tears to keep from embarrassing myself, but I knew Mama was looking down at the scene, so proud.

Yes, we were like Butterflies. Only I realized as I grew older and understood more, the older Butterflies in our little family possessed backbones made from titanium. They shared their struggles with me, and it’s now my job to pass on their stories of survival for future generations.

Thinking back on these days is like I’m there with them, I blink, and they’re gone. Time zooms by, waiting for no one. We can’t relive moments, we can only remember them.

Time has turned the pages, and now I’m in the elder role. It’s me who walks a little slower, gives out quicker, but ready to dispense motherly advice, solicited or not, at any time. Someday it’ll be my turn to fly away and join my mother and grandmother. Before that day happens, and I pray it’s no time soon, I want to, like Jack Dawson said on Titanic, “make each day count,” only I’m going to reduce it down to a smaller scale; to making each second matter.

On the way home that afternoon I thought about those special times, and the memories we’re making now. Yes, I plan to make each second count. We should all do that because as the old saying goes, life can change on a dime. Enjoy every minute. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Featured Image Photo Credit: 66875278 – Apricot flowers in spring, floral background © seqoya — Fotolia

© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2016. 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

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.