Embracing the Rosebush

This afternoon I finally got around to some much needed weeding on the front and side of the house. As I  walked around the corner I saw a mess of weeds around a very small rosebush.

This rosebush is my nemesis. I’ve never really cared for rosebushes. They are beautiful at first, but then the aphids get them. The leaves become damaged and they don’t look so pretty. They need maintenance- the flowers need to be pruned to look beautiful. And they have thorns! Sharp thorns that make the pruning part very unpleasant. My dislike of rosebushes is really quite justified.

This rosebush in particular drives me crazy. It has been cut down in the hopes that it would die. But it comes back. Last summer a good friend came over to help with yardwork. She actually pulled the rosebush out. So I assumed it was gone forever, but a month or two ago I noticed it was coming back. Again.

This rosebush got me thinking today. I started thinking about how life can be so difficult and so unpredictable. We are often handed horrible things with many thorns. Our choices are to keep fighting those things or to embrace them. Sometimes we are handed the death of someone very precious. Sometimes we may need to take on a different position during a critical time at work (as so many of us are needing to do now), and sometimes the life we pictured shifts into something different. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier if that rose bush were just not there.

Yet the rosebush keeps coming back, and sometimes we need to just not fight it. When things knock us down or start to rob us of our strength, we need to embrace that rosebush that is trying to survive. Because even with those thorns, there are tons of beautiful flowers.

Today I decided to embrace that rosebush. I’ve seen so much beauty come out of my struggles. I’ve persevered through some very difficult challenges and I’m finding beauty in life. And really, it feels so much better to embrace the rosebush than to fight it!

Writers Block

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. I’ve had things going on not necessarily related to grief, but there nonetheless. Those things haven’t taken away my sadness for Gabe, but pushed into the background. I have things I want to talk about but just can’t put into words.

Yesterday was Gabe’s birthday. He would have turned nineteen. NINETEEN. That is a very odd thing. He has been gone for almost 4 years now. One of the most difficult parts of losing a child is the unknown of who they would have become. I have some ideas- he probably would have gone to community college, and maybe would have gone to trade school. But he died as a 15 year old so that is who I remember. His middle brother is now older than he ever was, and his youngest brother will pass him in age 19 days after his next birthday. That is hard to wrap my head around.

We always do something for Gabe’s birthday, but this year looked different. Social distancing and school cancellations made it more laid back than it was going to be (it was supposed to be musical weekend and I had no idea when we would fit in remembering Gabe!). We had to modify a bit- a quick trip to the cemetery and a trip to our favorite outdoor ice cream shop were the perfect way to remember Gabe. The boys and I shared memories of him and enjoyed the beautiful drive.

I wish he were still here to celebrate his birthday. He would have gotten a rootbeer float. But since he can’t be here we go on. His life was beautiful and his death has shaped each of us. I draw on his strength when I need to (a lot!). I’ve learned so much about determination, perserverance, and stubbornness from my son. His life was beautiful, his death helped me learn that I can make it through anything. So while I celebrated the birth of an amazing child, I also celebrated the beautiful lessons he taught me.

Thanks to my mom for the picture above on the left. I had never seen it and pictures that have never been seen before are such an amazing gift to a bereaved mom!

Perseverence

Never give up. I was looking for a different song but I came across this one and it fits, so I’m using it. I actually had never heard it before, but I like it!

Sometimes it is really hard to persevere. When Gabe died it felt like the rest of my life would be covered in sadness. For a long time there was not much room for true joy. Happiness at times, but not JOY. As time went on, slowly bits of joy crept back in and I adjusted to life without him.

Just over 6 months ago another extremely difficult thing happened. I haven’t really spelled it out on here, I don’t think. I haven’t named it, but it’s time. I became a single mom. I won’t be discussing the circumstances here, but it was extremely painful and it knocked me down. I began questioning everything about me, and I went through a brutal period of several months where I truly felt worthless.

The thing about life, though, is there aren’t many choices when difficulties emerge. You can give up or you can persevere. And giving up wasn’t an option. So I began adjusting to the new makeup of my family. I began looking for a job that would hopefully come fairly close to meeting my needs, and I learned to be OK alone. I had lots of counseling sessions (and still do!) to help me sort through the complex emotions of single parenthood and remaking myself. I leaned on faith, family, and friends and was hired in a position that I love with a truly amazing team.

The reason I write all of that, though, is because I didn’t think I’d make it. When that storm hit in July I thought I would be miserable and depressed months and years later. But I persevered and faced this challenge head on, and now I’m better for it. I can feel joy again. I’m looking forward to the rainbows that always come after a storm.

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Self Care

I don’t think I’ve written about this one, but lately the importance of self- care has really been apparent. It’s one of those things that tends to get pushed to the side. There are so many things that seem more important, or at least so many things that are more pressing.

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In desperate need of self care!

Family, work, and volunteer responsibilities are just a few of the things that take up time and make it difficult to fit self care in. Schedules are packed and when every minute counts it can feel like there truly is no time.

But we HAVE to make the time. It may mean writing it on the calendar, planning in advance with a friend, or even just having an accountability partner who will call you out if you push it aside.

I honestly didn’t give much thought to self care before I really had to. In fall of 2014 I was in significant pain and finally decided to do something about it. At that time my self care came in the form of physical therapy and a major diet change.  Those two things may not seem like self care but they really were. They were big changes I made to make myself better. To make PT work I had to start doing exercises daily. That took discipline and time, but I made sure to carve that time out of my day.

The diet change was to give up gluten. After years of intense stomach pain and no real answers in bloodwork or a colonoscopy, it was a shot in the dark. The pain started to get better almost immediately. I lost weight (a bit too fast, about 30+ pounds over just a few months time), my skin eventually cleared up, and I think getting the gluten out of my diet helped with inflammation which also helped with the pain in my body.

Those changes together made an incredible difference in my life. Getting the pain under control was the key to being able to be more active. Being more active made me feel better. Feeling better gave me a better outlook on life.

Then in 2016 Gabe died and the exercise came to a grinding halt. My mind shifted from self care to survival. My short term memory just about disappeared. I had no desire to go to the grocery store and feeding my family was a huge task. I honestly don’t remember much of the first months and I don’t really know how I got through. I was on autopilot. When you’re on autopilot you don’t think about self care.

Eventually the fog lifted a bit. With the help of a couple friends I started walking, eventually able to walk 3-4 miles. I also got back on my exercise bike. I got pedicures occasionally, and my frequent visits to the cemetery were also a form of self care for me- driving in the car was time to think and sitting next to Gabe’s grave helped me clear my head and respect the need to cry, journal, and just let my grief wash over me.

Over the years I have realized that for me exercise is critical. When I am stressed it eases that stress. When I’m angry it calms me down. When I’m sad it often boosts my mood. The hard part is that when you are feeling those negative things it’s often not the first thing that comes to mind to ease those feelings!

One key thing about self care is that it can feel selfish. But the truth is if we neglect ourselves and our needs we are less capable of handling the responsibilities of daily life. So it truly is critical!

Remember to care for yourself- in grief or any other stressful situation. If you have suggestions for self care feel free to comment! You never know who may benefit by reading your suggestion.

Thanks for reading!

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After lots of self care!

 

Christmas Spirit

 

Ah, 2019. It’s been a year. Quite a year. A year with change and adjustment. I was actually dreading Christmas this year. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. I used to love Christmas. After Gabe’s death, though, that changed. Christmas became a time of survival. Getting through with someone missing. It was painful, because Gabe LOVED Christmas so much. He had so much excitement and having him gone changed everything.

Over the past few days though I’ve realized that I have Christmas spirit again. I’m not sure why this year of all years, but it’s back. And I love it. I can now enjoy Christmas carols again. Opening Christmas cards brings joy. Decorating the tree wasn’t the difficult thing I thought it would be, and I love sitting in the living room with the tree lit up.

I write this today because I’m honestly just happy that I am in this place, this place of being able to survive through very difficult things and not only be standing but truly thriving. It’s a gift to be able to look back on something difficult and realize that it hasn’t ruined me- it’s made me stronger.

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So to all who are not feeling the Christmas spirit this year, for whatever reason, please remember that where you are now is not where you will always be. I’m not saying that you will ever get over what that difficult things is, but you will learn how to carry it and still be able to enjoy life, and Christmas, and whatever else is hard right now. Feel what you feel, honor your grief, and allow your heart to heal. It takes time but it’s not impossible!

A New Chapter

As we go through life we face hard things. Sometimes really hard things. March 27, 2001 was the beginning of one of those hard things. My adorable redheaded baby was one week old and had just been diagnosed with a heart defect, and not a minor one. He was diagnosed with something called Truncus Arteriosus. In short his pulmonary artery and aorta never separated into the two distinct vessels that they should have separated into. The words of the cardiologist were “your baby’s heart is very sick”. I learned that he would need open heart surgery quickly, preferably within 2 weeks. At 15 days he went through that first LONG surgery and did great, but I was tossed into a very unfamiliar medical world.

I always loved medical things (Rescue 911 was one of my favorite shows as a child!) but this was a different level medical learning. I had to take Gabe to various specialists (cardiology, gastroenterology, pulmonology, neurology), and eventually he also had Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy. Gabe was on several medications, some of which had to be carefully prepared in bottles as Zantac syrup was mint flavored and mint is really not a popular flavor for babies! A few months after being on Zantac, Gabe was diagnosed with aspiration, which had likely caused and/or complicated the issues that pulmonology was dealing with. The remedy for aspiration was to thicken his feeds. I would grind up rice cereal and combine it with formula to a honey consistency. The breathing issues improved some but he still needed regular breathing treatments, sometimes day and night. At times it was overwhelming. Keeping track of the specialists and the care was a huge responsibility and much of it fell on me as the part time working mom.

What I learned through those struggles though was just how much I loved medical things and health care. I learned about Gabe’s conditions easily and was confident in health care settings. I knew I may end up in health care one day but couldn’t exactly see how or where I would fit.

Last fall I took my first step into healthcare, volunteering in a PT clinic. I loved it. I loved the patient interaction and I loved learning about the patients medical struggles. In the spring I took medical terminology and did great- I ended the semester with a grade of over 100. This summer I started looking for a full time job. Most of the available jobs were not interesting to me. I didn’t want to find a job only to have to change again soon.

I applied for a job in health care in a great department and didn’t get it. I was pretty discouraged, but a couple of weeks later that same department called me about a position that involved assisting people with chronic and complex conditions. The goal is to help them avoid readmission to the hospital. The job description seemed like something I would love. I wasn’t sure, though, if I had enough experience. Most of my experience is in child care. I gave that interview my all and was confident. I clicked with the team and shared that although my resume doesn’t reflect my experience with health care, my life experience does. I shared a bit about Gabe and his struggles and the level of care coordination he required. They said “That’s what we do!”

I was called back to shadow for a few hours one day and waited anxiously for a call, and it came. I was offered the job with a very large employer. It’s full time with wonderful benefits and it is perfectly timed now that my boys are older. This week I started learning about the department and the care team. Next week I will start in my role, working closely with an RN and patients, doing home visits and helping to keep people healthy.

As I look at this amazing opportunity I can’t help but be thankful for my sweet child and his medically complex life. He had so many struggles and challenges but he rose above them, often with a smile on his face. I learned so much caring for his needs. I am also sure he has given me strength. That strength showed up after he died as I embarked on the journey of life without him, and it is here now as I start this new chapter of life. Gabe’s spirit is always here and he would be so proud. Tomorrow I will spend much of the day with a social worker in the ER. It is the same ER where Gabe was brought and where I saw the heroic efforts to try to save him. I anticipate it may be difficult, but hopefully I’ll have a bit of extra strength with me from my beautiful heart kid.

Faith and Strength

“God won’t give you more than you can handle”. I think we’ve all heard that said, either to us during a hardship or to others. It’s one of those phrases that people think is comforting to say, but really just isn’t. And it’s really not quite what the Bible says anyway:

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No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

I am no Biblical scholar or theologian, but the above verse does seem pretty clear to me: God will give you struggles BUT with the struggles He will also provide a way for you to endure them.

By far the biggest struggle of my life was Gabe dying. It hit me like nothing else. It was, and at times is, something that has the power to make my heart race and take my breath away. That grief is so incredibly deep. When a grief like that hits you, you have to find strength. That strength has to come from somewhere. For me it came from many places: my family, friends, and my faith.

Going to Mass was a difficult thing. Our family had gone from 5 people in the pew to 4. It was the same church where my oldest son had laid in a casket, so memories of his funeral came flooding back when we were there. At the sign of Peace I would instantly be taken back to our last Mass with him. It was just a week or so before he died and when I went to give him a hug he gave me a silly smile and pulled back. I hugged him anyway. For many months that memory would take over when I was at church. Going to Mass was also difficult because of Incense. It created such powerful memories of Gabe’s funeral Mass and it felt like a wound was reopened every time it was used- which in the Catholic Church is quite a lot.

Now I find myself in a difficult place again. Not as difficult as Gabe’s death, for sure. But still extremely difficult. And now I am really drawing on my faith. I start the day with the daily readings, and a special blog that helps those in my situation. I’m also attending Mass as much as I possibly can. I have actually gone every day this week. Sitting in the peaceful church, or the church on campus, is amazingly calming. I find that I hear a message each time that really applies to my life. It gives me dedicated time to pray and think, time where I’m forced to slow down my busy life and do something that is immensely helpful to me.

This evening I went to Mass, but I also went to therapy. I’ve been working through some issues related to Gabe’s death and my current hardship. I mentioned that I need to be stronger and like any good therapist mine didn’t let that line go. She pointed out the ways I am strong: doing the tasks I need to each day when I feel like I just can’t. Going to events that I KNOW will be painful, but doing it because it’s important. Getting out there and looking for a job and interviewing when it feels so incredibly daunting. And confronting emotions that are so confusing, scary, and sad rather than just stuffing them down and ignoring them. Those things all show strength.

So where does that tie in to faith? Because without my faith I would never have that strength. Part of the reason I was able to move forward after Gabe’s death was because I KNOW he is in heaven with God, having an amazing time. I would not have had the strength to go on without that beautiful assurance. Without my faith I would have given up long ago. Life is hard. Right now life is really hard. But giving up is not an option. So I continue to go to Mass and get that strength that only comes from God. That strength that pushes me forward on the days when I just want to turn around. I’m so thankful that faith and strength are so beautifully interwoven. I have faith that the strength I am developing will lead to far more beautiful things than I can possibly imagine. And I can’t wait to see what those beautiful things are.