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Friday, May 22, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - Making Meaning - Helping

In the summer of 2012 “Making Meaning” became deeply personal. My church—where I worked and the center of my spiritual and social life—went through a spiritual and relational 8.0 earthquake. As I went to work each day, I encountered the emotional, spiritual, and relational debris of broken relationships, betrayal, heartache, and anger. I not only wanted to find some good, some purpose in the loss of my closest friends and the flaying of my church, I NEEDED to find good and purpose. I needed a reason to go on.

I wanted to be a part of the solution, part of healing the damage done. I wanted to do what I could to prevent it from ever happening again. My life changed that summer in a way that it will never change back and I wanted and needed that change to be good, to have purpose, to help someone else, at least in the end.

Below are some stories of others who have chosen to make helping others a part of finding a path through their grief.

Brian Sager lost his teen daughter as the result of her deep depression. He has helped others by sharing the lessons he learned in a blog post. To read Brian’s story, click here.

Thomas Gray lived only six days. His parents made the courageous decision to donate his body for transplants and research. Click here to read the story of the difference Thomas made in the lives of others.

The Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital is a family centered hospital for children in Westchester, NY. To read about Maria and her family’s legacy, click here.

Rachel Joy Scott was a victim of the Columbine shootings in 1999. Her father speaks in schools and to youth challenging them to “start a chain reaction”—Rachel’s mission. To hear about it, click here.

Inheritance of Hope was founded by a young family whose mother received a terminal diagnosis. The foundation was set up to help other young families facing the loss of a parent. To hear their story, click here.

The Compassionate Friends provides support to families who have lost a child. Families can get involved to receive support or to help provide support to others.  To read more about this organization, click here.
Helping others manifests itself in many ways.  Here are just a few more ideas to help make meaning and purpose from the loss of a loved one by helping others:
  • Establishing a scholarship to help a student headed into a similar field in which a loved one participated.
  • Establishing or donating to a fund to help end a disease the loved one suffered with.
  • MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving)
  • SADD (Student’s Against Drunk Driving)
  • Donating a loved one’s body for research or organ transplants.
  • Donating to a cause that was important to the loved one.
  • Become involved in helping others who’ve suffered a similar loss.
  • Participate in one of the many fundraising and awareness raising walks – cancer, MS, autism.
  • Write a book, article, or blog post about your journey and the lessons learned.
  • One woman created a workbook and workshop to teach people how to write letters of affirmation to their loved ones before it was too late.

What did I do to help others because of the summer of 2012?
I stayed when I wanted to leave. I stayed to help my church in its healing process. I took classes to become a coach, particularly a grief coach. I hope soon to begin a masters degree in counseling because I want to be both available and skilled in helping people walk through their grief and pain to find hope, healing, and well-being.

What suggestions would you offer? 
How can people make meaning out of profound loss?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - Making Meaning - Impact

As we remember our loved ones and reflect on our memories, on the stories that keep their memory alive, we can see the ways that their life has left a lasting impression on ours. Maybe it is lessons learned. Maybe it is their influence on how we think or live. Maybe it’s the way they saw life and how they helped us to see it. Making meaning includes taking note of the ways in which their life made an indelible mark on ours.

Two stories that I did not share in this series are also two people who left a mark on my life that cannot be erased.
My dad died about a mile from the house in which he was born. In between he made his home within that one mile all of his life. He traveled from time to time, but he always came home to stay in the fertile green river valley. When I was young, I did not understand or appreciate my dad. As I matured I came to understand him more and as I understood him I appreciated him immensely.

I came to understand that he loved his family with a deep, enduring love – an unconditional love. I came to know in my heart of hearts that even if I did things he didn’t like or didn’t approve of, he would still love me. I knew that he would always love me.  I knew that he would always love each of his children and my mom. His deep love, his ability to “MacGyver” things, his dependability gave me a sense of security, of things being right with the world.

Now, in the years since he stepped through Heaven's portal, I have come to see that my view of men, of what makes a man masculine and a good man has been shaped by the kind of man he was. I find I notice first men who bear a physical resemblance to him - tall, broad-shouldered, muscular. However, more important are the things that made him who he was: hard-working, dependable, filled with deep faith, intelligent, stable, quietly witty, a dry sense of humor, uncomplaining. His abilities also come into play: his ability to fix almost anything, to build, to create. He was a man who could both laugh and cry, who was far from perfect, but big enough to say he was sorry when he messed up. He loved his wife faithfully, cared for her, provided for her, lived with her, laughed with her, and was her lover for over 65 years. Men, good men, masculine men come in many shapes and sizes with unique and individual personalities and this is good. Still, I am discovering that I am most drawn to those men who are in some ways a lot like "dear old dad." This speaks strongly to the love, respect, and appreciation I have for the man who was my dad. 

 *     *     *     *     *

The other story is of a kid, a young man in his early twenties who entered my life wearing a blue baseball jacket and blue baseball cap. My life was never the same after I met him. We are parted now, sadly, for over the course of the 20 years I knew him, I had come to love his family as if they were blood. Our lives had been woven together through a myriad of experiences – births, deaths, trips, celebrations, defeats, and the day-to-day little things that come with sharing life. All of that has ended now, but still he left a mark on my life that will never go away.

He entered my life after a season where my self-image and my faith had taken a major beating, a season where I came close to walking away from my church and seriously questioned God. He came as a 21 year old "kid" to lead the youth ministry in a small country church. It took awhile for us to trust each other and for a friendship to grow, but eventually it did. However, he did not come to that church to stay and after 9 short months he graduated college and left us to marry his fiancée and to live near her college so she could finish her senior year.

The night of his farewell party he gave me a gift. In a place where I had felt used, abused, and discounted, he treated me with love, grace, dignity, and respect. His simple act of acknowledging my humanity and validating it, was a gift no one had given me for a long time. Eventually, I came to serve in another church where he also served and here I met his family and grew to love them. In this church and in the sheltering love of this family, I learned about love, experienced affirmation, and also learned about grace.  Because of his openness to letting God minister through him, I experienced healing at a soul level. Old hurts and wounds were brought to the surface. Forgiveness, love, and grace were applied and I healed and grew and learned things about myself and about God and life with God I never imagined I would. 

I am thankful for these two and for each of the people in the stories in this series. Each one has left a footprint on my life, each one had an impact.

As you reflect on loved ones now gone, I’d love to hear how they have impacted you.
What lessons did they teach you?
How did they influence your perspective?

What one thing about them will you always remember? 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Each of the stories in this series, is the story of one or more persons who touched my heart, who left a footprint on the path of my life. For a time we shared the journey, we walked together, and then they were gone and emptiness settled where they had been.
How can a person cope in the face of profound loss? Life goes on when it feels like it should stop. Our world as we know it has ended, yet the earth keeps spinning on its axis. The sun continues to rise and set. Yet, it seems like it should stop. But, it doesn’t and we too must carry on. But how?
Each person will grieve in their own way.
I journal. I write about the pain, about the memories, about the joy that was and the sorrow that is and in time the hope of what might be someday. I look back at old journals, reminding myself of where I have been, of the obstacles God has brought me over, the trials He has brought me through. I meet myself as I was in younger years. I am reminded of forgotten little intimacies with loved ones. I tell our story and look at it from a variety of perspectives and I wrestle with questions and doubts.
In time, I come to a time and place where I am ready to do the work of “Making Meaning.”
“Making Meaning?” What’s that? We long for the life of our loved one to matter – to be remembered, to have value, to have made a difference. We long for our relationship with them to have mattered, to have made a difference. Making Meaning is our process of discovering how their life mattered and what we can do to remember it and to share it with others.
I’ve broken this final “Making Meaning” section into three parts: Remembering, Impact, and Helping.
This first part is “Remembering.” What can we do to help ourselves and others remember our loved one and the ways his or her life mattered?

Create a scrapbook. Share your favorite memories of the person or create an overview of their life. Preserve letters to them now of things you'd like to tell them if you could. Describe memories of a specific trip or event you participated in together along with pictures and memorabilia. 

A memorial website. Last Memories is one site that allows you to create a page in memory of your loved one. Pictures can be posted. Articles or letters about your loved one, your feelings, your processing can be written. People can respond with memories or words of comfort of their own.

Tattoo the person’s face or name on your body.

Facebook. Maintain the person’s already existing account or create a page in their honor. Here friends and family of your loved one can continue to post messages, memories, and updates.

A garden. Set aside a space for a garden as a memorial to your loved one. It might be one that incorporates some of their favorite flowers or a small pool or waterfall – a place of beauty as a reminder of the beauty of their life.

A special gravestone. A gravestone that has a meaningful picture etched on it. One family chose to have a picture of the family farm etched on the patriarch’s stone. Another who lost a young child had her picture etched on the stone. Other’s have the stone shaped in a unique image.

Plant a tree. Planting a tree is a living reminder of your loved one and is especially appropriate for someone who loved the outdoors or who was concerned about the environment.

Write a letter. Write a letter to your loved one. You might want to save them in a special box or scrapbook to be reread periodically. If you prefer to write privately and intimately, you may want to destroy the letter once it is written. The act of writing the letter can free thoughts and emotions that might otherwise be trapped inside. When you are wrestling with an issue that you would have discussed with them, writing a letter might help you to see from their perspective as you think about how they would have responded. 

A Christmas ornament. Whether you choose one special ornament to lovingly hang year after year or to add an ornament in their memory each year, this can be a way to continue to include a loved one in your Christmas traditions.

A piece of jewelry. You may want to have a piece of their jewelry reset or redesigned as a wearable reminder. Origami Owl and Keep Collective both offer custom made jewelry so that you can design your own memory piece.

Repurpose their clothes. I have heard of both pillows and stuffed animals being made from a loved one’s clothes. Often clothes retain the most powerful of all memory triggers – the scent of a person. These huggable items can bring the person close both visually and through fragrance. 

This is only a few ideas for remembering a loved one. 
I'd love for you to join the conversation and tell us other ideas for remembering a loved one.

I am not compensated in any way for the links provided in this post.