I didn’t grow up in a sports family. I mean, yes, we played rec sports and watched an occasional game on TV, but none of it was really important during my childhood. I mean, I kind of thought it was, but I really didn’t know how wrong I was until I got married.
Because I married a Crutchfield. And Crutchfields are sports people. Vance was a loud sports fan. Watching Sunday afternoon games at his parents’ house took some getting used to for me because he would often suddenly just scream at the TV. A touchdown, an interception, or a sack would have him jumping up and down, clapping or yelling.
When he coached, he would often tell the new kids, “I’m loud. Don’t let it scare you. I’m loud but I’m not mean.” He wasn’t wrong. His booming voice could always be heard across the gym, field, pitch or mat. And almost always, the message he was sending was positive. “Good! Good!” accompanied by one or two loud claps.
Friday night I went a high school football game. My daughter is cheering this year and I love being able to watch her.
At this particular game, they were really strict about all the covid regulations. Masks, temp checks, limited spectators, and even separate bathrooms and concessions for the visitors. Because of this, the bathrooms were about a jillion miles away from the bleachers. And of course, I had to pee with just a few minutes left in the game.
As I was making my way back to the crowd I heard a loud, deep voice yell out from the stands, “Go get ’em, boys!” I was still a long ways off from the stands but I heard it clear as day. And it made me smile.
For the first time in a long time, something reminded me of Vance and it didn’t make me cry. It didn’t even make me feel sad.
Obviously, the voice wasn’t his. I mean, that was impossible. I knew that. Shoot, I knew exactly whose voice it was. It was a dad, cheering for the boy he loves playing in the game he loves. It was positive. It was ridiculously loud. It was perfect. It was exactly what Vance would have done.
Yesterday I wrote about being alone but not alone. It got me thinking about the verbiage we have concerning people without partners, parents in particular.
Mostly we hear about single parents. I’m talking here about people who are not married (or in a marriage like relationship) but are coparenting. They have to make a lot of decisions on their own but when push comes to shove, they do have someone to at least bounce things off of. Maybe they get a weekend “off” when the kids are at the other parents’ house. They split daycare costs and health insurance. For better or worse, they have a parenting partner.
I fully understand that this can come with its own challenges and am in no way diminishing the hard that comes with single parenting or the ache one must feel knowing their babies aren’t under their roof and/or protection. I can’t even imagine that. I’ve never been a single parent.
What I am now, I think, is just ever so slightly different. I’m a solo parent. Solos are created when a spouse dies, but also in cases of abandonment and sometimes divorce. These are the parents who are doing it…well, solo. They are the ones who make all the rules. Who pay all the bills. Who have only one person on their kids’ school contact forms.
These are the parents who always get the phone call and then have to decide how to handle whatever it brings. The call from the school. The police. The hospital. The kid who just wrecked the car. The friend who saw something sketchy and isn’t sure how to handle it. The broken hearted kid who just got dumped. All the calls.
This is not to say I was lying on yesterday’s post. I meant it when I said, alone but not alone. God and my peeps, you know. They’ve got my back and I know it.
But as awesome as they are, when that phone rings and I need immediate support, my default is gone. The automatic of a partner isn’t there and that can be a really hard thing. I have to decide if and who to share with each and every time. Sometimes I just have to pull up the big girl panties and get it done -solo.
And that can be really lonely.
It can also be stinking awesome. I’d be lying if I said there were no upsides to rolling solo. You can decide to take a midwinter trip to Mexico and so long as it’s not during a world-wide pandemic, no one can stop you. You can say yes or no to holidays with the family. You can sleep on whichever side of the bed you want!
But sometimes even those things can feel a little lonely.
Tonight, I salute you, fellow solos. You, parent, who dealt with a quarantined teenager for two weeks, solo. You, dad, who figured out how to talk about puberty with his teenage daughter, solo. You, mom, who is showing her boys how to become men, solo. I see you. I applaud you. I’m stinking jumping for joy that you’re making it!
You. Are. Freaking. Awesome.
Don’t you dare let anyone tell you otherwise. If they try, send them my way. I got your back, fellow solo. Together, we can make a great duo!
***And yes, that’s a picture of a Solo cup, because well…the other option was Han and that would be a copyright infringement. 🤷♀️
Yesterday I had to deal with a really hard thing. Without going into detail, let’s just say that I had to face something that was big and scary and potentially very messy. Something that I never asked or hoped for. And I had to do it alone.
That’s the hardest part of all of this, I think. All of the alone.
All-of-the-whole-world-resting-on-your-shoulders kind of alone.
Slowly I’m learning not to carry all of that. Not to even pick it up. To let the things that are too heavy sit where they are and to ignore the things that were never mine to begin with.
Therapy has helped with that. My counselor has helped me give myself permission to choose what I want to carry. To not have to be all things to all people at all times. I know sounds kind of like, “duh,” but you’d be surprised at how easy it can be to try to do and be it all. Or maybe you wouldn’t, because you’ve been here, too, alone.
I have to say I’m proud of how I’m learning and how I’m trying to recognize that I have both God and a plethora of friends on my side. Today when a big problem arose, I consciously made the choice to go first to God. I prayed about what my reaction should be. What I should say. Who I should say it to. What I should not say, because as often is the case, that was probably the most important thing of all.
After that, I called one friend, because I still needed to hash out a few things outloud. Then I called one other friend and asked him to pray with and for me as I went to deal with the mess. Alone but not alone.
As I sat confronting this situation, I was reminded of a similar time a few years back when Vance modeled grace and poise that astounded me at the time. Today I was inspired to act that way myself, thinking as I spoke, how would Vance handle this? What would he say? Again, I was reminded that even from the other side of this life, I am still influenced – made better even – by my life spent with Vance. Alone but not alone.
I don’t yet know how this particular mess will sort itself out. I just know that once more, God has shown me that I am not alone after all.
Biblically speaking, 40 is generally significant. The rain on Noah. The temptation of Jesus. Easter to Ascension. Moses and Elijah on mountain tops waiting to hear from the Lord. It’s often seen as a trial period or a time of temptation.
That’s been true for me.
I’ve wanted to write. I’ve even put together fantastic posts in my head. Somehow, I haven’t been able to get anything on paper. (Ironically, I don’t actually use paper, since this is an electronic blog, but you get the idea!) But it’s just been too much.
I wanted to tell you how awesome my friends were on my birthday when they threw me a fiesta, complete with a donkey piñata and sopapilla cheesecake. Because you guys, my friends are the best.
I wanted to tell you about what should have been my 21st wedding anniversary. How tempted I was just to wallow in my aloneness. How I went to therapy but cried big, ugly, probably-shouldn’t-have-continued-driving-since-I-couldn’t-see tears. How I could hardly get out of the car once I got there. How it took a group text with two of my best friends to even get into the therapy office. How another of my friends texted to check on me that day, without me reminding her of the significance of it, just because she made it a point to remember. How very much that meant to me and how it came at just the right time. How I stopped for chocolates and cheese dip. How I got my nails done and the nail tech asked about my kids and then my husband. How when I told her he had died she asked me if I knew about Match.com. How it made me laugh.
I wanted to tell you about how after that I tried flirting for the first time in decades and fell flat on my face, looking and acting like an idiot, because I’m 44 years old and this is not something I should be doing. Seriously. Won’t be doing that again anytime soon. Not even tempted to try again. *face palm*
I wanted to tell you about how I finally got a headstone ordered but how it’s still not here because, you know, Covid or something. That is testing my patience in big ways.
I wanted to tell you about how I very last minute applied to grad school, got in and started classes all within a week. Apparently if you are willing to fork over the cash, colleges will let things like deadlines slide in 2020. Who knew?
I wanted to tell you about how hard solo parenting is. How I have no idea sometimes how to best help my kids. How I miss them being little and all of us together. And how very tempting it is just to give up when it’s hard. To give in when they push back. To not have another person to back me up.
I wanted to tell you about watching my grandpa go through hospice. About watching this giant of a man become skin and bones. About watching my mother care for her daddy at the end of his life. About how that made me feel about someday walking down that road myself. How tempting it is to just be angry that this is how a well-lived life ends.
I wanted to tell you about watching a friend go through the loss of a dear one, about feeling helpless to do anything for her. About how much I wanted to be there but fell short. About her strength in all of it. About how once again, how much death being a part of life just sucks.
I wanted to tell you how I cry every single time I tell someone that I decided to go ahead and send all four kids to public school. How two weeks in, I sent the youngest. How it’s best for all of us. How he will thrive. But also how it’s just one more thing that didn’t go as planned and how hard that is. How hard it was to lay aside my pride and go ahead and send him. Ironically leaving homeschooling in a time when so many are just starting it.
I wanted to tell you about how complicated family relationships are. How you can both love someone dearly and also never want to see their face again. How sin makes all of us behave like monsters and how pride keeps us from admitting that. How there are people we can love but need to have boundaries with. How hard that is. How tempting to respond with hurt and anger instead of love and grace.
I wanted to tell you about how hard the idea of parents’ night at the kids’ school is, even if I don’t have a senior yet. Of how terrified I am that I might not be able to hold it together, even a year from now, as that will be another milestone Vance will miss. Keeping bitterness from creeping in there is a full time job.
There is so much more I’ve wanted to say. So much I wanted to share, to write down, to process. But I haven’t. Instead I’ve let anxiety and fear and just plain exhaustion keep me from it. The enemy is real and he has been pushing at me these last 40 days (and more).
In Phillipians 4, Paul writes, “Don’t worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for what he has done.”
So, here I am, 40 days later, trying to do that. I’m trying to worry less. To be less anxious. To trust in the one who created it all and to let go of what I cannot control anyway. To be thankful. So friends, I am thankful today. For friends who throw birthday fiestas, for ones who call or text or message at just the right time. For spontaneous lunch dates. For knowing my limits (sometimes) and realizing when I’ve stretched too far. For my homeschool tribe and the public schools that are taking care of my kids in this season. For the rain, even though it makes for long football games. For families even when they are chaos and headaches. For the chance to learn new things and to fight temptations. For the chance to not just survive but to really live.
Just as I finished uploading the photo and was about to publish this, my phone rang. It was the health department. One of my kids was in close contact with a school staff member who tested positive for Covid. That means two week quarantine for him. I had to go to the football game, not to watch him, but to pick him up and bring him home. It was parents’ night. Not gonna lie. Feels like maybe this time of trial and testing isn’t quite over yet. Pray for us.
So….it’s been over a year and I still don’t have a job. I bet some of you have been wondering about that but were too polite to ask. A few of you did ask, but not in a nosy way. More in a, “Hey, are you going to be okay?” way. I’ve been totally good with that.
For the last year, I’ve been living on the grace of God, the generosity of my family, friends and community, social security checks and life insurance money.
Thirteen years ago, Vance and I welcomed our third baby into this world. We’d bought a house and at the time, had our own business. We decided it was time to make a will and to buy life insurance. We’ve always lived pretty frugally, but we knew that this was an expense we couldn’t skip.
Nobody wants to think about, much less talk about the idea of dying. Or of their spouse dying. It’s morbid. It’s uncomfortable. It makes us cry. But the thing is, death comes for us all in the end. None of us are making it out alive, so we might as well have a plan for when our time comes.
In the unlikely (but all-together way too real) event that something would happen to one of us, Vance and I didn’t want the kids’ lives to be disrupted any more than necessary. We bought life insurance policies that would be enough to pay for funeral expenses, pay off some bills and allow us to stay home for a minimum of one year should the worst happen.
I don’t tell you that because I relish the idea of having the world know my financial business. I tell you this because the worst did happen to me. Vance died unexpectedly. Suddenly I was left with four kids and no job. Thankfully, we had decided to pay those premiums every month. This allowed me to remain at home for a while longer, to pay the bills and to provide some sense of normalcy for our kids.
This insurance money is not going to last forever. That wasn’t the plan. Eventually, sooner all the time, in fact, I will need to return to the workforce. Life insurance has however, allowed me some breathing room. Some time to grieve. Days to stay in bed crying and days to go to counseling. Days to hold my babies tight and days to still be their primary teacher.
Right after Vance died, going back to a job I’d already had would have been hard enough. Searching for a job while in the early stages of grieving would have been nearly impossible. I’m really glad I didn’t have to.
I fully understand that not everyone is in this position. In fact, from the social media widows groups I’m in, I would say that mine is a very different position than most. I’m very aware of that and thankful for Vance’s taking care of us in this way, even though he’s no longer physically here.
The thing is, I’m not the last widow on earth. Others will follow this unwanted, incredibly difficult road. A good financial plan makes it just a little easier.
If you don’t already have a plan, can you do me a favor and make one? Like soon? This month maybe? By the end of the year, for sure? Because it may seem like you can’t afford life insurance right now, but I can promise you -if the unthinkable happens- you can’t afford not to.
A few years ago there was this Facebook trend where you asked people to post a meme that reminded them of you. I jumped on that bandwagon and laughed at my friends’ and family’s responses. They were varied, but two themes stuck out above the rest: my love for kids and VBS and my get ‘er done mentality. To those who knew me, even just a little, I was the vacation Bible school lady and the one you went to when you needed something done right and done now.
Fast-forward to today. A couple of weeks ago, we made the decision to postpone VBS for this year. It should have started yesterday. Normally, I’d be out at the church by now, frantically rehearsing my opening skit and getting ready to love on 250 or so of my favorite people. Like so many other things, Coronavirus has squashed that. Instead, I’m at home, still in my pajamas, simultaneously depressed and relieved at this. Please let me explain.
I love VBS. Love it. I’m passionate about it and it’s where my heart is. Last year, when Vance died just four days before we started, my friends wouldn’t even consider cancelling, because they knew that the best way to honor and support our family was by going forward with VBS, sharing the Gospel with as many people as they could. Knowing that there is a strong possibility that we may not be able to pull it off this year makes my heart hurt.
At the same time, it’s kinda sorta a relief. Man, it’s hard to admit that. Trust me, it’s not what I wanted to happen. But once the choice was made, a big weight was lifted off my shoulders.
You see, for the last year, I haven’t been able to shake my brain fog. I think intense grief really does change things in your brain. There are probably scientific studies to back this up but I don’t have the mental energy to find them right now.
This girl who used to get so much done, who remembered all the appointments, who showed up when she said she would, this girl….well, she had to call the doctor’s office today and apologize for missing her son’s appointment (again) and hang her head in shame as they rescheduled (again.) Thankfully, my doctor has great people who work for him and the sweet woman I talked to gave me lots of grace. Now, here’s hoping that I don’t forget between now and Wednesday at 2:00.
It’s not just appointments, although I have missed many of them this year. I can’t make choices. At all. Not simple ones, like which nail salon to go to, which plants to buy, or what to make for supper. Worse, I can’t seem to do the big, more important stuff, like applying to grad school or making financial investments.
Losing Vance, solo parenting, COVID-19. It’s like they are just sucking my life force away, one day at a time. Ever time we get to a new “normal,” the game changes again. But as I told an overwhelmed friend the other day, yes, God does give us more than we can handle, because in our weakness we see his strength.
So dear ones, thank you for your grace when I forget things. When I don’t show up. When I forget to even acknowledge how amazing and awesome you are. When it seems like I’m not parenting well (I’m probably not). When I make choices you disagree with. When I just don’t seem myself.
A year out, I really thought this would be better by now, but here I am, still foggy on a lot of days. Who knew?
When I wrote about “anniversary” being a horrible word for marking the time since a loved one died, a friend texted me with this word. Yahrzeit. It’s Yiddish, which neither of us speak, but maybe we should learn.
Pronounce, as best as I can tell, yart–site, it means the anniversary of a loved one’s death, especially a parent’s. Again, I don’t speak Yiddish and I actually don’t personally know anyone who does, so I maybe I’m not quite using it right, but I’m totally adopting this word into my vocabulary.
On Vance’s yahrzeit, my friends showed up big. There was pizza, cinnamon rolls, Pepsi, cookies, cards, texts, messages, flowers, a memorial stone and lots and lots of love. Apparently, food is the primary love language of my tribe and I am not complaining.
Can I just give you a little something here? Be the friend who shows up for yahrzeit. Send the card. Make the call. Bring the pizza. It doesn’t have to be a giant or expensive thing. A single flower and a handwritten note both hold great healing power. Showing up for your friends is huge. Huge! Set a reminder on your phone or in your calendar and check in on that friend who just might need a little extra that day.
I haven’t always done this for my loved ones but I’m sure going to try to do it more from now on.
A sweet friend brought over a fresh-from-her-garden bouquet on Vance’s yahrziet. It was stunning. Pinks and purples and greens and a gorgeous lily that, even a bit past its prime, stood out.
After a few days, some of the blooms started to wilt. The gorgeous lily was first. Its beauty began to fade and then it quickly got plucked from the arrangement.
And so it went, as the days went on, another flower pulled out and tossed into the trash, while the longer lasting ones remained. Then today, I stopped along the road and had Ezra cut me a few new buds to add in. The colors were different, these new ones were orange and yellow, not pink and purple. Instead of coordinating, these colors complimented each other.
As I was arranging them, a new thought came to my mind. This ever-changing bouquet is a lot like my life. It was absolutely gorgeous in the beginning. Then some of the beauty faded. Then new blooms were added, filling in the gaps where the old flowers had fallen.
The result is a new, but no less beautiful, arrangement. It looks different. It is not what it was before but the transition does not take away the goodness of the original. In fact, it extends and enhances it.
My life is not what it once was. Nothing here looks the same. In the last year there have been times when the gaps seemed giant and the blooms far apart. Over time God has filled many of those places with new, sometimes unexpected, things. None of them replace what was lost but the new ones intermingle with the old, and they bring their own beauty, tell their own stories and make me smile.
Normally, I just share one black and white photo on each post but today I think two color photos is a better choice. Enjoy the beauty both of them bring.
It’s about here now. This stupid one year “anniversary” of Vance’s death. What a weird word to use for something so devastating. Anniversaries are supposed to be happy things, where you celebrate making it one more year together. Instead, here I am, marking one whole year apart. It feels like there should be another word for that. Hit me up in the comments if you have a better word, because I could really use one.
The last 12 months have been full of grief. There is no way around that. I have cried more in the last 365 days than in the entire 15,681 days before that. I’m not done with crying or sadness. I suppose that I never really will be completely finished grieving this loss. Love doesn’t just stop because someone’s heart no longer beats.
Grief, yes, but these last months have also been so full of grace. Sometimes, so much so that I hesitate to share for fear of sounding boastful. But I promise, if I boast, I boast only to speak of the goodness of God. It feels unfinished to tell you only about the grief, when there really is so much grace.
There is grace in the amazing Father’s Day gift our friends gave the kids. In the secret Valentines and the random cards that have come on just the right days.
It’s in the last minute beach get away another friend included me in. Cause seriously, if you’re going to have to be a widow, you might as well have your toes in the sand, right?
The four hours of prayer and fellowship my spiritual sisters and I were able to have together, praying for our marriages, our children and our grief were so full of grace. Bearing one another’s burdens in the way of genuine love.
Grace is found in the big things, like life insurance that has allowed me to continue being a homeschool mom, not having to disrupt our lives even more in this first year by me having to search out a job. It won’t be that way forever, but for now, it’s been nice to be able to breathe without worrying too much about the finances.
God’s favor is also in the little things, like the Uber driver I was able to find at 3:45 in the morning, when he was the only one in the area at the time, and I had failed to realize I was using an old card number when I tried to book the trip early, thus never actually completing the transaction. And yet, there he was, choosing to do the regular Uber, not the XL, at exactly the time I needed him, even though that was not his normal routine.
There is grace in finding a new band, whose music speaks to my heart in almost every song, just when I need it. (Rend Collective, if you’re wondering. I recommend their Good News album as well as their recent release, Sing It From the Shackles. You’re welcome.)
Grace has been found in the plethora of messages I’ve received in the past week, saying how loved ones are thinking of and praying for me and the kids this week, as this anniversary looms. And in the scores, if not hundreds of messages I’ve gotten in this year, just checking in, making sure we’re hanging in there okay.
It’s finding a Christian therapist who not only lets me talk things out, but who prays with and for me.
The letter I received from a teenage girl named Abby who was able to pursue her dreams of dancing after an injury because Vance was an organ and tissue donor was packed full of grace. God’s hand was so obvious in that. What more would Coach Crutchfield want than for a young athlete, named Abby, to pursue her dreams?
It’s found in grandparents who step up and fill the holes. Aunts, uncles and cousins who refuse to let us give up on the hard days and laugh with us on the good ones.
You guys, “grace in the grief” is more than a catchy blog name. It’s truly becoming a way of life for me. I’m searching for – and finding – God’s favor in the middle of this mess. Three hundred sixty-five days ago, I had no idea how much, if any, I would find. There were moments, days, weeks, when it alluded me, but ya’ll, I have found it. God is good, a true refuge in times of trouble. May I keep searching for his hand in the days ahead.
The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust him.
This is what Vance called his “life verse.” If you’re not up on the churchy lingo, that simply means that these words stood out to him among Scripture. That he took comfort and guidance from them often.
If you look back to Day 3, you will see that this was also our first day VBS Bible verse last summer. I’m still wearing that bracelet much of the time. I still look at it all the time. In fact, I have a few friends and family who haven’t taken theirs off for almost a year.
Notice what Nahum 1:7 doesn’t say. It does not promise,”The Lord is good, he takes away trouble. He does all the work for those who trust him.” That’s actually not it at all.
This verse actually tells us that, yes, trouble is coming. You can count on it. And when it does, you’ll need a place of safety. A refuge. Because that trouble isn’t going to always be the kind you can just wave off or even put off until the next day. Trouble is going to come, stare you in the face, punch you in the mouth, then kick you in the crotch and laugh while you’re writhing on the ground. The only way to avoid it is to find a sanctuary; a safe place where trouble is not welcome.
That safe place has got to be in Jesus. He doesn’t leave us to fight on our own. He upholds us with his mighty hand. He fights with us, for us.
God is good, sweet friend. Always. Always. Always.
This is the best part of Vance’s legacy. The other stuff is good. I mean, really, really good. But this. This is eternallygood. This is what made the man I love the man he was.