Day 299: Loss

Sometimes I think my kids list more than their dad on July 3. They lost a big part of their mom that day, too.

In the days since, well, I haven’t exactly been on my “A” game. There has been a lot of sleeping in. A lot of hiding out. A lot of long drives alone and crying fits sitting in the van alone, out by the lake.

When I got into this parenting thing I thought I’d have a partner to tag in. Not having that just plain sucks.

I didn’t realize just how much Vance and I were a team. How much I relied on being able to “call the principal” on tough school days. How he’d balance me out and keep me in check. How the kids would mind him better than they would me and while I resented that, I also appreciated that he was there when I was at the end of my rope.

Without him, I’m just not the same person. I’m less than I was.

Day 395: Money

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.

Day 376: Fog

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?

Day 371: Yahrzeit

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, yartsite, 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.

Day 371: Flowers

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.

Day 365: One Year

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.

Day 351: Nahum 1:7

The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust him.

Nahum 1:7

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 eternally good. This is what made the man I love the man he was.

Day 350: Man of the House

At the hospital, right after Vance died, there was a plethora of friends, family and coworkers. Our people had heard and they showed up big. It was unexpected. Overwhelming.

At the time I just couldn’t comprehend everything. I’m still not sure who all was there that day. Some faces stand out. Others are just blurs. So much was happening.

I spent a ton of that day watching them try to save Vance and I missed a lot of what was happening in the waiting room. Even after he was gone, I stayed with the body for a long time.

In the meantime, my kids were left with their grandparents and other family members and friends. I just could not deal with everything and everyone at that moment so they stepped up and stepped in and filled the holes. I’m so grateful.

The people that showed up said all kinds of things. Mostly good. But there was one phrase that I heard at least twice that made my skin crawl. Well meaning, good, godly men shook my oldest boy’s hand, looked into his barely 16 year old eyes and told him he was now “the man of the house.”

Um…no. This isn’t 1814. We don’t need a man to own land or pay the bills or run the farm.

Let me be clear: Eli is not “the man of the house.” Eli is now just barely a 17 year old boy and I will not let that be stolen from him.

He is not responsible for our family. I am. He will not pay the bills, parent the children, or make the hardest decisions. That is my job. I’m still the mom. I’m the head of household now.

Please don’t think that I’m angry with the people who said this to him. They meant well. I know that. I love them. But it was the wrong thing to say. Eli and I continue to have many conversations about his role in our home. As the oldest, he has a natural bent towards protecting and caring for us. He is man size. But he is not yet a man. Soon. Sooner than I might like, he will be a man in his own right. But not yet.

When he becomes man of the house, it will not be in my home. It will be in his own. When he’s ready, he’ll be an amazing leader of his family. I look forward to that day but it has not yet come.

Day 348: Changes

Lately I’ve been changing all the things.

New paint in basically the whole house and even a new room for Eli.

Flowers in the front yard and funeral plants all over the house. I think I’m up to eight in the house and a butt-ton outside. Feel free to go ahead and pat me on the back because it’s been almost a year and I’ve kept all but one alive! Abby says I’m becoming a plant lady. I blame my plant lady friends for their bad influence. (I’m looking at you Amanda and Melissa!)

New clothes. New hair color. Mani-pedis. I’ve done them all this year.

I’m thinking about going back to work or starting work on my master’s degree. I’m prepping for Praxis tests and trying to figure out the best way to get the job I want.

You’ll find me teaching the middle school youth group on Sunday nights. I was planning to teach an adult study, too, until all this pandemic madness hit.

All the things are changing.

Some of the changes are just distractions. Others though, they’re more…concrete? Maybe? I’m not sure what the word is. I just know that I needed them. Honestly. Not just wanted, but I needed these tangible changes.

I had to replace the mattress and then even move the bed to a different wall. Sleeping on the same sheets in the same place, knowing that nothing was really ever going to be the same was just too….too everything. Too hard. Too many sleepless nights. Too many tears. So I got a new bed, rotated it 90 degrees and picked up a new comforter set from Wal-Mart. I found an inexpensive curtain and hung one of those new plants in the window. Vance always thought decorative pillows were stupid, so I got a couple of those, too, because, well, I wanted them and they came with the comforter set.

And you know what? Sometimes it really does help. Coming home into a more inviting place can make things a little more bearable. Right now, our home is often chaotic. With five people, of five ages, all dealing with life and grief in their own ways, there’s rarely a 24 hour period where all of us are having a good day at the same time. There are big feelings and big blow ups and big everything. Surrounding myself with green plants and pretty things makes me a little less crazy. That’s a change I need.

Day 347: 16 years

My oldest is turning 17 today. He’s the one that made us parents. His is the last of these “first” birthdays without his dad. With the exception of the actual anniversary of his death, this is the last big “first” without Vance.

Seventeen years ago, someone took this picture, just eleven minutes after Vance officially became a dad. I’m not sure who it was, it for sure wasn’t me. I was still in recovery after the emergency c-section. But someone, maybe my mom, took this shot.

It’s one of my favorites because it sums up so much of what Vance was about in just one picture. He’d been a dad for less than a quarter of an hour but you can see in his eyes that he had waited his entire life for just this moment. The moment he was able to hold his own child in his arms.

He looked at all four of kids like that. He mourned the loss of the one we never got to hold after I miscarried. Vance was born to be a dad. It was his very favorite thing. Just ask anyone who spent more than five minutes with him. They’ll agree.

I will never understand why he only got 16 years as a parent. I’ll never understand why our kids no longer get to hear his giant voice telling them “Happy birthday!” or reminding them of just how much he loves them.

I keep telling myself that “God is not surprised.” He knew this was how things would play out. He knew the number of Vance’s days on earth even before he was born.

So in that, I trust. I trust, but I do not understand. As an old friend told my mom upon hearing the news of our losing Vance, “Why can’t the a****** dads die? Why does God take the good ones?” It made me laugh that first time she told me and it makes me laugh now. But it also makes me wonder why the “a-hole” dads get to stick around while my kids will never see their dad again. Why a man made for such a time as this is gone before we are ready to say goodbye.