When Life Gives You Lemons (Well, You Know the Rest)

You’d think that after having the most unexpected and awful and out-of-control thing happen to me, I’d stop looking for patterns or certainty in life.

But, being human, and a former control freak, I just can’t quit.

So I still use a calendar, still try to make plans, still depend on others to keep their word and adhere to (a semblance) of schedule.

Silly me!

Remember this post:  Salt In The Wound?

Well I flew to California-neither a simple nor cheap undertaking-to handle this business.  In a one hour meeting, one party to the process declared a “personal conflict” and the whole thing is now moved to the end of July.

Wow!  Yep.  Couldn’t send an email a couple days ahead and save me a trip, could you?

So here I am, laughing because  If You Don’t Laugh, You’ll Cry

And working to make lemonade out of these lemons life keeps tossing my way.

Here’s my list so far:

  • The weather was great.  It amounted to an extended spring season for me since it’s already in the high 80’s and low 90’s in Alabama.
  • Sidewalks everywhere.  I could walk to the store, the library, the park.  I managed a walk every day for a week.
  • Time to write.  There is still a mile-long “to do” list around the farm but since I wasn’t there, I could ignore it and spend more time writing.  Those walks help clear my mind and focus my thoughts.
  • A couple quick day trips to fun spots with my husband.  One of the things we’ve tried to do since he’s been out here is use my visits to explore California.  This time we went to San Juan Capistrano and learned more about the mission system that was instrumental in settling the state.  We also visited the Getty Museum.  Both places had beautiful buildings and gardens, as you can see in the pictures at the end of this post.
  • A renewed sense of gratitude for southern culture and graciousness.  I’m sorry if I offend any left coast readers but as a group (NOT individuals) these are just not my people.  I smile, nod and speak when I meet someone on the street or in a grocery store aisle.  With few exceptions, people out there just don’t do that.  I feel torn between being (what I consider) rude and respecting their customs.  I missed my redneck brothers and sisters 🙂
  • Some much needed rest and sleep.  Once my body adjusted to the time change, I slept longer out there than I have most nights for years.  Maybe it’s the walking or cooler temps or just the lack of morning cues from home, but I was able to get a good 7 or 8 hours every night.

I’ve always tended to be a “glass half full” kind of gal, but since Dom left us, it can be harder to find the bright side of hard situations.  

I’m working at it.  

Making this list will help my heart refuse despair when I have to board that plane again in just two short months.

(I hope ❤ )

 

 

[#unblessed] If You Don’t Laugh, You’ll Cry

So my regular followers know by now my mom was lifeflighted over a week ago from her VERY rural home to the nearest large hospital due to a heart attack and complications from preexisting heart/lung disease.  (If you didn’t, you do now 🙂 )

I’ve been here with her since Thursday morning-taking night shift at the hospital so my dad can go home to the farm, get some rest and do what needs to be done.

You’d think a body might catch a break when some giant life-altering event like this happens.  But NOOOOOOO!

when i asked if life could get worse was rhetorical

In the week plus a day since Mama has been hospitalized we have had (not really, but sorta) funny one [#unblessed] moment after another.

Last Friday morning, following my dad to the hospital, he did the same sliding “stop” at a stop sign turning right onto an access road that he’s done every time he goes this way for 20 years.  But this time-you guessed it!– a very enthusiastic and attentive LEO saw him and pulled his old red farm truck over.

Following behind, I’ll just be honest, more than one salty word slipped out as I anticipated the worst possible outcome in case fatigue and stress prompted Papa to tell the officer what’s what.  Thankfully, it didn’t come to that and after running the plates and license the cop let him go.  [#unblessed]

Sunday I came to the farm by myself for the first time and left Papa at the hospital.  He had remembered to give me a house key and I had carefully put it in my purse.

Perfect.

Got inside-no problem.

I needed to add clothes to a load in the washer and stepped out on the porch to toss them in.  Being the well-trained daughter I am, I shut the house door behind me.  Locked myself out of the house.  

No phone.  

No shoes.

No car keys.

NOTHING.

locked out of house

Everyone down this way was in church.

So I did the only thing I could do.  I put on an old pair of Papa’s boat shoes (after checking for spiders) and hoofed it the two miles to my uncle’s house so he could give me the spare key.  At midday.  In the Florida sun.  No one stopped to ask if I needed a ride.  [#unblessed]

Tuesday I thought I was being very innovative in getting my critical daily medicine prescriptions filled at the local pharmacy HERE since I didn’t bring a sufficient supply from home.  Called CVS and it was a breeze except for one hiccup. A single script was out of refills so I had to call my doctor and ask for an emergency 14 day supply to be sent. Nurse took the message, said she’d get it done.  That was at 11:15.  I head to the pharmacy about 3:00 to pick everything up.  Two are ready but the one from the doctor isn’t.

Thinking that there had been a snafu-they might have called it in without thinking to my pharmacy back home-I telephone the office only to be told that the doctor was going to do it this time, but that because he wanted me to do a follow-up appointment (which I had cancelled but forgot to reschedule), he was basically doing it under duress.  (Even though this is a “don’t you dare stop it suddenly” medicine and I told the nurse my mom was lifeflighted to the hospital with a heart attack).

All the fight was out of me.  I “yes ma’amed” my way through that phone call and said “thank you so much”.  The nurse waited until the minute before their office closed to fax the script just because she could.  [#unblessed]

They are trying to move the fluid off my mom’s heart and lungs with aggressive IV diuretics.  She had one round Tuesday but by Wednesday morning her potassium was so low we had to bring that back up before the next round.  Well, the next round started at 6:30 Wednesday night.  (For those of you who don’t know about these things, IV diuretics mean trips to the bathroom about every 20-30 minutes.)  Yep!  All night long, me and Mama made that three foot trek from the bed to the potty-unhooking oxygen, unplugging the IV pole (it won’t hold a battery charge) and carefully moving her fragile self twice an hour until about 3:30 in the morning.  Apparently cardiologists figure that if they are on 24 hour call, patients should be too.  [#unblessed]

of course i sleep its exhausting keeping you up all night

Heading home Thursday morning after little sleep on Wednesday night, I see blue lights behind me.  I check my speed.  Within the limit.  I’m talking on the cell but not texting. I have no idea why I’m being pulled over.

License and registration.  He tells me that the tag I have on my truck comes back to the Toyota Camry we own.

Now, you have to understand our family has many vehicles and they issued new tags this year.  I didn’t pay close enough attention when taking them outside to put them on and got them mixed up. But “switching” tags is a serious offense.  And then, OF COURSE, I had not put the new insurance card in the glove compartment-it was floating in my purse.  (Thankfully I found it.)  For about 10 minutes my heart was racing although I had already decided that if I got off with a ticket I’d pay it without blinking an eye.  He did let me go but I’m convinced he thought I was a crazy woman who should have known better  [#unblessed]

heres another ticket for giving me imaginary id.png

Today, I tried to get my injectable RA medicine shipped to the same pharmacy since my shot is due tomorrow.  Went through the whole routine of getting the shipment set up and find out the earliest they can get it here is NEXT Thursday.  When I probably won’t be here at all.  [#unblessed]

I’m sitting here in my parents’ home, typing and taking a break.  Because my oldest son may be here tomorrow.  See, the largest, strongest and potentially deadliest hurricane is headed either for his home on the east side of Florida or for us here in the western panhandle-but we are further inland.  My truck is stocked with bottled water and other supplies “just in case”.  We don’t know if Mama will be released before Irma gets here or not but we’ll be OK. Who would have thought?  It figures.  [#unblessed]

Each incident adds stress to the system but none are really all that traumatic.

Because when you’ve buried a child, nothing short of death really rocks your world very much.

And I’ve learned to laugh (once the adrenaline wears off)-because if I don’t, I’ll just cry.

always find a reason to laugh

 

Is it OK if I Laugh?

Thankfully our family has always turned to laughter as a way of making it through things that would otherwise bring us to tears.  So it wasn’t but a couple days past when we got the news of Dom’s leaving we managed a giggle here and there as his friends shared some funny stories with us.

But it felt strange to have laughter bubbling up in my throat even as I couldn’t stop its escaping my mouth.

It wasn’t the free-floating, airy expression of joy and merriment it used to be.  Instead it was a strangled, mishapen gurgling mixture of the joy I once knew and unspeakable pain I now knew.

It didn’t float airily into the atmosphere, it thudded heavy to the floor.

And then I felt like I was betraying my son.

How could I laugh just days after finding out he would never laugh again?  How could I giggle over a silly story when my own story had drifted into tragic territory?  Was there something dreadfully wrong with me?  Was I somehow defective?

No. No. No.

And No.

There is nothing wrong with laughing-even in the darkest night of child loss.

Laughter is a gift.

When we laugh our hearts and bodies are receiving strength for the work grief requires.

Laughter  has many proven benefits:

  • decreases stress hormones
  • increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease
  • triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • lowers blood pressure
  • works your abdominal muscles
  • improves cardiac health

Dominic had an amazing laughhe was always cutting up, teasing friends and family and finding the funny in every situation.  He loved to laugh.

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One of the favorite stories his classmates told me was when he dressed as a redneck client for a mock trial case.  They were petrified that when he walked into the “courtroom” he was going to ruin their strategy and chances of winning.

But he played the part to perfection and had everyone rolling in the aisles.

I am learning to embrace laughter not only for what it does for ME but for how it links my heart to his.

This Valley is a long, dark place-I’ll take any light that breaks through.

And laughter is one of the brightest.

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Laughter

“A joy-filled heart is curative balm, but a broken spirit hurts all the way to the bone.” ~Proverbs 17:22 VOICE

Laughter is good for my heart.  Not just my physical blood-pumping organ, but the emotional center of my being.

And in this Valley of the Shadow of Death, laughter can be a real life-saver.

So I try to work some in each day.  I purpose to see the lighter side of challenging moments, make a point of actually watching those goofy videos passed around on Facebook, read jokes and practice responding with a smile.

It’s not betraying Dominic-although it kind of felt that way in the first few weeks-it’s honoring his sense of humor and celebrating his life.

Our family spent hours laughing around the table, in the living room and passing wry texts back and forth.

I firmly believe there will be laughter in Heaven.  I think that part of joy is great big belly laughs that will shake me from head to toe.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep practicing down here.

Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing! PART TWO: Coping Strategies

So now that you know you aren’t going crazy, what to do?

Give yourself grace-understand that the old you is not the new you.

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You will not be able to overcome these very real changes by sheer force of will. No matter how talented or together you used to be, it’s unlikely you can operate on that high plane right now. If you try, you will only exhaust the resources you have left.  

So slow down and make room for how grief has impacted your mind.

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There are some basic self-care techniques that bear fruit in every area, not only mental acuity:

  • Eat balanced meals or snacks-It doesn’t matter if you WANT to eat.  Consider that you are fueling your body so that it can feed your mind.  Find a protein bar you like or eat easy-to-make salads or sandwiches.  When blood sugar levels are stable, your mind works better.
  • Get as much quality sleep/rest as possible-This is very hard, I know, when the setting sun brings memories and thoughts that make sleep almost impossible.  But research “sleep hygiene” and apply the techniques that might work for you.  Herbal supplements and teas can help as well as prescription medications.
  • Drink enough water-hydration is so very important and easy to ignore.
  • Limit alcohol and/or other stimulants/depressants -any of which can interfere with your ability to think and remember. (Do NOT stop medication unless you do so in concert with your doctor)
  • Exercise-There’s no need to run a 5K. Just a walk around the block or even around your house can get your blood pumping and providing more oxygen to your brain.
  • Get a physical exam to rule out hypothyrodism, diabetes, heart disease, or any other physical cause for your symptoms.  If prescribed treatment, follow the protocol.

brain-cogs-and-light-bulb

Develop work arounds:

  • I simply admit to people I’m meeting for the first time that I will not remember their name unless and until I use it multiple times, and even then I might forget.  It takes the pressure off so I don’t have to pretend when I see them again.
  • I write down EVERYTHING.  If I put something “someplace safe” I jot down the location in my calendar.  If I make an appointment or need to make a phone call, I write it where I can see it.  If I commit to bring something to a potluck meal, I put down what I promised and when it needs to be there.
  • I ask for help.  Like I said before, if I make lunch plans with friends, I ask that they text me the day before to remind me.  If I need extra time to fill out a form, I speak out-I’ve never had anyone refuse.  If I can’t remember something important, I admit it and look it up.  I have given my family permission to tell me when I’m repeating myself.
  • I maintain routines and habits.  Keys-same place,always. I have a carabiner on my purse to attach them when I leave my truck.  Glasses-same place, always.  Medicines in those little seven-day sorted containers.
  • I use the Internet, mail and telephone calls to expedite things and minimize stressful interactions with people.  If I am going out to a restaurant, I look up the menu online so I’m not forced to make a decision on the spot.  I look up and print directions even though my phone can navigate on the fly.  I call ahead to learn how long a repair will take, if items are available and if my prescriptions are actually ready.  I send letters and cards instead of visiting when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

take-control-of-your-life

Lifestyle choices:

  • I aim for balance:  Harder tasks with easier ones; stressful outings with quiet moments; reading with sewing; outside and inside; work and play.  Switching up seems to help keep me sharper somehow.
  • I don’t overcommit.  When someone asks me to do something, unless it is truly an emergency requiring an immediate answer, I consult my calendar.  If I already have a couple commitments for a week, I beg off or reschedule for another time.  I realize that those working outside the home have far less control over these things but perhaps you might ask your boss for some leeway.
  • I group similar tasks and do one thing at a time.  I find that doing things that require the same skillset on a single day increases my ability to do them well.  Shopping, writing notes, cleaning house are things I schedule for one day at a time.  I am absolutely NO GOOD at multitasking anymore.
  • I’m realistic about what I can and can’t do.  It is humbling to admit that I’m no longer tolerant of small children and large crowds.  I used to be able to handle both.  But I just can’t do it, so I limit my exposure.  I won’t serve in the nursery at church and I don’t attend concerts.  That’s just the way it is now.
  • I plan for laughter.  If it doesn’t happen organically, I seek something uplifting and funny to tickle me into laughing out loud at least once a day.  Laughter helps me cope and releases all kinds of feel-good hormones.  With the world of memes at your fingertips, this is an easy thing to do.
  • I refuse to apologize.  Yes, I might say, “I’m sorry” when I forget someone’s name, but I don’t make it a habit to make excuses for my inability to live up to others’ expectations.  I learned early on that anyone who has not walked this Valley can’t really understand anyway.  It frustrates me, adds to stress and does no good.  So I let my “yes” be “yes” and my “no” be “no”.  I’m beyond being embarrassed.

I do the best I can as long as I can.

And when I reach my limit, I admit it without being shamed.

 

shame-is-the-intensely-painful-feeling-we-are-unloveable-brene-brown

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the Small Victories

This journey is a marathon, not a sprint.

marathon

If I keep my eyes focused on the miles I’ve yet to trod, I can be discouraged and tempted to give up.

But if I think about the miles I’ve covered and the progress toward healing that has occurred, I can gain strength to keep on going.

It’s hard.

That’s not going to change.

I have mountains yet to climb.  I won’t always be victorious-I’ll suffer setbacks.

But today, I’m celebrating several small victories:

I spent two hours laughing hysterically with a friend over lunch.

We were so loud and having so much fun that the wait staff was undoubtedly convinced we had enjoyed a liquid lunch although we didn’t drink anything stronger than water.  And it felt GOOD.

friends-laughing

I am teaching again.

Since I was a little girl lining my dolls up for pretend school, my heart has been inclined toward teaching.  Through the years I’ve taught Sunday School, seminars, parenting classes, speech classes and my own children from kindergarten through high school.  But it’s been awhile-a long while since I’ve had the energy to be the focus of a room full of people.  It’s just a small class on Sunday nights, but it’s a start.

I cut my hair.

Now, you are wondering how is that a victory?  But in the throes of despair after Dominic left us, I vowed that I would never cut it.  Because (this is the biology nerd in me) my hair contained the only cells in my body that would not be shed and renewed.  I wanted this physical part of me that existed when he was still here as a reminder of just how long it had been since I hugged him or heard his voice.  But the other day I knew it was time.  So before I could lose my nerve I did it.  And I’m glad.  He would definitely approve!

I baked shortbread for my mother’s birthday.

shortbread

Family celebrations are still very hard. When we are together, the hole where Dominic should be is that much more apparent. And shortbread was one of the only things that could tempt my fitness fanatic son to break training and indulge his sweet tooth.  So I haven’t made it since before he left us.  But it’s Mama’s favorite too.  And I’m learning to experience these memories wrapped up in doing things we did BEFORE as a blessing instead of only as a painful reminder that Dominic is gone.

You may be very fresh in your grief.  You may despair of ever making headway toward healing.  You may FEEL like you will ALWAYS be held under the tidal wave of sorrow.

It does seem that way for a very long time-longer for some people than others and definitely longer than we would hope.  

But please be encouraged!

Your victories will look different than mine, but they will come. If you face the pain and do the work grief requires, you can begin to heal.

No, you will never be the same.

I’m not.

I don’t want to be.

Burying a child has taught me many things for which I am grateful and the pain I carry is a testimony to the love I have for my son.

But I am learning to live again.

One small victory at at time.

hallelujah1

June Challenge: Eight Legs and Eternity

Day Eight of Kathleen Duncan’s  June 1-30 challenge.

The prompt:  Write a story with eight legs or turn the eight sideways and use “infinity” (eternity) as your prompt.

Eternity is a long time.

Just try and wrap your mind around it.

But when you bury a child, that’s what you think about-the forever that comes when he left his earthly body and entered the Presence of Jesus.

So many hard days followed, so many tears, so much pain.  I wanted to escape to eternity with Dominic.

I would be there eventually anyway, why not now?

But it’s not up to me to determine when I go. So I remain, and try to find a way to make the days count, be useful and stay hope-filled.

And eight legs have helped me stay rooted in the “now” when my heart longs to be in “forever”.

That first Thanksgiving after losing Dominic in April, we  visited our oldest son and his wife in West Virginia where she was a vet.

Touring Lillie’s office, we were introduced to two fluffy, orange kittens that had been abandoned by the road and brought there in hopes of finding a home.

 

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One look and I was smitten.

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It took less than five minutes to decide to take them back with us to Alabama.

Who could resist those faces?

 

At dinner that night, we brainstormed possible names.  I still have the list in my notes on my phone:  Kit Kat, Pumpkin, Scratch and Sniff, Cheetos, Doritos, Tostito.

We decided on names that reflected their roots- Moonshine and White Lightning.

After all, West Virginia is home to as many stills as hills.

Once we got back, their needs became part of my morning routine-a constant and undeniable reminder that I HAD to get out of bed.  And they made me laugh!

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Here is Lightning soaking up the sun in front of the picture window.

 

 

 

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Moonshine’s personality is more relaxed-why sit when you can lay down?

 

 

I used to be able to pick up both of them with one hand, now it takes two hands to pick up one of them!

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They have grown into good companions, great mousers, soft lap warmers and serious purr machines.

I’m very glad these eight legs live in my house.  

They’ve been excellent therapy for my hurting heart.

Benefits of Pet Therapy:

  • lowers blood pressure
  • improves cardiovascular health
  • releases endorphins (oxytocin) that have a calming effect
  • diminishes overall physical pain
  • the act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, reducing the amount of medication some folks need
  • lifts spirits and lessens depression
  • decreases feelings of isolation and alienation
  • encourages communcation
  • provides comfort
  • lowers anxiety
  • creates motivation for the client to recover faster
  • reduces loneliness